Release Date(s)1990 (May 19, 2020)
Studio(s)Don Simpson/Jerry Bruckheimer Films (Paramount Pictures)
- Film/Program Grade: C+
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: B-
Cole Trickle (Tom Cruise) is young driver hungry for a shot at greatness in NASCAR’s Winston Cup Series. He’s been spotted by wealthy Chevy dealer Tim Daland (Randy Quaid), who’s eager to start a racing team of his own. But both of them need a car and the engineering genius of master builder/crew chief Harry Hogge (Robert Duvall) to make their dream a reality—and drawing the man out of retirement isn’t going to be easy. When Trickle’s track test impresses Hogge, he decides to give things a go in spite of his own better judgement. But the team’s success ultimately comes down to whether Hogge can bridle Trickle’s raw talent… and discourage the young man’s worst instincts.
Directed by Tony Scott in a production that reunites the successful Top Gun team of Don Simpson, Jerry Bruckheimer, and Tom Cruise, Days of Thunder is… well, not a great movie. But it’s not a bad one either. The plot is fairly stock—indeed, it’s almost beat-for-beat recycled from Top Gun (if also loosely based on the story of real-life racer Tim “Hollywood” Richmond)—and some of the characters are a bit two-dimensional. It has to be said that the film hasn’t aged particularly well either, featuring scenes of reckless street racing and some decidedly un-PC behavior by Trickle. None of it raised red flags at the time, but the times have certainly changed (and I must admit that, as a fan of history, I find it fascinating when things we all enjoyed without a second thought not so long ago begin to raise eyebrows with the distance of hindsight—that’s not a value judgment per se, it’s just a fascinating phenomenon in its own right). Then there’s the Mello Yellow. I don’t think I’ve had one since high school. I actually had to Google to see if Coca-Cola even still makes it. But hey, Robert Duvall is as great as ever. (Who doesn’t like a little peach moonshine?) The racing action is compelling, Ward Russell’s cinematography is terrific, and the film’s soundtrack is pretty good too. Nicole Kidman, Michael Rooker, Cary Elwes, and John C. Reilly are all solid in supporting roles. And there’s no doubt that this film was almost single-handedly responsible for the boost in the popularity of NASCAR in the 1990s. So it’s certainly a favorite of many people who experienced it in theaters or on cable at the time.
Days of Thunder was shot photochemically on 35 mm film using Panavision cameras and anamorphic lenses. It was finished on film in the 2.39:1 “scope” ratio for theatrical exhibition. For its Ultra HD release, the original camera negative was scanned in 4K and graded for high dynamic range (both HDR10 and Dolby Vision options are available). The resulting image offers a substantial increase in resolution and fine detailing over the original 2008 Blu-ray. The look of the film is intentionally gritty, with substantial photochemical grain, but it’s never distracting—this has always been part of the film’s character. Colors are warm but a bit subdued by modern standards, yet certainly richer and more refined looking than they were in HD. The team’s light green racing suits especially have nice pop. Contrast is excellent, with deep shadows and well-detailed blacks. The HDR brightens the highlights, but it’s not in any way aggressive. The Dolby Vision is perhaps a little more natural looking, but both options are pleasing nonetheless.
The 4K release includes its primary audio in English 5.1 Dolby TrueHD format. This appears to be the same mix found on the previous Blu-ray. The mix was excellent in 2008, but feels a bit thin by today’s standards. The soundstage is medium-wide up front, with some nice movement and panning, though the surround use is more atmospheric than actively engaged. Dialogue scenes are quiet but clean. On the race track, the mix is more robust and dynamic, with a greater degree of bite and excellent bass. Hans Zimmer’s score (and the film’s pop music soundtrack) features good fidelity. I would never call this reference-grade surround sound, but it serves the film will enough. Additional audio options include German, Spanish, Latin Spanish, French, and Italian 5.1 Dolby Digital, along with Japanese 2.0 Dolby Digital, and Portuguese Mono Dolby Digital. Meanwhile, optional subtitles are available in English, English for the Hearing Impaired, Arabic, Cantonese, Danish, German, Greek, Spanish, Latin Spanish, French, Icelandic, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Dutch, Norwegian, Brazilian Portuguese, Romanian, Finnish, Swedish, and Thai.
The original Blu-ray included no special features beyond a theatrical trailer. As it happens, there’s no movie Blu-ray included in Paramount’s Ultra HD package. However, the 4K disc does include a pair of special features that are new to disc:
- Isolated Score Track
- Filmmaker Focus: Days of Thunder (HD – 6:39)
Filmmaker Focus features producer Jerry Bruckheimer interviewed looking back at the film. It seems to have been produced around the time of the Blu-ray release because he refers to Scott in the present tense (which means this was prior to his tragic death in 2012). It’s a nice little retrospective with some interesting stories from the production. The Isolated Score Track is terrific, featuring Hans Zimmer’s compositions in 48kHz Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo. It’s a treat to have it here—major points for the track’s inclusion. Sadly, the theatrical trailer has not been included. You do at least get a Digital Copy code on a paper insert.
While better racing movies have been produced in the years since Days of Thunder, it seems to me that the quintessential NASCAR film has yet to be made. And I do love the genre (Ford v Ferrari, anyone?) and the sport itself, so hope some filmmaker out there takes up the challenge. Nevertheless, Tony Scott’s iconic take on stock car racing was influential in its day and definitely has its fans. Those among them who’ve embraced 4K should find Paramount’s new Ultra HD release a welcome upgrade indeed.
- Bill Hunt