2011 is the 25th anniversary of Top Gun and Paramount has released a Blu-ray + Digital Copy edition.
Top Gun is still a complete contradiction. It’s a total rush that features some of the best action sequences ever in a Hollywood movie, absolutely deserving of every last bit of its cultural influence. It’s also a total mess with a plot that doesn’t really make sense and only the weakest nod towards important stuff like motivation and character development.
Once you stop worrying about all the reasons why it’s not a very good movie, you can fully embrace just how awesome the Top Gun experience was in 1986 and how incredible it still is today.
The digital copy is the only new feature on this release but the recycled extras include a genuinely interesting commentary track featuring producer Jerry Bruckheimer, director Tony Scott, one of the screenwriters and several of the Naval experts who helped make the movie. There’s also a making-of documentary called Danger Zone. It’s longer than the actual film and gives a lot of insight into exactly why Top Gun is so great and so lame at the same time.
There’s also a straight documentary about the Top Gun school, all the music videos made for the movie’s soundtrack, a selection of tv commercials and other assorted clips to pad out the disk.
25 years on, there are three factors that overwhelmingly contribute to Top Gun’s importance: someone in the Navy brass decided to give Hollywood filmmakers full access to their facilities and gear, the filmmakers realized that they didn’t understand Naval aviators and depended heavily on their technical advisors for everything from dialog to staging the flight sequences and (most importantly), Top Gun is almost completely free of digital effects.
Director Tony Scott freely admits that he had little interest in the plot and was heavily focused on the action sequences: most of the love story was tacked on in a one-day shoot after the picture was supposedly locked and finished.
All of the flying sequences are a combination of real F-14 and real Tiger II (dressed up as fictional MiG28s) footage combined with shots of model planes used to create the explosions and crashes. All the cockpit shots show the actors in a real plane with sky sequences projected on a screen behind them.
In addition, the editors talk about how Tony Scott’s storyboards for the combat scenes didn’t really make any sense and they were forced to carve some kind of story out of the footage they had with the assistance of their advisors. There’s a vigorous defense of why the “errors” (like how the planes flew way too close to each other or how there was no such thing as a Top Gun trophy) were necessary to make an exciting film.
What you end up with is a sharp contrast to something like Transformers or any other contemporary blockbuster. There’s an urgency and naturalness to all the fight scenes in Top Gun. That’s partially a consequence of the fact that they included every foot of usable film they had in the final cut and had to make some weird choices to make it all hang together. Michael Bay or James Cameron would just send the computer guys back to fix it so that everything matched the storyboards.
At the end of it all, Top Gun works because it tries to capture the swagger and energy of this corner of military culture. There’s an unhinged excitement about loud noises and the need for speed. There’s no way Hollywood would make an action picture today that feels like it’s held together with spit and baling wire, but that ramshackle charm and unbridled testosterone is what makes the movie hold up so well today. It’s better than it was the first time I saw it.
The images aren’t quite as spectacular as you’ve come to expect from Blu-ray, but the documentary does a great job of making you understand just how much of a miracle it is that the movie even got finished. The Digital Copy is just a download of the version for sale at iTunes. Like most of these versions, it doesn’t look anywhere near as good the disc copy.
CONTEST: If you want to win a copy of the Blu-ray, leave a comment below with your best Top Gun memory and we’ll pick three winners at random after we close the contest at midnight on Friday.