Top Gun

(1986) ** 1/2 Pg
110 min. Paramount Pictures. Director: Tony Scott. Cast: Tom Cruise, Kelly McGillis, Val Kilmer, Anthony Edwards, Tom Skerritt.

/content/films/3169/1.jpgFew movies are more "Totally '80s" than Top Gun, the smash hit that catapulted Tom Cruise to a new level of stardom. It's the sort of movie that didn't so much capture the zeitgeist as create it, with savvy cross-marketing of a movie that has all the elements for mainstream success: cool action sequences, competition, cocky heroes and the pretty women who love them. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer saw it as "Star Wars on Earth," a moniker just about empty-headed and wrong enough to be right. But for all the critical carping, and there has been much of it over the years, Top Gun endures as an all-time popular movie, with no sign of waning. Quite the contrary: if you believe the rumors, Cruise is being wooed to reprise his role as Pete "Maverick" Mitchell in a sequel that would hit screens a quarter-century after the fact.

Mitchell is a young pilot sent up to the U.S. Navy's elite Fighter Weapons School, known informally as "Top Gun." In the film's mythology, "Top Gun" signifies an in-school competition only one man can win, and Mitchell (call sign "Maverick") is certain he's the best of the best. The hotshot has all the accessories: aviator sunglasses, motorcycle, and well-practiced pick-up routines. But he's met his match in Charlotte "Charlie" Blackwood (Kelly McGillis), who (surprise!) turns out to be a civilian contractor evaluating the pilots at the school. She's got a PhD in Astrophysics and she knows better, but she's a sucker for this pilot who throws out the textbook and flies by the seat of his pants. He lives dangerously, and she wants a taste.

Screenwriters Jim Cash & Jack Epps, Jr. will not hear of throwing out the textbook, however. Hence the comic-relief sidekick (Anthony Edwards, bringing the requisite energy to empty material) and his perky wife (Meg Ryan), the tough but caring commanding officer (Tom Skerritt), and the personal rival that keeps Maverick in fighting form: Val Kilmer's "Iceman." (Also puttering around the supporting cast: Michael Ironside, Tim Robbins, Clarence Gilyard Jr. and Adrian Pasdar.) The story's emotional core comes from Maverick's unresolved feelings about his father, who died under mysterious circumstances about which the c.o.seems to know plenty. Living under his father's shadow, Maverick feels he has something to prove, even if he dies trying. In a weird way, the audience is the beneficiary of this D.O.A. plot, since it pays out in some of the most impressive aerial sequences in screen history, captured with the cooperation of the Navy (and why not cooperate? Top Gun is widely considered the Navy's best recruitment film).

/content/films/3169/2.jpgSo what makes this slick, commercial success so "totally '80s"? For starters, Kenny Loggins' super-hit "Danger Zone," penned by Giorgio Moroder and Tom Whitlock (the pair won the Best Song Oscar for "Take Your Breath Away," also from Top Gun, also totally '80s). Harold Faltermeyer's synth-y score even got its own single on the smash-hit soundtrack. The script's shamelessly schematic simplicity probably should be more dated than it is, but Cruise's emphatic, grinning showboating still somehow seems a product of its time. It's a movie star performance, built to carry us over the minefield of dopey dialogue and stock situations. The film begins and ends, as it must, during vague missions on the Indian Ocean, beads of sweat artfully dripping down every face as the fates of young Americans hang in the balance (the same line is uttered in both scenes: "Goddamit, Maverick!"—that's our hero, trusting his instinct to ride into the danger zone).

Top Gun's corniness has been inflated by its many imitators: it's undeniably a highly influential film. The technospeak and coded jargon fed into Paramount's later Tom Clancy films, and the heady, sweaty mix of heterosexual sex (married here, music-video style to Berlin's "Take Your Breath Away") and homoerotic male bonding (to Kenny Loggins' "Playing with the Boys") has been normalized and parodied in the decades since Tony Scott's film (even Scott calls the volleyball scene "soft porn"). But just as Top Gun has influenced its successors, it had its own roots in the jingoistic popcorn movies of WWII, with their thrilling dogfights, cardboard romance, and manly banter. Just as those movies were, Top Gun is a movie for adolescents, and adults who willfully decide not to know better for a couple of hours.

