It’s been a long time coming, but this week saw the release of Top Gun Special Edition in the UK. OK so it’s still the same slice of cheesy all-American patriotism, but it still ranks as one of the best popcorn flicks and now has a DVD to die for. Matt Day checks out the release, c’mon, who wants to be his wingman?
When I informed my housemate I had the new Top Gun special edition on the way, it didn’t solicit the response I expected. There was a distinct lack of enthusiasm. I don’t know how you can’t love Top Gun, yes it’s crap, but therein lies the fun, the acting, the plot, the script, they’re all rubbish, giving the movie an Ed Wood kind of enjoyment to it, but further to that you have the dogfights – quintessential Simpson/Bruckheimer – which provides that genuine excitement that only an overblown action movie can.
Maverick (Tom Cruise) thinks he’s the best pilot in the Navy, he’s young, he’s cocky, and he’s sitting on a 1000 mph jet fighter. Now he’s going to have the chance to find out just how good he is, as he’s sent to the Navy’s Fighter Weapons School at Miramar, or as it’s known to the pilots, Top Gun. Now he’s sharing the sky with a dozen other pilots that all think they’re the best too, including Iceman (Val Kilmer) who just might be better than Maverick, as if these guys needed another excuse to be competitive. Spending every day fighting each other, in the skies on training ops, and often on the ground too, all desperate to flex their muscles and prove they’re number one. Maverick seems to be splitting his focus somewhat though, as he starts to fall for Charlie (Kelly McGillis) – a civilian contractor there to asses the performance of the Top Gun’s – he’s desperate to show her just how good a performer he really is.
And that’s about it. Thin stuff, and not fleshed out by the performances in the slightest. Top Gun was the real beginning for the Bruckheimer/Simpson partnership, while they’d had successful movies already – Flashdance and Beverly Hills Cop – Top Gun marked the start of their high concept, stupid plot formula which continued not only through Don Simpson‘s entire life but even more successfully for Jerry Bruckheimer beyond it (the success of National Treasure proves the formula is not only still alive but also still hugely effective.) Once again recruiting a director from the world of music videos – they’d previously done this with Flashdance and it’s become another of their hallmarks – nobody here was interested in telling a story, the only priority was bringing the adrenaline rush of flying in a fighter jet to the big screen. Tony Scott even claims he only got the job because Bruckheimer and Simpson couldn’t find another music video director that had ever shot a single frame of a jet fighter (Scott had done so in an advert for Saab) and you can see why, because those are the only sequences that matter. Well, unless you enjoy seeing sweaty young men with their shirts off, which there is certainly plenty of. But thanks to the involvement of the Navy, charging Paramount a mere $10,000 an hour to use the jets (which was actually just the fuel charge) and some ingenious photography, Scott managed to rip aerial photography out of the boring stock footage that it had been stuck in and piece together genuinely thrilling dogfight sequences that are still rarely matched, Behind Enemy Lines is the only film that springs to mind that has matched the thrills seen here, but Top Gun managed them in a time long before CGI enhancements made these things easy.
It’s a real shame that the story can’t match the quality of the dogfighting, with Jack Epps and Jim Cash writing the film like a sports movie, with the dogfighting as the sport, it couldn’t be more trite and clichéd, our hero has the chance to be the best, he’s got the rivalry, he’s got the girl, who he doubtless has to get together with, then break up with after cracking up due to a personal tragedy, and then make a miraculous comeback, gaining back the love of his girl and the respect of his team mates/fellow pilots. Quite frankly I’m not sure why anyone needs to be called in to write these things, they’re predictable trash from start to finish, but combine that formula with some good old fashioned patriotism and you’ve got the Bruckheimer formula for box office success. The fact that an F-14 is a 2 seated plan allowed the movie to throw in the buddy element, with Anthony Edwards as Maverick’s radar officer Goose – providing probably the only performance in the film that can be called acting – and Rick Rossovich as Iceman’s #2 Slider, they bring some welcome levity to proceedings. It’s certainly too little to save the plot though, and Top Gun finishes up a pretty long way from being a good film, but it is undoubtedly a fun one, and nearly 20 years on seems just as exciting and entertaining as it ever did, and of course thanks to DVD it’s now easy to skip all of Cruise’s angst filled moments and get straight in to the MiG killing. Or the volleyball, whichever you prefer.
