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Top Gun
Director: Tony Scott
Screenplay: Jim Cash & Jack Epps Jr.
Stars: Tom Cruise (Lt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell), Kelly McGillis (Charlotte “Charlie” Blackwood), Val Kilmer (Lt. Tom “Iceman” Kazanski), Anthony Edwards (Lt. Nick “Goose” Bradshaw), Tom Skerritt (Cmdr. Mike “Viper” Metcalf), Michael Ironside (Lt. Cmdr. Rick “Jester” Heatherly), John Stockwell (Cougar), Barry Tubb (Wolfman), Rick Rossovich (Lt. Ron “Slider” Kerner), Tim Robbins (Lt. Sam “Merlin” Wells), Clarence Gilyard Jr. (Sundown), Whip Hubley (Lt. Rick “Hollywood” Neven), James Tolkan (Stinger), Meg Ryan (Carole Bradshaw)
MPAA Rating: PG
Year of Release: 1986
Country: U.S.
Top Gun Blu-Ray + Digital Copy
Playing with the boys I am going to go out on a critical limb here and say, in its own way, Top Gun is a perfect movie. Like The Wizard of Oz (1939), Psycho (1960), or E.T. (1982), it achieves with a kind of rare perfection exactly what it set out to do. Those who find it vulgar, simplistic, or reactionary aren’t critiquing the movie itself, but rather its intentions. Top Gun is, in a sense, all of those things, but those very critiques can be countered simply by changing the tenor of the rhetoric: it’s populist, streamlined, and action-oriented.

The film, which takes it title from the nickname given to the Miramar Fighter Weapons School in Miramar, California, established in 1969 to teach the lost art of dogfighting to the best Navy pilots, was the brainchild of producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, the wunderkind producers who redefined action filmmaking in the 1980s. Known collectively within the industry as “the boys,” by the time they were in their early 40s, they had produced some of the most commercially successful high-concept Hollywood movies of the era, including Flashdance (1983), Beverly Hills Cop (1984), Top Gun, and Beverly Hills Cop II (1987), the last three of which were the highest or second-highest grossing movies of their respective years. In terms of hitting the pulse of audiences in the 1980s, they were virtually without peer; only Steven Spielberg could be said to be more consistently successful at the box office.

Not only did their films rake in money, but they established a tone and style that was later emulated by the rest of the industry. Thus, Simpson and Bruckheimer were cinematically influential--pioneers, in their own way--helping to develop and make popular a visually slick, narratively simple, fast-paced, feel-good, high-concept formula that many likened to feature-length music videos (indeed, it is impossible to imagine Top Gun without its rock-driven soundtrack; it is a film of and for the MTV era). The movies they made were fundamentally different from the majority of those that were being made 10 years earlier, and they were central to the shift in tone and style between the 1970s and 1980s.

Top Gun was Simpson and Bruckheimer’s crowning achievement, and all the movies that have followed in its wake have attempted to imitate with varying degrees of success its seemingly effortless integration of action, romance, comedy, and, most of all, an ethos of winning. In Top Gun, as in many action films of its era, winning in and of itself becomes the end goal, which reflects not only the bull-market mentality of the Reagan era, but the attitude of the producers themselves. It’s no small surprise that Simpson and Bruckheimer considered themselves to be their own primary audience; as they said in many interviews, they made movies first and foremost that they as moviegoers would want to see. The appetite for victory tended to define Simpson and Bruckheimer’s central characters, as well, and audiences gorged on this big-screen fantasy of Reagan-era power after a decade of defeat and cynicism.

Central to Top Gun, then, is the character of Maverick, a renegade Navy pilot who is less played than embodied by Tom Cruise at the height of his sexual prowess in a bomber jacket, tight jeans, and Ray-Bans. The star wattage he generated was the fuel that kicked off his career and helped elevate him from a bankable teenage heartthrob to the most powerful actor/producer of the last few decades. Coming off the fantasy flop Legend (1985), which woefully miscast him as an asexual forest sprite, Cruise personified Simpson and Bruckheimer’s ethos of winning at all costs; he was the guy every guy wanted to be and every woman (and, not incidentally, every gay man) wanted to be with. His name summarizes his attitude toward life. One character tells him that he would never be happy unless he’s going Mach-5 with his hair on fire, and that’s precisely what the film delivers.

The narrative in Top Gun revolves around the training of the elite 1% of Naval aviators. Thus, built into the very core of the story is competition among alpha males, which gives the film a nonstop testosterone kick. Maverick and his reel Goose (Anthony Edwards, playing the perfectly likable comic foil) are competing primarily with Iceman (Val Kilmer), who is the polar opposite of Maverick. Where Maverick is risky and unpredictable, always flying by the seat of his pants, Iceman is just as his name suggest--cool, rational, always in control. The battle between who’s “the best of the best” is partially about flying skill and partially about attitude. Maverick relishes his label of being “unsafe,” something in the deepest recesses of our ids we all want to be, as well.

Given the tone of the film, it is not surprising that there is so much raw masculinity on display throughout Top Gun--note the number of scenes that take place in locker rooms and, of course, the “Playing With the Boys” volleyball scene that turns the hard-body aviators into eye candy for the female audience, effectively punching a hole in Laura Mulvey’s theory that the camera only objectifies women. Of course, with all that male flesh, it was bound to happen that the film would be read in terms of a gay subtext, and what makes it so intriguing is that you barely have to scratch the surface to get to it. The various looks that Maverick and Iceman exchange throughout the film have enough homoerotic overtones to fuel an entire film by themselves.

