Top Gun was produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson, and directed by Tony Scott. The movie was first released theatrically in the Spring of 1986. The film stars Tom Cruise, Kelly McGillis, Anthony Edwards, Tim Robbins, John Stockwell, Val Kilmer, Rick Rossovich, Whip Hubley, Barry Tubb, Michael Ironside, Tom Skerritt, Meg Ryan, Clarence Gilyard Jr., and James Tolkan. The film was scored by Harold Faltermeyer, and features songs written by Giorgio Moroder.
It has been over 30 years since Top Gun was released theatrically, yet it remains one of the most popular motion pictures of all time, due it its mix of superb aerial footage, ensemble cast of actors, and one of the best soundtracks ever recorded. While the film has had its share of critical detractors, it has not prevented the film from enjoying its lofty status. With a sequel having been recently announced, I thought this would be a fine time to go back and look at where it all began, as well as what are some things we do (and don’t!) want to see in the sequel.
Even if you have never seen Top Gun, chances are you already know the story. Peter “Maverick” Mitchell (Cruise) is a Naval aviator who, despite his skills as a pilot, has earned the ire of many of his comrades due to his risky flying style and repeated violations of policy. Despite this, he is best friends and gets along well with his RIO, Nick “Goose” Bradshaw (Edwards), a more cautious husband and father. When the carrier commander is required to send one team to the Navy’s Top Gun Fighter Weapons School, and the squadron’s frontrunner drops out due to personal anxiety, Maverick and Goose inherit the number one spot and are sent to attend the classes. Upon arrival, Maverick finds himself in competition with many other ace aviators, the most prevalent of which being Tom “Iceman” Kazansky (Kilmer). While attending the school, Maverick romances a civilian instructor (McGillis), and must overcome his personal demons when his flying results in disastrous consequences.
There have been many things said about Top Gun over the years; some of it positive, and some not so favorable. Regardless of your views, there is no denying that the film, even 30 years later, has remained a pop culture phenomenon. Despite the initial doubts of cast and crew (director Tony Scott only had one film to his name prior to this, which had flopped, and was better known for filming commercials), the results continue to speak for themselves. In fact, the movie was the highest grossing film of 1986, and was responsible for increased military recruitment, not to mention boosted sales of aviator shades and leather flight jackets! Why is the movie so popular, and why does it continue as such, despite initially mixed critical reviews?
The most obvious reason as to why Top Gun works so well is, not surprisingly, the flying. The crew had the cooperation of the United States Navy, and were able to capture aerial footage unlike anything that had ever been caught on film before. With the exception of a few scenes that required the use of miniature and large-scale models, all of the aerial flight footage you see is 100% authentic. This was long before the advent of CGI becoming mainstream in the movie industry, and Top Gun looks all the more impressive for it. Not one frame of dogfight footage feels wasted; no aviation movie before ever looked this good or felt this authentic, and none since have, either.
A talented cast definitely didn’t hurt, either. Tom Cruise was a popular star at the time, but this was the movie that catapulted his success to the next level. Even if some aspects of the writing and development are lacking, no one can argue that everyone gives their best performance here; the movie is responsible for launching the careers of many actors to new heights. The camaraderie and chemistry between Cruise and Edwards is one of the film’s greatest strengths; it feels like many of the actors in the film paired up were friends long before filming began. Kelly McGillis makes for a great romantic lead in the movie, and it is a shame she would never appear in another movie in this large a scale again. Even a then-unknown Meg Ryan appears as Goose’s wife, and despite a limited number of scenes, she manages to leave an impression. Veteran pilots portrayed by Ironside and Skerritt are equally impressive, and even James Tolkan (Principal Strickland from the Back to the Future movies) get a small but memorable role as the aircraft carrier commander.
The other aspect of Top Gun that helped take the movie to the next level was the music. Harold Faltermeyer (who had previously scored an earlier Bruckheimer/Simpson collaboration, Beverly Hills Cop) brings a synth-heavy score that, while having something of a dated 80s feel, brings atmosphere to the film, be it on the ground or in the air. But the truly memorable music from the film comes from the songs, many of which were written by the legendary Giorgio Moroder (two years prior to this, he had helmed a restoration of the classic silent film Metropolis, scored by then-contemporary artists). The most memorable songs from the film are Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone” (which, ironically, he was not even originally supposed to record, yet became his most popular song ever!) and Berlin’s love theme, “Take My Breath Away.” Equally noteworthy and famed is the “Top Gun Anthem,” an instrumental piece by Faltermeyer which features guitar work from Billy Idol axeman Steve Stevens. The soundtrack also includes contributions from artists including Loverboy, Miami Sound Machine, Cheap Trick, and Teena Marie, and not surprisingly, has become one of the most famous film soundtracks of all time.
