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Tony Scott
Tom Cruise, Kelly McGillis, Val Kilmer, Anthony Edwards, Tom Skerritt , Michael Ironside, Tim Robbins , Meg Ryan
Writing Credits:
Ehud Yonay (article "Top Guns" in California Magazine), Jim Cash, Jack Epps Jr.

Up there with the best of the best.

Now on DVD ... a Special Collector's Edition of Top Gun, the box-office smash hit that takes flight with all the danger, excitement and drama that await every pilot enrolled at the prestigious Navy fighter weapons school. Tom Cruise, Kelly McGillis, Val Kilmer, Anthony Edwards, Tom Skerritt, Meg Ryan, John Stockwell and Barry Tubb are among the cast of this exhilarating film directed by Tony Scott and featuring the Oscar winning song, "Take My Breath Away."

Box Office:
$15 million.
Domestic Gross
$176.781 million.

Rated PG

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English DTS 6.1
English Dolby 2.0
French Dolby 2.0
French Dolby Stereo

Runtime: 109 min.
Price: $19.99
Release Date: 12/14/2004

Disc One
• Audio Commentary from Director Tony Scott, Producer Jerry Bruckheimer, Co-Writer Jack Epps Jr., Captain Mike Galpin, Technical Advisor Pete Pettigrew, and Vice Admiral Mike McCabe
• Four Music Videos
• Seven TV Spots
Disc Two
• “Danger Zone: The Making of Top Gun” Six-Part Documentary
• Multi-Angle Storyboards with Optional Commentary by Director Tony Scott
• Vintage Behind-the-Scenes Featurette
• Vintage “Survival Training” Featurette
• Vintage Tom Cruise Interviews
• Production Photography


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Top Gun: Special Collector's Edition (1986)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 6, 2004)

When you examine the top-grossing movie from each of the decade’s ten years, which Eighties hit comes across as the most ingrained in that era? I’d go with 1986’s Top Gun. Everything about it highlights the era’s big-budget excesses, and since it stars one of the era’s icons in Tom Cruise, I think it’d be hard to top it as one of the definitive Eighties flicks.

The film introduces us to Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Cruise), a Navy pilot who lives up to his name. He flies with partner “Goose” (Anthony Edwards) and perpetually gets in trouble with his superiors. They encounter tensions with the Commies over the Indian Ocean, an incident that freaks out fellow pilot “Cougar” (John Stockwell). Maverick bucks his boss to go to Cougar’s psychological aid and winds up in hot water.

Cougar’s meltdown causes him to resign his commission, and that also means he forfeits his spot to the base at Miramar California, also known as the “Top Gun” school where they train the best of the best. Against his better judgment, their leader (James Tolkan) sends Maverick and Goose there. They meet their commanding officer, Commander Mike “Viper” Metcalf (Tom Skerritt) and also encounter other pilots like “Iceman” (Val Kilmer) and “Slider” (Rick Rossovich). We quickly see that Maverick and Iceman won’t care for each other and that they’ll become rivals.

Maverick meets Charlotte “Charlie” Blackwood (Kelly McGillis) at a bar and tries to woo her. She toys with the arrogant aviator and leaves him without success. He feels like a fool the next day when he learns Charlie’s a civilian contractor and an aircraft expert who teaches the pilots. This leads to some friction between the pair, especially when she wants to learn more about his experiences with the Soviet fighters and he messes with her.

Before long, Maverick runs afoul of his bosses here after he performs some maneuvers against regulations. The rest of the movie follows a few threads. We see Maverick’s attempts to tame his rebellious instincts but remain true to himself while he gets through school. We also watch the romance between Maverick and Charlie as well as minor subplots.

For better or for worse, Maverick remains the defining role of Cruise’s career. “For better” because Top Gun made the actor a superstar. He’d already earned fame with 1983’s Risky Business but Cruise floundered after that. All the Right Moves did okay, though it coasted by mostly due to all the teen girls who dug Cruise. Made with director Ridley Scott, 1985’s Legend provided an expensive bomb that threatened to haul Cruise’s career down with it.

