Top Gun (1986)

2009-01-26 09:06
 

Top Gun is a perfect movie.

No, your eyes didn’t deceive you – that’s what I said. Top Gun is a perfectly realised work – a film that knows what it wants to achieve, aims well, and knocks it clear out of the park.


Let me elaborate. From our perspective, almost a decade into the 21st century, the phrase "Hollywood blockbuster" is bandied about so casually whenever the North American summer rolls around that it’s easy to forget that it wasn’t always so. Let’s take a look at what "blockbuster" actually means: a big budget that goes towards extravagant effects, a script that doesn’t dig too deep, a cast of beautiful stars whose combined wattage rivals the sun, a rousing soundtrack and a healthy dose of thrills and spills. In short, a movie that has been carefully engineered to be utterly, blissfully escapist entertainment.

When the mercury rises and you escape to the cool and dark of the movie house, who wants to watch a Merchant/Ivory production? Not me. Give me more adrenaline than my Coca-Cola infused bloodstream can handle. Think Pirates of the Caribbean. Think Armageddon. Think Pearl Harbor. Hang on, notice a pattern? They’re all produced by Jerry Bruckheimer. And it all started with his first collaboration with director Tony Scott back in 1986, when the men damn near invented the genre with Top Gun.

Tom Cruise is Pete "Maverick" Mitchell – a cocksure, swaggering, loose cannon of a fighter pilot. He makes a habit of infuriating every authority figure that comes near him, and yet he’s stupidly good at what he does – "Maybe too good," in the words of one of his commanders. And so, together with his wingman Goose (a spot-on performance by Anthony Edwards, playing the clown to Maverick’s straight guy), the pair of naval aviators get sent to the Navy's Fighter Weapons School – better known as Top Gun.

And thus begins the Great Pissing Contest in the Sky. The squadron of young, rugged fighter jocks vie for the spot at the top of the heap, the Best of the Best, by relearning the lost art of aerial combat manoeuvres. Val Kilmer, back in his chiselled prime, is Maverick’s chief rival in the form of Iceman. (Did I mention how cool the callsigns are? Iceman, Cougar, Cowboy, Viper, Merlin, Slider. I don’t know a boy who grew up in the 80s that didn’t desperately want his friends to dub him, say, "Cobra", for instance.) There’s a healthy dose of romance in the somewhat tacked-on affair with Charlie (played by Kelly McGillis), which no doubt resulted in a thousand relationships being consummated to Berlin’s "Take My Breath Away". But really, that’s pushed to the back in favour of straight-up action.

The pilots dogfight their way through spectacular flying escapades, just in case the fears of a Cold War-era America should come true. Sure enough, by the end of the film they’ve got their wish in an explosive spat with the Soviets, but that’s not really the climax. This movie is all about becoming a man. It’s about the rites of passage in transforming from a brash young hothead into a wise and mature individual. Whether the movie’s star has ever made that move in real life is debatable, however.

Tom Cruise was 24 when the movie was made. He had already launched his name after the success of Risky Business, but it was Top Gun that catapulted him to superstardom. Take a look at his resumé since – of the 25 titles listed, all but a handful have been smash hits. And this was the film where he cemented the alternatingly clench-jawed/smarmy persona that has served him so well since. Ignore his more recent couch-jumping-Scientology antics, and it’s easy to see how he became bankable leading man material, launching a thousand pin-up posters on young girls’ (and boys’) walls.

As much as I’d like to avoid it, I don’t think any serious consideration of Top Gun can be written without at least mentioning one of the leading causes of sniggering at the film: the barely-concealed homoerotic subtext. There, I’ve said it. And look, I’ll be the first to admit that Tony Scott was asking for it when he shot that infamous man-on-man beach volleyball scene, all oiled pecs and sweaty abs, to the soundtrack of Kenny Loggings’ "Playing With the Boys". But I contest that this is probably no deviation from reality. Confine a group of men together for whom superb physical shape and an overdose of testosterone are job requirements, and there’s bound to be some towel-flicking going on in the locker room. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.

Watching Top Gun 20-something years later, the movie seems to hit every action-movie cliché: the rookie who betters his superiors. The cocky young man with a chip on his shoulder about his father, desperately trying to prove himself. The love story that starts out through antagonism ("You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feelin'" – you know the scene). A heroic death. But back in ’86, these weren’t the hackneyed plots that they are today. This was the blueprint that later films followed, from Iron Eagle to Days of Thunder to Speed.

Tony Scott was in complete control of his medium: from the opening shot of an F-14 taxiing through the heat-hazed deck of an aircraft carrier, he pulls you completely into the world of snappy uniforms and overpowered machines, in an era when being an unwaveringly patriotic soldier was nothing to be ashamed of. The movie was so effective that when Navy recruiters set up stands outside the cinemas showing Top Gun, they had the highest sign-up rate in years from the legions of shiny-eyed young men leaving the theatres. Today, it’s still hard to think of a director who does action better.