Okay, as much as I love this film, many of the criticisms leveled at it are accurate. One of the biggest criticisms is the lack of a real story and depth. The scenes that don’t take place in airplanes often feel like filler in anticipation of the next scenes with airplanes in them; that much is true. Even the love story feels forced at times (many scenes to build the love story were actually reshoots done long after principal photography had ended). There is not a ton of character development with characters other than Maverick, and even then his story feels like a generic “hero’s journey” story that could have been plugged into almost any other film. And yet, despite the flaws and the criticisms, the good still manages to outweigh the bad. Top Gun feels considerably less dated than most other 80s movies, due in no small part to its many “timeless” attributes, including the performances, the music, and the aerial footage.
The film has been rereleased on Blu-ray Disc multiple times, but sadly, the film has never received a proper 4K remaster despite its popularity. Current Blu-ray releases of the film have a competent appearance, but feel overly processed and artificially sharpened. Darker elements and scenes tend to bleed together and lose detail. Audio on these discs suffers from no major problems. We need a modern remaster of this movie. Existing transfers of the film are adequate, and were certainly revered in the early days of the Blu-ray Disc formation, but certainly do not stand up to the better remasters of other classic films.
Versions of the film available on Blu-ray Disc port over the features from the special edition DVD, which includes the Danger Zone: The Making of Top Gun documentary, which covers literally every aspect of making the movie. For fans of Top Gun, this doc is every bit as essential as the film itself, and must be watched at least once. These discs also include some lesser features, including a look at the stars of the film going through Naval survival training, TV spots, music videos, storyboards with commentary, and a look at the real Top Gun.
The forthcoming sequel, which many of us never thought we would see (due in no small part to Tony Scott’s death in 2012) is actually coming. It has been titled Top Gun: Maverick, and is set to begin filming in 2018, with the release presumably occurring in 2019. With over 30 years between movies, there are plenty of ways that this could turn out. Will it be a fantastic sequel in the spirit of the original, or a disaster that should not get made? In either event, here are a few of the things this fan would like (and wouldn’t like!) to see in the sequel:
Let’s stick with real aerial footage. Any studio can cheat and make CGI planes, explosions, and aircraft carriers. It is this real airplane footage that was the original movie’s greatest asset, and with modern cameras and technology, there is no doubt that a sequel, if filmed with these cameras and actual aircraft, could look phenomenal.
-Continuity and consistency with the older film.
Maverick’s story in the original film should shape him to become the character he is here. Does this mean that he will become the new “Viper” character? The original film ends with Maverick, initially a cocky, headstrong, and unsympathetic pilot, returning to the Top Gun School to become an instructor, much to the dismay and surprise of his commanding officer on the aircraft carrier. Has Maverick encountered reckless students reminiscent of his younger self? Does he visit Goose’s grave? Has he in any way been traumatized by the experiences of his youth? Long story short, this should feel like a proper continuation of the original movie, even if it is 30+ years on.
-Appearances by/references to the original characters.
Okay, obviously not EVERYONE from the old movie is going to be back here; many of these actors are A-list stars now, and are off doing their own things. But if we could even get one or two of the classic actors to reprise their roles, even if just for a brief role, it would be fantastic. Even a few throwaway lines of dialogue could reveal the fates/current lives of the pilots from the original movies (are any still active as Naval aviators? Have any passed away? Why are Maverick and Charlie not a couple (in the film universe) anymore?)
-An appropriate musical score/soundtrack.
Harold Faltermeyer has signed back on as the composer for the new film, but the movie’s score should not just be a retread of his work on original movie (though revisiting a few themes would be appropriate). Likewise, the soundtrack should actually consist of quality songs that will age well with the movie, not just generic rock, pop, and rap tunes that are going to be dated in five years. And, for the sake of all that is holy, DO NOT let anyone remake “Danger Zone” for the new movie (or any tracks from the original film’s soundtrack, for that matter).
-Substance over style.
This is the one thing I would truly like to see changed from the original film. The 1986 film was, in some ways, “all flash.” Yes, the sequel should look equally impressive, but it should not come at the expense of a gripping storyline and natural progression of Maverick and the characters. Style and flash are important in a movie like this, but more emphasis should be placed on the storyline and character development this time around.
-No stars that overshadow Tom Cruise.
While I certainly want to see some of the other “old favorites” show up here, and maybe even a few of the newer stars of today, none of them should take the emphasis away from the main character. That said, we should still hope for a talented cast.
Top Gun is a classic that has stood the test of time, and while this fan has his doubts regarding the forthcoming sequel, he is still optimistic for the end result. The original film is long overdue for a 4K remaster, but it is worth owning in any shape or form as a classic piece of 80s nostalgia, with the best flying sequences ever captured on film. Revisiting and rediscovering this classic film is highly recommended, and I will certainly be first in line to review Top Gun: Maverick come its release which will presumably be in 2019.
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