The Day After Blu-ray Review

Still the Day

The Day After purposefully avoids denoting which side first launched their nuclear arsenal. As designed, both the US and Soviet-era Russia bear responsibility, different from other propaganda-laced ‘80s entertainment. Rocky cannot stop a radioactive showdown and Sean Connery’s defection won’t stop launch codes. The Day After chooses horror and cynicism.

Yet, Day After comes from a lone perspective. Opening shots fly over the American heartland. A jaunty, patriotic theme plays. This is small town Kansas, farming country, where the middle class eek out an existence. There’s young love, high school football, and BBQ. People use the word “dickens.” That’s what’s lost once the bombs drop. Radios mention Moscow’s loss. It’s never shown. For mutually assured destruction, The Day After’s depiction isn’t complete.

Away from the crude, slanted political angle, Day After retain an effectiveness. Although the first hour is pulled from any TV drama or disaster film, the eventual lead-in to the launch remains a harrowing, fearful cinematic exercise. Plausibility isn’t lost to time. Human behavior inevitably leads to panic. Grocery store shelves turn bare and fights break out. Trampled bodies lie in the streets.

There’s no Hollywood ending. Radiation victims don’t suddenly walk out of the hospital to renew society

When the nukes hit, there’s a surrealist vision. Dingy visual effects work in Day After’s favor. Mushroom clouds break out on the horizon line, seared into the film stock with crude discoloration and contrast. It’s a nightmare – notably artificial, yet held in an inescapable reality. Soon comes stock footage, some of authentic nuclear tests, others of miniatures shattering into countless pieces. Cut between scenes of people vaporized or attempting to flee; it’s a convincing, haunting vision of annihilation.

Originally two-parts and four hours, Day After was cut to fit a two hour broadcast time slot. The back half turns into a science lesson, less about characters than the effect of fallout on their bodies. A child loses his eyesight to the flash. A doctor succumbs to radiation sickness. A hospital is overrun with a myriad of post-nuke wounds. All power is cut after the initial EMP. The script makes sure to explain each circumstance, surrounded by a falling civilization and dwindling hope.

The Day After’s greatest asset is never losing the morose, cruel tone. There’s no Hollywood ending. Radiation victims don’t suddenly walk out of the hospital to renew society. The final shot is that of dying men awaiting their final moments amid rubble. A text scroll then notes the previous two hours were likely a better result than any eventual reality. That’s why Day After retains a potency where most disaster cinema does not. This isn’t a soapy drama interfered by an earthquake or hurricane; it’s every bit a prominent, lasting, and relevant warning, capable of turning viewers heads to the unchanging political circumstances around them.

Video

It’s taken too long for The Day After to see a Blu-ray release. Kino takes up the gig, producing a two-disc edition with two different versions of the movie. First is the 1.33:1 television cut, the version given the most attention.

A perky, slightly dirty grain structure inhabits the image. Kino’s encode is well enough to handle it, if not perfectly compressed, than only slightly bothersome. What matters more is sharpness and fidelity. This is definitely a modern scan, with appreciable resolution. Close-ups deliver facial detail beyond prior disc editions. Exteriors and visual effect shots look superlative.

Hearty color comes near a point of going too far in terms of saturation. Reds reach a borderline tier without going over. Other primaries stick out, bright and natural. There’s no sense of Day After undergoing any digital reconstruction in terms of timing.

The only fault comes in terms of black levels. Day After exists in a faded state, lacking density in its shadows. This is evident in the opening acts, and costly as people move to underground bunkers. A swell of gray dampens dimension and depth. Even though contrast is high, there’s no help on the other side.

As for the theatrical cut (Day After saw such release in foreign markets like Europe), the 1.77:1 frame appears equivalent to a DVD upscale. The print used exhibits high quantities of dirt and damage. Color is recessed in comparison to the TV edition. Vertical cropping is notable since this is not the intended aspect ratio. Although extended by five minutes, this version remains just a bonus and curiosity given the video quality.

Audio

Maintained in a DTS-HD 2.0 track, the clarity of David Raskin’s score is to be commended. Lively highs and clean bass add to the chipper quality. No distortion is noted.

Dialog doesn’t suffer any lapses. Like the score, clarity is appealing. Free of hissing or popping, The Day After offers better-than-expected detail. A few dubbed lines stand out only due to the clarity.

Extras

The TV cut comes with two interviews. The first is with actress JoBeth Williams (12:41), the second with director Nicholas Meyer (28:06). On the opposite disc, there’s a commentary from film historian Lee Gambin and comic artist Tristan Jones.

  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
4

Movie

Thirty five years separate The Day After from its release until this Blu-ray release, and yet it’s still a capable warning.

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The 15 unaltered images below represent the Blu-ray. For an additional 33 The Day After screenshots, early access to all screens (plus the 15,000+ already in our library), 50+ exclusive 4K UHD reviews, and more, support us on Patreon.