4.0 out of 5 stars Chilling depiction of what a nuclear war would seem like...
I first saw "The Day After" in 1983,at the height of the nuclear war movies,when President Reagan had his famous "Evil Empire" speech. I also remember seeing "Threads","Special Bulletin",and "Testament" at the time. I did not sleep peacefully for the following week,remembering the horrifying mushroom clouds bursting over...
Published on Jan 17 2002
3.0 out of 5 stars An Almost Good Movie Turns into a Soap Opera
"The Day After" is one of the most hyped films ever made for TV and it almost (and I stress almost) lived up to its advertising. The problem with the film is not so much the acting, although the yells of "Jolene" come in far too many times and in far too shrill a voice, but with the story-line. Far too few of the many characters are built into full human...
Published on May 9 2004 by Daniel Waitkoss
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4.0 out of 5 stars Chilling depiction of what a nuclear war would seem like...,
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Watching the ICBMs take off and head for the Soviet Union...,
This review is from: The Day After (DVD)The political controversy over "The Day After" when it was first broadcast in 1983 had to do with the idea that a television movie about a nuclear war was an indictment of the policies of the Reagan Administration. Of course "The Day After" was not an attack on a particular president, but rather it represented the liberal nightmare of the worst of all possible futures, with a full out nuclear exchange between the United States and the Soviet Union. Four years later the ultimate conservative nightmare was aired with the mini-series "Amerika," in which the United States has been taken over by the Communists. Both were predicated on questionable assumptions, the former on an escalation of a conflict over Berlin and the later on the effects of an electro-magnetic pulse, but those were both simply excuses to tell the story that wanted to be told.
Ultimately "The Day After" is not so much a story as it is a depiction of what a nuclear war would be like that comes under the heading of "seeing is believing." Prior to the airing of this television film Hollywood showed what it was like to live in the world after a nuclear war in films from "On the Beach" to "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome," suggested that a nuclear war would be so horrible that a president would drop nuclear bombs on New York City rather than go to war in "Fail Safe," and ended the Cold War satire of "Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb" with a series of atom bomb's exploding set to the popular song "We'll Meet Again." But what they did not show was what that nuclear war would be like. Even the "Star Wars" universe assumed there would be a nuclear war some day, as did I, but depicting the horrors of such a war was never really done until "The Day After."
However, exploding mushroom clouds and the victims of radiation poison were not what was most memorable about "The Day After." The icon image from the film became the shots of the missiles taking off, with the people of Lawrence, Kansas looking up into the sky at the ICBMs headed towards the Soviet Union knowing that their missiles were heading for us. Suddenly it became clear that the true moment of horror would be when you saw those missiles because chances were you would never see the mushroom cloud that took your life. In fact, given the choice between being incinerated and surviving long enough to watch your loved ones suffer horribly, I think most people would hope for the quick death. This film turned those last few minutes of life from the old joke about how you need to bend over, put your head between your knees and kiss you ass goodbye into an enduring image of outright terror.
The worst moments of this film are the painful period between the missiles taking off and the nukes exploding. One of the silos is right next to the Dahlberg farm, and the emotion nadir of the film is Denise Dahlberg (Lori Lethin) comes down the stairs holding the wedding dress she will never get to wear and her father tells her to get into the storm cellar. Then Jim Dahlberg (John Cullum) has to go upstairs and drag his wife Eve (Bibi Besch) screaming and crying away from the bed she is making in a desperate attempt to pretend that the world is not coming to an end.
Jason Robards is Dr. Russell Oakes, who along with Nurse Nancy Bauer (JoBeth Williams) has to deal with the casualties following the detonations at a besieged hospital, and Stephen Klein (Steve Guttenberg) is the guy who takes refuge with the Dahlbergs. Joe Huxley (John Lithgow) is the college professor who gets to supply most of the relatively small amount of exposition the story requires: a student thinks they are safe because Kansas is in the middle of nowhere, but the professor is the one who points out "There's no 'nowhere' anymore" since there is an Air Force base and 150 Minutemen Missile silos spread halfway down Missouri, all constituting "an awful lot of bullseyes." When the missiles take off he is the one who knows it takes thirty minutes to reach their target, a fact that applies to the incoming missiles as well.
I remember the night of November 11, 1983 as I watched "The Day After" how ABC did not run any commercials after the nukes went off and that right afterwards the network had a special news program in which Dr. Carl Sagan introduced us to the idea of a "nuclear winter" and the fact that the reality of a nuclear exchange would be much worse than we had seen. To say that this was a sobering idea to give an audience that was already depressed by what they had seen, would be an understatement. Sagan, of course, was opposed to the use of nuclear weapons and condemned the arms race. Speaking on the other side, which is to say in favor of the concept of nuclear deterrence, was William F. Buckley, Jr., and what we got to see in that debate (which is still available on video) was that both were right.
