Wow, could 'Days of Thunder' be any more of 'Top Gun rip-off?' It's so totally derivative of that 1986 mega-hit that you'd think the filmmakers should have sued, until you realize that it was made by the exact same people. The self-plagiarists include producer Jerry Bruckheimer, director Tony Scott, and star Tom Cruise, who apparently figured that audiences wouldn't notice the similarities if they simply changed the fighter planes to race cars. But unlike 'Top Gun,' 'Days of Thunder' was a box office disappointment, offering rare proof that audiences do know a cheap cinematic imitation when they see one.
The plot should feel eerily familiar if you've seen 'Top Gun.' Cruise plays a cocky young fighter pilot, er, race car driver named Cole Trickle (seriously) who dreams of NASCAR fame and fortune. Like Cruise's Maverick in 'Top Gun,' Cole has great instincts but little experience, and he doesn't like to follow the rules. That lands him in a love/hate relationship with the strip's top mechanic (Robert Duvall), and also his biggest rival, the dastardly Michael Rooker. Throw in a love interest (Nicole Kidman) every bit as feisty as Kelly McGillis in 'Top Gun,' plus a big race car finale with lots of smashes and crashes, and that just about sums up 'Days of Thunder.'
I have never been a big fan of 'Top Gun,' but at least its now-dated '80s style seemed fresh at the time. 'Days of Thunder' is so reheated -- Scott even turns up the same visual tricks, with lots of overdone color filters and shaky race-cam footage -- it feels like leftovers. There is not a lick of originality to 'Days of Thunder' other than the setting, but even that's just an excuse to show endless shots of cars zooming around the track, and close-ups of Cruise looking all serious and determined-like. Even Cruise's chemistry with Kidman (this would be the first film they made together) should be hotter, considering their eventual ten-year marriage.
'Days of Thunder' also repeats the exact same themes as 'Top Gun.' Cole's character arc offers nothing we didn't see in Maverick, to the point that you wonder why Cruise, Scott, and Bruckheimer even wanted to make the film. There is an unpleasant and unseemly veneer of condescension throughout 'Days of Thunder,' as if the filmmakers believed audiences were so stupid they'd pay to see the same film twice. Aside from racing aficionados, 'Days of Thunder' should have little appeal to anyone. Here is a film that truly never needed to exist, other than to cynically cash-in on a past success. It's actually kind of offensive.
Paramount remastered 'Days of Thunder' for a 1999 DVD release of the film, and I wouldn't be surprised if they culled this Blu-ray from the same master. This transfer is dated in appearance and wildly inconsistent.
The 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode suffers from a source that is all over the place. The opening credits don't exactly inspire confidence, with heavy grain, lots of dirt and blemishes, and a noticeably soft appearance. The film varies widely from there on out. Some shots are nice with ample detail and rich colors, while others break down amid fuzziness and dull contrast. Sharpness also fluctuates, as does film grain and shadow delineation, which is rarely superior. The encode is probably the best it could be all things considered, but I was bugged by the noise and some edge enhancement, that is likely employed to compensate from the overdone visual style. 'Days of Thunder' just doesn't look that hot.
'Days of Thunder' gets a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround upgrade. It helps only nominally, with the film sounding surprisingly front-heavy for a big racing picture.
The dominant sound on the soundtrack to 'Days of Thunder' is "vrooom!!!" I must admit to quickly tiring of all the burning rubber and roaring engines, which soon blurs into abstraction. The front soundstage has a decent amount of expansion to it, and dialogue is balanced strongly enough to overcome the din. Surrounds didn't impress me, however, with a subdued presence. Dynamic range also sounds somewhat brittle, especially on the racing effects and the uber-cheesy Hans Zimmer score. Low bass provides some kick, but not nearly what I expected. Like the video, the audio on 'Days of Thunder' is no high-def showcase.
Was Paramount too lazy to produce any supplements for 'Days of Thunder,' or were cast and crew simply too embarrassed to talk about it? Either way, we get next to no extras here.
'Days of Thunder' is a pretty bad film. It's an obvious 'Top Gun' knock-off, made by the same filmmaking team, only with race cars. This Blu-ray is serviceable at best -- decent video and audio, and no extras. This is for Tom Cruise fanatics only.