Dear Reader: Please not that this is a comparison that mainly concerns the different versions from a German perspective. The mentioned DVDs and other versions are often the German ones. However, there do exist several versions of "The Day After" and most likely the differences which are shown in this comparison can be found in the versions which have been released in your country in one way or another. Beside that, the intro offers a lot of general information about the movie itself and different versions from different countries. That’s why we decided to translate this comparison as well to give interested readers an impression.
"The Day After" is probably one of the most impressive American TV productions of all time. Normally one should be careful when using superlatives, however, in the case of "The Day After" you simply have to use them in order to clarify the movies impact on a whole generation of Americans for younger movie fans. When the movie hat its TV premiere on November 20th, 1983 more than 100 million Americans sat in front of their TVs (back then, the USA had a population of about 260 million citizens). Even the US government couldn't escape from this media event and actually later had to make an official statement about the concept of nuclear warfare. The then president - Ronald Reagan - wrote in his famous diaries that the movie deeply affected him emotionally. After signing the disarmament treaties of Reykjavik (a contract between the USA and the Soviet Union) in 1987 - 4 years after the first run of the movie - the Reagan-administration contacted Nicholas Meyer (the director of the movie) via a telegram that included the following text: „Don't think your movie didn't have any part of this, because it did.“
The cultural influence of "The Day After" (at least for the anglo-saxon part of the world) can't be denied and right from the beginning ABC was aware of the fact that the movie would be a dominating topic in the press if it was to be successful. Due to ABC's reputation as well as financial situation a commercial failur was out of the question. Therefore the TV channel pickily monitored the whole production and also tried to influence it in various ways. The most obvious influence could be noticed during the post-production (e.g. the cut of the movie) which resulted in various delays of the first run (sometimes it was delayed for several month); for this reason, the director almost wanted to resign from the project.
In the following part of this introduction we want to bring light into the darkness of the different versions of the movie and also give you an overview of all the problems the producers had to face during post-production.
Originally, "The Day After" was planned to be a four-hour TV event that was supposed to be shown on two running days. The first part was supposed to give all the background information and end with the scene where the atom bombs hit their targets; the second part then would be the actual "day after" where you would see all the consequences of the nuclear holocaust. After all the scenes were shot, ABC and director Nicholas Meyer decided to rather go for a movie with a runtime of two hours since Meyer believed "no one wants to sit through two evenings of nuclear holocaust." This would really endanger the movie's actual success (especially because the main plot takes place in the second part that a lot of people might not even want to watch after watching the first one). However, the footage for a four-hour-special was already shot (minus some SFX-sequences), therefore Meyer "only" had to alter the plot's tempo; plus he had to decide which of the scenes would fit the two-hour-version (especially in terms of conveying the message).
Of course, reading this task is much easier than actually fulfilling this difficult task, especially since many plot points are connected together; thus, you couldn't just cut out "every second scene". Additionally, such an immense re-cut extremely alters the overall tone of the movie and you have to be very careful in order to be able to co-ordinate the scenes. If these problems weren't already difficult enough, ABC also (for several different reasons) enforced their concept of the cut onto Meyer.
The first reason for this was ABC's marketing strategy: since the movie was one of the most expensive TV productions, a financial failure was simply out of the question. However, there was also a political reason: Meyer needed high-quality stock footage of rocket launchings (resp. the Army-personnel). Since this footage was owned by the US Army, there were several liabilities connected with the provision of the material: The Pentagon wanted the movie to clarify that the USA would not do a first strike but rather act defensively. For Meyer this demand was quite absurd since he thought that for the actual message of the movie it was not important at all who would do the first strike - for this reason, this detail was left out completely. However, the original script suggestively implies that the USA acted rather offensive since a first strike by the Soviet Union (who already bombed Brussels) was most likely to be expected. Even though this was just a minor influence on the cut of the movie it still is quite an interesting problem the producers had to face.
In the end it was ABC who were the biggest problem - they even hired psychologists to survey the different versions of the movie. Because of these surveys, several scenes (that were thought to be "disturbing", especially for a younger audience) had to be cut out. Additionally, ABC was wooried that several scenes might seem to be absurd for the audience (e.g. the consumption of rats) since the new runtime of two hours was not enough to express the society's brutalization comprehensibly. Other scenes were cut out due to political reasons (e.g. the US Army shooting scavengers). ABC also insisted on cutting several scenes out that seemed to be too violent to show. Nicholas Meyer soon faced a pyre of a movie and wanted to leave the project because he couldn't identify with the cut ABC wanted him to produce anymore. He had to make at least four different versions and even in the last of his versions (which comes closest to the actual first run) ABC still revealed "faults".
