A film review by Craig J. Koban February 26, 2013
TOP GUN 3D
1986 / 2013, PG-13, 103
1986 / 2013, PG-13, 103 mins.
Tom Cruise: Maverick / Kelly McGillis: Charlie
/ Val Kilmer: Iceman / Tom Skerrit: Viper / Anthony Edwards:
Don’t worry, danger zone and need-for-speed enthusiasts, because TOP GUN - the iconic blockbuster action film from the summer of 1986 - still maintains its unintentional high camp value and all-out decade-defining excesses even in its multimillion dollar three dimensional face-lift.
Tony Scott directed and Jerry Bruckheimer co-produced effort, perhaps in
pure hindsight, can be considered one of the landmark releases of the
1980s in the manner that it helped define – for better or worse
– the pop culture mentality for large scale entertainments. Infused with propulsive, in-your-face action and an
MTV-inspired aesthetic, TOP GUN ushered in the music video movie, an
overall subgenre that has been duplicated time and time again in
subsequent action films. You
don’t have to like what TOP GUN did, but you have to admire the scope of
its sheer influence.
film was an unmitigated box office dynamo when released in May of 1986 and
easily became the highest grossing film of that year.
It helped launch the careers of both Scott and the then young and
rather unproven Tom Cruise as a bona fide and bankable star that would go
on to have a highly lucrative career that still pays dividends to this
very day. The film also
showed how immensely profitable music tie-ins could be for mass marketed
films (TOP GUN's soundtrack alone hit number one on the Billboard Hot 200
chart for five non-consecutive weeks in '86; pretty remarkable).
Beyond that, the film’s ultra jingoistic tone made it a highly
popular recruitment tool for the United States Navy; enrolment in aviation
went up 500 per cent in the film’s wake.
is TOP GUN, 27 years later, still any good, even in a newly minted 3D upgrade?
answer is paradoxically both yes and no.
seen TOP GUN three times since 1986; the first time on VHS home video
(which, to be fair, did not give Scott’s aerial footage the big screen
grandeur it deserved), and the second time years later on a wonderful
laser disc edition that preserved the film’s widescreen cinematography
and channeled a truly rocking digital soundtrack.
My third – and most recent – screening has occurred with the
film’s new 3D Blu-Ray release, which has come in the wake
of an exclusive six-day IMAX release that began February 8.
To my 13-year old eyes in 1986, I thought that TOP GUN was totally
cutting edge. As for now,
seeing it as an adult for the first time in a long while, the film does
not quite hold up as well under even modest scrutiny.
story is known by heart to those most familiar with it, but as to those
that are not it concerns the progress of a young hotshot Naval
pilot named Peter “Maverick” Mitchell (Cruise) as he tries to be the
best of the best in an elite fighter pilot school dubbed "Top
Gun." Like just about
every other cocky and rebellious persona that has occupied films before
and since, Maverick is a rambunctious troublemaker, something that he
seems to thrive on. He’s
constantly at odds with his superiors, makes reckless – but infinitely
skilful – moves with his plane that no one else can, and manages to
find love in the most inopportune ways (like with a PhD flight instructor,
played by Kelly McGillis, who looks less like she just came from academia
and more like she lunged off the cover of Cosmopolitan magazine). Yet,
a tragic flight manages to cost the life of someone very dear to Maverick,
which causes him to have a crisis of conscience, not to mention that he
begins to doubt his own skills among the clouds.
Unavoidably, Maverick finds a way to battle his anxieties and
insecurities to become a Naval legend.
beyond easy to see how TOP GUN was so easily spoofed years later with HOT
SHOTS, seeing as it’s utterly awash in some of the most
overused and banal Hollywood screenwriting conventions and contrivances.
Character conflict is reduced to soap opera levels of dramatic
angst, and most of the people that occupy this film are essentially
cardboard cut-out props: Maverick is the prototypical…well…maverick:
his opposition in Iceman (an engagingly arrogant Val Kilmer) is
essentially a one-note jerk that revels in Maverick’s personal failures;
and the female love interest is highly educated and liberal minded, but
sure reduces herself to dopey-eyed ecstasy when she easily falls for the
anti-hero. The villains that
the heroes clash with in the skies during the film's conclusion are so
pathetically and vaguely defined that you just kind of want to
however, is the film’s magnetic epicenter, and it’s clear from his
work here why he became one of the biggest stars of his generation.
He compensates for his characters lame-brained one-dimensionality
by infusing in it an intensity and on-screen bravado that helped launch
his career post-RISKY BUSINESS and ALL THE RIGHT MOVES.
His chemistry with McGillis, though, is kind of painfully forced,
if not dead on arrival. There
never really is a plausible explanation for her attraction to Maverick
(beyond physical reasons) and when they do make love, it's shot with such
slick and moody cinematography and methodically accentuated by Berlin’s
“Take My Breath Away” that it comes off
more like a Calvin Klein cologne commercial than it does as something intimately erotic.
remember the fighter plane footage the most, which, for its time, was
considered the zenith of electrifyingly fast paced and kinetic action
visuals that have been essentially copied by countless others.
In comparison to today’s horrendous overabundance of queasy-cam
hysterics, Scott’s relative editorial restraint in the film looks
positively pedestrian and antiquated now.
What’s interesting to note now is that the quick cuts and pans in
the aerial dogfight sequences are somewhat ill defined upon a new viewing
by me. At times it’s
difficult to understand the spatial relationships between all of the
planes and their targets, which seems just haphazardly sandwiched in with
cockpit shots and a lot of random stock footage.
More often than not, unidentified planes zip in and out of the
frame so irregularly that’s its hard to decipher who’s who.
These sequences now seem ungainly and thrown together, which is hardly the
stuff of action film legend.
As for the 3D? For such an old release, it’s actually rather well done (the plane footage is undeniably nifty, to be sure, but the rest of the film that concentrates on laughable character dynamics - roughly 80 per cent of it - hardly requires this mostly obtrusive upgrade). The film sonically reaches nirvana-like states for keen audiophiles: Harold Faltermeyer’s synthesized musical trappings, the pop tunes by Berlin and Kenny Loggins, and the animalistic roar of the jet turbines packs a satisfyingly testosterone-induced jolt, which I guess makes the film’s laundry list of cookie-cutter and hammy dialogue go down better. TOP GUN, to be fair, is pure cornball through and through, but in many ways it never pretentiously hides its ambitions. Yes, it boastfully bellows out its well-worn 80’s excesses without any subtlety, but the film, to its credit, did change the modern cinematic language of the action genre for decades in its wake. Granted, it marked a decided downward aesthetic turn for the movies for placing emphasis on movies-as-a-marketable-product, but not too many films can claim to have changed the medium as much as TOP GUN did.