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Blu-ray Review: Top Gun

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Sometimes everything just comes together beautifully.  You end up with the right star; the right director; the right supporting cast, screenwriters, music, producers, and a movie which could have just been a bit of fun if forgettable fluff turns into something more memorable.  Coming to Blu-ray on August 30 is the 1986 classic Tom Cruise film, Top Gun, a movie in which everything, even the ludicrous, works beautifully.

Directed by Tony Scott and produced by the team of Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, the film finds Cruise playing fighter jock Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, a naval aviator who takes nothing seriously but his skill as a pilot.  He has no respect for authority, little respect for anyone who believes they’re a better pilot, and a firm belief that he is always—always—right.   He is a guy who lives on the edge, doing things the way he sees fit, damn the consequences.  Or, as is said to Maverick in brilliant film parlance, and delivered beautifully by James Tolkan as Maverick’s Commander aboard the USS Enterprise, “Son, your ego is writing checks your body can’t cash.”

Maverick and his RIO (radar intercept office) Nick “Goose” Bradshaw (Anthony Edwards) find themselves at the top of their crew on the Enterprise.  This distinction earns them a ticket to go to the Naval Air Station at Miramar and take part in the Navy Fighter Weapons School (aka Top Gun).   And, while that’s a good thing in general, as Maverick—a loud an cocky pilot—doesn’t like other loud and cocky pilots, Top Gun isn’t really tailor made for him.  It is, in fact, the kind of place where he butts heads with everyone, most particularly Tom “Iceman” Kasansky (Val Kilmer), who just may be a better pilot than Maverick.

While Top Gun initially appears to be a film entirely about Maverick proving that he’s better than the instructors, Jester (Michael Ironside) and Viper (Tom Skerritt) as well as Iceman and the rest of the class, the movie opts to not go down that route.  Top Gun isn’t about Maverick learning to be the best pilot he can be, it actually is about Maverick learning to be the best person he can be – he may be a great pilot as the movie starts, but he’s certainly a rotten human being.

Helping Maverick with this education are not just some dramatic life experiences/plot points which would destroy the film if you haven’t seen it yet, but also Kelly McGillis’ Charlotte Blackwood.  Charlie, as she is known, is a civilian instructor at Top Gun who just happens to fall for Maverick (and vice versa).  She is, if you insist on reducing things, the film’s necessary love interest.  Goose gets a love interest too in the form of his wife, Carol (Meg Ryan), but it is McGillis who is the female lead to Cruise’s male one.  That particular relationship is the least well drawn in the film, but the chemistry between McGillis and Cruise help carry it off, as does the fact that they are two beautiful people put together in great situations.

Scott’s direction of the script from Jim Cash & Mike Epps, Jr. is a fantastic mix of more adrenaline-pounding flight sequences with slower, softer, more thoughtful moments and with some great comic relief thrown in (see the meeting of Charlie in the bar).  The performances tend to be over the top scenery chewing, but the vast majority of the characters are fighter jocks with massive egos, so it could just be the actors inhabiting their characters. 

Top Gun is, in short, a great example of how to turn a cheap summer thrill film into something far more substantial and memorable.

Visually, the movie shines in this Blu-ray release.  However, not all the effects shots, most notably Maverick’s inversion of his F-14 so as to say hello to the MiG-28, look as good as one would hope.  I can’t chalk that up, necessarily, to the quality of the Blu-ray, it may be a case where the effect simply doesn’t hold-up 25 years later.  More troublesome video-wise is the distinct flicker present in some scenes.  On the plus side, there is a lot of detail to be seen and nothing gets lost in shadows, and these elements stand out far more than does the flicker.  The Blu-ray has a DTS-HD Master Audio Track (6.1 channels) track and a TrueHD 5.1 track (5.1 was used for this review).  It does feature a whole lot of thumping bass and great panning effects as planes whiz by.  Unfortunately, the effects are simply too loud in comparison with the dialogue track – yes, you very will may find yourself jockeying the volume up and down on the remote as the film unspools.  There’s no hiss or pop or crackle or other impurity in the track, it’s just not balanced brilliantly.

There are also a number of extras to be found here besides just the digital copy.  First up, there’s a commentary track with Bruckheimer, Scott, Epps Jr., and some of the naval experts consulted for the film.  There is also a very good, in-depth, six-part making of documentary.  Anything you really want to know (that the publicists approve of) that went into making the film is a part of the piece and it really is quite interesting (and longer than the film itself).  Shorter featurettes include a look at the real Top Gun, a behind-the-scenes piece, one on survival training, multi-angle storyboards, and a Tom Cruise interview about the film.  These too all have their moments, particularly the look at the real flight school.  Not to end there, the movie also has some trailers and four different music videos.

Perhaps what is most impressive about Top Gun are the sheer number of memorable scenes and lines in the film.  From the quote provided earlier, to Maverick’s tale about being inverted with a MiG, to “You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feelin’,” Top Gun has scenes that stick with you for years—decades now—on end.  Twenty-five years old this summer, Top Gun has stood the test of time and is a great addition to any Blu-ray collection.

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.