Saturday, April 3, 2010

TOP GUN: Blu-Ray (Paramount 1986) Paramount Home Video

The film that solidified Tom Cruise's super stardom in Hollywood and became a mach ten mega hit for launching Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson's careers as leading producers in the industry, director Tony Scott's Top Gun (1986) remains the template by which all other big action summer blockbusters are compared.

Inspired by an article in California Magazine, the screenplay by Jim Cash and Jack Epps Jr. revolved around the latest spate of cadets to join the U.S. military's elite flight school at Miramar, run for ‘the best of the best.’

The film stars Tom Cruise as Lt. Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell. Pete’s too sexy for his leather bomber and he knows it. He’s also short on pleasantries when it comes to wooing the femme fatale of the friendly skies, Charlotte ‘Charlie’ Blackwood (Kelly McGillis). Nevertheless, high flying maneuvers between Pete and Charlie quickly move from the school room to the bedroom.

On training missions Pete's risk taking earns him the cautionary unease of his superiors, Cmdr. Mike 'Viper' Metcalfe (Tom Skerritt) and Lt. Cmdr. Rick 'Jester' Heatherly (Michael Ironside) and the disdain of fellow pilots, Lt. Tom 'Iceman' Kazansky (Val Kilmer) and Lt. Ron 'Slider' Kerner (Rich Rossovich); the latter two, determined to win the coveted Top Gun trophy. Iceman flies objectively. Maverick soars with a vengeance.

Tragedy strikes on a routine training mission. Pete and his co-pilot (and best friend) Nick 'Goose' Bradshaw (Anthony Edwards) experience a 'flame out' of both F-14 engines, forcing them to eject. Unfortunately, Goose is ejected into the detached cockpit and killed instantly. Pete loses his competitive edge, shuns Charlie and questions his future career as a flyer.

Recalled to the U.S.S. Enterprise for a crisis situation, Pete and Iceman fly toward hostile open waters to rescue a cripple communications vessel. In the ensuing dogfight, Iceman is forced to pull out, forcing Maverick to regain his nerve and see the mission through. Returning successfully to the Enterprise, Maverick is offered his pick of assignments - choosing to return to Miramar as an instructor. Learning of Maverick's decision, Charlie arrives at the bar she and Maverick frequented during their romance - rekindling their spark moments before the final fade out.

In retrospect, it's easy to see why Top Gun was such a colossal success with audiences; fuelled - as it was then - by an iconic chart-topping spate of pop tunes and an orchestral score written by Harold Faltermeyer that included the Top Gun Anthem. The film also capitalized on Cruise's pretty boy good looks and captivating smile, while introducing movie audiences to the likes of Val Kilmer, Kelly McGillis, Anthony Edwards and Meg Ryan; all of whom would go on to have successful careers.

Behind the scenes, the experience of making the movie proved less than assured. Although the U.S. Navy afforded director Tony Scott the right to lens various scenes aboard the carrier, U.S.S. Enterprise, the shoot suffered a major setback when aerobatic pilot Art Scholl - hired to do a flat spin in the film - suddenly lost control of his plane; radioing the tower that he had a "real problem." Moments later Scholl's Pitts S-2 plummeted into the Pacific Ocean. Neither his body nor the aircraft were recovered.

Given Top Gun's whirlwind, worldwide box office tally of $353,816,701; its near instant impact on the world of high fashion (Aviator sunglasses and bomber jackets soared) and Top Gun's overwhelming success in the retail home video market (it remains the best-selling video cassette of all time) it's rather unsettling that no one ever considered doing a sequel. Despite changing tastes and styles, today, Top Gun remains a vital touchstone for Paramount Pictures and frequently crops up on 100 best lists - a testament to Bruckheimer and Simpson's "need for speed."

After an early and utterly disastrous effort put forth by Paramount on DVD - and an all together better transfer on the standard format - billed as a Special Edition - Top Gun once again flies on home video - this time as a Blu-Ray Special Edition. The Blu-Ray easily bests its predecessors. The anamorphic image is bright and solid with robust colors, deep black levels and an appropriate amount of grain. Color fidelity is extraordinary. The audio is lossless HD, remaining faithful to the limitations of early Dolby Surround while really giving the surround channels on your home theatre system a workout.

Extras are all direct imports from the standard edition DVD and include an audio commentary that is adequate at best. There’s also a 6 part documentary that really should have been one comprehensive presentation; four music videos that in retrospect will confound people as to why MTV became so big; and some storyboard and production materials and vintage featurettes. So, set your Blu-Ray player to ‘cruise’ control and get ready to set off for the wild blue yonder. Top Gun is still a blast!

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)



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