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Aspect ratios: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Number of discs: 1

Audio: 5.1 Dolby TrueHD, 6.1 DTS Master Audio

Street date: 7/29/2008

Distributor: Paramount Home Entertainment

Paramount's high-flying Special Collector's Edition of Top Gun wings its way to Blu-Ray with all of the previous DVD extras intact. Top Gun has never looked better than it does on Blu-Ray, with a detailed transfer that adds dimensionality to previously flat-looking DVD transfers, and preserves a film-like appearance while still making the movie look younger than its 22 years. Either of the two available audio options—Dolby TrueHD 5.1 and DTS-HD MA 6.1—would be an excellent choice to show off your home theatre system. Both have the capacity to rattle you to the core with powerful jet-engine sound effects, but both also sport excellent discrete separation of music and sound effects and dialogue, as during the film's opening, when the "Top Gun Anthem" gives way to the rush of air on the flight deck and the roar of engines, underscored by radio chatter. You are there.

First among the bonus features is the six-part documentary "Danger Zone: The Making of Top Gun" (2:27:42 with the "Play All" option), divided into the chapters "From the Ground Up: Pre-Production" (29:59), "Playing with the Boys—Production: Land and Sea" (26:40), "The Need for Speed—Production: Air" (28:26), "Back to Basics: Visual Effects" (17:09), "Combat Rock: The Music of Top Gun" (21:31), and "Afterburn: Release and Impact" (23:55). The titles tell the tale, but we get a look at photograph that inspired the screenplay, the book of photos (by Bruce Weber) that influenced director Tony Scott in the casting, and the Saab ad that helped Scott get the gig. We also hear how Scott paid $25,000 out of pocket for a single shot, the circumstances of Art Scholl's death filming an aerial stunt, and tales of the (character) tension between Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer.

At almost two and a half hours, this comprehensive doc is longer, by over half an hour, than the film it documents. Participants include Scott, Cruise, Kilmer, producer Jerry Bruckheimer, screenwriter Jack Epps, Jr., Admiral Mike "Wizard" McCabe (former Top Gun executive officer), technical advisor Pete Pettigrew, Barry Tubb, Rick Rossovich, editors Chris Lebenzon & Billy Weber, Michael Ironside, DP Jeffrey Kimball, MiG pilot Capt. Michael "Flex" Galpin, F-14 aerial coordinator Lloyd "Bozo" Abel, special photographic effects supervisor Gary Gutierrez, director of photography for USFX Rick Fichter, composer Harold Faltermeyer, music editor Bob Badami, Kenny Loggins, music produce Giorgio Moroder, and "Take My Breath Away" vocalist Terri Nunn. Obviously this doc is a must-see for any self-respecting Top Gun fan.

Though it's rendered pretty much redundant by the documentary, we also get a feature commentary with Bruckheimer, Scott, Epps, Galpin, Pettigrew, and McCabe. The participants are mostly edited together into one track, its only advantage over the doc being the specific identification of vehicles and a sort of play-by-play on the film's implausibilities.

Next are Multi-Angle Storyboards with optional commentary by Tony Scott: "Flat Spin" (4:02) and "Jester's Dead" (2:53), both allowing comparison between storyboards and finished scenes. "Best of the Best: Inside the Real Top Gun" (28:46) takes us inside the school's current home at the Naval Air Station in Fallon, Nevada.

Last up is an impressive Vintage Gallery, featuring material from 1986. A section of Music Videos (16:58 with "Play All" option) includes "Danger Zone" (3:56), Berlin's "Take My Breath Away" (4:30), Loverboy's "Heaven in Your Eyes" (4:05), and Harold Faltermeyer's "Top Gun Anthem" (4:25). Seven thirty-second TV Spots (3:46 with "Play All" option) are here: "Patriotism," "Story," "Male Action," "Romance," "Cruise/Action," "Cruise/Moody," and "Music." We get an original "Behind-the-Scenes Featurette" (5:30) with Bruckheimer & Don Simpson, Scott, and Pettigrew. More interesting is the "Survival Training Featurette" (7:30) (excerpted in the "Danger Zone" doc), which shows the actors getting schooled and includes comments by Cruise, Bruckheimer, Simpson, Scott, Anthony Edwards, John Stockwell, Barry Tubb, and Whip Hubley. Last but not least is a reel of "Tom Cruise Interviews" (6:42) with the ever-fascinating interview subject.


Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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