It is rather amazing, given the history of humanity, that it has been almost sixty years since nuclear weapons have been used in war. Ironically, we now live in a world where we still believe that those weapons are going to be used, although now we assume it will be the work of terrorists (or an attempt to stop terrorists) and not a war between East and West. I would not be surprised if right now Hollywood is kicking around ideas of what it would be like the day after that sort of nuclear detonation, going beyond what we saw in "The Sum of All Fears." Hopefully it would be as successful at forestalling our worst nightmares as "The Day After" has been these many years.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Still packs a multi-megaton emotional wallop,
This review is from: The Day After (DVD)This made for television film first aired nearly 25 years ago while the Cold War was on - and it still packs the same sobering multi-megaton emotional wallop as it did back then. The story and scenes of human and animal tragedy and suffering will haunt for days afterwards. It's very good early 1980s period piece that fairly accurately depicts the rising Cold War tensions early in the Reagan administration.
In a reprise of the Soviet blockade of Berlin two decades earlier in 1961, the plot begins with a Soviet blockade of access points between East and West Germany, following by the massing of troops on the border between East and West. When the Soviet bloc troops move across the border, NATO responds by unleashing tactical nuclear weapons on the invading forces, destroying two German cities in the process. The Soviet responds by targeting a NATO regional headquarters in England. It rapidly escalates from there to a major exchange of MIRVed ICBMs, including electromagnetic pulse (EMP) weapons that detonate high in the atmosphere and knock out all electrical and electronic equipment.
All of the European developments are depicted via fast paced news reports and bulletins coming into a worried American heartland on what would have been an otherwise typical early September weekend as people went about and planned their lives. One of the more chilling scenes vividly depicts the contrast between normal life and unfolding nuclear exchange. Two children innocently watch television, unaware of the gravity of the situation, as their amorous parents slip upstairs for a quick interlude before breakfast. Suddenly a TV bulletin interrupts to report the use of tactical nuclear weapons in Europe. The scene then shifts to a nearby Strategic Air Command base as klaxons wail and B-52 crews scramble to get their planes into the air. The film is set in Kansas City and Lawrence, Kansas. Jason Robards puts in a fine performance as a doctor and the central character.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ensemble cast shines.,
Recently, motivated by a strong desire to see Threads again, I've been going through a kind of craving for nuclear-holocaust-flick nostalgia. Seeing The Day After again was my first foray back into the world of atom-bombs-blowing-stuff-up. I hadn't seen it since its original television broadcast more than twenty years previous, and was surprised at how well it holds up.
The excellent ensemble cast is headed by the late Jason Robards (Magnolia, Enemy of the State, etc.) and John Lithgow (Shrek, Third Rock from the Sun, etc.) as a doctor and scientist, respectively, at two college campuses in the midwest in the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust. (Said nuclear holocaust happens, as one might expect, early in the film, but not as early as you might figure; unlike modern-day films, stuff made a quarter of a century ago actually took time to build its characters before getting into the plot.) Also along for the ride are Robards' right-hand nurse, played by JoBeth Williams (Poltergeist); a family whose house was close to one of the bombed missile silos, the Dahlbergs; Lithgow's right-hand man Aldo (Stephen Furst of Animal House fame), oh, we'll just run down some names: John Cullum, Bibi Besch, Steve Guttenberg, Lori Lethin, Amy Madigan, Jeff East, Dennis Lipscomb, Arliss Howard... you get the idea. This may have been a made-for-TV movie, but didn't shirk on the starpower. Also, look for uncredited appearances by Wayne Knight (Seinfeld's Newman), David Kaufman (Presidio Med, Pearl Harbor), John Lafayette (various movies based on Tom Clancy novels), and the late director Herk Harvey (in his first screen role since Carnival of Souls twenty years before, and the last before his death in 1996). Meyer and co. didn't scrimp on the casting budget.
It shows. The whole thing is exceptionally well-acted, though sometimes it's a bit tough to believe these folks are really as devastated as one would think survivors of an all-out nuclear war should be (and that a house situated right next to a bombed missile silo would still be standing just because Steve Guttenberg happens to be hiding there provides a moment of unintentional humor). Robards is probably the best at communicating this, especially in the movie's final scene. The makeup job on Robards was also not scrimped on; by the end of the film, he could be something out of a Romero film. For that matter, the makeup crew did an all-around fantastic job; by the end of the flick, Steve Guttenberg was unrecognizable. (I have heard it opined-- well, okay, inside my own head-- that perhaps he should have kept the makeup on when doing Three Man and a Baby.)
