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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Top Gun: Special Collector's Edition
Top Gun: Special Collector's Edition
Paramount // PG // December 14, 2004
List Price: $19.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Matthew Millheiser | posted December 5, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
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P R I N T
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The DVD

You could put up a plethora of reasons to determine why Top Gun was the smash hit of 1986. Maybe it was the rising star talent of a young Tom Cruise, who with this film knocked his already rocketing career into the stratosphere. Or perhaps it was the distinct music-video visual flair of director Tony Scott, who, after the disastrous performance of his woefully underrated art house horror flick The Hunger, couldn't get arrested in Hollywood during the mid 1980s. Or perhaps it was the rock-em sock-em, in-your-face, popcorn-pleasing, box-canyon-yodeling partnership of Jerry Bruckheimer and the late Don Simpson, whose previous music-vid-as-cinema collaboration, 1983's Flashdance, was also a commercial smash. And why not? It established their formula of hiring commercial and music-video directors (in that case Adrian Lyne), marketing the film with a smash pop soundtrack, and focusing on pomp and spectacle over subtlety and characterization. Or perhaps - perhaps - the film came out at just the right time, in the heart of Reagan's America, during which the celebration of America's military supremacy was once again a palatable (and dare I say, enjoyable) topic for mass consumption. The Vietnam-era hangover had faded into a Sunday night Shoney's Buffett of Babes, Bombs, and Bullets, and who better to lead movie-watchers down this road then a group of filmmakers who were aping the most appealing commercial stylings of the time - music videos?

Yes, there are a ton of reasons why Top Gun was such a smash. How big was it, you ask? The film grossed a staggering $176 million in 1986 dollars domestically, and over $350 million worldwide. Adjusted for inflation, that's total box-office earnings of $700 million dollars -- all off of a budget of just around $16 million! And what about that soundtrack? Fueled by the pap pablum poo-poo of Kenny Loggins's Danger Zone, Berlin's Take My Breath Away, and the unforgettable Through The Fire by Larry Greene, the movie's coordinated album release sold 7 million copies, one of the biggest album soundtracks ever produced.

A commercial juggernaut, no question about it, Top Gun was nothing less than a box-office smash and a pop-culture phenomenon. It had everything going for it: a talented cast, including the aforementioned Tom Cruise, Kelly "The road to obscurity begins here" McGillis, Val Kilmer, the dead guy from E.R., a confused looking Tim Robbins, a largely ignored Meg Ryan, the whacked Vietnam Vet drug dealer from Up In Smoke, the principal from Back to the Future, and Ham Tyler from V: The Final Battle. The film looked great, sounded great, and provided thrills and chills and pathos for non-discriminating audiences around the world. Heck, for example, I work with a smoking babe who grew up in semi-rural Alabama, and for an entire year the only film playing at the local theater was Top Gun. And she and her friends must have seen this movie eight thousand times. Hot young guys with washboard abs playing volleyball topless to a pulsating pop soundtrack? Oh they were so there...

But that's not why the film was such a smash.

The film's success is almost entirely due to the fact that Iron Eagle sucked so hard, there are still images of people watching that turdburger trapped on the event horizon.

But never mind that; let us return to the DVD that's being reviewed today. I'm not even going to try and review this sucker. Let's just say that Top Gun is what it is: the most commercially successful, visually resplendent, action-packed, and non-graphic gay porn ever constructed. Oh, I can hear the groans already, but in your heart of hearts you know it's true. There are exactly two women in this entire movie that are given more than a line or two of dialogue, naturally referring to Ms. McGillis and Ms. Ryan. They are both "love interests" of the two main dudes, Cruise and Edwards, but honestly they are so woefully underwritten and glossed over that they might as well be cardboard cutouts. I'm not criticizing their acting abilities, mind you. McGillis is rather subdued but acceptable in her role, and Ryan provides the spunk, cuteness, and vibe that would soon endear her as "America's Sweetheart" for a time roughly between 1987 and 1998, or at least until she started boning Russell Crowe. But they are so uninteresting to the filmmakers that their appearance in this film seems little more than perfunctory or workmanlike. The men are so in love with each other and their ships that you half expect to see Tom Cruise nudging a meatball with his nose during an outdoor spaghetti dinner with his F-16, while two swarthy Mediterranean types croon "Bella Note" to the delight of closeted jocks everywhere.

I mean, you don't have to be Cole Porter to decrypt what Kenny Loggins was describing when he sang about the "Highway to the Danger Zone"...

