DVD Review: The Day After

Disturbing 100 million people during its first TV showing, The Day After is one of those movies you don't want to watch, yet can't look away. It's harsh, depressing, and sadly, most likely not realistic enough. This is a brutal depiction of nuclear war, its effects on a small town, and doesn't skip any detail.

Split basically into two parts, The Day After works better than most generic disaster films. The first hour sets up the characters, and the second goes all out to show how far humanity can fall. As people are introduced, it creates a growing sense of dread along with the character development. Radio and TV broadcasts are run in the background, even against the actor's dialogue. It's effective, as if no one knows what's truly about to happen (and of course they don't).

The attack itself is a sore spot. Before the bombs actually drop in Kentucky, the training footage used to show the preparation for a counter strike is incredibly stressful and lifelike. When they hit, the glimpses of nothing but stock footage and rather weak optical effects only convey a little of the horror.

As the cities wake up, complete with horrifically burned dead, devastated streets, and radioactive ash, all the special effects complaints are forgotten. Every ounce of emotional drama is rung out of the viewer, and the outstanding (and at times too realistic) make-up is gruesome. Even better, there is no happy ending here. As a viewer, you're stuck in one emotional state for the entire second half, most likely pure shock or severe depression.

This all the more impressive for a film dumped to network TV. It's easily good enough for a theatrical release, and that's more than what could be said for the usual round of made-for-TV movies. The important thing is that people watched it, and this was the way to reach the masses.

It does suffer from a few pitfalls that are common to this style of film. Most obviously, it's dated, with a stern, harsh look at Russia as a threat that may not hit home in today's political climate. Some of the conversation is rough too, including an unnatural moment early in the film about Kennedy's Cold War and a young daughters poorly acted lines about the family pets. At over two hours, trimming this one may not have hurt either. There are countless long scenes of people walking to a destination that should have been cut down since they offer nothing to the film.

Still, this effective horror/drama is unforgettable. The Day After has numerous money shots that are immediately burned into your conscious. That's a sure sign of a classic, and as far as TV movies are concerned, The Day After earns that ranking. (**** out of *****)

If you watched this back in 1983 on cable, this DVD transfer should look familiar. It looks about the same. The grain is overwhelming, and while it makes the military segments stronger (given their documentary-like feel), everything else is hard to see. The blurry transfer negates any fine detail. It's barely above a VHS copy at times, and for an important movie, this should be offered in a higher quality. (*)

Audio suffers tremendously in this 2.0 mono presentation. Loud noises of any kind drown out any other dialogue. It's overly faded without much impact. The bombs impact isn't aided by the audio at all. (**)

Extras are non-existent. The only menu options are the typical "play movie" and "scene selection." (No stars)

It's sad since there are extras out there. Once the film first aired, there was a news program following that discussed the probability of the events. Even a small documentary on the impact of the film and the reactions caused by it would have been welcome. The movie itself wouldn't be more effective with these options, but they would have helped add to it.

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