For straight men watching the film, any gay overtones are mitigated by the hypersexual flirtation between Maverick and Charlotte “Charlie” Blackwood (Kelly McGillis), an expert in astrophysics who teaches at Top Gun. It is here again, though, that the film exceeds expectations, as screenwriters Jim Cash and Jack Epps, Jr. supply us with a female romantic lead who is strong, smart, and resilient--in every way Maverick’s equal and, in some senses, his superior (not to mention she’s taller). Had Maverick’s romance been with anyone less sure of herself than Charlie, it would have been deflated and obvious.

Ultimately, though, Top Gun is about Maverick’s ascent to the heights of not just male, but human, superiority. It asks the audience to come along for the ride, to bask in the glow of a cocksure silver-screen stud in whom we can lose ourselves and any pretenses toward humility and charity. The narrative arc isn’t anything grand or original, and the final showdown with Soviet planes that brings the film to its climax has virtually no narrative motivation other than to supply Maverick with a convenient means to assert himself and overcome a personal tragedy that threatens to make him mortal. Critically dismissed as it may be, Top Gun is a crucial Hollywood film, one that achieves its status through the simple fact that so many others want to be it, but can’t. Far from being a relic of ’80s miasma, Top Gun is a moment of cinematic perfection all its own.

Top Gun Blu-Ray + Digital Copy

Aspect Ratio2.35:1
  • English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround
  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 6.1 surround
  • French Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • SubtitlesEnglish, French, Spanish, Portuguese
  • Audio commentary by director Tony Scott, producer Jerry Bruckheimer, Captain Mike Galpin, Lt. Pete Pettigrew, and Vice-Admiral Mike McCabe
  • “Best of the Best: Inside the Real Top Gun” featurette
  • Danger Zone: The Making of Top Gun six-part documentary
  • Kenny Loggins “Danger Zone” music video
  • Berlin “Take My Breath Away” music video
  • Loverboy “Heaven in Your Eyes” music video
  • “Top Gun Anthem” music video
  • Multi-angle storyboards
  • TV spots
  • Behind-the-scenes featurette
  • Survival training featurette
  • Tom Cruise interviews
  • Production photos
  • DistributorParamount Home Entertainment
    Release DateAugust 30, 2011

    This is Top Gun second appearance in high definition, following an HD-DVD release a few years ago. It looks like this 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer came from the same high-def master, which means that it looks very good, although not absolutely spectacular. The transfer itself is solid, with no signs of digital compression or halos, but the print that was used for the transfer is a little bit spotty at times, with bits of dirt and white speckles that might catch your eye. Colors are bold and well saturated, and the image is filled with fine detail. The image also maintains a nice, filmlike appearance; for example, the heavily filtered opening shots retain the intended grain. As Top Gun was shot in Super35, there has some variability in its aspect ratio over the years. This transfer here, like the Special Edition DVD from seven years ago, was matted at 2.35:1, which is how it was generally shown theatrically. This is different from my old AC-3 widescreen laser disc, which looks like it was matted closer to the 70mm blow-up aspect ratio of 2.20:1. The excellent image quality is matched, if not surpassed, by the lossless surround soundtracks, which deliver all the kicks and thrills one would expect. You can choose either the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround or DTS-HD Master Audio 6.1 surround, both of which are superb. The roar of the jets flying at Mach-3 gives the low end a solid workout, while the guitar-and-synthesizer-heavy rock music has never sounded better.
    With the exception of the new 28-minute featurette “Best of the Best: Inside the Real Top Gun,” which is also the only supplement presented in high-definition, all the supplementary material here is from the Special Edition DVD from 2004. The screen-specific audio commentary is definitely worth a listen. Cleanly edited together from three separate recording sessions, it includes numerous participants to keep it lively and informative. Director Tony Scott and producer Jerry Bruckheimer have plenty to offer about the film’s production, but it is arguably the participation of the film’s military advisors (Captain Mike Galpin, Lt. Pete Pettigrew, and Vice-Admiral Mike McCabe) that is the most interesting. They have fun pointing out the film’s exaggerations and flat-out fabrications, but you’ll be surprised to learn just how accurate a lot of it is.

    The film’s production is chronicled in detail in the excellent six-part documentary Danger Zone: The Making of Top Gun. No stone is left unturned here, as it features new interviews with a host of participants, including director Tony Scott, producer Jerry Bruckheimer, writer Jack Epps, actors Tom Cruise, Val Kilmer, Michael Ironside, Rick Rossovich, and Barry Tubb, technical advisor Peter “Viper” Pettigrew, photographic effects supervisor Gary Gutierrez, director of photography Jeffrey Kimball, composer Harold Faltermeyer, and editors Chris Lebenzon and Billy Weber, among others. Hell, they even get Kenny Loggins and Berlin lead singer Terri Nunn to discuss their contributions to the film’s soundtrack.

    A multi-angle storyboard allows you to look at two scenes, “Flat Spin” and “Jester’s Dead,” in their original storyboard format or in comparison to the final film, with or without commentary by Tony Scott.

    The rest of the supplements are all “vintage,” meaning they date back to the film’s release. These include four super-cheesy music videos: Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone,” Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away,” Loverboy’s “Heaven in Your Eyes,” and “The Top Gun Anthem.” Seven TV spots illustrate how the film’s advertising campaign tried to address every conceivable audience (apparently, the original theatrical trailer couldn’t be included due to rights issues involving he music used). There is also a vintage behind-the-scenes featurette, a survival training featurette, interviews with Tom Cruise, and a gallery of production photos.

    Overall Rating: (4)

    All images copyright © Paramount Home Entertainment

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