Despite the oddity of releasing Top Gun in IMAX 3D on its 27th Anniversary and not its 30th in a few years, I remembered that when I was nine I missed it in theaters. Eventually I rented it at a local store called JTL Video because Blockbuster did not exist yet. Ah the 80’s were a glorious time, before the world became one big corporation devouring other corporations to make an even bigger corporation. The threat of a nuclear war with Russia was still very real, especially to a precocious kid like me. That is why I always turned to the movies as an escape. The movies I watched in those years put me at ease knowing that the good guys always win and the U, S of A would come out on top. If ever there was a film that defined that period of uncertainty and rah-rah “tear down that wall” enthusiasm it was the iconic piece of Americana that is Top Gun.
Before producer Jerry Bruckheimer was a one man movie studio, he was partnered up with the late Don Simpson and they cut their teeth on such hits as Flashdance and Beverly Hills Cop. This cemented them as two of the premiere hit-makers in Hollywood and Top Gun would become the movie that pushed them to a whole other level. Risky Business may have made Tom Cruise a star, but Top Gun made him the face of America. As the reckless Naval aviator Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, Cruise’s thousand watt smile and charisma made Top Gun an indelible slice of apple pie that just does not get old. The story surrounds Maverick and Goose (a full-haired Anthony Edwards) in their quest to be the best of the best at Top Gun; a competition for the best pilots and navigators in the country. Kelly McGillis co-stars as Charlotte Blackwood, call sign “Charlie,” the sexy instructor who sees in Maverick what he can do while in the sky. Also in the fray is Maverick’s number one opponent Iceman, played with enough machismo to fuel a jet by the then working actor Val Kilmer. He also played Batman at one point but that is a story for another time.
The movie’s flight sequences were like nothing moviegoers had ever seen before. “Dogfighting” as it is referred to, is captured brilliantly by cinematographer Jeffrey L. Kimball. On the all-encompassing IMAX 3D screen the brilliantly orchestrated fighter jet scenes pack even more of a punch. Remember, this was the first time I was actually seeing the classic on the big screen. Although in this case it is a ridiculously huge screen. While I did not feel that the 3D element added much to the film, seeing Top Gun in all its glory made for an adrenaline fueled thrill ride. That phrase may sound cliché, but if ever there was a movie that coined that phrase it is Top Gun. Plus there are also laughs. The chemistry between Maverick and Goose is a tandem that you would not think on paper would be the best pairing, but it works remarkably well. I think the death of Goose is still one of the saddest movie deaths ever because it was so unexpected and tragic. Maverick is fueled by the death of his father, who died at the stick under a haze of mystery. He is driven to prove everyone wrong; that he is not reckless. That is exactly what makes Maverick one of Cruise’s most memorable roles. Women wanted to sleep with him and guys wanted to be like him. Of course this was before all of the Scientology baggage that comes with the 21st Century Cruise.
While there are still some laughable scenes like the two-on-two volleyball game featuring Maverick and Goose versus Iceman and Slider, the film is one of the best representations of the overconsumption and excess that was the 1980’s. Seriously, who plays volleyball in skintight jeans? Although the movie had a plethora of imitations in the years that followed, none were ever able to capture the lightning in a bottle that was Top Gun. The dialogue is filled with classic lines that have stood the test of time. Kids today might think the lines are cheesy, but I think the film is one that spans the generation gap nicely and is relevant even for today’s “iGeneration.” Sure there really is no more Iron Curtain, but you cannot help but engage in the pure popcorn fun of director Tony Scott’s magnum opus. The late director died tragically last year in an apparent suicide in L.A. after a storied career as both a producer and director. Scott, the brother of Ridley was responsible for a slew of action hits like Days of Thunder, The Last Boy Scout and Enemy of the State.
The soundtrack of Top Gun easily fits into the pantheon of any Top 10 list worth its salt. Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone” became an anthem for a nation when the world was on the brink of launching missiles at the push of a button. The Top Gun anthem performed by guitarist Steve Stevens is one of the most recognizable themes since Star Wars. And man does it still sing on the big screen. It is a feast for the ears to hear in the re-release of the hit movie. “Take my Breath Away” by Berlin took home the Oscar for Best Original song and it remains one of the most haunting love ballads of the decade sans the arena rock feel. Top Gun has become a permanent part of the collective pop culture and I dare you to go to a Halloween party and not see someone dressed in a flight suit with aviator glasses. Yes I am guilty of doing exactly that for Halloween 2009.
While you hear the phrase “it’s not for everybody” about new releases, Top Gun is the exception to that statement. It is impossible to not clap and cheer at the rah-rah enthusiasm that encapsulated the hope we all had back in 1986. Some may write off the classic as just testosterone powered 80’s kitsch, but that is exactly what it is meant to be; escapism at its best. The time for Top Gun has never been more appropriate than right now, because at least back then we had a clear and defined enemy. Now everything is blurred, with a dramatically changed world leaving us worrying about school shootings and who our next rogue state enemy will be. When it comes to Top Gun though, clear and definitive lines were drawn over what exactly we were all fighting for. Top Gun defines the American dream when the original idea of that dream still existed. While the re-release did not fare so well at the much cluttered box office, I enjoyed taking in the whole IMAX experience in. The 3D, not so much. The dogfighting scenes are still epic in my mind, without the addition of speeding jets coming at you. It actually gave me a slight case of motion sickness. 3D did not impress me as a kid and does not impress me now.
Unfortunately, all of the Top Gun 2 talk seemed to die when Tony Scott plunged from an L.A. bridge last summer. But in my heart of hearts I think what they accomplished with Top Gun, without CGI, remains a remarkable feat. Some movies do not need a sequel and stand alone as the reason we fork over close to twenty bucks to get away from it all for a while. For me Top Gun will never lose that lovin’ feeling.
Den of Geek Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars