One of the most 1980s movies to be produced in the 1980s, Top Gun was the flick that made Tom Cruise the biggest movie star in the world. Upon release it made $350 million (in 1980s dollars) at the box office. And now it’s back, in IMAX 3D. But is it worth your $20 to see Maverick and Iceman kill the commies all over again?
For those of you who don’t know, the plot of the movie is about as simple as that of the Lumiere Brothers 1895 classic, Train Coming into the Station. Maverick (Tom Cruise) is a brilliant but erratic Navy pilot, who along with his wingman, Goose (Anthony Edwards), gets selected to attend the prestigious “Top Gun” school. It’s a school designed to restore the art of dog-fighting among pilots who have become dependent upon long-range missiles. Maverick is at the top of the class, falls in love, kills someone, soul-searches, rediscovers love of flying. Simple. Oh, and he plays some volleyball.
But now it’s in IMAX! And, we must admit, it’s pretty awesome.
The opening sequence, which was shot on board a real aircraft carrier with real Navy pilots, is about as close to being there as you can get. The sound erupts — which caused everyone in the audience to jump — as the jets take off, and the 3D effect comes into play big-time as your head spins around with the F-14 jets. Director Tony Scott, who died tragically last year, clearly didn’t have IMAX or 3D in mind when he was making this, but the cameras he installed onboard the jets as they rocketed off ships in the Indian Ocean really make the 3D element worthwhile.
Not so worthwhile with regards to the 3D experience are the love scenes between Cruise and Kelly McGillis. Nor does anybody want to see pores on the faces of Tom Skerrit or Michael Ironside, but like in life, you take the good with the bad.
The remastering was made possible by IMAX’s DMR (Digital Media Remastering) technology. IMAX’s geometry requires movies to be shown through projectors that require 70mm film stock. Most older movies, such as Top Gun, were shot on 35mm. So ostensibly the convertors are doubling the size of each frame. When IMAX first toyed with DMR in 2002, remastering Attack of the Clones and Apollo 13, neither George Lucas nor Ron Howard were too impressed.
It wasn’t until September 2012 when Raiders of the Lost Ark was re-released that major studio movie was remastered using the DMR technology. Stephen Spielberg said at the time:
I didn’t know if the 1981 print would stand up to a full IMAX transfer, so I came expecting a sort of grainy, muddy, and overly enlarged representation of the movie I had made years ago. I was blown away by the fact that it looked better than the movie I had made years ago.
Producer Jerry Bruckheimer commented on Top Gun‘s transformation:
…it’s such a visual movie, and you have an artist like Tony Scott directing, and he’s one of the greatest visual artists ever to work in film.
Prior to his death, Tony Scott took a direct hand in the re-editing of the movie, according to Bruckheimer:
…took us a while but it was really flawless, the technology has improved so much in the last two to three years that you’d think we shot it in 3D.
Roger Ebert said when reviewing the orginal film in 1986 that:
…movies like Top Gun are hard to review because the good parts are so good and the bad parts are so relentless.
This is even truer in the 3D IMAX version. Nobody cares about subplots involving Goose’s family, Maverick’s dad, or Kelly McGillis’ promotion in 3D. I was counting the seconds until the next scene set in the air. Your patience will be suitably rewarded at the climax of the movie when Cruise and Val Kilmer (whose character “Ice-Man” went on to forge a career as a successful commercial pilot) have to take out some commies over the Indian Ocean in some brilliantly intense dogfighting.
Talking about Top Gun without mentioning Kenny Loggins’ seminal hit Danger Zone is a bit like talking about U.S. history in the 1940s without mentioning World War II. Within the remit of IMAX’s Digital Audio format it’s as if Loggins is sitting right beside singing into your eardrum. I never said everything about IMAX was good.
When I watched Top Gun as a wee lad many years ago, I decided that being a fighter pilot was the career for me. At times this movie does view like a propaganda film for the U.S. Navy. Allegedly the participation of the Navy in the film was dependent on their script approval. One noticeable change saw Cruise’s love interest, Charlie (Kelly McGillis), get a career promotion from aerobics instructor to Pentagon aerodynamics analyst.
Maybe it’s the cynic in me that’s suggesting a possible lull in U.S. Military recruitment numbers might have something to do with the decision to re-release this cult-classic. But that’s not the case; in 2012 every U.S. Military wing reported accessions meeting goals. So perhaps the reappearance of Top Gun is related to the untimely death of director Tony Scott. For years rumors persisted that a sequel would be produced, with 2013 a slated release date, with the original team. But now, without Scott, that seems highly unlikely. But Bruckheimer isn’t giving up hope:
…we haven’t given up yet. It’s just figuring out how to do it, which I think we have a good handle on, and losing Tony slowed us down, but hopefully we can pick up speed again.
The remastered Top Gun will hit theaters on Friday, February 8. Its engagement runs until the 14th. The release will coincide with a Blu-Ray DVD release, which arrives on the February 19.