Nicholas Meyer bequeathed all the scripts and prod
VI. a) Cuts (also includes alternative footage and sequences with an altered audio)
A speaker from off-screen translates the English title card which is shown slightly longer.
Originally the movie starts with stock footage on board of an Army plane. During the first run, this scene was included at a different point of the movie. Since the starting of the Air Force plane was reworked both visually and auditorily, parts of the opening were cut out. The first run immediately begins with the opening theme. Both the credits for the studio as well as the director were cut out. Additionally, the music starts a little earlier in the first run.
The first run misses out on an alternative shot of the Kansas City board of trade.
In order to spare some time, several shots of a flying Army helicopter were cut out.
In the "Special-Uncut-Version" you see another shot of the soldiers instead of the newspaper report with the headline „President warns Sowjets!“. However, you see this headline in the first run.
No difference in time.
Another shot of the flying helicopter is missing.
In the "Special-Uncut-Version" McCoy's crew lands the helicopter on the missile base. In the first run, this scene was included at a later point of the movie; therefore, it also lacks the following shot of the crew and instead shows alternative footage so that the transition is a little smoother.
No difference in time.
A short missing shot of a slodier.
A short dialogue during the routine check of the missile base's crew was cut out [Dialogue: The first soldier asks about the aerostatics, the second one replies that all the silos are flawless and absolutely new, Oscar 11 is the sole exception. This state will last for about 2 hours.] Since the first run shows several scenes in a different order, it also lacks a short shot of a nuclear missile which then fades to the "Liberty Memorial Monument" of Kansas City (which fittingly is shaped like an obelisk); there, Dr. Oakes meets up with his daughter.
A missing shot of the house of farmer-family Dahlberg (complete with a little title card).
A short scene where family Dahlberg waits for daughter Denise and her fiance Bruce in front of the church was cut out.
A short missing sequence of Bruce walking past Mr. Dahlberg.
For no apparent reason the lettering „The McCoy House - Whiteman AFB, Sedalia, Missouri - 85 miles east of Kansas City“ was not included in the first run.
No difference in time.
Bruce and Denise talk in front of the Dahlberg-farm's barn. The dialogue coming from off-screen (which starts when the camera starts to pan) was shortened. Bruce says that Andy organized a sort-of eve-of-wedding party, therefore this is the last time until sunday that the two of them see themselves. Denise replies that her mother wants to try the dress on with her.
Alternative footage: Since the dialogue between Denise and Bruce originally began with a camera panning and the beginning of the dialogue was cut out, the editors wanted to avoid an abrupt transition which would have begun in the middle of the camera panning. Therefore they completely cut the tracking shot out and replaced it with a still of the Dahlberg's farm. The rest of the dialogue can be heard during this shot.
No difference in time.
The actual camera panning which begins when the Dahlbergs go into the house is now partially catched up on. The conversation continues (off-screen). A short shot of Bruce and Denise had to be cut out for this.
No difference in time.
Denise's little sister Joleen hid her contraceptives. She chases Joleen through the house a little longer and falls in the process. Parts of the dialogue were cut out (mostly just Nicky shouting at Joleen, telling her to give her belongings back).
Due to the new order of the scenes, the following stock footage now starts with the mobilization of the AirForce soldiers (which originally was planned to be the very first scene of the movie). A small scene was shortened and a dialogue was cut out. Over the radio we hear someone asking if he comes in clear. Then we see two officers talking to the general. The general says that they have to complete the overview and the first officer affirms it. The second officer asks the general if he wants a cup of coffe and the latter says that he does so.
You see Dr. Oakes driving down the departure to Kansas City. Additionally a part of the radio announcer (off screen) is missing. He concludes a sentence with "the following arrangements in case of an imminent attack".
Alternative sequence: When the news anchor says that several nuclear weapons were used against attacking Soviet troups, the "Special-Uncut-Version's" slowly zooms to the TV screen.
No difference in time.
Looks like even the editor had his problems with these many alternate takes, cuts and order of the scenes which is why two short scenes were accidentally transposed. It’s hardly noticeable because the sound comes from the off and the viewer’s focus lies on the boy. The following dialog has accidentally been combined with the wrong scene (screen on the right) in the first edition. Furthermore the (phony) news anchor has been cut out too early. The first lacks the last word.
As a result oft hat, the second scene with the boy in front of the TV is also incorrect. The longer dialog needed to end in the following scene because the wrongly chosen scene isn’t long enough.
Missing shots oft he army being ready for combat.
Shot of Dr. Oakes‘ attempt to reach his wife via phone booth. A pretty scared father approaches him. Dr. Oakes decides to get back in his car and drive in the direction of Kansas City.
Displaced audio track: during the panic buyings in the supermarket, the audio track starts almost 4 sec later in the first edition.
Missing scenes of the military again.
