Top Gun looks absolutely impressive in its 3D release, even if the film itself has its issues.
I’m not the kind of guy who accepts failure when it comes to film, which is why growing up with Top Gun on my shelf signified nothing less than total adoration for it. Who could blame me: more gritty at the time than Bond, faster-paced than Star Trek, and simply unlike anything I’d seen before, Top Gun represented the beginning of modern action cinema, setting into place what the genre would eventually become. It was a simple formula: mix great one-liners with top-shelf action sequences, a rock-themed soundtrack, and center things around a brilliant but dangerous hero with a dark past, and you have the standard for the Military-Themed-Action-Drama. It also didn’t hurt that at its center was the hottest male actor of the 80’s in Tom Cruise (Mission Impossible series), whose bravado and stage presence (along with his ripped physique) brought everyone to the theater. Top Gun became a launching pad for a career that’s spanned three decades, solidifying Cruise at the time as Hollywood’s top-grossing actor. One might pitifully suggest that Schwarzenegger deserves equal credit, but Cruise has lasted longer, been in better films, and has a much better chance of surviving this tumultuous decade. But Top Gun also introduced audiences to Val Kilmer, Michael Ironside, Tom Skerritt, and the subject of every teenage boy’s fantasies in Kelly McGillis. We responded by making it the highest-grossing movie in 1986, soaring past Platoon and Aliens, each of which has frankly held up better over time. With its arrival this week in 3D, we can relive what was an ambitious and highly entertaining film in the best possible way.
Cruise plays Maverick, a brilliant but dangerous US Navy fighter pilot whose close call with a Russian MIG-28 over the Indian Ocean has already ended the career of his wingman who nearly died in the encounter. Left with no option, the commander aboard the USS Enterprise (James Tolkan, Back to the Future) is forced to send Maverick and his co-pilot Goose (Anthony Edwards, Revenge of the Nerds) to the advanced fighter school known as Top Gun. There, the guys meet their match in the form of the perfectly-chiseled Iceman (Val Kilmer, Thombstone), who’s worried that Maverick’s wild-west approach to flying will get the wrong person killed. Under the guidance of instructors Viper (Tom Skerritt, Alien) and Jester (Michael Ironside, Starship Troopers), the recruits learn how to work together to protect each other while honing their skills as high-flying fighter pilots. But Maverick has additional issues to deal with, including the specter of his father’s failure as a fighter pilot over Vietnam and the fear that he’ll too fail during a critical moment. As disaster and personal loss strikes the team, Maverick’s relationship with flight instructor Charlie (Kelly McGillis, Witness) intensifies, leading to a moment of truth and a final showdown with those pesky Russian MIG-28’s.
Basking in unadulterated, over-the-top cinematic glory, Top Gun‘s 80’s dramatics feel dated and even cheesy. Watching it 26 years after its release, I find my love for it definitely dulled, due in no small part to the porous acting of Cruise’s supporting cast and the continual playing of Berlin’s Take My Breath Away, which seems to happen every 5 minutes. Perhaps that’s due to Director Tony Scott (Days of Thunder), who brings the schmaltz like a MLB pitcher brings the heat. He does know how to shoot pretty scenes and wrap the audience into the story; but, dramatic edge is so centered on trying to be important and majestic that it routinely fails to approach anything worth mentioning and even induces unintentional laughter at points. Of course, all of that disappears when the action heats up and the jets start roaring, which was the reason that brought us to the theater in the first place.
Another issue is the film’s ending, which is as unrealistic as they come. Granted, Iceman and Maverick are some of the best at their game, but to assume that both pilots can return unscathed after being outmatched 3-1 against faster and more maneuverable jets is arrogant, propagandistic, and flag-toting. All of this ranting might suggest that I hated the film, but there’s a lot of it that I still like. At its center, Top Gun is a story about relationships wrapped around high-altitude steel. The story furthers the action, endearing itself to audiences with a bevy of memorable one-liners as well as a major character death that snaps the audience out of any complacency it may have had. Add Skerritt to that mix as the man with all the answers about Maverick’s dad and all of a sudden these arrogant pilots suddenly have feelings. That formula would be repeated in 1988’s Die Hard, and serve as a template for dozens of films throughout the 90’s and early 2000’s. And while the events of 9/11 have changed the industry forever (perhaps for the better), we can look back at Top Gun with wonder and even a little nostalgia, forgiving its many errors along the way.