Anyway, the film's plot is so thin it's practically inconsequential. Maverick (Cruise) is the hotshot pilot, and he and best-friend Goose (Edwards) join the elite at "Top Gun", a naval school dedicated to teaching the "best of the best" the disappearing art of aerial dogfighting. Maverick is a talented pilot, but he is haunted by the ghost of his dead Dad, who was also some insanely talented flying dude, and is challenged for Top Gun supremacy by Iceman (Kilmer), who has a habit of snapping his teeth at people after he questions their safety habits. While at the academy, Maverick falls for civilian flight instructor Charlie (McGillis) in a plot device so thoroughly unconvincing it would give Ricky Martin's girlfriend a run for her money. But after a devastating accident, can Maverick muster up the confidence to grow up, stop showboating, get over his inherent insecurity, and oh by the way, save helpless American sailors from Soviet aggression?

There you have it. That synopsis right there encapsulated all the depth and nuance you're gonna get out of Top Gun. The flight scenes are still as thrilling and kinetic as they were 18 years ago, the soundtrack is massively dated yet still effective in delivering a wholly "kickass" presentation. But the movie is still entertaining enough that you smile and enjoy the entirety of it, even if much of it descends into unconvincing idiocy. Still, as a movie, Top Gun is critic-proof and, as a pop-culture phenom, stands outside of the entire cinematic continuum, the Kilgore Trout of movies. Even if you absolutely hate it, you still kinda like it.

The DVD

The Top Gun: Special Collector's Edition DVD comes in a lovely two DVD set from Paramount .

Video:

Top Gun is presented in a widescreen aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and has been anamorphically-enhanced for your widescreen viewing ecstasy. The transfer is a massive improvement over the previous release from 1998, the least of which being the anamorphic enhancement that was lacking before. The image is generally rich and pleasing, but not without some slight distractions. There is a great deal of grain structure visible on the print, which, while not necessarily a flaw, might lead the casual viewer to think that the transfer is flawed. Thankfully, Paramount didn't engage any filtering to wash the grain out and pump up the inevitable edge-enhancement, but on the other hand there is some softness to the image which is somewhat disappointing. I understand Tony Scott's massive love of soft-filtered shots and sunset-drenched cinematography, but simply put the image isn't as sharp as one might hope it to be. Colors are very bright and lush, with rich, deep blacks and fine shadow delineation, as well as strong contrasts that give a layer of depth to the image. The image looks rich and deep, but it also looks more than a little dated. Look for some print debris over the ending credits that are surprising: after the film fades and the individual actor credits come up, you could literally connect-the-dots on your screen with a Sharpie. After recently dropping my beloved Wega and having to immediately replace it (a nice unexpected cost), I would not recommend this activity. Anyway, this is a good to very good transfer, but it's not quite the homerun one would hope it to be.

Audio:

Oh, you know Top Gun is gonna chomp the cake this one, don't you? And you'd pretty much be right. If the video seemed a little bit dated, the audio is straight outta 2004. The film is presented in your choice of two soundtracks: DTS 6.1 and Dolby Digital 5.1 (there's also a 2.0 track and a French language track as well.) The DD 5.1 track is excellent, but the DTS mix is truly outstanding. The soundfield presented here is as thunderous and booming as one might expect, with fabulous separation and directionality demonstrated throughout the film. Surround channels are used often, engagingly, and aggressively, with pinpoint discrete imaging that gives the mix a real sense of balance and movement. Dialog comes across well, demonstrating exceptional brightness and clarity, while LFE are really given the chance to shine. There is an incredible amount of depth and boom to this production, tight and punchy during certain scenes, and low and rumbling during others. The sense of layering to this mix is truly impressive; close your eyes and bam, you're in a fighter jet, only instead of a flight suit you're garbed in an Iron Maiden concert jersey, scuba flippers, and your tighty whities. Overall, this is one of the most impressive soundtracks I've heard this year.

Extras:

Paramount has laid out some very impressive supplements for this edition of Top Gun. Starting out on Disc One, there is an audio commentary track featuring director Tony Scott, producer Jerry Bruckheimer, co-screenwriter Jack Epps Jr., Captain Mike Galpin, and technical advisors Pete "Don't call me Scabbers" Pettigrew and Vice Admiral Mike McCabe. I'm not a big fan of commentary tracks that feature several different contributors edited together in a single track, but I have to admit that this is a fine commentary track from start to finish. There are an inexhaustible amount of tidbits, anecdotal and behind-the-scenes material and production information provided throughout the running time. Scott recounts how he almost got fired three times during production, once for "whoring up" Kelly McGillis, while Bruckheimer recounts the film's origins and its tumultuous production history. The technical advisors spend time between pointing out the film's various inaccuracies and admitting that they enjoy the movie, warts and all. Overall, the commentary moves at a brisk pace, with barely any dead time or lull spots, and even if you don't really like Top Gun (but you do), you'll find the commentary pretty interesting.