Happily for the actor, his pairing with Scott’s brother Tony on Top Gun proved radically more successful. The movie made $176 million, a figure good enough to make it the year’s biggest hit. This also catapulted Cruise to the “A”-list, a status he hasn’t yet relinquished despite some duds along the way.

Where does the “for worse” enter the picture? It stems from the manner in which the film stereotyped Cruise. He’d find it very hard to get away from similar cocky, arrogant roles, as the public continually viewed him as this sort of flashy character.

Such is the price of success, I suppose. Of course, Cruise’s looks helped make Gun a crossover hit in that both males and females attended it and could both be happy. I think the guys dug it more, though, as the movie tossed out so much testosterone that it acted almost as an ad for the Navy.

Granted, this was ironic testosterone, as audiences have seen in subsequent years. Top Gun displays a distinct homoerotic vibe that permeates it. This doesn’t come through simply via the many shots of shirtless men cavorting together or even the long, languid gazes between Maverick and Iceman. Look at the relationship between Maverick and Charlie to see a rather strong sexual role reversal, as she comes across much more as the male in the couple. He’s moody and petulant and craves her approval, while she’s aggressive and no-nonsense. It’s an odd turn for this sort of flick, and one that seems to come from a conscious decision on the part of the filmmakers to have fun with the subject.

Not that the audience at the time picked up on this vibe - I know I didn’t. Maybe you had to live through the Eighties to believe that audiences once took Top Gun seriously. Boy, did this thing tap into the zeitgeist of the era. 1986 was a peak year for “morning in America” jingoism, and this flick tapped into that tone. In retrospect, it’s very difficult to see the flick as anything other than campy and cheesy, though. What the hell were we thinking when we bought into this nonsense?

It may well be a mistake to read too much into Top Gun, as it truly offers little more than a live-action cartoon. The characters are one-dimensional and the story is utterly predictable. It shows a strong influence 1982’s An Officer and a Gentleman and comes across as a light version of that moderately dark tale. It’s kind of a remake without the dramatic subtext and more believable characters. Gentleman has its own flaws, but at least it tries to present events that exist in a form of real world.

Contrast that with the boy’s fantasy of Top Gun. When the movie focuses on those elements - primarily via the action scenes - it does okay for itself. I don’t think the flight sequences are particularly thrilling, but they bring the film to life fairly well. Unfortunately, the character-driven moments drag it down and make it tedious. These leave Top Gun as a silly movie with only sporadic pleasures on display.

The DVD Grades: Picture B/ Audio A (DTS) A- (DD)/ Bonus A

Top Gun appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. This DVD marked the film’s second release in the format. The first one came out back in 1999 and presented non-anamorphic visuals. I never saw that one so I can’t compare the two, but at least the two-platter special edition presents a new anamorphic transfer.

Unfortunately, it’s an erratic image. Sharpness usually worked fine. Some moderate softness interfered on occasion, mainly during interiors. Those issues remained reasonably minor, though, and the movie usually came across as pretty concise. I noticed no problems with jagged edges or shimmering, and only a little light edge enhancement popped up during the flick.

Print flaws never became massive, but they caused some distractions. Grain was the most prominent issue, as much of the movie looked grainier than I’d expect. In addition, various examples of specks, marks, debris and nicks showed up at times. These stayed acceptably modest, however, as the grain was the biggest nuisance. Many of those shots came from the actual aircraft photography, but the grain wasn’t limited to that form of footage; plenty of other images showed it as well.

Many Eighties movies exhibited murky colors, but that rarely became a problem here. Indeed, the hues offered possibly the strongest aspect of the transfer. A few shots were a little muddy - such as those with red lighting - but the tones usually seemed bright and dynamic. Blacks were fairly dense and tight, and low-light shots mainly came across with good clarity. They could look a little drab but not badly so. I flip-flopped between a “B” and a “B-“ for this inconsistent image. In the end, I felt enough of it looked good enough to merit the higher mark.

