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Top Gun

Top Gun is one of those movies where I don't fall in line with the general consensus. I'm not sure if popular culture latches onto this movie because it is bad in a fun way, or if people genuinely think it is good. I've noticed that people love to nickname themselves after the characters and quote the movie among friends, but I always found the writing and characters to be obnoxious and bland. I get why people like it... its got fighter jets and an attractive cast... but it's the same superficial reason that people like jocks in high school. And much like those stereotypical jocks in high school, there is a heaping pile of homoeroticism at the center of it. The Tarantino monologue from Sleep With Me (just search online for it, don't bother with the whole film) where he goes into great detail about how Top Gun is the story of a man struggling with his homosexuality is the best thing this film has ever spawned. Watching the film from this perspective proves to be a much more fascinating viewing experience. If I want to watch a movie about fighter pilots that is so bad it's enjoyable, the Iron Eagle films are my go-to.

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Ah, remember when Michael Mann made good movies? Collateral was the last film of his that I remember liking. His earlier films like Thief and Manhunter have influenced dozens of classics since, and he dominated the 90's with critically acclaimed hits like Heat and The Insider. Collateral finds him trapped somewhere between then and now, both literally and stylistically. It was his first digital movie and he hasn't turned away from the format since. While I was hesitant about the rough look at first, it feels very right and gives the dimly lit streets of LA a gritty appearance you don't see on film. The movies success lies in the hands of Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx who both give terrific performances here. The plot follows Max (Foxx) as he is forced to transport a contract killer, Vincent (Cruise), around LA to his various targets. What elevates the material above your usual thriller is the philosophical exchanges that Max and Vincent partake in during the cab rides. Max is a laid back dreamer who avoids confrontation, and Vincent seems to embrace his own insignificance, using it to rationalize his actions. Their dichotomy is fascinating, and both characters grow in their own ways and figure out how to push each other's buttons before the movie runs it's course. Mann enjoyed mixing the worlds of his opponents before in Heat, when Pacino and De Niro stopped to have a cup of coffee together. Here, he attaches them at the hip for nearly an entire film and lets the drama unfold (and some humour too). The action scenes themselves are not particularly memorable, but Mann hits the mark so well below the surface level that you almost don't care.  

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Minority Report

I consider Minoriy Report by far the most successful of Spielberg's sci-fi efforts in the last decade. After recently revisiting Artificial Intelligence I still think that it's half of a great movie and half a mess. More on War of the Worlds in the next mini-review. Spielberg has me convinced that the future is going to be a place with lots of grain and higher contrasts. This distinct look that he loves to employ with every sci-fi film has never worked better than it does in Minority Report. Strip away the sci-fi gadgets and weird cars and you'd have, at it's core, a gritty noir thriller. Cruise isn't breaking away from character here, playing much of the same "agent on the run" character that he has many times before, but this is one of the finer incarnations of it and he gives a compelling performance. Scott Frank did a terrific job of adapting Phillip K. Dick's narrative devices to create a blockbuster thriller. It features some of the same pitfalls that annoy me in many Spielberg movies, like the older character who doesn't really know what's going on but somehow gives the appropriate wisdom to the main character, or some plot holes that are conveniently stepped over. Minor quibbles aside, this is still among the better films Spielberg has released in the last decade.

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War of the Worlds

This is one of those movies where you can't help but admire that flawless Spielberg production value. The special effects blew me away when I initially saw this movie, and while the bar has been raised since, they still look great today. Unfortunately the special effects alone don't make the movie, and it suffers from a harsh case of third act blues. Tom Cruise's character doesn't make much of an impression in this movie. Where Vincent, Maverick, and John Anderton are all planted firmly in my brain, I couldn't tell you the name of Cruise's character here, and I just watched it last night. He's just playing the action hero dad here, and that would've been fine if the narrative held up better. There are some nagging plot holes and unconvincing character decisions throughout the movie, but I was willing to let them slide in light of the captivating special effects feast. Around the two-thirds mark, the compelling sci-fi flick came to a screeching halt for me. Once the main characters take shelter with Tim Robbin's character, the film transforms from an intense frantic thriller to a weird stagnant horror segment where the characters don't develop in any memorable ways and the scenes intended to be scary fail to raise goose bumps.

