Typical conversation from Daylight:
Character A: “What’s happening?”
Character B: “I don’t know”
Sylvester Stallone: “That coupling/beam/wall latches onto that support/pipe/railing to support that such and such protecting us from fire/water/explosions. If it goes, we all go!”
Actually, that sums up Daylight pretty well, its inane dialogue and familiar, tiresome characters enough to crush it under the weight of its water… and there’s a lot of water.
Daylight details the survivalist attitude of an impressively done bit of special effects concerning the collapse of the Hudson tunnel after nuclear waste is detonated. The nuclear part never really matters short of sounding cool on camera. Post-devastation, the only survivors just happen to culturally and racially diverse, always great for the marketing, and they don’t have much to say. The basics from the rich couple, struggling play writer, cell phone thief, etc., are all good to go.
This remains an ample, weighty disaster, the effects work, elaborate sets, and physical challenges daunting. It’s a close call as to what’s worse, the mountain climbing of the early 90s action classic Cliffhanger or the constant dive under millions of gallons of water in Daylight. Either way, it’s not exactly a stretch for Stallone, the characters basically identical, except we’re supposed to buy that Stallone has lowered himself to driving cabs for a living.
Writer Leslie Bohem also pushed out Dante’s Peak a year later, another marketing-friendly disaster flick with fantastic effects, but all of those disaster cliches that are almost too easy to shred. Daylight is a capable thriller, the work and dedication that went into it impossible to just write off as a TV disaster movie of the week. Hollywood’s dollars can’t compensate for the sterilized ramblings of this script though.
Reviewing Universal catalog titles is like a taking a break from the day-to-day drudgery disc reviewing can bring with it. Mostly, that’s because they write themselves these days, Daylight the latest to go under the Universal sharpening knife after being covered by DNR. Nothing here looks real, and that’s not just a mild reference to the sometimes dated visual effects (the miniatures remain astounding).
You won’t even be done with the credits before the glaring edge enhancement becomes an irritation, every name surrounded by halos if only because Universal seems fond of them. Daylight benefits marginally from its dim location, the lights usually out, so edges are hidden by darkness. Director Rob Cohen didn’t plan for the usual Universal butchering, but his location has mildly salvaged this one from the influx of halos. Outdoors, in (ironically really) daylight, everything falls apart.
That’s not even getting into the almost complete and total grain reduction, what’s left a mere shell of what film should look like. The constant presence of water makes it more apparent than usual, appearing more like a thick, oily substance than, well, water. Faces and skin, especially with distance, are smooth, waxy, and filtered to the ‘nth degree, Daylight becoming a fine poster child for everything you’re not supposed to do.
Universal didn’t care, so it’s a wonder why they expect consumers too. The master has “2000” written all over it, untouched since the dawn of HD. Print damage is marginal, reserved for certain multi-pass effects sequences which is understandable, but this is Universal. Why not add to the complaints, right? Black levels are fine, the studio leaving well enough alone, and there’s a limited improvement in fidelity during zooms or close-ups. It’s the best stuff that suffers, the glaring halos around cars as the fire spreads or the gallons of spilling water as things continue their turn for the worse. It’s a visual disaster in more ways than one.
Off we go into audio territory, and bearing in mind the film came out in 1996… it still sounds rough. This was a post Jurassic Park Hollywood, where sound truly came into its own. Why then does this DTS-HD track sound miserable?
Fidelity is the first problem, dialogue washed out, meager in its power, and lacking in precision. It sounds faded, as if it were recorded 40 years earlier. Actually, some catalog titles from that era have cleaner dialogue than this disc.
Bass comes in as a secondary annoyance, powerful and certainly not going unnoticed, but also overpowering everything else. The rumble is absurd, lacking in tightness and purity, more or less akin to early compressed DVD audio. Explosions wash out most of the smaller parts of the audio design, leaving a shell behind in its wake.
You could probably take solace that the surrounds are cranked to 11, ensuring those creaky pipes and walls overrun the soundfield with each chance they get. Oh sure, the opening credits seem impressive as a virtual tunnel whips by a breakneck pace, wind swirling around into the rears. When people are dealing with this mess, helicopters are flying around in the rears, sirens are blaring, and the whole thing is a mish-mash of audio that never once seems natural. If Universal loves tinkering with the video, maybe they’re diving into the audio and doing their thing too.
Extras are pulled from the ancient special edition DVD, although they hold up better than you would think. A solo commentary comes from director Rob Cohen, followed up by an 11-part making of that tends to be padded with footage from the finished product. A six-minutes featurette is nothing more than a glorified trailer with interviews. Daylight Archives plays host to all sorts of drawings and sketches if you’re so inclined to view them all.
It’s standard stuff from here, including a music video, trailers, D-Box support, and BD-Live access.