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Category:    Home > Reviews > Action > Adventure > Cold War > Top Gun DTS set

Top Gun – Widescreen Collector’s Edition/DTS


Picture: B-     Sound: B     Extras: B-     Film: B-



Sometimes, the simplest films tend to endure as favorite hits, but all films have an ideological slant of some sort and Tony Scott’s Top Gun (1986) is one of the most key and unique in the cannon of popular 1980s films.  It has been called everything from a pro-military propaganda film, to a music video clip film with more than a few moments of gay baiting, to simply slick commercial filmmaking.  Paramount has reissued the film in a new anamorphic widescreen transfer and made this one of their all too rare DTS sound DVDs.  With a bunch of new and vintage extras thrown in, this top back catalog title stands to make more sales for the company in a title that is also well-known for being a home theater demo going back to the VHS and 12” LaserDisc days.


If you happen not to know the story, two fighter pilots (Tom Cruise, Anthony Edwards) get to head to the title school when the number one pilot in their department looses his edge.  The result is a chance to be the best flier around and that means competition on and off the flight deck.  Add a corporate flight instructor (Kelly McGillis) and big rival (Val Kilmer) and you get more fronting in one film than in most wrestling matches.


With that said, the characters are developed to a point and the planes and soundtrack are made just as much of a star, which is what helped sell the film when the cast was less known.  Cruise was on the rise, as was Meg Ryan and Tim Robbins, McGillis just had a hit in Peter Weir’s Witness, Kilmer had already done the comedies Top Secret and the brilliant Martha Coolidge film Real Genius, while Anthony Edwards would be one of the big stars of TV megahit E.R. and even supporting actors and behind the scenes people went on to bigger things.


This is a formula film, but it was a new kind of formula inspired by Adrian Lyne’s Flashdance, Paramount’s 1983 hit, as well as MTV and a new style of commercial making that was slowly seeping into filmmaking.  In repeated viewings outside of sound performance, the film does not hold up and even becomes unintentionally funny, one of the reasons Cruise turned down tons of money to do a sequel.  By doing this, he avoided what would have been a career-damaging move and went on to be even more popular and successful.  It would be one of the smartest things he ever did.


As for the film, it set what would later be a formula standard for hip action formula filmmaking that producer Jerry Bruckheimer still uses long after the loss of his partner Don Simpson.  Sometimes it makes money (as recently as the Nicolas cage vehicle National Treasure) and sometimes it does not (NASCAR Top Gun rehash Days Of Thunder, reuniting Cruise and Scott with little point and not enough action).  This is to say that Top Gun is an archetype, maybe a minor classic to some extent, but it has aged and endured in weird ways.


The planes are still slick, though newer planes have succeeded them, particularly with single pilots using them, so this film would not be as possible today.  It is also a product of The Cold War, though few knew that the Soviet Union would collapse in a mere four years after the release of this film, but to say this is directly about The Cold War is like saying Forest Gump is a documentary on mental illness.  What becomes a bit more obvious is that after George Lucas’ original Star Wars, this film updated the semantics of the World War II dogfight film, more amusing since these planes have long-range weapon capacities.  That to today would be much harder to do with the more advanced fighter planes.


Then there is the music.  The waning years of The Cold War was followed a few years later by Hip Hop succeeding Rock as the dominant popular music genre and the producers started adding Hip Hop and harder Rock and Electronic music in place of New wave styled-Pop/Rock so prominent on this film’s hit soundtrack.  Selling at least eight million copies to date, but from the four original videos on this DVD, only two were really big hits.  That was still enough to get people to buy it up, especially at a time when VHS was just growing the home video market.  Note that the one extra conspicuously missing is the Pepsi Cola ad placement that was at the beginning of each tape copy, much to the chagrin of the buying public who was spending the money for uncut films on home video to avoid all ad placements.  Cruise “flipping the bird” to a Soviet MiG pilot was replaced with him flipping him a Pepsi bottle.


Scott has admitted that he was blatantly taking from ad campaigns for the look of the pilots, all male here.  What is obvious in the cinematography and edited footage is how loose the film was playing with sexuality.  The men here are flirting with what would be considered homoerotic throughout, especially in the way they are lit, very unusual at the time.  The oiling up of the toned bodies was the most in a mainstream work since the music video for Olivia Newton-John’s controversial Physical back in 1980, but none of the men are even bi-sexual in the film, yet the visuals certainly are there to entertain the thoughts of a gay audience or film theorist.  Not exactly male bimbos, this was at a time when there was still a fitness trend, though no one expected repressed gay sexuality to enter the mainstream as it would later.


