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Feature


Tom Cruise stars as ‘Maverick’, a hotshot jerk-off of a jet pilot with a need for speed and a need to succeed. Maverick is sent off to the Top Gun training school for top pilots, where he meets other self obsessed pilots, and attempts to romance a sexy female instructor.

I haven’t seen Tony Scott’s Top Gun since I was about eleven or twelve (save a few scenes here and there on television). Usually this is a bad sign. Almost every childhood favourite I’ve revisited more than a decade after the fact has disappointed me. Even worse I don’t really remember liking the film all that much in the first place, but I do remember rocking out to ‘Danger Zone’, and trying to flip my pen between my fingers like Ice Man. Unfortunately, since I was twelve my main exposure to the film has involved listening to long discussions about the apparent blatant homoerotism, discussions to which I never had anything to add.

Top Gun: Collectors Edition
Well it is totally gay, I’ll just get that out there right away. It’s not as gay as Nightmare on Elm Street 2 or The Transporter, but it’s gay. Watching the film again I’m thinking that the reason the inadvertent (?) homoerotism is such a popular discussion subject is because the story itself has zero alternate subtext. Top Gun is one of the quintessential examples of the kind of surface level filmmaking that made critics hate music video directors in the first place. Tony Scott is a solid visual filmmaker (though he often seems to rip off his older brother’s best looks), and it’s interesting to watch his music video inspired visuals evolving here, but there’s nothing interesting beneath them (except, of course, the homoeroticism).

I can remember the plots of specific scenes, but even after just seeing the film again I have problems recalling the plot of the film as a whole. There’s like, zero threat to the protagonists, and the antagonists are only antagonists because they’re bigger jerks then the supposed ‘heroes’ (these guys would probably get along with Patrick Bateman swimmingly). Goose is pretty much the only likeable character in the mix, so of course he has to bite it to create a twinge of drama. It’s all so emotionally cheap, which shouldn’t surprise me, but for some reason it does. On the commentary track writer Jack Epps Jr. talks about the critics missing the point of the film when they tore it apart. He claims it’s not a plot-based film (no argument here), rather a film about visceral feelings. I agree with him on principle, but unfortunately the feelings strike me as very synthetic, and I don’t get much out of them.

Rethinking the thing I now realize that Top Gun was so successful because it’s made up of a stripped down chick flick and a stripped down guy flick (I’m sure this dawned on everyone else in the world a long time ago). There’s a bunch of studly fellas getting all emotional, and the studliest of all is throwing himself at an (gasp) older woman. Then there’s the film about top notch top gun dog fight scenes, and they really are top notch. As an adult male who doesn’t have any emotional or nostalgic attachment to the film the aerial photography is the one element I can still applaud. There are a few very obvious special effects, along with some well executed miniature explosions, but most of the flying footage is famously the real thing. Even without an interesting character or plot element, Top Gun has a place in film history as one of the most influentially shot films, specifically pertaining to the action scenes, which basically set the stage for every Jerry Bruckheimer production since.

Top Gun: Collectors Edition

Video


Top Gun is a fantastic example of how good older (older being a relative term here) films can look on Blu-ray. Most catalogue re-releases haven’t been particularly impressive so far in the young format’s short history (usually you have to look to newer films), but this print verges on reference material. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the film in widescreen, and it changes my appreciation for Scott’s visuals, though not surprisingly.

The big difference most fans are probably going to notice between hi-def and DVD is the sheer quantity of sweaty faces, though the detail levels will also lead to a greater appreciation of Kelly McGillis’ hair. The wide shots of fighter jets doing their fighter jet thing are sometimes noticeably grainier and fuzzier then on the ground footage, but this is obviously due to the differences in film quality.  Scott’s high-contrast, and super-saturated style hadn’t quite developed to its obnoxious Domino levels, but the seeds are planted here (you rarely see both sides of a face in the same light). This style lends itself very well to the hi-def format, which thrives on deep blacks and bright colours. Some of the skin tones are a bit too red, and there is a little green noise in them, but the other solid tones are generally sharp (except some of the less consistent sky and sea blues). I’m guessing this is the material pushed to its limit, as a few print damage artefacts will point to.

Audio


Jesus Christ this is a loud DTS track. I didn’t read the back of the box before hitting play, so I watched the first ten minutes or so in Dolby TrueHD, which was plenty impressive, but when I innocently changed to the DTS Master Audio track it just about blew out my speakers. Big oops. Anyway, the track is generally very, very impressive, featuring strong and subtle quiet scenes, and aggressive, almost frightening dog fight scenes. The material is again pushed to its limit (they didn’t have DTS Master Audio in 1986, they didn’t even have Dolby Digital), and occasionally it shows signs of age. The bass track bleeds quite a bit, lacking punch, and some of the dialogue tracks are a bit scratchy. There are plenty of examples of mismatched audio quality within a single sequence, but the track separation and clarity is always impressive.

