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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 19.51%
Average: 21.95%
Pretty Bad: 19.51%
Total Crap: 7.32%

2 reviews, 29 user ratings

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Day After, The
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by dionwr

"Big news from ABC! Nuclear War Would Be BAD!"
2 stars

This 1983 TV movie was hyped to the skies as graphic and chilling. It is neither. If it *had* been, it might have held up and be worth watching now. It didn't, it doesn't, and it isn't. It coasts over the surface of its subject, and then sits back to congratulate itself on its daring.

In a way, "The Day After" is the perfect example of a certain type of Hollywood message movie. It is well produced, well acted, and, well--BORING.



Not to mention the ever-popular SELF-IMPORTANT.

That a number of people find "The Day After" scary is less a comment on it than on the pablum that is produced and accepted on network TV here in the US. I look at the folks on this board who give this thing five stars, and I am struck by how little you must have seen.

It's funny, too--the network that produced it, ABC, thought about giving up the production when some advertisers pulled out, went ahead only after the director, Nicholas Meyer, agreed to tone down the film--and have bragged extensively about their courage for making it ever since. Watching it now, nothing strikes you so deeply as their craven cowardice.

"The Day After" is a what-if story about nuclear war showing, in a *very* restrained way lest they upset people too much, what would happen if they dropped the Big One. The restraint damns the enterprise.

Now, if you're going to make a no-holds-barred look at some subject, you better bar no holds. "The Day After" approaches this serious subject with all the courage of a three-year-old dipping a toe into a cold swimming pool. It's like watching a horror movie that isn't really scary, or a comedy that isn't really funny, or almost any Stanley Kramer film.

For example, when the missiles fall, there's a two minute sequence of people turning into (gasp!) X-Rays as they are (it's implied) incinerated. Woo-hoo, skeletons!

Aside from being lame, it skips the gory details, and thus, MOST of the meaning or feeling. Why don't they show any ash, or dust, or half-incinerated people? Or how about someone with their skin flash-burned off, as in the Japanese film about Hiroshima, "Black Rain"?

Consider how the same moment was shown in a much better film, the British TV movie "Threads," which also dealt with nuclear war. As a narrator tells about the heat flash that follows the detonation like thunder after lightning, one of the characters, a milkman, is leaving some milk on a stoop when he looks up and sees the mushroom cloud. He turns and runs, and the camera stays on the milk. After about five seconds, the heat flash hits and the milk explodes, boiling out of the bottles, and THEN--and this is the great bit--the bottles melt, right there on the porch. You don't see precisely what happens to the character who ran off. You don't have to.

As per the title, "The Day After" also limits its view to just a short time after the bombs fall. So Kansas City is reduced to ruin, lots of people die, but it avoids the long-term consequences and the much greater, but less photogenic, death that will follow in the wake of a nuclear war, as starvation and disease make the living envy the dead.

Again, contrast it with "Threads," if you want to see how to do it right. "Threads" covered the subject from a few weeks before the bomb fell until the second generation afterwards. Its final image is of a girl screaming in horror at the hideously mutated, stillborn, thing (which you are not shown), that she has just given birth to. "The Day After" comes off as a pink-and-white-bunny-rabbit in comparison.

And "The Day After" is aware of its limitations, as a title at the end makes clear. After soft-pedaling the disaster (while getting in every epic view of ruins their budget would allow), the end credits portentiously tells us that the real devastation of nuclear weapons would be far worse than what they've shown. If they knew that, why didn't they show it?

Consider carefully the implications. The makers of this film KNEW a harsher reality lurked behind what they were showing and decided AGAINST showing it. They TRIED to make a less affecting, less moving film. In the words of Kevin Smith, that's as stupid as making a "Star Wars" movie about a trade dispute. Folks, this movie's CHICKEN.


Additionally, the characters are interchangeable cardboard cutouts with no particular habits, mannerisms, or personalities. This is, of course, traditional in Hollywood Message Movies, under the feeling that the writer has sprained himself dealing with the Big Issue and has no need to do any further work. It is also one of the main reasons most such pretentious "serious" movies are such forgettable wankfests.

