One of the biggest blockbuster films of the eighties, Tony Scott's Top Gun not only made Tom Cruise one of the most recognizable stars in Hollywood, it also made a nation of young boys yearn for a chance to fly a fighter jet and feel first hand the need for speed. Now, more than two decades after the fact, we realize that the film is very much a product of its era and that time has not been at all kind to the exploits of Maverick and his pals.
Peter 'Maverick' Mitchell (Tom Cruise) is a hotshot flyboy with a penchant for breaking the rules. His bad attitude earn he and his partner, Goose (Anthony Edwards), a bad reputation but their skills in the cockpit earn them a spot in the Top Gun school in California where they're sent to for more refined training in hopes that they'll be turned into decent pilots and serve their country well.
Of course, once the get to the academy it doesn't take Maverick long to start making enemies, first and foremost a rival pilot called Iceman (Val Kilmer). Along the way, Maverick falls for a hot local lady named Charlie (Kelly McGillis) who just so happens to turn out to be his instructor. Of course, Maverick learns a few life lessons during his stint and before you know it, the man in charge of the program (Tom Skerritt) is more than a little annoyed but soon he and Iceman learn the error of their ways and learn that teamwork is better than cocky machismo - and just in time, cause it's all gonna hit the fan during the last twenty-minutes of the film where our heroes are going to have to learn how to put everything they've been taught into action and save the day.
Say what you will about Tom Cruise, but he is the right actor for the lead in this film. His grin is annoying, he's cockier than any one man has any right to be, and at times he's pretty annoying but he fits the story and the whole tone of the movie perfectly. He's the brass and obnoxious icing on a completely superficial, substance free cake! Like Cruise's performance, the film itself is really all show. Top Gun has got plenty of style and it hits all the requisite notes in terms of the setup, the love interest, the subplots and the pay off to pretty much set it on a pedestal as one of the finest formula movies ever made.
Scott's direction takes advantage of this exercise in style over substance. Not only does he pace the film well, he makes sure that the sappier moments get enough time in the film to insist we care about the characters - in fact, the script more or less rubs the audiences' noses in their plights. There's plenty of fast cutting during the action scenes to make-believe that they're faster and more intense than they really are and the sound effects and Kenny Loggins music are pumped up loud enough to make sure you can't help but pay attention. Berlin's Oscar winning contribution to the music accompanying the infamous love scene sounds sappy enough to make your eyes water and the film always looks and sounds really good, even if by this point much of what was innovative during its theatrical run has definitely become old hat.
That said, the biggest problem with Top Gun is not the campy script, the hammy acting, the unintentionally hilarious homoerotic relationships between most of the male students at the Top Gun school or the many Danger Zone jokes that can be made but the dogfights themselves. While it's all well and good to have plenty of close-ups of the pilots faces, they need to be balanced out with some quality fighter plane footage and when you actually pay attention to what you see and now how it's presented to you, the movie comes up surprisingly short in that department. We don't really see the jets do anything remarkably cool, they just sort of fly very loudly in various directions until its over with.
That said, there's no denying that the film definitely struck a chord with audiences of the day. It was a huge success and it's had a pretty massive influence not only on the movies that followed it but on pop culture in general to the point where parts of the film have worked their way into the modern catch phrase vernacular. While it has all the depth of a beer commercial, the film made scads of money and, as hokey as it is, it remains entertaining regardless of its obvious superficiality.
Paramount presents Top Gun in its original 2.35.1 aspect ratio in a nice anamorphic MPEG-4/AVC encoded1080p transfer. While this is an older catalogue title, it's still a little surprising to see that the picture wasn't cleaned up more for HD-DVD. There's a fair bit of dirt and debris present on the image and anytime we see smoke or exhaust some minor compression and macro blocking rears its ugly head. Some of the stock footage inserts don't quite match the original footage and contrast at times is a little shaky. That's the bad news. The good news is that the black levels look dead on and there is a nice level of both foreground and background detail in the image. Color reproduction is pretty solid and flesh tones look nice and lifelike. Sharpness is nice and strong without looking overblown or too filtered and there's more depth than you might expect to see in an older film. This isn't a reference quality transfer by any stretch and it looks like Paramount have used the same master that they employed for the special edition standard definition release, but that said Top Gun still looks pretty good even if there's a fair bit of room left for improvement in the video department.
Paramount has given the HD-DVD release of Top Gun solid audio options in English in Dolby Digital TrueHD 5.1 Surround Sound, DTS-ES 6.1 Surround Sound, and Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 Surround Sound. As far as how the sound stacks up, well, things are pretty strong in this department with the TrueHD track coming up the winner despite the added track in the DTS mix. All three tracks are quite good with the rear channels used very effectively during the combat/dogfight scenes and with the subwoofer kicking in and really punching up some of the more action-oriented moments in the picture. Dialogue comes primarily from the front of the mix but it remains clean and clear throughout the film. The soundtrack could have been spread out just a little bit more and given some presence in the rears during a couple of scenes to bring some added depth to the proceedings but that's a minor complaint. For the most part, Top Gun does sound very good on this high definition debut. French and Spanish Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 tracks are also included, and optional subtitles are available in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese.
Aside from menus and chapter selection, this release is, sadly, completely barebones - not even a trailer has been included, though you can bookmark certain parts of the film if you want to. Considering the extensive supplements supplied on the special edition standard definition DVD release, it's quite surprising to see none of that supplemental material ported over for the HD-DVD debut.
The audio and video for this release are strong but certainly leave room for improvement. That coupled with the complete lack of supplements has to make you wonder if there won't be a true special edition release of the film once the format war is settled. Until then, time has not been kind to Top Gun though as an artifact of excessive eighties cinema, it's still a fun watch. Consider this one a solid rental.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.