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Days of Thunder

This is one of those films that follows the formula and does it with competence, but I just really don't get much enjoyment out of watching it. The movie is often saddled with the description of being " Top Gun with cars", and it totally deserves it. To some that is probably a very appealing premise, but as you could probably piece together from my Top Gun mini-review, I'm not one of those people. At least Top Gun has the homoerotic subtext (intentional or not) that makes it interesting. There is none of that here. The only joy I really get out of Days of Thunder is from watching the actors perform. Seeing a young John C. Reilly, Michael Rooker, and Nicole Kidman is fun in a way, and Robert Duvall just can't help but be entertaining to watch.

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Top Gun looks pretty good given the age of the Blu-ray disc (it is from the 2008 release) and the age of the film. There is definitely some noticeable DNR here and there, but its not enough to ruin the transfer. It has a nice dated film grain to it that looks right, even if the grain is a bit harsh against the blue skies. Blue gradients in the sky are sometimes a bit blocky from compression, but more often than not the skies look just as I'd expect from this release. Scenes that take place on the ground look considerably cleaner.

Collateral, shot in digital, was never destined to have the most crisp and saturated transfer. Colours don’t improve much from the old Paramount DVD, but the high definition does bring out a lot of gritty detail that the old format didn’t. The digital noise looks a lot more natural here and doesn’t give way to blocking like it would in a more compressed state. There isn’t a whole lot to say about this one. It’s not a clean looking transfer, but taking into account the quality of digital cameras at the time, it looks exactly as I would expect it to. I don’t fault Paramount’s transfer at all.

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Minority Report has a very strong video presentation. Spielberg’s bright, grainy visual style eliminates any possibility of rich colours and realistic skin tones, but taking his creative choices into account there is very little to complain about with this transfer. Deep blacks and incredibly bright whites often share the screen in Minority Report, and both look very clean without any noticeable artifacts. There is a fine layer of grain that looks very natural and filmic throughout, sometimes growing very harsh in scenes with sharp contrasts and extreme lighting. As a result of Spielberg’s touches, the film isn’t always very attractive, but this digital transfer is free of blame and a worthy representation of his vision.

War of the Worlds came out around the same time Minority Report did on Blu-ray, and it looks like the film was given a very similar treatment in the AV department. The contrasting lighting in War of the Worlds never reaches the same extremity as Minority Report, but it features some of the same less saturated, grainy touches that he used there. This digital transfer of the movie is nearly flawless, porting the harsh, ever-present grain over without any ugly artifacts rearing their head. In some ways, the transfer is so competent that it makes the special effects look bad. I thought the CGI was pretty flawless when the movie came out in theatres, but here I can see quite clearly that the alien ships don’t blend into the environments as well as I remembered.

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Days of Thunder looks similar to the Top Gun transfer. There aren't as many instances of DNR, but the movie has that same dated filmic appearance. I personally like this look and prefer it to a digitally scrubbed image. Detail looks good, even if it is a little on the soft side. You can still plenty details like coat textures, the jagged asphalt, or the crisp curly lines in Nicole Kidman's hair. Black levels are decent and colour tones look natural (except when Tony Scott uses that ugly burnt orange filter over the sky). There are a lot of little specks and damage marks throughout the entire movie that are somewhat distracting.

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Top Gun's feature takes up approximately 35 GB of space on the Blu-ray disc; almost twice as much as some transfers. The reason, I'm assuming, is because they crammed a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track and a DTS-HD Master Audio 6.1 track into it. I put on the DTS-HD Master Audio track myself. It is loud and the sound of the jets will keep the bass channel rumbling. With jets flying everywhere I expected the mix to be a bit more dynamic, but perhaps I was expecting too much given the film's age. It works best as a loud roaring track than a spacious one.

Collateral comes with a subtly effective DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track that features plenty of ambient noise. Sounds of the city will fill the extra channels throughout much of the movie. Gunshots are loud and punchy. The soundtrack, which includes a memorable use of Audioslave's 'Shadow on the Sun', sounds terrific here and never drowns out the crisp dialogue. Paul Oakenfold's 'Ready Steady Go' plays quite loudly during the nightclub shootout, effectively imitating the blaring loudness of the club music. During this scuffle you can also here sounds of the panicking patrons in the surround channels. It is by far the most dynamic scene in the sound mix.

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Minority Report has a very impressive DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. All too often I watch movies on Blu-ray where the action is loud, but the dialogue is drastically quieter. The engineers behind this mix understand that just because characters are talking softly doesn't meant the volume needs to be cranked down. Dialogue is perfectly audible and crisp. The action sequences are filled all kinds of extra noise in the surround channels, be it the moving bits of machinery in a factory or the whirring of cars. John Williams score sounds great too. This movie has some really tense scenes and this practically flawless audio track from Paramount really drives the intensity home.

