No Points for Second Place
The elite. The best. The pride. Top Gun is enamored with the post-Vietnam movie era where action films did their best to convince audiences America was again unbeatable. Where Rambo brought those feelings to a ground war, Top Gun did so for the skies.
Unlike Rambo, Top Gun isn’t flush with subtext. It’s voraciously commercial, painfully superficial, cocky, arrogant, but ruthlessly attractive – attractive people, attractive jets, attractive sunsets. Dripping with masculine ideals (to such an extreme as to slip into homo-eroticism) the fight comes against a faceless Cold War enemy much as it does with the hard-to-get woman at the bar.
In absolute terms, few convey pure ‘80s, Cold War, Americana pop like Top Gun. Others tried. They all failed, or just missed. Breathlessly cinematic, Top Gun doesn’t nitpick technical details; it’s a matter of looking or sounding cool. That Top Gun can do, because the Hollywood superstar parade in this cast make sure the stuff away from the planes holds the same slickness as when in them.
… few convey pure ‘80s, Cold War, Americana pop like Top Gun
… few convey pure ‘80s, Cold War, Americana pop like Top Gun
Maverick’s (Cruise) cause stems from his father’s disappearance. That’s classified, eventually revealed as combat death, but that story lets the elder Maverick die for the cause, and as a hero. Maverick is a legacy; the need to fly for his country flows in his veins. This new generation can overcome those mistakes, be better, and conquer.
Top Gun doesn’t make clear who the enemy is. At first, it’s this elite crew’s internal brawl, bouncing off strained egos. Eventually, training ends and graduation is cut short because of an incident over the Indian Ocean. What caused this doesn’t matter – the crew follow orders to engage without question. Reckless, even disobedient as Maverick and team were, they now obey. Partly, this is personal. More so, it’s their way to fix a fractured country after Vietnam’s division. Top Gun’s fun and liveliness entertain, and to steamroll any suggestion of military vulnerability. Air Force recruitment undoubtedly increased after Top Gun.
Though the posturing, Top Gun’s minimally defined story dresses itself in pop appeal, constantly strumming an electric guitar, playing an iconic soundtrack, and visually set against California’s coast. Top Gun does everything to lock viewers onto its sound and its imagery, with jet engines erasing the script’s thinness. Top Gun doesn’t allow an unlikable character; even Val Kilmer’s self-admiring Iceman pushes back with egotism equal to Maverick’s. The lasting cultural allure stems from this showcase’s pervasive perfection. Kids want to grow up and be in this world, dads wish they took that chance.
Paramount says this is a new master, although this isn’t far from the 3D Blu-ray release. In any event, the Dolby Vision is a first. While not intense, skyline brightness and cloud reflections don’t stall. There’s energy there, and sunsets flicker off metal or ocean water. Screens glow when in the carrier’s underbelly, bringing those CRT screens into the modern era. When missiles start launching, explosions hit their extremes. A real benefit comes from black levels, dense as possible, with additional details in those shadows. Cockpit shots gain dimension when against the enlivened skylines.
A push toward heavy oranges isn’t out of sync with Tony Scott’s style or resume. The grading amps up flesh tones, and overall hues bring modern digital flourishes. Still high in saturation, this look preserves primaries. Distinctive tones make each patch visible, and various scenery pushes intensity.
All great, at least until the grain structure falters. To note, detail firmly plants itself, resolving facial texture and consistent sharpness. The scan, with no doubt, is true 4K. Yet Paramount mucks up just enough to leave remnants. Mosquito noise is persistent. At distance, jets passing through a shot carry noise as they move. Either processing is pausing grain around them or the encode isn’t able to keep pace. In hazier shots, this happens on the ground too, swarming actors as they pass. But a handful of shots appear grossly smothered by noise reduction; luckily, that’s only a few.
Massive range gives jet engines appropriate power. Every thrust brings another low-end burst. Explosions likewise do their thing – fireballs erupt, doing so via crushing rumble. The music leaves a proper mark too.
Top Gun exists for surrounds though. In Atmos, this means added space to an already active soundstage. With Cruise in the cockpit, ambiance swells into each speaker, including heights. Fly-bys, where necessary, sweep through the newly available speakers. While not the most precise or discrete, there’s enough energy to cover the faults. For instance, when in the hangar early on, planes take off directly overhead. In combat, the same, if a bit busy and jumbled.
On the UHD itself, a dopey five-minute retrospective is designed to sell the upcoming sequel. Better is the five part, 30-minute retrospective titled On Your Six. Jerry Bruckheimer, Tom Cruise, and others discuss their involvement at length. A commentary is shared (plus these other bonuses) with the Blu-ray. 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.
The HD disc is otherwise identical to the 3D release. 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. Best of the Best details the real life Top Gun for a half hour.
Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.
It’s hard not to be drawn in by Top Gun’s lavish, theatrical presentation even if its routine story does nothing unpredictable.
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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 53 full resolution uncompressed 4K screen shots grabbed directly from the UHD: