I could recap the plot, but we're not really talking about some delicately woven tapestry of rich characterization or anything. Nope, it's Maverick (Tom Cruise) and his buddy Goose (Anthony Edwards) landing a slot at the Navy's prestigious 'Top Gun' academy where the best of the best learn to be even better. Maverick knows what he wants -- his name on a plaque proving that he's the best fighter pilot around, not to mention having his kinda-sorta-not-really foxy instructor Charlie (Kelly McGillis) hanging off his arm -- and he lunges straight for it. Oh, there's some stiff competition, though,
Top Gun is one of the most iconic movies of an entire decade -- outpacing everything else that hit theaters in 1986 -- and this is the flick that made Tom Cruise a household name. It's...um, also pretty damn awful. This is such a case of style over substance that there's not even anything for me to review, really...just cartoonishly over-the-top, scenery-chewing, chest-thumping machismo. Sure, a lot of the aerial footage still holds up really well, and knowing that these are real pilots in actual F-14s and not just CG models cranked out of a render farm in Palo Alto adds another layer of excitement. Top Gun is almost unwatchable whenever Maverick and company hop outside the cockpit, though, from the artificial stab at charm with the Righteous Brothers singalong in the bar to hearing that five note synth riff of "Take My Breath Away" for the 832nd time.
Sure, the relentless homoerotic undercurrent scores a few laughs, there are a bunch of ridiculously quotable lines, and this sort of cocky, hyperconfident pilot with a toothy grin is a role tailor-made for Tom Cruise, but Top Gun is so dated, so hamfisted, and so unrelentingly cheesy that it really doesn't even play all that well as a campy burst of nostalgia. It was one of the biggest movies to come out of the '80s and set a formula that's still being ripped off today, but...yeah, I think I'd just as soon watch one of those knockoffs instead. Whatever memories you have swirling in your head about Top Gun, they're a hell of a lot better than the actual movie. Rent It.
Video: Top Gun is kind of a wreck on Blu-ray. The scope image has been heavily processed: some of its texture and fine detail have smeared away by excessive digital noise reduction and then artificially sharpened to try to compensate. While the noise reduction doesn't ravage Top Gun nearly as badly as First Blood, Pan's Labyrinth, or The Longest Day, this Blu-ray disc never really looks natural or film-like. Some other inconsistencies may just be inherent to the original photography, though; contrast skews too hot in some scenes but is flat and lifeless in many more, and crispness and clarity can vary a good bit from one shot to the next. Even in its best looking stretches, depth, fine detail, and definition are lackluster. A handful of small white specks still creep onto the frame as well, although at least those are never really distracting.
The bitrate of this AVC encode has been optimized for Blu-ray rather than reheat last year's HD DVD leftovers, and I'm sure this Blu-ray disc trumps the DVD re-release without breaking a sweat too. Still, Top Gun really doesn't look all that great in high-def. Sure, I'm an armchair critic and not actually in a position to say if a better remastering job would've resulted in a slicker and more natural looking Blu-ray disc, but the clumsy digital knob-twiddling here is a definite disappointment.
Audio: Paramount has packed on two lossless, 24-bit soundtracks for this Blu-ray set: a 5.1 Dolby TrueHD mix and a 6.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track. I may have groused about the way this Blu-ray disc looks, but as for the sound...? This is one of the best remixes -- and not just as far as '80s action flicks go, but remixes, period -- I've ever heard. The way Top Gun strings together so many dogfights with fighter jets screaming across the sky keeps the rear channels roaring throughout, with silky smooth pans, slews of split-surround effects, and a hell of a lot of directionality. Dynamic range is surprisingly expansive, with dialogue that's reproduced cleanly and clearly without ever being overwhelmed when the subwoofer belts out a massive low frequency wallop. This remix teeters on the brink of
Dolby Digital 5.1 dubs have also been included in French and Spanish alongside subtitle streams in English (traditional and SDH), French, Spanish, and Portuguese.
