You've gotta hand it to Sylvester Stallone. For a guy who has only made a couple of truly great films ('Rocky' and, arguably, 'First Blood'), he sure got a lot of mileage out 'em. For nearly twenty years ater 'Rocky' first swept the 1976 Oscars, Stallone starred in Hollywood blockbuster after Hollywood blockbuster. Though by the end of the '90s, his gravy train had finally come to a slow halt, hr remains one of modern cinema's biggest and most recognizable superstars.
Coming near the end of Stallone's tenure on the Hollywood A-list was 'Daylight.' An obvious, unholy amalgam of the 'Die Hard' movies, 'Runaway Train' and every disaster flick of the '70s, critics mercilessly attacked the movie's by-the-numbers parade of cliches. But while bad reviews were nothing new for Stallone, unlike most of his earlier action flicks, the film barely eked out a profit at the box office, and is now largely forgotten by all but diehard action-movie historians.
The plot is standard-issue disaster fare. When an explosion seals off a New York commuter tunnel one hundred feet below the Hudson River, a band of ordinary citizens are left to fend the elements and find their way back to the surface. Among the obstacles will be toxic fumes, fires and the ticking clock of an impending collapse of the tunnel itself. To the rescue comes emergency medical services chief Kit Latura (Stallone). As the walls cave in and the tunnel fills up with water, Latura will risk his own life to save the rest, as well as preventing the situation from escalating into an even greater catastrophe.
Though some may disagree, I belive a good disaster movie lives and dies by its characters. The reason a film like 'Titanic' made nearly $2 billion dollars worldwide wasn't just because the ship sinking looked cool, but because audiences so sympathized with its doomed lovers that they returned again and again to relive the tragedy. Conversely, a bomb like the recent 'Poseidon' was such a failure because it never bothered to set-up a single character, and was just 98 minutes of mind-numbing, impersonal action set-pieces.
The good news for 'Daylight' is that director Rob Cohen and screenwriter Leslie Bohem at least try to make us care about Latura, his family, and the hapless survivers he must save. There is a decent amount of exposition in the first act, enough to nudge us to give the characters the benefit of our sympathy. The bad news is that the charcaters presented are ntirely uninteresting and ultimately forgettable. Stallone is too boring and earnest, lacking the smarmy charm of a Bruce Willis in the 'Die Hard' flicks, or even Pierce Brosnan in the 1994 volcano flick 'Dante's Peak.' Amy Brenneman, meanwhile, is both bored and bland as trapped driver Madelyne Thompson, while Danielle Harris, as Sly's daughter, is so obnoxious I kept hoping she'd be crushed by a falling boulder just to shut her up.
In terms of action, 'Daylight' is much more adept. There are a few fairly suspenseful sequences and they are all staged spectacularly, although again it's hard to muster up a tremendous amount of excitement given the dull characters. Director Rob Cohen ('The Fast and the Furious,' 'XXX') also once again proves that while his movies may be brain-dead, he's no slouch when it comes to deftly combining special effects, tight pacing and impressive physical stunts to get the pulse quickening.
Alas, in the end 'Daylight' remains an all-too-routine disaster flick. Perhaps it came a bit too late in the cycle, or the filmmakers just ran out of passion somewhere between page, production and completion. If you're in a very undemanding mood or just want to watch stuff blow up, you could certainly do worse, but if you're looking for the real deal, this one just can't compare to flicks like 'The Towering Inferno,' 'Airport,' the original 'Poseidon Adventure' and 'Titanic.'
'Daylight' is included in one of a growing number of mega-waves of HD DVD catalog titles that Universal has released lately. Included this latest batch are such releases as 'Liar, Liar,' 'Bruce Almighty' and 'Sneakers,' and not unlike the others, the quality control for 'Daylight' seems to be off a notch. This is another dated master that seems to have been quickly repurposed to throw some titles into the fire to help re-fuel format sales, and as such, the results are wishy-washy.
