I feel the need- the need for- 3D?
Well, color me surprised. I had heard a couple years ago that Top Gun was going to be re-released in converted 3D, and I immediately thought that would be an extremely pointless endeavor. It turns out that Paramount has foregone a normal theatrical release however and just done a limited engagement in IMAX theaters. In anticipation of receiving this new 3D Blu-Ray issue, I watched my 2-dimesional HD-DVD of the movie to re-familiarize myself with it, and again questioned the point of converting it into 3D, as I didn't see anything that would really stand out. Well, after viewing the 3D Blu-Ray I can say that Legend 3D managed to pull it off rather well. It almost looks like it was actually filmed in 3D. While I am not very familiar with how the 3D conversion process actually works other than what was shown on the brief extra that explained it a bit on the Men in Black III Blu-Ray, it's evident a lot of time and care went into this. The opening dogfight scene is a big thrill, with some planes almost protruding from the screen. Even the dramatic scenes have a lot of depth to them, for example the small American flag standing up on Michael Ironside's desk in an early scene.
More on that later, but first, let's talk about the movie itself. Top Gun was the biggest movie of 1986 and made Tom Cruise a bona-fide star. Like Paramount's Saturday Night Fever, it was inspired by a magazine article. Cruise stars as US Navy Lieutenant Pete "Maverick" Mitchell (in the Navy, most people have nicknames) who along with his best friend Nick "Goose" Bradshaw (Anthony Edwards) is sent to the Navy's Fighter Weapons School in Miramar CA, or "Top Gun" as it's more commonly known- a training ground for the top 1% of the Navy's pilots, "The best of the best" if you will, to steal from the movie's advertising tagline. A skeleton in Maverick's closet is his father, who was also a Navy pilot but was killed in action years ago.
Early on, Maverick and Goose visit the Officers' Club and spot an attractive woman, Charlie (Kelly McGillis). Maverick hits on her but not much comes of it- the next day however, she shows up at Top Gun as a civilian contractor, instructing them on enemy aircraft! Maverick plays it cool but gets her to invite him over for dinner, and she soon falls in love with him. In between the romantic interludes, Maverick and crew take part in air combat simulations, which are the highlight of the movie. However, a tragic event occurs which makes Maverick question his dedication to the program. Other supporting cast include Tom Skerritt as chief instructor Mike "Viper" Metcalf, Val Kilmer as Tom "Iceman" Kasansky, Maverick's main competition for top student, Tim Robbins as fellow flyer Sam "Merlin" wells, and Meg Ryan as Carol, Goose's wife.
Having seen Top Gun during its initial run in 1986, I have always thought it was good to watch for the flying sequences, many of which were done with real planes using then-new camera techniques, but also thought the rest of the movie was pretty cheesy. There are many lines spoken by the pilots that just had me shaking my head, such as "I feel the need- the need for speed!" and the ever-popular "You can be my wingman any time." The whole romance between Maverick and Charlie is pretty one-dimensional also- you never really know what Charlie's attraction to Maverick is, more like she was just stuck in there to give him a love interest. I'll admit having her turn out to be an instructor was sort of an interesting twist, but not enough to keep me from laughing out loud in disbelief when she says to Maverick with a completely straight face, "I just don't want anyone to know that I've fallen for you."
Top Gun struck a chord with most audiences however- not only did they buy into the romance, but some found the flying sequences so thrilling that they were inspired to join the military themselves- there was a significant increase in enrollments after the movie was released; recruiting booths were even set up in some theater lobbies. Top Gun also had one of the last "big" multi-artist soundtrack albums as well with top-40 radio hits like Kenny Loggins' "Danger Zone" and Berlin's "Take My Breath Away". As a side-note, my initial reaction to that song upon first hearing it in the movie was disgust, and my jaw dropped in disbelief when I learned that the sappy ballad was performed by the group Berlin, who a few years before had triggered my love for new wave music with songs like "Sex (I'm A...)" and "The Metro" which were unlike anything I'd heard before. Top Gun was also a big hit in its initial video release as well, with the VHS and Beta tapes being priced at an unusually low for the time $29.99 (most new movie releases were priced at $79.99). To subsidize the price a bit, a Top Gun-themed Diet Pepsi commercial was included at the beginning of the tapes (it was not included on the original laserdisc or this Blu-Ray release.)
