|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
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 its 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 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 his career into the stratosphere, elevating 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, the “best of the best,” 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” 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 MIGs 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 though 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 Gun4K UHD + Blu-ray
|English: Dolby AtmosEnglish: Dolby TrueHD 7.1 surround German: Dolby Digital 5.1 surround Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1 surround Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1 surround French: Dolby Digital 5.1 surround Italian: Dolby Digital 5.1 surround Japanese: Dolby Digital 2.0 stereoJapanese: Dolby Digital monauralPortuguese: Dolby Digital 5.1 surround Russian: Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
| English, English SDH, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Spanish, Cantonese, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Korean, Mandarin (Simplified), Mandarin (Traditional), Norwegian, Romanian, Russian, Swedish, Thai
|Audio commentary by director Tony Scott, producer Jerry Bruckheimer, Captain Mike Galpin, Lt. Pete Pettigrew, and Vice-Admiral Mike McCabe“The Legacy of Top Gun” featurette“On Your Six: Thirty Years of Top Gun” five-part documentaryDanger Zone: The Making of Top Gun six-part documentaryMulti-angle storyboards“Best of the Best: Inside the Real Top Gun” featuretteKenny Loggins “Danger Zone” music videoBerlin “Take My Breath Away” music videoLoverboy “Heaven in Your Eyes” music video“Top Gun Anthem” music videoOriginal theatrical promotional material including behind-the-scenes teaturette, survival training featurette, Tom Cruise interviews, and TV spots
|Paramount Home Video
|May 13, 2020
|Paramount has released Top Gun so many times in the high-definition era that I think I may have lost count. Let’s see—there’s the 2016 Steelbook edition Blu-ray and the 2011 Blu-ray, which featured the same transfer; a 2013 3D Blu-ray; and an HD-DVD (remember that failed format?) in 2008. However, this new release marks the film’s debut in 2160p/Dolby Vision UHD, and it looks spectacular. Remastered and restored from the original 35mm camera negative, the new transfer does an excellent job of improving detail, contrast, and color from the previous high-definition releases. The new transfer also clears up some persistent problems from the previous discs, including bits of dirt and white speckles that are now gone. Most importantly, there appears to have been no attempts at smoothing out the image, which maintains a healthy filmlike appearance with plenty of grain and texture; for example, the heavily filtered opening shots on the aircraft carrier retain the intended grain and softness. The film as a whole has a slightly soft, warm, filtered look that helped define the music video aesthetic of late ’80s action cinema, and this transfer retains that look without trying to “update” it. There appears to have been a few tweaks of color temperature in some scenes, which in earlier transfers leaned more bluish and are now warmer (for example, the scene in the hallway with Charlie and Maverick after her presentation). All in all, though, that defining look that director Tony Scott and cinematographer Jeffrey Kimball achieved is accurately preserved. (A side note: Top Gun was shot in Super35, so there has been some variability in its aspect ratio over the years. This transfer here, like the previous Blu-ray and Special Edition DVD, is 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 was matted closer to the 70mm blow-up aspect ratio of 2.20:1.) The image quality is matched by the lossless Dolby Atmos surround soundtrack, which delivers all the kicks and thrills one would expect. The sound presentation is superb, as 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. Separation on the front soundstage and in the surrounds is masterful, putting us right in the middle of the action from the opening moments.
Along with the rock-solid new transfer, Paramount’s 4K disc also includes a healthy dose of new supplements (all of which were clearly made in conjunction with the film’s forthcoming sequel) alongside a lot of familiar ones. New to this edition is “The Legacy of Top Gun,” a 6-minute featurette that includes interviews with producer Jerry Bruckheimer, star Tom Cruise, Top Gun: Maverick director Joseph Kosinski, and a half dozen actors from that film, who talk about Top Gun’s unique legacy as a lead-in to scenes from the sequel. We also get On Your Six: Thirty Years of Top Gun, which is composed of five new featurettes: “Looking Back” (7 min.), in which Cruise and Bruckheimer reflect on the film’s production; “America’s Best” (5 min.), which looks at the role the U.S. military played in the production and the casting of the main actors; “Into the Danger Zone” (8 min.), which looks at various aspects of the film’s production; “Going Ballistic (4 min.), in which Cruise and Bruckheimer reminisce about shooting onboard an aircraft carrier; and “Narrow Targets and the Future” (6 min.), which is about the film’s reception and the long-in-coming decision to make a sequel.
The rest of the supplements are all familiar from the 2011 Blu-ray and the 2004 Special Edition DVD. The screen-specific audio commentary is worth a full listen, even if you’ve heard it before. 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. Also on the disc is “Best of the Best: Inside the Real Top Gun,” a 28-minute featurette that was new to 2011 Blu-Ray. 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’s “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.
Copyright © 2020 James Kendrick
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