The tracking shot of the inside of the Dahlberg cellar has been replaced by an exterior shot of Jim Dahlberg covering the cellar windows with mud. The exterior shot is shorter.
Shot of Billy Dahlberg putting down the milk can, then he tells his sister he didn’t know why he was supposed to do that.
Shot of Steven Klein looking back.
Extended shot of Steven Klein looking around for a much longer time.
Extended shot oft he cows being out to grass.
Extended shot oft he horse on the field.
Extended shot oft he swing.
Missing shot of the army being ready for combat.
Another missing shot of them. For some reason, a dialog gets repeated in the “Special Uncut Version”.
Extended shot of startled horse during the launch of the first missile.
Missing shot of the master painter looking up the sky.
Missing shot of a launching missile.
Another missing shot of a launching missile.
Shot of Dr. Oakes‘ car taking a turn to Kansas City.
Dr. Oakes‘ car on the empty highway to Kansas City. Actually, this scene belongs in this movie at an earlier point which is why the voice over has been removed because it would be out of context here. The radio announcer says it was absolutely necessary for the population to become familiar with the measures.
Another missing distance shot of Dr. Oakes’ trip to Kansas City.
Missing shot of a wounded kid screaming at the camera when Dr. Oakes and Sister Bower are talking about the resistance of cockroaches.
Alternate footage: since Dr. Oakes‘ conversation passes over the screaming kid, this cut is not just abrupt and sloppy but an additional shot of the cockroaches was also required. The first shot of the roaches gets repeated and replaces the shot of Dr. Oakes and Sister Bower.
Alternate footage: there’s no need for the second shot oft he roaches anymore.
When the camera zooms out from dying Dr. Oakes, Professor Huxley’s voice is already audible from the off before the actual transition.
The English text at the end oft he movie has been replaced by two German textboxes in the „Special Uncut Version“. It doesn’t make any sense at all because the textboxes look pretty misplaced plus the text at the beginning is still in English and was accompanied by a German voice over with the corresponding translation. Moreover the second German textbox contains a mistake (‘”nationen”). The German textboxes are also being displayed for a longer period which is the reason for the different length in either of the versions.
VI. b) rearranged plot
Note: Here only those scenes are mentioned which were rearranged in the course of the movie (usually these scenes have been inserted at an earlier point in time). Those scenes which therefore were necessarily shifted to a later point of time (but have not been altered regarding the cut-chronology) will not be mentioned.
Due to a quite abrupt cut (hearable by a musically fading which lacks its beginning now), the meeting of Dr. Oakes and his daughters already takes place in the first edition at this point of time.
This scene happens in the „Special-Uncut-Version“ at 0:10.32.
Now another documentary scene sets in directly after the helicopter-flight that serves as a control flight for the army staff of the missile base.
This scene happens in the „Special-Uncut-Version“ at 9:57.
McCoy’s Crew lands on its military base. This scene is supposed to happen before the one mentioned above.
This scene happens in the „Special-Uncut-Version“ at 0:09.07.
The soldier McCoy packs his stuff for his shift and gets involved in a discussion with his wife.
This scene happens in the „Special-Uncut-Version“ at 0:24.51.
McCoy flies toward his military base.
This scene happens in the „Special-Uncut-Version“ at 0:26.33.
Dawn sets in already now and the Farmer Dahlberg looks after his cattle.
This scene happens in the „Special-Uncut-Version“ at 0:26.55.
Only now the documentary footage of the US-Army preparing for a bombing operation follows. Originally, this scene took place already at the beginning of the movie, even before the opening credits.
This scene happens in the „Special-Uncut-Version“ at 0:00.00.
The farmer’s wife Hardy prepares food for her children.
This scene happens in the „Special-Uncut-Version“ at 0:41.59.
The farmer Dahlberg and his son help to cover up the ceiling-windows of the church with soil. The pastor thanks Dahlberg afterwards and asks him to take care about his own family now.
This scene happens in the „Special-Uncut-Version“ at 0:39.27.
A short view of the missile-silo can be seen.
This scene happens in the „Special-Uncut-Version“ at 0:10.39.
Dr. Oakes wanders through the devastated streets of Lawrence.
This scene happens in the „Special-Uncut-Version“ at 1:00.02.
Students of the Kansas University assemble a Geiger counter.
This scene happens in the „Special-Uncut-Version“ at 1:00.41.
The operation of Dr. Oakes has been shifted after his conversation with nurse Bower.
This scene happens in the „Special-Uncut-Version“ at 1:09.41.
Dr. Hachia looks after Billy Dahlberg who has gone blind. Afterwards, Stephen picks up Billy and Denise and wants to drive home with them.
This scene happens in the „Special-Uncut-Version“ at 1:48.10.