For this release, Top Gun was converted to 3D by Legend 3D, and again I have to say they've done a remarkable job- in fact, at the risk of sounding clichéd they've brought a whole new dimension to the movie. The flying sequences look incredible, with the cockpit shots looking like you're sitting right in there with the pilots, and being able to pinpoint each plane inside the screen with the mountains behind them. Equal attention was given to the scenes on the ground, with backgrounds looking like they're really deep into your screen with actors standing in front of them. When I first heard of the 3D conversion I cynically chuckled at the thought of the PG-rated sex scene between Tom Cruise and Kelly McGillis in 3D, but even THAT has been pulled off well with them in the foreground and the blue background far behind them.
The film grain has been left alone in the 3D version too, as opposed to the older 2D transfer also included here and on the HD-DVD. One side effect is that the depth of the film grain appears to follow characters and objects onscreen, for example you'll see grain on a person in the foreground and see the grain stop at the person's edge and continue on a plane further in on an object behind them. It doesn't distract too much however unless you're looking for it like I was. The color scheme does appear to have been tinkered with, mainly a teal (greenish-blue) hue has been added to many scenes.
The 3D transfer on disc 1 can only be played in 3D; the 2D transfer on disc 2 looks much different. The colors appear more accurate, but the film grain seen in the 3D version has been cleaned up. It appears that the film grain was intended to be there, but upon comparing both the original 1987 laserdisc and the 1995 "remastered" LD, the film grain did not stand out on those either. Having been shot in Super 35, both transfers here are in the theatrical 2.35 aspect ratio, as opposed to the first letterboxed video editions which were closer to 1.85 (with image on the top and bottom opened up.)
While the audio didn't impress me as much as many current movies, this was a reference sound track in its day (used by many stores to show off Hi-Fi VCRs and laserdisc players- back then you were badass if you just had 2-channel stereo on your video setup! Hi-Fi sound for both Beta and VHS had been around for a couple years, and digital sound capability had just been added to laserdiscs.) Both the 3D and 2D discs include both a 5.1 Dolby TrueHD EX (matrixed center-rear channel) mix and a DTS-HD Master Audio 6.1 mix (with a discrete center-rear channel), derived from the 70mm 6-track theatrical mix (35mm digital sound was still about seven years away.) The surrounds in the DTS 6.1 track sound a bit "wider" in comparison to the Dolby mix. While they aren't used as liberally as in some more recent movies, they still include some great effects of the jets flying all around. The whole track still "rocks" overall, accentuated by Harold Faltermeyer's synth-rock score.
Dubs in Spanish and French Dolby Digital 5.1 EX are included, with standard and SDH format English subtitles along with Spanish, French and Portuguese.
No extras are included on the 3D disc, but the 2nd disc with the 2D transfer is actually the same as the 25th Anniversary Edition released in 2011, with more than a staggering three hours of material (all in 16x9 standard-def, in 2-channel stereo with subtitles available in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese). The main feature is "Danger Zone: The Making of Top Gun," a 2 ½ hour affair produced by Charles deLauzirika covering almost everything you would want to know about the movie. Director Tony Scott, producer Jerry Bruckheimer, and cast members Tom Cruise, Val Kilmer, Michael Ironside, Rick Rossovich and Barry Tubb provide their reflections, from the initial inspiration of the "Top Guns" magazine article through its theatrical release. Highlights include stories of off-screen cast partying, consulting with actual military personnel, and shooting of special-effects miniatures for the scenes that were too dangerous for the real planes to perform. There's also a segment about the music, with insight from composer Harold Faltermeyer and Giorgio Moroder who wrote many of the pop songs used in the movie. As I had been mortified by Berlin "selling out" doing the ballad "Take My Breath Away" (which ended up winning an Oscar for Best Original Song), I was very amused to see singer Terri Nunn reveal that the song tore the band apart. Basically they were approached by Moroder to record it, half the band members liked the song but half of them didn't. The increase in military enrollment as a result of the movie is mentioned as well, with Tony Scott speculating that some people must "hate" him for the real thing not turning out to be like the movie. Detractors of the movie may get a kick out of hearing Jerry Bruckheimer justifying the un-realistic elements of the movie- he states "They may not be realistic, but Ma and Pa in Oklahoma want to see it that way."