On the other hand, I felt few qualms about the excellent audio of Top Gun. While the old DVD included only a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, this new one also provided a DTS 6.1 mix. While both were good, I preferred the DTS version. I’ll discuss it and then detail why I thought it worked better than the Dolby edition.

The movie exhibited a wide and involving soundfield. Not surprisingly, the many action sequences presented great opportunities for movement, and the audio used them well. Jets zoomed around the room convincingly, and the mix turned very active on those occasions. Ambient elements also fared well, while the almost-constant music presented good stereo imaging.

Not too many movies from the Eighties use the surrounds in a really dynamic manner, but Top Gun offered an exception. They offered a lot of action, especially during the flight sequences. The mix also made fine use of the split surround capabilities, as the jets and other elements popped up in appropriate locations in the rear. This was a terrific soundfield that worked much better than I expected given the movie’s vintage.

Audio quality also was solid. Speech sounded natural and distinctive, with no signs of edginess or problems connected to intelligibility. Music showed clean highs as well as taut, warm lows, and the pop songs were well-reproduced. Effects also appeared bright and dynamic. They suffered from very little distortion and replicated the source materials accurately. Low-end was especially impressive, as the mix used the subwoofer to great effect. Bass was tight and bold. The audio would seem solid for a movie made in 2004; that it accompanied an 18-year-old flick made the track all the more amazing.

When I compared the DTS version with the Dolby one, I found that the latter worked fine but just seemed a little less impressive. The DTS offered a smoother, more well-rounded soundfield, as it meshed its elements better. The DTS track also showed greater response and vivacity. It simply packed a stronger punch. There was nothing wrong with the Dolby version, and if I’d heard it on its own, it would have really impressed me. Only in comparison with the stunning DTS track did the Dolby one come up slightly short.

So far this special edition has presented a 16X9 transfer and a DTS mix not offered on the prior disc. It also expands the movie’s supplements, but that wasn’t tough since the original release included no extras. This two-disc set starts on DVD One with an audio commentary from director Tony Scott, producer Jerry Bruckheimer, co-writer Jack Epps Jr., Navy Captain Mike Galpin, technical advisor Pete Pettigrew, and Vice Admiral Mike McCabe. Most of the participants sit on their own for this edited piece, but Galpin, McCabe and Pettigrew are all recorded together.

We learn a lot about a variety of issues. Scott discusses his participation in the project, run-ins with the studio, his visual approach to the film and a mix of concerns that occurred along the way. Bruckheimer and Epps talk about the origins of the project and its path to the screen as well as storytelling concerns and development. The other three get into the film’s realism - or lack thereof - as well as true-life experiences and influences on the story. Those guys present the best elements of the commentary as they cut through the bull and give us a realistic view of the movie. We even hear of Pettigrew’s frustration since the filmmakers often ignored his advice. The commentary flows smoothly and offers a concise and informative examination of the flick.

DVD One also includes seven TV spots plus four music videos. We see clops for Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone”, Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away”, Loverboy’s “Heaven In Your Eyes”, and the “Top Gun Anthem” by Harold Faltermeyer and Steve Stevens. These are unintentionally entertaining. There’s not much funnier than watching Loggins - arguably the wimpiest man on the planet - try to look tough as he lip-synchs “Zone”. Terri Nunn’s two-tone hairstyle makes “Breath” laughable, while the other two earn snickers simply due to their inherent goofiness. How did Loverboy ever sell more than five records? Y’know, I grew up in the Eighties and hold some of the era’s music near and dear to my heart, but boy did the decade produce a lot of crap.

