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HD DVD Review: Top Gun

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Top Gun is a pure ‘80s movie. The soundtrack, clichés, romance, and style are an unmistakable mark of the era and drops the film a few marks after 20+ years. There’s enough style and a small emotional impact to make it a worthwhile run though this early Tony Scott-directed affair, but it’s value is more nostalgia than quality.

Tom Cruise cements his stardom here as Maverick, and ace pilot now amongst the elite pilots of naval aviation. His cocky attitude and softer side lead him to a classic romance with an instructor played by Kelly McGillis as training continues. What follows are energetic aerial sequences done with few special effects, strong editing, and loads of generic characters boosting their egos.

Nearly all of Top Gun is training and practice runs. It’s almost disappointing that the one true battle seems over so soon, and carries with it a rather bland emotional baggage that doesn’t hold up. The script balances the right mix of drama, humor, and action to avoid falling into a boring rut.

Action scenes highlight Top Gun, even if they’re not true aerial battles. The footage is incredible, shot from countless angles, including those from inside the jets. Superb editing adds extra life to what amounts to planes flying through the air, and aside from one shot, any special effects are undetectable.

Maverick’s close relationship with his co-pilot Goose (Anthony Edwards) works on screen. Cruise has great chemistry with his co-star, while Val Kilmer glides along filling the role of jerk and over-the-top opponent vying for the top spot. Kelly McGillis is fine in the constantly strained relationship that never seems believable as emotions are all everywhere on the map.

A third star is the soundtrack, including the memorable “Danger Zone.” The Academy Award would go to “Take My Breath Away,” though its use in the film is beyond repetitive. For the early moments of the budding romance, it’s used anytime the characters appear on screen in multiple attached shots. “Danger Zone” has more of an impact, increasing the intensity of the on screen action as opposed to the Tom Whitlock  love theme.

Top Gun lives on due to its ability to spawn imitators and knock-offs, and an early strong performance by Cruise. It can entertain men and woman, leading to a nearly $200 million box office draw. As an overall product, it’s simply too uneven and dated to land the classic status.

While there are moments of extreme clarity, most of this HD transfer is a muddled mess. Edge enhancement is some of the worst on the format, there’s an overall murky tone to the transfer, and grain is constantly evident. The soft tone fails to present noticeable detail, and minor compression can be evident in lighter scenes. It’s hard to see the difference between this and the standard DVD transfers in many shots.

Sound options offer a blistering DTS-ES 6.1 presentation or Dolby TrueHD. DTS fans will noticeable a significant increase in the bass, though both audio formats sound flat overall. Surround speaker usage is phenomenal when the planes begin their maneuvers through the sound field, though crowded scenes on the ground are hollow and front centered.

While there’s a special edition DVD on the market (since late 2004), Paramount didn’t see any reason to include any of those extras on this HD DVD. Apparently, spending $10 extra over the SE DVD release isn’t enough to warrant a trailer or any extras menu whatsoever. (No stars)

Top Gun is loaded with odd trivia, but by far the best is an investigation by the military into whether or not the crew fired more missiles than they were allowed when filming. In actuality, multiple cameras captured the two shots they were allotted, while the miniature crew did a fine job of handling any additional work. Nice to know your tax dollars are working.

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About Matt Paprocki

Matt Paprocki has critiqued home media and video games for 13 years and is the reviews editor for His current passion project is the technically minded You can read Matt's body of work via his personal WordPress blog, and follow him on Twitter @Matt_Paprocki.