Next are two storyboard features where two flight scenes from the movie are shown in a split-screen with their accompanying storyboards. The Angle button will let you see the storyboards full-screen. Then there's "Best of the Best: Inside the Real Top Gun" which takes a look at the real Navy Fighter Weapons School which has moved to Fallon, NV since the movie was completed, with information from some then-current students and instructors.
The best part is the "Vintage Gallery", which includes some 1986 promotional materials (these are in 4x3 standard-def.) We get four complete music videos: Kenny Loggins' "Danger Zone", Berlin's "Take My Breath Away", Loverboy's "Heaven in Your Eyes" and the instrumental "Top Gun Anthem" by Harold Faltermeyer and Steve Stevens. All of these feature lip-synching and performance-miming by the artists intercut with footage from the movie. Seven TV spots are included, a short behind-the-scenes featurette and another on the actors' survival training at actual military facilities, and a filmed interview with Tom Cruise (with timecode on the screen).
An audio commentary is also included with the 2D presentation of the movie, featuring producer Jerry Bruckheimer, director Tony Scott, screenwriter Jack Epps, Jr, Captain Mike Galpin, Vice Admiral Mike McCabe, and technical advisor Pete Pettigrew. I did not have time to listen to all of it before completing this review, but it appears to have been recorded separately with each participant and edited together. With Tony Scott's recent suicide, it will be rather haunting to hear him here- he talks in almost a whisper in the portions I sampled.
Although I felt Top Gun was highly overrated at the time (while everyone else I knew kept saying how "cool" it was), I've since learned to enjoy it for what it is- crank the sound up and just enjoy the flying, laugh at the not-so-great acting and just leave your brain at the door. The movie may be a big cliche, but it's a fun one that to me has improved with age. I was very apprehensive about the 3D conversion, but as a long-time 3D nut I can say it turned out great. Certainly it would have been preferable had Top Gun originally been filmed in 3D, but the technology at the time probably would not have been too practical. (The last major polarized 3D movie at the time was 1985's animated Starchaser: The Legend of Orin, after which 3D mostly disappeared from standard theaters until digital projection came along.) Purists of course may object to the added 3D, as well as the tweaked color scheme. A 2D presentation more faithful to the original should have been included.
While I felt the 3D worked very well here, overall I have mixed feelings about the trend of converting older movies into 3D. On one hand more 3D material is always a good thing, but on the other I feel that studios should first devote their time and energy into issuing Blu-Ray 3D discs of their 1950s and 80s movies that were actually SHOT in 3D- Paramount issued a number of 3D movies in the 1950s including Money From Home, Sangaree, Those Redheads From Seattle, as well as Friday the 13th Part 3 and The Man Who Wasn't There from the brief 1980s 3D revival, all of which I would purchase in an instant. I also feel that converting 2D films to 3D causes confusion among the public about how 3D actually works- while conversions can look good, they still can't compare to a REAL 3D movie shot with TWO separate images.
Top Gun's exhaustive extras should please fans of the film who haven't already bought the 25th Anniversary edition- they would have made for a pretty heavy laserdisc box! I would have liked to have seen something about the 3D conversion included, as it is obvious a lot of work went into that. (There is a silent extension to the end credits of the 3D version listing those responsible for the conversion.)
Images in this review were taken from the 3D version of the movie. Conventional Blu-Ray players will not be able to play this version in 2D.
Jesse Skeen is a life-long obsessive media collector (with an unhealthy preoccupation with obsolete and failed formats) and former theater film projectionist. He enjoys watching movies and strives for presenting them perfectly, but lacks the talent to make his own.