The Picture and Sound
Top Gun had languished on a very poorly presented DVD for a number of years now, and better treatment was long overdue. Thankfully Paramount have done a fantastic job with this DVD presenting the movie in the best way possible. The anamorphic 2.35:1 image is strong, though when I first put it in I was a little concerned, the opening sequence of the jets preparing for take-off carries heavy film grain, but this (and it isn’t the only sequence that presents it) seems to be a result of the film stock used. The aerial photography obviously had technical limitations (there aren’t that many cameras you can strap to a jet at mach 2) so the sharpness does vary slightly through the film, but the sequences shot with regular cameras are sharp and detailed, and while there is often visible grain it’s of the original film variety, not the product of a poor transfer, leaving little doubt all the elements have had real care taken with them. Although the original stereo track present on the American release is dropped from this one (replaced with a German language track) I don’t think many people are going to complain, because the remastered tracks are fantastic. The DTS 6.1 track is a real barnstormer, and easily rivals many a modern action movie soundtrack. Obviously it comes alive during the dogfights, and you’d better have some pretty understanding neighbours because they’re going to think you really are flying jets around your front room. You’d better make sure you strap everything down for this one.
Commentary from Jerry Bruckheimer, Tony Scott, Jack Epps Jr. and Naval Experts
This cut and paste commentary is a mixed bag, and whilst Scott and Bruckheimer manage to convey a few amusing anecdotes – Scott was fired three times during the making of the movie, although Top Gun was only his second film he still thought he was above following orders from Paramount’s head honchos – the most entertaining contributions are from the Naval experts. Technical Advisor Pete Pettigrew seems to have been battling constantly with the filmmakers, it was his job to make the movie as realistic as possible after all, and there are certainly aspects of Top Gun that aren’t that close to reality, and he’s got some great stories about the shoot, though he’s not afraid to admit where his lack of moviemaking knowledge let him down and tell us all about the battles it was a good thing he lost. They also get to give a unique perspective on the movie – what happened at Miramar after the movie’s release. Apparently at first the pilots weren’t entirely happy with the Hollywood version of their lives, that is until the Officer’s Club started to attract an awful lot more women (and men pretending to be pilots.) It’s a reasonable commentary, though the lack of any of the film’s actors is a disappointment – a reunion commentary could have been great, and many of them have contributed to other areas of the disc – and though it’s far from the best feature in the set, it is still worth a listen, though you may want to take a break before movie onto the second disc, because it’s packed.
Danger Zone: The Making of Top Gun
When I saw that this was split into 6 parts I’ll admit was first thought was it was an attempt to pad out the feature listing and make this special edition look a little more special than it was. I couldn’t have been more wrong, because this is an immensely in-depth documentary that has been split into 6 parts because otherwise it would run for more than 2 1/2 hours. Covering every aspect of the movie, right from the magazine article that inspired it up to the release and awards attention it received – Top Gun is actually an Oscar winner, though only for Best Song, but it was nominated for quite a number of technical awards – there’s nothing that isn’t looked at, and there are contributions from all the major players here. Whilst Tony Scott and Jerry Bruckheimer cover much of the same ground they do on the commentary track the best interviews featured here are from the film’s editors Chris Lebenzon and Billy Webber who make me wonder why more editors aren’t involved in these things, because they really have the dirt on the movie and aren’t afraid to talk about it. The film seems like it was saved in the editing room, Tony Scott’s first cut allegedly contained completely incomprehensible flight sequences and they only ended up making sense by virtue of the pilots all wearing their face masks – meaning the editors could throw extra shots and loop dialogue over them that explained what the hell was going on. They also got to see all the footage, including the shots of the actors on their real F-14 rides, and it sounds like a real shame that footage didn’t make it onto the DVD, because Anthony Edwards was the only one that didn’t make liberal use of his sick-bag (though Val Kilmer escaped puking by flat out refusing to get in the plane at all.) The list of contributors goes on and on, Tom Cruise, Val Kilmer, Michael Ironside, Rick Rossovich, Barry Tubbs, co-writer Jack Epps Jr. composers Harold Faltermeyer and Georgio Moroder, technical advisor Pete ‘Viper’ Pettigrew, singers Kenny Loggins and Teri Nunn (of Berlin) and numerous members of the crew, all get their say on the making of the movie. I’m not sure I ever wanted to know this much about Top Gun, but for fans of the film this is really the ultimate documentary, and Paramount deserve a lot of respect for the amount of effort that has gone into this.
