Paramount // 1986 // 109 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Dan Mancini (Retired) // August 24th, 2011
If you think, you're dead.
Why is everyone in this movie so sweaty?
After a close encounter with a Soviet MiG-28 during a training exercise, United States Naval Aviators Pete "Maverick" Mitchell (Tom Cruise, Jerry Maguire) and Nick "Goose" Bradshaw (Anthony Edwards, E.R.) are invited to attend the elite Naval Fighter Weapons School, nicknamed Top Gun, at NAS Miramar. Maverick thinks highly of himself as a pilot, but finds he has stiff competition for the top spot in the program from Tom "Iceman" Kasansky (Val Kilmer, Willow), a great aviator who distrusts Maverick's reckless hot-dogging. During his humbling journey of self-discovery, Maverick falls in love with Top Gun instructor Charlotte Blackwood (Kelly McGillis, Witness), resulting in viewers being barraged by a nearly constant stream of awful '80s synth-pop ballads. Throughout the movie, for reasons unknown, everyone is constantly beaded in sweat.
Those of us who were around to witness (and contribute to) Top Gun's enormous box office success during its 1986 theatrical run ought to be ashamed of ourselves. It is an awful movie. Every aspect of director Tony Scott's (Man on Fire) paean to frat boy-style machismo is an extravagant display of '80s bad taste. Whether we're talking about exploding Soviet MiGs, gratuitous karaoke performances of Righteous Brothers classics, Anthony Edwards's porn star mustache, Val Kilmer's frosted pompadour, reverse high fives, the Cruise Missile flexing his biceps as he checks his watch during a game of shirtless volleyball, or a Lite FM soundtrack dominated by Kenny Loggins and Berlin, the flick is garish to the extreme. Have doubts about the moral vacuity that characterized the 1980s? You need only ponder that Top Gun urges us to view the Iceman, an ace pilot constrained by a discipline born of a desire to ensure the safety of his fellow aviators, as a bad guy, while Maverick, an egotistical jerk whose lust for glory drives him to regularly put his own life and the lives of others in danger by bucking the orders of seasoned instructors with actual combat experience, is the movie's hero. Top Gun works fervently to sell us on the notion that alpha masculinity in its basest, most towel-snapping and swirly-giving form is a virtue not a vice.
The movie's stupefying plot powers along on a series of nonsensical assumptions of '80s action moviemaking: red-blooded (and frequently shirtless) American heroes can do no wrong, chicks dig smirking white boys who woo them with rhythm-less, off-key renditions of soul music classics, and Soviet military personnel are unrepentantly evil automatons who attack American sovereignty with the most terrifying death machine ever created: the MiG-28. I can usually get behind two of those assumptions with a fervent, knuckleheaded abandon (no amount of anti-Soviet propaganda is going to win me over to Tom Cruise serenading Kelly McGinnis, though), but even bodacious and mostly gratuitous F14-A Tomcat-versus-MiG-28 combat is hard to swallow when the movie's good guys are essentially military versions of the evil jock frat boys in Revenge of the Nerds. Imagine trying to enjoy Rambo: First Blood Part II if the famed Vietnam vet/killing machine had been played by '80s über-jerkwad William Zabka (The Karate Kid).
My favorite part of Top Gun remains its ridiculously over-the-top finale, in which we shift abruptly and inexplicably from training exercises to actual engagements with wily MiGs that are victimizing an American ship that accidentally strayed into Soviet waters. After the carnage, Maverick and Iceman's destruction of millions of rubles worth of Soviet military hardware and killing of half a dozen Soviet aviators, is greeted on the deck of the USS Enterprise with applause, high fives, and thumbs up. Despite the rampant paranoia about nuclear Armageddon that was a defining characteristic of the '80s, none of Top Gun's naval personnel are the least bit concerned that the engagement may result in the Cold War becoming a hot war. Whatever, man. Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer look awesome in flight suits, and both are perfectly quaffed even after wearing helmets in a combat situation. It's rad!
If you already own the 2008 Blu-ray release of Top Gun, there's nothing much to see here. This set adds a DVD containing a digital copy of the movie, and a front cover sticker proclaiming the flick's 25th anniversary. The 1080p/AVC transfer is identical to the one on the earlier release. After a rocky opening credits sequence that is riddled with stark edge enhancement haloing, the image settles into an attractive display of mostly accurate colors and enough sharp detail to capture Tony Scott's fetishizing of omnipresent sweat droplets. Grain is abundant but controlled. The movie shows its age, but still looks solid in high definition.
The disc offers two lossless audio options. The default is a limp Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix that is absolutely blown out of the water by the more full-bodied and aggressive DTS-HD offering in 6.1 surround.
Reheated extras include a group commentary by Scott, producer Jerry Bruckheimer, screenwriter Jack Epps Jr., and a trio of naval experts who acted as technical consultants on the film; and a 6-part documentary called Danger Zone: The Making of Top Gun that runs over two hours in length. There's also a multi-angle storyboard featurette that is as old school DVD as it sounds, as well as a 28-minute featurette called Best of the Best: Inside the Real Top Gun that takes a look at the Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center (now located at NAS Fallon in Nevada).
A Vintage Gallery section contains a collection of extras from previous DVD releases. There are music videos for "Danger Zone" by Kenny Loggins, "Take My Breath Away" by Berlin, "Heaven In Your Eyes" by Loverboy, and "Top Gun Anthem" by Harold Faltermeyer and Steve Stevens; seven TV spots; Behind the Scenes (5:30) and Survival Training featurettes; and some old Tom Cruise interviews.
If you already own Top Gun on Blu-ray, there's no point upgrading to this new release. You'd only be shelling out your hard-earned dough for a digital copy, and a slipcover with a marketing sticker. If, like me, you haven't seen Top Gun in well over a decade and are intrigued by the idea of revisiting the movie, ponder your next move carefully. A high definition journey into Tony Scott's glossy but shallow paean to the male id and U.S. military hardware may leave you feeling self-loathing over your once youthful bad taste.
Guilty as charged.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* DTS HD 6.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 109 Minutes
Release Year: 1986
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Digital Copy