As we head to DVD Two, the main attraction comes from a six-part documentary called Danger Zone: The Making of Top Gun. When viewed together via the “Play All” option, it runs an amazing two hours, 27 minutes and 40 seconds. We find the usual mix of movie clips, behind the scenes elements, and interviews. We hear from Scott, Bruckheimer, Epps, McCabe, Pettigrew, Galpin, actors Tom Cruise, Val Kilmer, Barry Tubb, Rick Rossovich, Michael Ironside, editors Chris Lebenzon and Billy Weber, director of photography Jeffrey Kimball, F-14 aerial coordinator Lloyd Abel, special photographic effects supervisor Gary Guttierez, USFX director of photography Rick Fichter, composer Harold Faltermeyer, music editor Bob Badami, singers Terri Nunn and Kenny Loggins, and music producer Giorgio Moroder. They discuss the project’s origins and development, Scott’s involvement and casting, training, the atmosphere on the set and actor interactions, attempts at realism and dealings with real pilots, shooting the film on land and on sea, visual design and plot elements, filming the flying sequences, visual effects, music, early screenings, editing and the flick’s reception.

Wow - what a great documentary! When I look at disappointing elements, I’d say it’s too bad that not all of the prominent actors appear in interviews, and we also don’t get a lot from Cruise. However, those are minor complaints that really don’t mar a thorough and thoroughly entertaining program. We get all of the nuts and bolts elements we need, and we also find plenty of terrific anecdotes. Kilmer comes across especially well, as virtually everything he offers is provocative and amusing. The tone seems more frank than usual, and very little fluffiness affects the proceedings. Instead, we get an honest appraisal of the flick’s creation in this fast-paced and wholly involving program.

The next part of the DVD presents two series of Multi-Angle Storyboards. We can check out “Flat Spin” and “Jester’s Dead”. The two scenes can be viewed with just the storyboards or with a storyboard/final shot comparison. They also come with optional commentary from Tony Scott. He discusses his use of storyboards and their influence on shooting.

All the remaining materials show up in the “Vintage Gallery”. We open with a behind-the-scenes featurette. The five-minute and 33-second program includes the usual assortment of movie clips, shots from the set, and sound bites. We hear from Scott, Pettigrew, Bruckheimer and producer Don Simpson. A few decent glimpses behind the scenes appear, but mostly this is a fluffy promotional piece.

Another featurette looks at Survival Training. It runs seven minutes, 32 seconds and includes remarks from Cruise, Bruckheimer, Scott, Tubb, Simpson, and actors John Stockwell, Whip Hubley and Anthony Edwards. This one’s substantially more useful than its predecessor, as it offers a number of good shots from the actors’ training. It’s not nearly as puffy and it’s quite interesting to see.

Next come six minutes and 42 seconds of Tom Cruise interviews. He chats about his casting, his interest in flying and the flights he shot for the movie, and some other experiences. His remarks don’t fill out matters terribly well, though a few decent anecdotes appear.

Finally, we head to the Production Photography domain. This includes “Cast Portraits” (15 shots), “Flight Training” (7), “Behind the Scenes: Land” (37), “Behind the Scenes: Sea” (12), “Behind the Scenes: Rear-Screen Unit” (12), “Deleted Scene: Goose’s Grave” (7), “Fun on the Set” (10), and “USFX Miniature Unit” (67). Nothing truly exciting shows up here, but they photos add up to a good collection.

A serious piece of Eighties cheese, Top Gun didn’t hold up well after 18 years. Granted, I wasn’t wild about it at the time, but almost 20 years later, it looked even sillier than I recalled. The DVD presents erratic but generally good picture along with excellent audio and a terrific set of extras.

Despite my dislike of the movie, I definitely recommend this two-DVD version of Top Gun to the film’s fans, and that goes for the ones who own the prior bare-bones release. The new one provides strong quality across the board, and with a reasonable list price of less than 20 bucks, any “double dip” won’t sting badly. The flick’s not any good, but this is a fine DVD.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.4246 Stars Number of Votes: 73
3 3:
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