Multi-Part Storyboards with Optical Commentary from Tony Scott
Two sequences are presented here, with the option to watch them either as storyboards or a storyboard/finished movie comparison. Scott’s boards are remarkably similar to the final cut (though the comments of the movie’s editors imply that, on this movie at least, that was something of a rarity) but this is really a throwaway feature, and Scott’s comments add little to it.
The vintage gallery takes us on a trip through the archives and shows us the kind of fantastic special features we could have been treated to if DVDs had been around in 1985. It features…
Behind the Scenes Featurette
This is great to watch, if only because it’s from before the days when all you have to do is say Tom Cruise and people start lining up for tickets. Here über-producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer are the ones being interviewed and trying to sell the movie – heavily pushing the real dogfighting aspect of the movie, along with Tony Scott ramming the point home.
Survival Training Featurette
Long before Spielberg made movie boot-camps trendy with Saving Private Ryan the cast of Top Gun were being put through their paces by the US Navy. Far from being a method, um, method, however, all the actors who played pilots in the movies really flew in those F-14s and all had to learn exactly what to do if something went wrong. The traing ranged from being dropped in a swimming pool inside a mock helicopter to sitting in a pressure chamber simulating the thin atmosphere at 25,000 feet – which seemed to make Tom Cruise crack up. Strangely watching him fail miserably to play pat-a-cake with Anthony Edwards (not to mention some of the fantastic haircuts present in this featurette) had the same effect on me.
This is an impressive collection of photos, and more extensive than you’ll find on most modern day releases, so it’s great to see it on a 20 year old movie. There are a lot of aspects of the production covered, from the standard publicity shots (including one of Anthony Edwards that won’t do any harm to the theory regarding Top Gun’s homosexual subtext) and also some taken on the set of a deleted scene – which unfortunately doesn’t seem to have made its way into this set.
Tom Cruise Interviews
Tom really has worked on his interview technique over the years, because here – looking incredibly fresh faced, and strangely far younger than he does in the movie – his answers are less than slick, although still funny. When asked what it was like onboard the aircraft carrier he replies “It’s like prison… with the threat of drowning.” Though the Navy will probably let him get away with a comment like that, what with Top Gun being directly responsible for a 40% increase in enlistment.
4 Music Videos
I often look at music videos on modern releases and wonder why they’re there, but if I can look back on them in 20 years and laugh as much as I did here then they’re going to be worth additions. Watching Kenny Loggins roll around on his bed singing ‘Danger Zone’, cut with footage of Tom Cruise that makes the whole thing look disturbingly like Kenny’s really enjoying thinking about The Cruiser is hilarious, and the silhouetted pilots in Berlin’s ‘Take My Breath Away’ video look more like they belong in John Carpenter’s The Fog than Top Gun. You’re also treated to Loverboy’s ‘Heaven in your Eyes’ and Kenny Loggins’ ‘Top Gun Anthem.’
7 cheesy ’80s TV spots have also been included, and although they don’t provide as many laughs as the awful music videos they’re still pretty funny, especially the ‘romance’ trailer, which seems to completely avoid any reference to the the film involving any kind of jet fighters at all, presenting only the romantic aspects of the story in a shameless attempt to get women into theatres.
Love it or hate it, Top Gun was one of the biggest movies of the ‘80s, it still sits comfortably inside the top 100 grossers of all time and according to IMDB it made almost $80 million in rental revenue in the US alone. So whilst most, if not all, that love it regard it as somewhat of a guilty pleasure, they’re going to be more than happy with this impressive special edition.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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