Top Gun: Collectors Edition

Extras


The extras start with a fantastic, edited together group commentary track featuring Tony Scott, Jerry Bruckheimer, writer Jack Epps Jr, and Naval experts Captain Mike Galpin, Pete Pettigrew, and Vice Admiral Mike McCabe. Everyone serves their part on the track, and there isn’t a lot of repetition. Scott’s actually the track’s least intensive participant, but he has a lot to say about the technical filming process (and he’s the only one that acknowledges the film’s homoerotic imagery). Bruckheimer acts more as a historian, filling in the hows and whys of selling the film to a studio, and making the film on a reasonable budget. Epps Jr. is the tracks big apologist, and I have to give him credit for making me second-guess my initial feelings on the film’s impact. The Naval experts, however, are probably the track’s most consistent and valuable participants, both supporting and criticizing the film in equally measures.

Next up is a six part documentary collection, starting with ‘From the Ground Up’, a thirty minute exploration of the pre-production process, including script production, getting Paramount to finance the project, hiring Tony Scott, getting support from the Navy, and casting. Some of the interview footage is so similar to the commentary track that I began to suspect that the commentary track was actually an amalgamation of interview audio. The vocal rhythms and word order are different, so I guess the footage is different, but watching this stuff ends up negative the purpose of a lot of the commentary track, unfortunately. Barring the repetition, the featurette very efficiently covers all the pre-production bases, and actually includes a few words with the actors, including Tom Cruise, who was obviously too busy being famous to record a commentary track.

‘Playing with the Boys Production’ is a twenty six minute exploration of the filming, or production process. The film was divided into three production stages, starting with the ‘ground’ footage. This was the party part of production apparently where everyone involved just drank and danced to terrible ‘80s music all night long, and everyone has tales to tell. This was also the only part of the movie the actors could really do anything, so apparently things were pretty professional during the day.

Top Gun: Collectors Edition
‘Need For Speed’ covers the second part of production, the part that ending up working for the film—the flight photography. Again, there’s a lot of repetition between this featurette and the commentary track, but this time the featurette wins out with deeper focus. There’s some footage of the plane to plane filming, behind the scenes meeting photography, and interviews with new people. The overall feel is a bit on the dry and technical side, but you have to admire the effort that went into this pre-digital production. This section runs around twenty eight minutes.

‘Back to Basics’ is a seventeen minute look at the special effects production. The big problem with the visual effects was the fact that the technicians had to match the real air-to-air footage, rather than creating the entire look themselves. Matching is generally a more difficult proposition because audiences can tell the difference between the real and fake footage. Top Gun was also apparently the anti Lucasfilm production for special effects artists, who were used to the rigid and pre-planned process of special effects rather than Scott’s ‘rock and roll’, off the cuff shooting.

‘Combat Rock’ is, unfortunately not a ninety minute documentary on The Clash, but a twenty minute exploration of Harold Faltermeyer's totally ‘80s score. Watching the film again I’m actually surprised to how dark the score is. Even the main anthem is kind of spooky. As a musician I actually respect this exceedingly corny score, but I can’t say the same for the now famous Kenny Loggins and Berlin numbers, which grate on my last nerve these days. The featurette covers the musical process with a lot of respect, so much so that I’m a little disappointed no one acknowledges how silly it all is.

The nearly two and a half hour long doc is wrapped up with ‘Afterburn: Release and Impact’. As per the norm in these situations, nobody was expecting the film to be a hit, especially after some brutally unpopular test screenings. Apparently there was a lot of post production fiddling and heavy editing involved in getting the film to its final state. Scott’s never been particularly good about shooting structured films, so it isn’t very surprising that the first cut made no sense.

Top Gun: Collectors Edition
‘Best of the Best: Inside the Real Top Gun is a nearly thirty minute look at the real Top Gun training program. There’s a lot of information concerning the real Top Gun during the experts section of the commentary track, but this featurette features inside footage and more detail. It kind of plays like an ad for the Air Force (correction: The Navy, thank you reader Eddie Feng), and is a technical exploration of something I don’t find particularly interesting, but it’s still a solid featurette and a welcome addition to the disc.

Next up are two multi-angle storyboards, both featuring optional Tony Scott commentary. The storyboards themselves are super-rough (he’s no Ridley), and the film footage has to be slowed down a whole lot to match them even a little, but one can still see how the boards helped the filming and editing process.

The disc ends with a ‘Vintage Gallery’ including four music videos, seven TV spots (no trailer? At least we get Peter Cullen narration, that’s cool), a general behind the scenes EPK (about five minutes), a training EPK (about seven minutes), and seven minute period appropriate interview with Tom Cruise (nice sweater Tom). Placing these extras under the Vintage menu is pretty classy I think.

Overall


I had little idea how bad Top Gun really is. It was a chore to sit through. I’m sure fans will tell me I just don’t get it, and I think they may be right. Does nostalgia get the better of you, or is there really something here you latch on to? The disc itself is awesome, featuring some material pushing high definition video and DTS audio, along with a fantastic collection of extra features I may actually watch again someday. A must own for fans, without a doubt.


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