War of the World's comes with an equally impressive DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track that will shake your living room and wake up your neighbors. The LFE activity on this track is insane during the alien invasion. That very distinct blaring noise that comes from the alien ships is especially alarming and loud. You can hear panic and the sounds of passing vehicles spaciously occupying the surround channels. Some quieter scenes feature ambient effects which include some creepy gusts of wind. John William's score sets the brisk pace and is appropriately leveled so that it never drowns out the sound of the clear dialogue or the action on screen. It's better than I remember it sounding in the theatre.    

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Days of Thunder arrives with a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track that unfortunately falls into the area I mentioned in my Minority Report audio coverage. The racing scenes are extremely loud. The cars roar, and in this high quality mix you can really hear the age of the some of the sound effects used for the cars. Dialogue is sometimes far too quiet in comparison to the racing scenes. I found myself turning down the volume a bit to keep from going deaf during a race, then having to crank it back up to make out what someone was saying a minute later. The best thing about Days of Thunder is Hans Zimmer's score. It gets me excited during the opening credits before I quickly remember how boring the rest of the movie is. I'm happy to report that the score sounds rich and deep here, and have no complaints about it's volume levels or the clarity of it. Like Top Gun, the mix doesn't have the type of spatial effects you'd hope for in a movie about loud moving objects, but there is some well used background noise and a few stereo effects thrown in there.

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The discs included in this Blu-ray collection are from the previous Blu-ray releases. The only exception is Minority Report, which is missing the second disc of extra features in this set.

Top Gun kicks off with a commentary track by producer Jerry Bruckheimer, director Tony Scott, co-screenwrither Jack Epps Jr, technical advisor Pete Pettigrew and naval experts Captain Mike Galpin and Vice Admiral Mike McCabe. Next up is Danger Zone: The Making of ‘Top Gun’ (SD, 02:27:42), a massive 6-part documentary that covers the filming of the movie and lots of the production development. This is followed by Multi-Angle Storyboards that have an optional commentary track with Tony Scott. Best of the Best: Inside the Real Top Gun takes a look into the real Top Gun training program. Vintage Gallery is a section that includes some small featurettes, music videos, and television spots.

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Collateral comes with a commentary track from none other than Michael Mann himself. City of Night: The Making of 'Collateral' (SD, 40:59) is an in-depth behind the scenes look at the origin of the story and the actor's preparations for their roles. Special Delivery (SD, 01:09) is a quick look at Tom Cruise posing as a FedEx delivery man to practice being unrecognizable for his role. Shooting on Location: Annie's Office (SD, 02:34) is a brief featurette covering a sequence in the film. Following this is Tom Cruise & Jamie Foxx Rehearse (SD, 04:13), a neat little feature that shows the two actors rehearsing for their scenes together and then showing how it went in the final product. Visual Effects: MTA Train (SD, 02:27) is a brief example of how some special effects were done towards the end of the movie. There's also one deleted scene (SD, 01:57) with Mann's commentary and some trailers.

Minority Report, as previously mentioned, only comes with the first disc from the Blu-ray release. This disc has no special features on it.

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War of the Worlds comes packaged with the special features from the 2-disc collector's DVD. These start off with Revisiting the Invastion (SD, 07:39), which features some behind the scenes material and interviews with the filmmakers. The H.G. Wells Legacy (SD, 06:30) is a quick look at the author and some previous incarnations of this story. [i]Steven Spielberg and the Original War of the Worlds (SD, 08:00) has more behind the scenes details and Spielberg talks about his inspiration for making the film. Characters: The Family Unit (SD, 13:20) is a look into the characters and the casting process. This is followed by Pre-visualization (SD, 07:40) which unveils some of the process that went into the special effects. Next up is Production Diaries (SD, 01:32:00), a four-part in depth look that substitutes for a usual "making of" extra and goes into tons of detail on the film's production and shooting process. Designing the Enemy: Tripods and Aliens (SD, 14:00) covers the origins and design choices for the aliens in the movie. Scoring 'War of the Worlds' (SD, 15:00) is a nice look at John William's score and finally We Are Not Alone (SD, 03:10) which is a brief wrap-up to the extras section, taking one last look at production elements.

Days of Thunder arrives with only a theatrical trailer (SD, 02:25).

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Well there you have it. Paramount has given you an opportunity to get five technically sound Blu-rays together for a reasonable price. If you’ve been putting off buying these previously released Blu-rays, like I have, then this is a great opportunity to catch up. Minority Report fans who love extra features may want to pass on this set as it does not include the second disc of special features from the previous release.

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* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray releases and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.