Extras: Even if I could barely stomach the movie, I'll admit to really being bowled over by Top Gun's extras. The centerpiece is the sprawling "Danger Zone: The Making of Top Gun", a six part, two and a half hour documentary. As I'm sure you could guess by its rather daunting runtime, "Danger Zone" is extremely comprehensive, tackling just about every angle imaginable, and it's infused with so much personality that it never seems to drone on or meander. The documentary doesn't whitewash over the troubled production, noting what a tough time Top Gun had getting off the ground, how neither the writers nor director had any clue what jet fighters were actually capable of doing, some of the mandates issued by the Navy and State Department, how any semblance of a story during the flights was wholly created in editing, the disastrous first cut and astonishingly awful original ending, and the tragic loss of aerial photographer Art Scholl. The translation of directorial notes to flight maneuevers, casting, the dramatic license taken to crank up the drama, the elaborate rigs used to shoot the cockpit interiors, visual effects, music...not much ground is left uncovered, and virtually everyone on both sides of the camera gets a chance to talk. It's the stories that really make "Danger Zone" such a blast to watch: actors getting booted off of an aircraft carrier, Tony Scott digging tens of thousands of dollars out of his own pocket to turn the carrier around and get the shot he wanted, a sequel Paramount scrapped because there wasn't any leftover flying footage, bullshitting that the Top Gun theme had already been written and then being asked to hammer it out on piano... Extremely comprehensive, nimbly paced, and ridiculously entertaining, "Danger Zone" is essential viewing for anyone picking up this disc.
If you don't have two and a half hours to throw at a Top Gun retrospective, the disc's audio commentary is drier but tackles most of the highlights. The track was pieced together from a few separate recording sessions, including turns at the mic by producer Jerry Bruckheimer, director Tony Scott, co-writer Jack Epps, Jr., Captain Mike Galpin, technical adviser Pete Pettigrew, and Vice Admiral Mike McCabe. It's one of the out-and-out best commentaries I've heard in months, although admittedly, there's enough overlap with "Danger Zone" that it's tough to recommend tearing through both. I dug how candid Scott is about the whole experience, describing in detail how many times he was fired from the production and how no one in the industry wanted to be in the same time zone as him after The Hunger. Having actual fighter pilots who've spent so much time in Miramar onboard is kind of a thrill too, pointing out what Top Gun nailed and just how far off it could be, even mentioning that the Righteous Brothers bit was spun off of a Ramones singalong. Also touched on exclusively in the commentary are the original badniks written into Top Gun that were made more vague at the State Department's request and how the competition between squadrons and the personalities of each team's individual planes were axed. Having so many people onboard helps this commentary cast an impressively wide net, and it's a great listen.
Scott also offers optional commentary over a pair of storyboard comparisons, chatting
One of the my favorite extras in the set is "Best of the Best: Inside the Real Top Gun" (29 min.), a look at every stage of the grueling 9 week course at the actual base in Miramar. I believe this was previously only available on a DVD bonus disc at Best Buy, and it's appreciated that Paramount has carried it over to Blu-ray.
The rest of the extras are piled into a 'vintage gallery', and as you could probably guess from that heading, all of them date back to the mid-'80s. There are four music videos: "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 (and...wow, check out that power-ballad hair). Another gallery tears through seven TV spots. There are two featurettes, including a five and a half minute peek behind-the-scenes that points out the hunger for realism and dazzling aerial photography in between many, many excerpts from the movie. The second clip runs seven and a half minutes and focuses on the survival training the cast had to endure, everything from how to handle ejecting into the ocean and a sudden loss of oxygen at dizzying heights. Last up is a vintage interview with a superenthused Tom Cruise (7 min.) that touches on how he got onboard with Top Gun and his experience soaring in the sky with a Navy pilot.
None of the extras are in high definition, but the newer featurettes are at least in anamorphic widescreen.
Conclusion: Y'know, I'm all for big, loud, dumb action flicks, but Top Gun...? It really doesn't hold up. It's as overearnest and aggressively cheesy as that falling-down drunk guy over there in the corner who keeps calling things 'wicked' and won't stop high-fiving everybody. A quick nostalgic burst and some really spectacular aerial photography are all Top Gun has going for it, but if you're a fan, this Blu-ray set does pack on a first-rate DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack and a really impressive stack of extras. Too bad about the lousy video quality and...well, the movie. Rent It.