I know a lot of grief has been rightfully thrown the 2D version’s way – with grain over-scrubbed and complexions a bit red – so this review will focus on the new 3D release instead. If the 2D persisted in all the above (including white pops), there’s zero evidence of any of these shortcomings in the 3D print. It’s almost as if the studio realized their mistakes on the 2D and actually fixed them. I’ve been harsh on 3D for its gimmick, but Top Gun looks simply amazing in the format. There’s a real sense of depth to every scene, from the encounter on the Indian Ocean, to dinner at Charlie’s house, to the outdoor environments around Miramar. The most effective use is when land and sky are paired, resulting in a depth that should be seen to be believed. You don’t get quite the same sensation when the aircraft are close in-scene, but that’s ok because even fine details like metal screws are visible. Add to this clarity any of those amazingly-shot scenes involving the head-to-head action, and you’d think you were in the cockpit staring those Russians down. Everything else is enhanced and polished without over-scrubbing, colors are more realistic than ever, and the overall feeling is that Paramount got it absolutely right this time. Perhaps we’ll see a re-release of the 2D disc to complement this impressive 3D offering?
Blaring and busting at the seams, Top Gun’s 3D audio is the same impressive dual offering as the 2D: a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track and a DTS-HD MA 6.1 mix. After sampling both, I could hear an instant improvement when I switched to the DTS. I’m not just talking in terms of volume, but the depth of the volume is what impressed me. Movement across speakers was better, the soundtrack was more dynamic, and the engine roar just rocked the floor. Take the impressive opening encounter as Maverick, Goose, Cougar, and Merlin engage the MIGs – there’s a genuine sense you are flying with them, experiencing the various maneuvers as well as Cougar’s rough landing onto the Enterprise. The LFE gets an impressive workout too, churning the deep end as often as it can. I love the surround environment, which seems improved and more dynamic than ever before – voices I could not catch on the DVD are there now, including office chatter, wind, and other effects. Spend some time switching between the settings to hear exactly what I mean.
- Commentary Track with Producer Jerry Bruckheimer, Director Tony Scott, Co-screenwriter Jack Epps, Jr., Captain Mike Galpin, Technical Advisor Pete Pettigrew, and Vice Admiral Mike McCabe. It’s a fun, insightful, but somewhat disjointed track, as Bruckheimer’s comments were recorded separately. It’s good to see Paramount allowed Galpin, Pettigrew, and McCabe’s tracks to remain, as they do point out the many technical inaccuracies of the movie.
- Danger Zone: The Making of ‘Top Gun’ (480p, 2:27:42): This has to be one of the most extraordinary documentaries about a film I’ve ever seen. Taking you through every bit of the film’s production, you can choose to watch the entire documentary or individual chapters, which include The Making of ‘Top Gun’ From the Ground Up Pre-Production, Playing with the Boys Production: Land and Sea, The Need For Speed Production: Air, Back to Basics Visual Effects, Combat Rock: The Music of Top Gun, and Afterburn Release and Impact.
- Multi-Angle Storyboards: This showcases two scenes from the film – Flat Spin (480p, 4:02) and Jester’s Dead (480p, 2:53). We’re provided storyboards and optional commentary by Director Tony Scott.
- Best of the Best: Inside the Real Top Gun (480p, 28:46): For those of you who want more information about the inner-workings and history of the real-world training facility, this one’s for you. It might be the best item here.
- Vintage Gallery: A mish-mash of minor extras, we’re treated to four music videos all in 480p – Danger Zone (3:56), Take My Breath Away (4:30), Heaven In Your Eyes (4:05), and The Top Gun Anthem (4:25) with Composer Harold Faltermeyer and Billy Idol guitarist Steve Stevens. We are also given seven vintage television spots (480p, 3:46 total), along with a Behind-the-Scenes Featurette (480p, 5:30). Survival Training Featurette (480p, 7:30) focuses on the water training the actors undertook. Finally, an interview with Tom Cruise (480p, 6:42) rounds out what appears to be a total porting of the DVD supplements.
The very cool lenticular slipcase features Cruise but sadly no one else. Also, there’s no interior artwork, but the Digital Copy is always appreciated. A slightly dropped ball here, but nothing that will detract from the final score.
Top Gun 3D is an impressive effort to be sure. Certainly the best post-3D conversion since Titanic, the quintessential 80’s film arrives in high-flying form. Perhaps we’re seeing studios getting more serious about Post-3D, which could finally bring the credit that Hollywood’s been seeking. I also hope Paramount will one day get around to updating the 2D, which deserves every bit of the rattling it’s received. If you can also accept the cheesiness of the dialogue, the practical inconsistencies of the flying, and the general rock-and-roll sensibility that permeates things, then TG3D is a blind buy to be sure. Top Gun is rated PG and has a runtime of 110 minutes.