To its detractors, Top Gun is the worst kind of sentimentalising action movie, one with no particular lofty message to make it more worthy. To those who love it, it is the best kind of action movie, a highly entertaining, fast moving, sweet-talking adventure that makes the heart pound. Even the love story is unusually integral to the story, featuring
one of the first woman characters who actually has a life beyond love. "Charlie"/Charlotte Blackwood played by a cool, blonde, tousled Kelly McGillis drives her own vintage Porsche, is a civilian instructor at Top Gun, knows a lot about fighter planes and is actually older than Tom Cruise's character "Maverick"/Lietenant Pete Mitchell.
The story is formulaic enough for the viewer now, but when it was first released in 1986 it was ground-breaking. The screen-writers, Jim Cash and Jack Epps, Jr were hired by the now very famous Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson duo to write a screenplay based an article titled Top Guns that came out in a California magazine in 1983 about the elite air force training school at Miramar in San Diego. The writers were determined from the start to create a new kind of action movie using real fighter jets, and filmed on site vs. in a studio (this was much before the now ubiquitous CGI era).
For three years the producers and writers struggled to create a script that would have the endorsement of the United States Air Force, without whose approval they wouldn't have been able to use nor film the fighter jets. Finally, with Tom Cruise on board, the film was made for what seems like a now paltry $15 million. When it was released it went straight to the top and grossed $353 million worldwide and sealed Tom Cruise's status as one of Hollywood's biggest stars.
Top Gun has so many memorable moments that it is hard to pick a few to describe here, the locker scenes after training exercises where Maverick and Iceman, played by a then very lean and muscled Val Kilmer, confront each other wrapped only in white towels with glistening chests are unforgettable and have spawned more than a few academic papers about homo-eroticism in male dominated fields like these. Similarly, the highly enjoyable volleyball scene on the beach: Goose and Maverik vs Iceman and Slider (all half-naked with oiled chests) is almost hilarious with its overt machismo made even more so underscored by the song 'Playing with the Boys' written especially for the scene by Kenny Loggins.
One could go on and on, but hopefully the reader will finish by pulling out an old dusty copy of Top Gun instead and settle back to a few hours of unabashedly manipulative entertainment, the kind of movie magic that allowed even an 8-year-old girl in the 1980s to dream of flying really, really fast fighter planes.
All DVDs reviewed in this column are available in Music and Expression, Thamel, 01-4700092