The point was brought up in a recent discussion that perhaps those born after the early eighties will probably be too young to really grasp the terrors of the Cold War to those of us old enough to remember "Duck... and Cover!" So perhaps not the best flick to get your kids to thinking about how bad off you were in the old days (for that, use Threads), but it's definitely worthwhile on the nostalgia-trip angle, or if you just like watching Jason Robards act with an equally fantastic cast around him. ****
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Life As We Know It Ends...THE DAY AFTER,
This review is from: The Day After (DVD)The made-for-TV film THE DAY AFTER was enormously controversial when it was originally broadcast on ABC in November of 1983, primarily because it was promoted as being the first film to accurately and realistically depict a nuclear holocaust and its aftermath. Political right-wingers didn't like it because they believed such a film would deter support of a strong U.S. military and a large nuclear arsenal. Those on the left were concerned that it might promote the idea that a full-scale nuclear war could be survivable, thereby INCREASING support of the right-wing's push for a strong U.S. military and a large nuclear arsenal. And both sides were worried that the film would be too graphic for the prime-time position in which it was slotted to air. In fact, much of the controversy was vehement enough to worry the sponsors, so consequently not a single minute of commercial time was sold for the part of the film following the depiction of the nuclear war--the last half of the show was aired commercial free!
Socio-political controversy aside, THE DAY AFTER is a very powerful and compelling drama. In the tradition of great SF and horror films, it takes a real-life potentiality--in this case, nuclear holocaust--and portrays it as graphically and as realistically as possible, thereby allowing viewers to vicariously experience the nightmare. For this film, said nightmare takes place in the small towns surrounding Kansas City, one of the ground-zero targets for the enemy's hydrogen bombs. But the real horror of it all is not the bombing itself. The real horror is being a survivor and having to suffer through the aftermath with things like radioactive fallout, nuclear winter, contaminated food and water, political anarchy, and the like.
Portraying survivors from various walks of life, the highly talented cast--which includes big names like Jason Robards, JoBeth Williams, Steve Guttenberg, and John Lithgow, to name a few--does a fantastic job running the gamut of human emotion as their characters come to grips with the traumatic and devastating situation. The excellent script for THE DAY AFTER was written by Edward Hume, a respected TV writer best known for his work on series greats like THE FUGITIVE, CANNON (which he also developed), and THE STREETS OF SAN FRANCISCO. And the film was directed by the venerable Nicholas Meyer, who has directed other SF greats such as 1979's TIME AFTER TIME, 1982's STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN, and 1991's STAR TREK VI: THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY, and who has written the screenplays for other greats like 1976's THE SEVEN-PER-CENT SOLUTION (having previously written the novel), 1986's STAR TREK IV: THE VOYAGE HOME, and 1987's highly acclaimed FATAL ATTRACTION. With such great talent behind it, it's not hard to defend the claim that THE DAY AFTER is ONE of the best films, if not THE best film, made specifically for TV.
The DVD from MGM is a no-frills disc, meaning that it is without bonus material, but it does offer a nearly pristine digital transfer of THE DAY AFTER in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1. And the asking price is very reasonable (especially with amazon.com's discount), so lovers of great films and good drama have no excuse for not having this gem in their collections.
5.0 out of 5 stars The most controversial TV movie ever made finally on DVD,
This review is from: The Day After (DVD)There have been some controversial made-for-TV movies over the years, but I don't think any of them compare to The Day After. This is the most-talked-about TV movie I've seen in my thirty-four years. I didn't watch it when it was initially aired on ABC in 1983, which is odd because I started nursing a fear of nuclear war around that same time during my childhood. It's something every Cold War child went through at some point, although I know my own experience paled considerably compared to those coming of age in the 1950s and 1960s. I was also forming my political opinions at that age, as well, and perhaps I didn't watch the movie because of the political agenda behind it. Liberals feared Ronald Reagan at this time, fearing he would actually start a nuclear war, and that kind of political sentiment, in my opinion, lay behind this film. Of course, despite such fears by some, President Reagan went on to end the Cold War altogether.
The Day After was - and still is - a terrifying motion picture that purports to show what happens when the politicians stop making speeches and let the bombs fly. The thing about nuclear war is that it just keeps on giving - or, I should say - taking. Those who die in the initial explosion are the lucky ones, as the survivors must face a decimated, increasingly atavistic society struggling to find sustenance and medical attention (useless though it is) even as they slowly die from radiation poisoning. Make no mistake - this movie was intended to frighten the American people. Frighten them it did. Anti-nuclear activism was given a tremendous boost in terms of popular appeal - until the fervor was dragged down alongside Walter Mondale's silly pledge to raise taxes in the 1984 election.
