Top Gun turned out to be more of a template than a movie. Tom Cruise would effectively remake the flick on the ground in Days of Thunder, and every summer movie to follow would borrow little snippets to appease the wide audience.
You can cite Jaws and Star Wars for creating the boon of summer blockbusters, but those are different films. Top Gun set the style up, with authoritative rebellion, a comedic sidekick, and greasy villains who just sort of are. Oh, and the music. That music. Oh, and this music too.
Instilled with pop rock that truly rocks and exciting themes, Top Gun is a sonic joy in the same way Rocky was. Again, not a surprise as Balboa fought his way to the top, found a strong woman, and overcame it all. So did Tom Cruise, only he dominated shirtless in beach volleyball.
You can name any number of ’80s era films that defined the decade. Chances are you could rattle off 10 of them before the sentence was done. However, it’s Top Gun that may dominate the action landscape. Tony Scott’s flight school epic balances the sheer idiocy of any Stallone run ‘n gun epic, the partial brain of a Schwarzenegger sci-fi romp, and the rhythmic romance of say, Flashdance.
In reality, Top Gun was pieced together from all those to create the formula we welcome every summer. The dual writing team of Jim Cash and Jack Epps Jr. managed to work out the puzzle, crafting impossible to hate characters while casting snapped at the most picturesque model-types they could find. Add in some emotional bubbles from the paper thin characters, then rock the people out of their seats with jet engines. It is quite easy in retrospect.
Top Gun is nothing more than a (now) vintage guilty pleasure, hilariously manipulative and borderline propaganda Cruise stands in the locker room by a Navy poster proudly proclaiming the ’80s slogan, “It’s not just a job, it’s an adventure.” By the time it is closing, rivals Maverick (Cruise) and Iceman (Val Kilmer) are out to fight a faceless foe who is attacking liberty. Glossy as it is with superior flight effects and sublime editing, Top Gun cannot overcome its lack of genuine brains.
It’s dumb, but damn it if it isn’t fun.
Early in the year, Top Gun’s latest 3D HD release (the fifth such HD release if you include the HD DVD) is a loaded gun waiting to pop within the community. The packaging contains two discs, a special edition from a few years back – with extras – and the new 3D master that goes in alone sans bonuses.
To recap, the older disc is a mess. Damage is persistent, noise reduction is overzealous, and edge enhancement loves to highlight those high contrast edges. Darker halos will surround other elements, and the overall master is sucked dry of the needed resolution. Despite the reduction in grain, the encode is decent enough however.
Fast forward to 2013 in the midst of a 3D frenzy, and we end up here… controversially. The biggest shift is the color timing. Top Gun has always been layered with deep orange sunsets, and with the previous edition, more so than before. The style invokes the warmth of these California locations. Here, the entire film has been given an orange glaze, from regular interiors to flight scenes. Of course, because modern cinema said so, these are off-set by generous amounts of teal. Oddly, in many cases, color has been desaturated to better suit the current look of digital cinema. Some of those blazing sunsets are now just sunsets. This no longer looks like a product of the ’80s or the film stock it was captured on.
That aside, this is certainly a different master. Gone is the layer of noise reduction and you will find no signs of edge enhancement. Grain fluctuates from shot to shot naturally, and the encode never loses sight of its goal of being transparent. Fine detail? That is also generous. Close-ups pump out grand levels of texture, and the tense, sweaty faces locked in those cockpits have never looked this sharp. In addition to the color timing though, you will also be working with some deeper black levels that are less inclined to crush. However, the entirety of the frame has been brightened, probably to compensate for the glasses if one were to venture a guess. You need to take the good with the bad here, and when it comes through in the end, the garish color timing is the lesser evil over the DNR/EE of old… if just a little.
Moving into the third dimension, you can readily say this for Top Gun: The flight scenes are dazzling examples of the tech. Dizzying also works if you’re here for d-words. As one of the first jets launches from the carrier and the camera is planted on the tail, the sensation of flight is a total winner. Fly-bys are mesmerizing, and locked in combat, there is never any question which jet is in the lead. Smoke trails feel layered, and passing mountains are allowed to exist as a tight foreground element.
When the film is toning itself down, the depth is there, and not much else. This becomes a definite post-conversion, although definitely a cut above some of the more modern 3D converts. Paramount probably did their best work, but some cardboard-like characteristics of the actors are hard to miss. Some of the best shots come during class or briefings where rows of students become believable rooms. Typical dialogue exchanges are limited by their backgrounds.
Packed with two audio options, one a TrueHD 5.1 mix and the other being a fairly rare DTS-HD 6.1 mix, the two are indistinguishable in terms of fidelity. Dialogue carries a slight age that is never detrimental, and the clarity of those instantly recognizable songs is dominating.
Still, going so far back as to consider Laserdisc, Top Gun’s modern surround mixing is an absolute blast. Almost certainly sourced from the 6-track 70mm presentation, the rousing action scenes are home theater bliss. Jet engines roar to life with remarkable LFE fluidity, and generate tremendous force. Planes passing overhead or into the stereos never come across as an artificial addition by modern mixers. Even on base, the exterior will live a little as pilots take off or land during conversations behind the actors.
In terms of overall effectiveness between the two audio options, you might as well take the additional channel DTS-HD effort if you can. just because. Even swapping between them shows no definitive changes, pans into the surrounds so precise that the center rear feels there even with 5.1 active. An extra channel never hurt anyone though.
Bonuses are left entirely on the older Special Edition disc. You can kick this one off with a jammed commentary that includes Jerry Bruckheimer, Tony Scott, Jack Epps Jr., tech adviser Pete Pettigrew, Captain Mike Gaplin, and Vice Admiral Mike McCabe. That track comes from the filmmaking and flight school of thought making it a nice clash of styles.
Danger Zone remains the best thing here, a massive, exhausting two and a half hour making-of split into six parts. Superb production work makes this a joy to sit through if you are the amongst the elite fanatics. Best of the Best details the real life Top Gun for a half hour. Note that none of these features are new or exclusive.
Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For more information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.
The following screens are from the previous Special edition for comparison to the above only. Note that time stamps between the two editions did not line up (oddly). These frames should be close enough for proper comparison: