Blu-ray Review: Top Gun (Limited 3D Edition)

It's still essentially a shallow, formulaic recruitment ad, but fun to see in 3D.

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Top Gun occupies a special place in the hearts of many people who were around when it became the box office phenomenon of 1986. I even had a teacher in college who proclaimed it a “perfect movie” in terms of pushing just the right buttons while following a very specific action formula. Sure, it has the emotional depth of a thimble, but like so many flashy, slickly produced blockbusters of its era, there’s something endearing about it.

That’s speaking from the nostalgic perspective. I have no idea what today’s younger viewers watching Top Gun for the first time think about it. I suspect the new Blu-ray 3D edition would be the best way to hook newbies on the exploits of Maverick, Goose, and Iceman. While I am still on the fence about the merits of converting older 2D movies to three dimensions, Top Gun in high definition 3D is just about the coolest one I’ve seen since Titanic. James Cameron’s 1997 epic about the doomed ocean liner looks so good, you could possibly trick someone who didn’t know better into believing it was actually filmed in 3D. While the late Tony Scott’s flyboy epic isn’t quite on the same level, the aerial scenes look pretty spectacular.

The enduring popularity of Tom Cruise ensures a certain kind of immortality for Top Gun. He plays Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, a hot shot United States Navy aviator who qualifies for the most elite pilot training program, Top Gun. There he both impresses and frustrates his instructors, including Commander Mike “Viper” Metcalf (Tom Skerritt), with his undeniable skill and penchant for risk-taking. Rivalries develop, chief among them between Maverick and LT Tom “Iceman” Kazansky (Val Kilmer). There’s romance too, with Maverick initially putting the moves on Charlie Blackwood (Kelly McGillis), only to discover she’s a civilian Top Gun instructor.

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Director Tony Scott’s hyperkinetic style arguably never worked better than it does here. The action scenes are still visually interesting, all the more so now in 3D. While the whole film generally works pretty well in the new format, nothing is really added to the dialogue-driven scenes. But for entertainment value, as my college instructor so adamantly insisted, the film pushes all the right emotional buttons. That includes the “son living in the shadow of his father” backstory Maverick is given, the game-changing tragic death of a main character, and the climactic battle during which the hero is given a shot at redemption.

The megapopular soundtrack practically qualifies as part of the supporting cast. From Kenny Loggins’ hits “Danger Zone” and “Playing with the Boys” to Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away,” the tunes support the action in that uniquely ‘80s, early MTV kind of a way. Then there’s the Harold Faltermeyer score and his indelible “Top Gun Anthem.” I honestly can’t stand most of Faltermeyer’s synth scores from the era, but that soaring theme is undeniably rousing. These songs continue to evoke a very specific time when there was nothing cooler than watching Maverick chasing down MiG-28s.

This package includes two Blu-ray discs, one containing the new 3D version and the other the standard 2D version. The 2D disc is the exact same version released in 2008. That means the same semi-dated looking transfer, with a little too much noise reduction applied. It still generally looks good, but the 3D disc is a new transfer and, quite frankly, it blows the five-year-old 2D one out of the water. Somewhat ironically, considering the 3D makeover, this new transfer looks more film-like than the old. The key alteration from Top Gun’s original look is a shift in color timing, giving the film a warmer hue. I don’t see this as a problem, since the act of converting the film to 3D is a drastic alteration of the original vision to begin with.

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The audio options are the same on both discs: DTS-HD Master Audio 6.1 or Dolby TrueHD 5.1. The tracks are both excellent and fairly comparable quality-wise. With the extra channel, a little more resonance to the dialogue, and an overall slightly crisper sound, the edge goes to the DTS. The aforementioned pop and rock tunes sound great and the action scenes are satisfyingly directional.

Seeing as the 2D disc is identical to the ’08 release, all the features from that disc are included. It’s hard to imagine needing anything else anyway. If you never owned the earlier version, prepare to be tied up for a while with these extras. “Danger Zone: The Making of Top Gun” is a two-and-a-half hour extravaganza that leaves no stone unturned. Thankfully it’s broken down into six parts if you don’t have time to sit for it all together. There’s a commentary track by director Scott, producer Jerry Bruckheimer, and various others. A featurette about the real Top Gun training facility, multi-angle storyboard presentations, music videos, and a slew of vintage featurettes make this a fairly definitive look at the film.

For anyone who loves Top Gun but wants to see the film in a new way, the 3D edition is an easy release to recommend.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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