After an hour or so of introducing us to several characters in the heartland of America - Kansas City and its outlying areas - the impetus of military clashes in Germany all too suddenly turns the Cold War red hot, and a full nuclear exchange takes place between the United States and the Soviet Union. Panic ensues as the local population watches the nearby silos unleash one ICBM after another, knowing Soviet nukes are only minutes away from their otherwise peaceful skies. You get a good couple of minutes of nuclear destruction as Soviet nukes explode all over the atmosphere of the area. The mushroom clouds hit the viewer with great force. Numerous Americans are quickly vaporized (you see a quick X-ray image of them before they disappear), and wholesale destruction is wrought on basically everything. The final hour of the movie focuses on the survivors and the dire situation they find themselves in. The entire cast is high caliber, but Jason Robards truly shines as the university doctor who stumbles back to campus and organizes his medical crew to do what they can against insurmountable odds. We also follow the fate of a farm family holed up in their cellar for days before emerging back into the light after radiation levels fall down to a survivable rate. It's an awful situation that only gets worse, as no one is safe from the deadly fallout - or their suddenly desperate fellow man.
Watching this film again now, I could not help but think how overly optimistic the film is, in a sense. As a note as the end of the movie informs the viewer, the effects of a nuclear attack would be far, far worse than you see here. One kid is blinded by a nuclear explosion, but in reality many people would basically have their eyes melted out of their heads. Radiation poisoning in the movie basically consists of a growing lethargy, rotting body parts, and hair loss - there's no sign of the deathly nausea and other symptoms that would ensue. The mushroom clouds themselves look altogether too small for such nuclear detonations, as well.
This wasn't the first movie to depict a post-nuclear America, but The Day After was the first film to try to realistically depict the unspeakable devastation of nuclear war. The folks in this film were just normal civilians living normal lives in the heartland of America. As such, the movie directly challenged everyone who thought "it can't happen here." No one is safe from the devastation of 100s of ICBMs exploding all over the country. The Day After remains a powerful and important film today. The threat of Soviet attack has been minimized (for now), but the threat of a nuclear attack is still very real, thanks to the madmen in Iran and North Korea and traitors to humanity such as Pakistan's Abdul Khan. One well-placed nuclear detonation over the American continent could wipe out all power nationwide with its EMP pulse (and I was surprised and happy to see the EMP pulse effect mentioned in the movie) and instantly turn the U.S. into a third-world nation. The worst thing we can do is to pretend the dangers of nuclear attack don't exist, and The Day After makes it all but impossible not to face up to that threat. It is still very much required viewing, in my opinion.
5.0 out of 5 stars 20 years later..........,
By A Customer
This review is from: The Day After (DVD)As a child, I was not allowed to watch this TV movie. As an adult, it wasn't available until May 18, 2004. I bought a copy and watched it avidly. It was worth the 20 year wait.
The screenplay is well written, the acting is good considering very few Americans even understood the concept of nuclear war at the time (Hiroshima, Nagasaki conveniently forgotten).
I was disappointed that they really didn't show the effects of "nuclear winter" or the true effects of radiation sickness but I was pleased that it wasn't too technical (I know my nuclear terminology, but don't want to hear it while watching a movie).
Overall a very good portrayal of what could (will?) happen - although now it's not so much the Russians as.......well, who?
2.0 out of 5 stars Missing dialog.,
This review is from: The Day After (DVD)I vividly recall watching (and taping) this when it played in the early 80's. While it displays many of the trappings of "made for TV" movies, it packs quite a punch. There are moments in the film that still give me chills 20 years later. Unfortunately one of those moments has been destroyed on this DVD. When a fellow doctor asks the Jason Robards character what he saw, he replies: "...it was high in the air. Like the sun exploding...TWO suns." His colleague appears crushed by the revelation. It's an emotional moment. On the DVD it appears to be just before the layer change. Robards gets half the sentence out when there is a pause in the picture, then another scene. For all I know there may be more missing. This may not be an all-time classic film but it deserves better than this.
The nice looking transfer doesn't make up for this shabby treatment.
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best TV Movies,
This review is from: The Day After (DVD)Most Made for Television have a lot cheese in them and after a few days the viewer forgets about them. But "The Day After" is different. Made in the early 1980's it shows the effects on nuclear war on the Kansas City area. These are just average people who are put worst situration that could ever happen. Starting Jason Robards, Steve Guttenburg, and JoBeth Williams we see how their characters would survive if it really happen. The DVD tranfer is great, but there are no extras. But don't let that stop you "The Day After" is a must for any fan of the end of the world stories.
5.0 out of 5 stars Here's an opinion of the former Soviet Union citizen,
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The Day After by Nicholas Meyer (DVD - 2004)