May 23rd, 2022

Top Gun (1986): This upcoming Memorial Day weekend in the US brings about the long awaited release of the Top Gun sequel, Top Gun Maverick. I thought that this would be a good time to have a reminder of what the Top Gun craze was all about. I was in early university days when this movie came out. I was always a kid who was interested in airplanes and especially fighter jets. I made models, had posters, attended Air Shows marveling at the speed and loudness of these machines. I wanted to be a pilot from my first flight to Florida on a 727 on Eastern Airlines. Before this release, movies like The Final Countdown with Martin Sheen and Kirk Douglas with the Nimitz aircraft carrier and F-14 Tomcats was amazing on the big screen.

1980 The Final Countdown with US Navy participation

There is a Making of Top Gun from just a few years back where the producers Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson had read an article about the Navy’s Aviator Fighter Squadron near San Diego California and decided to buy the rights to the story. It is a very interesting documentary because you see how movies get made, and how they can get shelved. The story was pretty loosely written. The producers needed to convince the Navy to be involved since their experience with The Final Countdown was not a positive one. They needed a Director, and decided to ask short film and advertising director Tony Scott, well known Director Ridley Scott’s brother to get involved. He had only previously done The Hunger with David Bowie and Susan Sarandon. A movie I really like. The studios were less than enthralled with its box office. Then it was how to convince Tom Cruise to be involved. He was a well known star then, and the only real consideration for the role of Maverick. The producers decided to invite Cruise for a ride in a tomcat. As soon as he flew, he wanted to do the movie. As the documentary tells it, they explained how the shots were done, and how they brought on a former Navy pilot to assist with the authenticity. Much of what was done at the Naval Academy was not as it is in real life, like the competition for best team which they say is unrealistic since a group of pilots like that with a prize would be very dangerous. Lives would be lost, for no reason with very expensive planes. They also didn’t fly as low as in the movie. After the primary shoot, they didn’t really have a story, but a bunch of scenes. It was up to the editors to bring a story together.

Maverick is a young aviator with a Dad who was an aviator before him. Killed in the Viet Nam war flighting his F-4 fighter. Maverick is the pilot and Goose (Anthony Edwards) is his rear seated partner. They get an opportunity to go to Top Gun and learn to dog fight, improving their skills in aerial combat maneuvers. Among his fellow classmates is Ice Man, played by Val Kilmer and other guys who would look good on the beach volleyball court. Maverick has an incident which shakes his confidence and makes him question what he was doing. The rest of the film looks to resolve how he manages to get back that confidence required for an elite aviator.

This is a movie to experience on a big screen with loud speakers. The energy from the jets filmed to show their speed is remarkable. The antics can make you laugh. The music then seals the deal with tunes like Kenny Loggins “Danger Zone” and Harold Faltermayer’s opening sequence. Brilliant.

Memorable opening sequence music

Do we care as an audience whether this ACTUALLY happens? No. Do we care that the “Russian” planes are F-5s? No. For this upcoming sequel, will we care whether Maverick at his age wouldn’t be going near an F-18 at Top Gun? Probably not. Top Gun ended up being a smash hit, because it was escapism at its best, and a two hour recruiting tool for the Navy. The planes screamed across the screen. You cheered for the men involved. Afterwards you were so pumped up that it was very lucky that the police didn’t set up speed traps outside the theatre streets. This movie today would be made very differently from a CGI standpoint. We will see just how different with the release of Maverick. Back in 1986, it was real jet footage and the destruction was done with large models dropped from a crane high above the San Diego landscape. I have made a conscious effort not to watch the trailers although it is hard with how often then are on during sporting events this weekend. They know their target audience. This movie has been in the can waiting for two years during Covid. The studio is expecting this movie to bring us back to theatres. I will see in IMAX if I can and on the largest screen I can find. I am cautiously optimistic and just hope that they don’t screw it up.

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