First, the good news. This 1080p/VC-1 encode is minted from a pretty good source. Grain is ever-present but not severe. Dirt and other speckles also hover about, which is certainly not a compliment, but I've seen worse. The best aspect of the presentation are the colors, which are nicely saturated and very stable for a ten-year-old flick. Fleshtones can be a bit jumpy, with some shots paler than others, and a little of the pig-faced look that often mars older catalog titles, but Tint looks good.
On the downside, shadow delineation is lacking, and the transfer looks dated. Depth is fine but never exceptional. Overall detail isn't bad, but again, the level of black crush, combined with slight edge enhancement and the pumped-up colors leaves the image somewhat flat. Make no mistake, this HD DVD is definitely superior to the standard-def edition, but it's also clear that Universal hasn't put a great deal of effort into this next-gen version of the film.
Also rehashed from the old source elements is this Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 surround (1.5mbps) encode. It's not bad -- in fact, it has its moments -- but don't expect a demo-worthy reference disc.
Typical for a mix of its era, the sound design often over-localizes direct effects, so they stand out to the point of sounding gimmicky. Imaging is not bad, but pans between channels are usually obvious. That does give the track a charmingly retro feel (harken back to the days of laserdisc for some nostalgia thrills!), but it's not consistently immersive.
The rest of the track sounds fine. Dynamic range is predictably a bit more limited than a fresh, modern mix. Low bass is fairly strong but never totally cranks. Dialogue is well recorded but sometimes a bit overwhelmed in the din, especially during action moments -- expect to reach for your volume knob more than once. There are no major defects or any other problems with the presentation.
Given that Universal usually loads up its HD DVD releases with every last standard-def extra found on the matching DVD release, it's unusual that 'Daylight' offers a pared-down supplement package. Granted, the material is now so dated that in this case it's not a terrible loss.
The "highlight" is the original documentary. This 58-minute sucker was originally produced for the old laserdisc, and my how the art of supplement doc-making has evolved. This one treats 'Daylight' like it was 'Citizen Kane,' with the cast all waxing insightful about their deep characterizations (uh-huh), along with endless montages of slo-mo behind-the-scenes footage cut to a cheesy euro-trash beat. I also have to wonder who director Rob Cohen's fashion advisor was at the time, as he's wearing the most hideous shirt I've ever seen in my life. And in a nice nod to the pre-Don Imus days, Cohen even calls actor Marcello Thedford an "Afro-American." Ah, nostalgia...
Next is a screen-specific audio commentary with Cohen. Unfortunately, it is very dry and technical. Cohen goes on and on about specific shots, and quite frankly it gets quite boring very quickly. For a silly Sylvester Stallone action movie about people stuck in an underground tunnel, Cohen sure takes this stuff awfully seriously -- where's the fun? After about 30 minutes of this, I fell asleep.
Rounding out the package are some promotional items. There is the film's original 8-minute EPK featurette, which is just an extended commercial. There is also a hilarious music video for the film's theme song "Whenever There Is Love," sung by Donna Summer and Bruce Roberts. Flush with awful lighting and Summer hugging a brick wall in a sewer for dear life (huh?), this is classic mid-'90s inanity. Finally, in a rarity for Universal, they've included two Theatrical Trailers for the film (both presented as one continuous video stream).
Note that all of the above video supplements are presented in 480i/MPEG-2 video only.
Eleven years later, 'Daylight' plays no differently than it did upon its initial release -- like a 'Die Hard' knock-off that's not nearly as clever. However, the flick is certainly enjoyable, and at least it was made at a point in Sylvester Stallone's career where he still looked like a human being, not a misshapen lump of coal.
This HD DVD, though, is mostly borrowed goods. The video and audio masters are clearly dated, and the incomplete supplements are also rehashed from the age-old laserdisc. Unfortunately, lately it seems like Universal is just throwing out any old dreck in high-def in an effort to bolster the number of HD DVD titles on the market, and quality may be suffering. Hopefully their future catalog releases will show a bit more care and concern.