Aside from that, it makes war and war games seem like a fun idea, an absurd idea in the face of what has happened since the events of 9/11/01, then there is the issue of always toying with MiG fighters.  That this was always secretly going on and never led to a third world war is an interesting concept, but a fantasy nevertheless when the film suggests this was going on all the time.  Also, the tough image of masculinity in the 1980s was usually of Stallone and Schwarzenegger, but a smaller toned variant was on the rise in films like Staying Alive (the Stallone-directed Saturday Night Fever sequel that did poorly), but it only went so far.  Top Gun was the peak of that too.  That varied image of the hard body as war-ready was a reactionary stance against the rollback politics of Vietnam Syndrome.  That false sense of invincibility has come back to haunt this whole cycle, compounded by Top Gun with its now-disturbing final air battle when the graduates have to take on MiGs because “no other fighters are available”, a moment that now inspires audible shocks and exclamations considering what happened to The World Trade Center towers.


One thing Tony Scott and his older brother Ridley were ahead on that all filmmakers do now is working with the influence of Stanley Kubrick in mind.  Though with varying results, they were years ahead of a new generation of filmmakers influenced by the giant.  Top Gun plays loosely with Dr. Strangelove (1965) but also takes liberally from Philip Kaufmann’s underrated epic The Right Stuff (1984) whose visual effects people were hired from that film for this one.  Needless to say, this film is quite a comedown from the ambition and achievement of those films and more than a few would say it took Hollywood into the wrong direction artistically.


In spite of this, Top Gun holds up better than its imitators and other films trying to duplicate its formula because it was new and fresh here.  For a film like this, the cast is better and has more chemistry than later variants.  It is also a 1980s time capsule, a time when it seemed the party could go on forever.  In that spirit, the film will go on and age oddly, though somewhat still gracefully.  That is why people still like it.


The anamorphically enhanced 2.35 x 1 image was shot in Super 35, one of the earliest films to do so, but this was done so the shots of the plane did not distort.  It also was done because the film was a favorite film made available in 70mm blow-ups at a time when people could enjoy the big screen more, did not let themselves think TV screen small and before digital sound arrived to movie theaters.  The master used looks like a late NTSC analog transfer digitally remastered for this DVD, exhibiting disappointing Video Black and the color is not as consistent or rich as it could be throughout.  The sound was only the eighth-ever Dolby 5.1 sound mix ever released into theaters, when the only way to do this was on 6-track magnetic striping on 70mm prints, which can compete initially with Dolby Digital even today in fullness when put on a print and played back properly before the stripes wear down.  Though the previous DVD had Dolby Digital 5.1 sound, this new set has a DTS 6.1 discrete remix that updates the original sound slightly without tampering much with the original mix as far as upgrading is concerned, but the fly-bys on Chapter Six pale as compared to the old PCM CD-type Dolby Pro Logic surround tracks on the old 12” LaserDisc.  In more cases than not, though, that DTS version makes the sound available for the first time in an upgrade that finally brings the older magnetic sound home.  In most cases, this will be a revelation for one of the all-time favorite sound demo titles on home video.  This is also the best aspect of this set and with those small limits, still impressive.  The opening scene’s sound is especially effective.


The extras are many, with a mix of new and vintage featurettes throughout.  The new audio commentary track has the Naval advisors who wrote and helped produce the film joined by Bruckheimer and Scott, plus the four music videos for the hits by Kenny Loggins (Danger Zone), Berlin (Take My Breath Away, though the version by The Motels’ Martha Davis is discussed, we never hear it.  It is out there and sung more like a song for a love scene.), Loverboy (the Top 15 Heaven In Your Eyes) and the Top Gun Anthem by Harold Faltermeyer and Steve Stevens.  They are not particularly clear and the Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo is weak.  Fans will want to get the Super Audio CD of the soundtrack.  DVD 2 offers a multi-angle storyboards section that you can watch with to without Scott’s commentary, original production stills, vintage interviews with Cruise, two vintage featurettes made at the time of the original release (including a survival training segment that is especially interesting) and a new documentary made for this set that is split into six segments.  With all that, you get all you will ever need to know about the film and with that, it is still worth a look… and listen.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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