It all adds up to a movie you can’t help but admire, when it’s considered on its own terms. Set aside your snobbery and post-modern sense of irony, and it’s a perfectly formed, gloriously populist work of art: from the fist-pumping soundtrack to the sizzling romance to action sequences so gripping that you can almost smell the jet fuel, it nails every element spot-on. Consider me a fan.

A bit of trivia [from IMDB.com]:

- The love scene between Tom Cruise and Kelly McGillis was filmed after initial test screenings. Moviegoers complained that there was no love scene, so the producers obliged. McGillis, however, had already dyed her hair darker for her next film – which is why the scene is tinted blue.

- A script for Top Gun 2 was written shortly after the release of the film, but it was never produced.

- Director Tony Scott was officially fired three times during production.

- Anthony Edwards is the only actor who didn't vomit while in the fighter jets.

- Tom Cruise had to wear height-enhancing shoes in his scenes with Kelly McGillis. Cruise is 5'7" while McGillis is 5'10"

- John Travolta was considered for the role of Maverick but didn't get the part because producers felt he wasn't a box office draw at the time.

Memorable Quotes

Viper:
In case some of you are wondering who the best is they are up here on this plaque.
[turns to Maverick]
Viper: Do you think your name will be on that plaque?
Maverick: Yes sir.
Viper: That's pretty arrogant, considering the company you're in.
Maverick: Yes sir.
Viper: I like that in a pilot.

Stinger: Maverick, you just did an incredibly brave thing. What you should have done was land your plane! You don't own that plane, the tax payers do! Son, your ego is writing checks your body can't cash. You've been busted, you lost your qualifications as section leader three times, put in hack twice by me, with a history of high speed passes over five air control towers, and one admiral's daughter!
Goose: Penny Benjamin?
[Maverick shrugs]

Slider: Goose, whose butt did you kiss to get in here anyway?
Goose: The list is long, but distinguished.
Slider: Yeah, well so is my johnson.

Maverick: This is what I call a target rich environment.
Goose: You live your life between your legs Mav.
Maverick: Goose, even you could get laid in a place like this.
Goose: Hell, I'd be happy to just find a girl that would talk dirty to me.

Stinger: And if you screw up just this much, you'll be flying a cargo plane full of rubber dog shit out of Hong Kong!
Maverick: Yes sir!

Iceman: You can be my wingman any time.
Maverick: Bullshit! You can be mine.


A perfect film? Or just an overblown 80s testosterone fest? Gloriously, it’s both. Here’s why Top Gun is classic jock-schlock.
Read more on:    cruise  |  force  |  air

Louani 2009/01/25 7:32 AM
Ek kyk dit sommer vandag weer 'n keer - seker die 100ste keer.
Ruds 2009/01/25 10:25 AM
Ja ek stem saam. Ek sal Top Gun oor en oor kyk ? Wat van 'n sequel ? Top Gun II
T-Man 2009/01/25 5:34 PM
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Een van die eerste DVD's wat ons gekoop het. En ons kyk dit nog gereeld ! Cheap Trick se musiek is nou deel van ons versameling..
Ken 2009/01/25 8:40 PM
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You missed the best quote "I Feel the need. The need for SPEED"
Michael 2009/01/26 12:08 PM
I can't say I call it a "perfect movie". To me it was just average and will always remain so, but to each his own
M 2009/01/26 12:10 PM
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Another favourite quote: 'You know on the first one I crashed and burned'. 'And the second?' 'I don't know yet, but it's looking good so far'.
chloe 2009/01/26 4:43 PM
Why, do tell someone out there, when some 20 year-olds watched the other day for the first time (boys) they chanted as one: "what a blatantly gay movie!" and stopped watching half way? I didn't get it, but why their observation? Any other guys with an opionion, as to...
MTHOKOZISI SIHIYA 2009/01/27 1:04 AM
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I WOULD LIKE TO SAY KEEP UP THIS FILM IS IS VERY GOOD TO BE WATCH BY PEOPLE OF DIFFERENT AGES,I LOVE IT PLEASE LET GET THE COPY OFIT.
Charleen 2009/11/11 4:26 PM
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Oh I dig this movie! To me, it's a classic! Got GOOSEflesh in the beach volleyball scene with "playing with the boys" as the backdrop music while Iceman hit that ball in slow mo!! And how cute was Meg Ryan in this small role?? LOTS of good parts - too many to mention!
Fred 2010/08/22 6:51 PM
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This film makes you too feel a bit cocky!!
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