In contrast to that, look at Kubrick's "Dr. Strangelove." Making the characters memorable was the first step in making the movie memorable.

I particularly liked the way everyone stops to Discuss Things Seriously in that lovely Hollywood way people do in this type of movie, and which never happens in real life. About the second or third time Jason Robards stops to discuss The Meaning of It All with some other cast members, I was reminded of Oscar Wilde's comment: "One must have a heart of stone to read the death of little Nell without laughing..."

It could, I admit, be worse. There is the PBS nuclear war movie, "Testament," which manages to do nuclear war as an artsy-fartsy Chick Flick. Now, THAT one sucks all ass.

In contrast, "The Day After" isn't entirely without value, but its fate is to be one of those serious films shown to bored high school students by teachers trying to whomp up some interest in current events. They'll show this one because it doesn't go too far, and won't upset anyone too much. Considering the subject matter, that might be the most damning criticism of the film.

"The Day After" leaves you with the conclusion that nuclear war would be a bad thing, which I believe the audience had already figured out without the assistance of ABC.

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originally posted: 06/17/02 17:35:47
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User Comments

10/06/09 Fatin Give please. There is an alchemy in sorrow. It can be transmuted into wisdom, which, if it 1 stars
1/30/08 radio1 Testament. Threads. The Day After. All are effective. Esp. if viewed during the cold war. 5 stars
12/22/07 deepexit This film is scary, period. Not as gory as 'Threads' but you GET THE POINT. Good enuff 4 me 4 stars
7/14/07 Sugarfoot Testament did this story far better. Often melodramatic and over the top. 2 stars
7/03/07 David Cohen Badly overhyped second rate horror movie 3 stars
3/07/07 David Pollastrini scared the hell outr of me! 5 stars
11/28/06 Booksworm Sometimes a little boring,but a whole lot more frightening than any horror movie 4 stars
3/10/06 great very intense and powerful film, i must see Threads now, i hear thats even better. 5 stars
1/19/06 Lars-OLof Marklund The very best sci/war movie ever made. 5 stars
1/03/06 cody good destruction picture for it day, story was good, the rest was either dull or melodrama 3 stars
11/23/04 Mr Regular So some of you think the bomb F/X weren't graphic enough? Where were YOU on 9/11? 4 stars
6/10/04 A Reader Plays like a bad Irwin Allen movie next to "Threads," but was a TV mega-event in its day. 4 stars
5/18/04 Matt This movie was a little off on what really would happen, but i thought it was great! 5 stars
4/30/04 airborneranger this movie reflected the thoughts and fears of an entire generation on nuclear war. 4 stars
3/23/04 Trannon Goble I love it! 5 stars
2/17/04 Shameequala "Jesus Christ they've done it...they've really done it" - Threads, BBC 1984. Says it all. 3 stars
9/26/03 richard d good movie but it's not threads. 4 stars
6/11/03 Mystique AWESOME 5 stars
4/22/03 Daryl Carpenter Sanitized pap; Watch "Threads" instrad 2 stars
12/23/02 Robert THREADS (1984) ran big circles around The day after... 4 stars
10/30/02 Charles Tatum More Cold War paranoia 1 stars
9/17/01 brit After 9-11-02 this movie must be viewed to understand any realm of war we might be entering 5 stars
6/02/01 Jim This was a truly epic movie of shitty perportions 1 stars
6/01/01 BrainPan I remember this scaring the shit out of me as a little kid. 4 stars
5/30/01 Jason Culman The event of an American fallout never seemed so close to home until watching this movie. 5 stars
5/30/01 Jane Doe Disturbing 5 stars
2/17/01 JHawkBCD Fucking Awesome 5 stars
12/04/00 i sterne excellent for classroom use 5 stars
1/26/00 deb frightening 5 stars
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  02-Jul-1983 (PG)
  DVD: 18-May-2004

  02-Feb-1984 (12)

  02-Feb-1984 (PG)

Directed by
  Nicholas Meyer

Written by
  Edward Hume

  John Lithgow
  Amy Madigan
  Lori Lethin
  Bibi Besch
  Steve Guttenberg
  Jeff East

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