Also on this disc is a section entitled "Vintage Gallery", which contains both music videos and TV Spots. There are four music videos included: Kenny Loggins's ultra-cheesy Danger Zone (there's a lot of overhead shots of him lying in bed), Berlin's Take My Breath Away (it's nowhere near as good as The Metro, but it is their signature tune), Loverboy's Heaven In Your Eyes (which seems to have been custom made for Junior Proms and Quinces), and Harold Faltermeyer and Steve Stevens's Top Gun Anthem. Harold Faltermeyer was responsible for the infectious "Axel Foley Theme" from Beverly Hills Cop, and Steve Stevens was primarily known as Billy Idol's guitarist. Remember how it looked like he was almost having a seizure during the Rebel Yell video? I do. That's some embarrassing stuff.

There are a total of 7 TV spots, and you can view them one at a time or play all of them together. Interesting enough, the following are paired together: Male Action and Romance. Redudant or coincidence? You be the judge.

Well, that's the first disc. Let's head over to Disc Two, where some quality supplements are in store. The first is entitled Danger Zone: The Making of Top Gun. This mammoth, 125-minute contains practically everything you've ever wanted to know about how Top Gun came to be. The documentary is broken up into six sections: From the Ground Up: Pre-Production, Playing with the Boys: Production Land and Sea, The Need for Speed: Production Air, Back to Basics: Visual Effects, Combat Rock: The Music of Top Gun, Afterburn: Release and Impact. Every single aspect of the film's production is covered here, from how they assembled the cast (with some holdouts provided by both Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer), who puked and why, why Take Your Breath Away pretty much killed the band Berlin and why Terri Nunn (who, as we know from the Star Wars DVD, auditioned for the Princess Leia role) regretted not singing the song at the Oscars, how the military reacted to the film, and how singers, songwriters, musicians, and composers had to audition to provide songs for the soundtrack. I have to say, I very much enjoyed this documentary; it's thorough, informative, and entertaining throughout its running time. Everyone involved in the production pretty much had something to add here, including Cruise, Kilmer, and the always jovial Rick Rossovich. Good show, gang.

Continuing with the extra material, we next come across some multi-angle storyboards for Flat Spin and Jester's Dead. Use your remote to switch between storyboard and action, with optional commentary from Tony Scott. Or don't. It's entirely up to you.

We move next into a section entitled Vintage Gallery. Here we'll find some more interesting stuff. Starting out we have a Behind The Scenes Featurette, which is a 5-minute piece of EPK fluff that is as ephemeral as a swan's fart. Blink and you'll miss it, but no worries; nothing to be seen there. More interesting is the Survival Training Featurette, running seven-and-a-half minutes, in which we glimpse into the survival training that the main cast members had to endure. I enjoyed this quite a bit more, as it had something substantial and informative to offer the viewer.

Next we have nearly seven minutes of Tom Cruise Interviews. These are vintage pieces, and not anything recently recorded for this DVD. Cruise fans will probably get a kick out of it, and he does provide some interesting tidbits, but I wouldn't call it essential viewing. Last and certainly least, we have Production Photography, dozens of production stills from the film. They are broken up into Cast Portraits, Flight Training, Behind-The-Scenes: Land, Behind-The-Scenes: Sea, Behind-The-Scenes: Rear-Screen Unit, Deleted Scene: Goose's Grave (where's the video?!), Fun on the Set, and USFX Miniature Unit.

Final Thoughts

Yeah I know, I'm far, far from the first one to make the Top Gun/Gay Love connection, but honestly it's so blatant that I'm surprised that nobody picked up on it back in 1986. Of course, look how long it took us to get the whole "Village People" thingee. Boy we as a culture took it in the shorts on that one. Still, Top Gun, while just laughably silly as a film, is still generally entertaining as a movie, albeit in a clich├ęd, obvious, ham-handed, yet purely kinetic manner. The DVD, on the other hand, is a knockout. The presentation is outstanding; even if the video slightly falters, the audio is nothing short of reference quality. It's absolutely terrific, and will certainly piss off Shirley, who as all know is thoroughly evil. But nevermind that; just take a gander at that collection of extras. The commentary and full-length documentary are both of terrific quality; nothing fluffy or extraneous with those two, but a solidly entertaining look at one of the defining movies of the 1980s. For that reason alone, Top Gun: Special Collector's Edition earns its Highly Recommended rating. Or should I say... Highly Dangerous? (*Snap*)

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