Days of Thunder

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Paramount;
Drama;
$29.99 Blu-ray, $29.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13.’
Stars Tom Cruise, Robert Duvall, Randy Quaid, Nicole Kidman, Michael Rooker, Cary Elwes, John C. Reilly, Fred Dalton Thompson.

Almost immediately upon its release in 1990, Days of Thunder was labeled by critics as a car racing version of Top Gun, a reputation that isn’t exactly unearned.

Days of Thunder shares the same production team of Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson, the same director in Tony Scott, and also stars Tom Cruise, who plays another hotshot looking to fulfill his need for speed with reckless abandon.

In this case, Cruise’s character is named Cole Trickle, an Indy circuit washout looking to make a name for himself in NASCAR. He takes on the mentorship of a master pit crew chief played by Robert Duvall, but a devastating crash shakes his confidence.

Robert Towne’s screenplay (with Cruise sharing a story credit) throws not one but two rivals at Trickle. First is Michael Rooker’s Rowdy Burns, the top dog of the circuit whose career is cut short in the same wreck that impairs Cole. When they become fast friends due to shared misfortune, Rowdy asks Cole to take over his racing team, setting up the showdown with rival No. 2, another rookie driver named Russ Wheeler, played by Cary Elwes, whose blink-and-you’ll-miss-it introduction obscures a rise through the ranks so unexpectedly rapid that one wonders why the movie isn’t about him.

The requisite love interest, which like with Top Gun comes with professional complications, is Cole’s and Rowdy’s neurologist, played by Nicole Kidman, who was 22 at the time of filming lest anyone wish to question the likelihood of her character’s medical credentials. The swirling rumors of the day suggested Cruise became enamored with Kidman after seeing her in 1989’s Dead Calm and arranged for her to be in Days of Thunder so they could meet. When 1990 began he had been married to Mimi Rogers, but divorced her in February. Cruise and Kidman were married from December 1990, six months after Days of Thunder hit theaters, to 2001.

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For the most part, Days of Thunder comes across as a series of exciting racing scenes and establishing shots of NASCAR speedways strung together with a by-the-numbers plot and some perfunctory dialogue. Duvall is as good as he usually is, while Cole Trickle is such a stock character in the Tom Cruise mold that naming him is more a screenwriting formality than a necessity of the story.

This new edition of Days of Thunder is presented as both a standalone Blu-ray under the “Paramount Presents” label, as well as a 4K Ultra HD disc with digital copy. The 4K version doesn’t come with a separate Blu-ray Disc, which is something of a break from the industry norm of 4K/Blu-ray combo packs, so consumers will have to pick whether they want the higher-definition resolution of the 4K version or the fancy Paramount Presents slipcover with fold-out movie poster. The film looks great either way, particularly because the racing footage is so good.

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The new Days of Thunder Blu-ray seems to have avoided the fate of most of the other titles in the Paramount Presents line, which to this point has offered Blu-ray re-releases with most of the bonus materials from previous editions left out this go-around (it seems anything previously available only in SD got the axe, with maybe a new short retrospective featurette to replace it).  That’s because the previous Days of Thunder Blu-ray from 2008 had zero extras on it aside from the film’s trailer, so anything offered here is a step up. The extras, sparse as they may be, are the same on both the Blu-ray and 4K discs.

The new discs don’t include the trailer, but they do have a seven-minute “Filmmaker Focus” featurette which is essentially a retrospective interview with Bruckheimer interspersed with clips from the movie.

There’s also an isolated audio track containing just Hans Zimmer’s musical score, his first of many collaborations with the Bruckheimer/Simpson team. Zimmer’s music is a highlight of the movie, but compared with the rest of Zimmer’s works it comes across as one of the more generic efforts in a career built on establishing a baseline sound for reliable action cues.

Top Gun

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Paramount;
Action;
$14.99 Blu-ray, $22.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG.’
Stars Tom Cruise, Kelly McGillis, Val Kilmer, Anthony Edwards, Tom Skerritt, Michael Ironside, Rick Rossovich, James Tolkan, Tim Robbins, Meg Ryan.

The new Blu-ray editions of 1986’s Top Gun were clearly timed to coincide with what would have been the theatrical release of the film’s long-awaited sequel. However, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic shutting down theaters, Top Gun: Maverick was pushed back six months to Dec. 23.

The new Blu-ray does include a trailer for the new film, plus a new six-minute “The Legacy of Top Gun” featurette in which Tom Cruise and some of the filmmakers behind the sequel discuss the impact of the director Tony Scott’s original, which has become an iconic depiction of fighter aircraft combat action. The film still holds up well (despite some cheesy over-the-top machismo that is part of its charm).

Of course, the other thing the film is well known for is its beach volleyball scene that has fueled the film’s reputation as a homoerotic fantasy. The volleyball scene has become so intrinsically associated with the film that a recent board game based on the film lets players either try their hand at the airplane combat of the famed Top Gun dogfighting school, or simulate the volleyball game.

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The bright, vivid image of the new Blu-ray transfer shows off every detail, to the point where it’s impossible not to notice how almost everyone is sweating profusely in practically every scene (it must be hot on those airplanes and carriers). The disc also brings out the film’s legendary soundtrack in a 5.1 mix that perfectly services the action.

The other extra listed as new for this edition is the five-part half-hour retrospective “On Your Six: Thirty Years of Top Gun.” It’s filled with great stories about the production ( such as Scott getting a Navy captain to turn an aircraft carrier around in order to get the perfect lighting from the sun). It was obviously filmed a few years ago, since this year is the 34th anniversary of the film, and Cruise talks about having just read an early draft of the sequel screenplay (the same sequel that is now finished and waiting to hit theaters).

The Blu-ray also includes all the bonus material from previous releases, including a commentary with the filmmakers and naval experts; storyboards; vintage interviews; four music videos (which have not aged particularly well); an earlier behind-the-scenes featurette from the 2008 Blu-ray; and an interesting look at the real Top Gun school, also from 2008.

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