Friday, May 20, 2011

Flashback Friday: Top Gun at 25

This past Sunday marked the 25th anniversary of the theatrical release of Top Gun, considered to be the quintessential Reagan-era action movie (Reagan did order air strikes against Libya in 1986 in retaliation for terrorist acts against American servicemembers in Berlin). This blockbuster in the summer of 1986 made a major star of Tom Cruise, who was a relatively unknown actor, though he did gain some attention in the film Risky Business and was part of "the Brat Pack" in movies like Taps and The Outsiders. When the movie came out, I was a teenager living in West Germany, where it took more than six months for movies to make the AAFES movie theater circuit. Hard to imagine now, when many movies are on DVD three to six months after being in theaters. Despite the time lag, I was well aware of the movie before we had a chance to see it, due to new kids fresh from the States bragging about how great the movie was and the popularity of the film soundtrack playing everywhere.

When it finally arrived at the theater on the Army post I was living on, my dad took the whole family to see the movie. It was comparable to a religious experience for me. I was so in awe of this movie. I wanted to be "Maverick." To this day, I don't know how much of an impact this movie made on my impressionable teenage mind, but when I enlisted in the Navy four summers later, I knew that I wanted to live and work aboard an aircraft carrier. Like most teenage boys, I loved this movie. It was pure adrenaline rush. Leaving the theater, I felt as though I was gliding on air. I was stunned that my dad didn't seem to like the movie very much. How can you not like it? I guess its a generational thing. The movie is loud, fast, and probably the most effective advertising campaign for the U.S. Navy of all time.

Its hard to imagine now that there was ever a time when Tom Cruise was not famous. He's arguably the biggest movie star on the planet, though his star has faded considerably in recent years due to his aggressive promotion of the controversial ponzi-scheme-masquerading-as-a-religion, The Cult of Scientology. His intensity is immense and he is probably the biggest control freak on the planet (or at least equal to Madonna in control-freakery). Before Top Gun, Cruise was acting in teen coming-of-age films, such as Losin' It and All The Right Moves. He even made a fantasy film, Legend. I haven't seen much of his earlier works, but its amazing what one huge hit film will do for an actor's career. Top Gun was his debut as a well-built leading man, whom teenage girls lusted after (the girls in my school couldn't decide who they liked more: Tom Cruise, Patrick Swayze or George Michael). The prettiest girl in my ninth and tenth grade years even dated the guy who looked the most like Tom Cruise just because he looked a little like Tom Cruise!

After Top Gun, Cruise no longer had to play the teenager losing his virginity as a symbol of adulthood, he became a leading man and made wise choices, such as starring alongside Paul Newman (The Color of Money), Dustin Hoffman (Rain Man), and Jack Nicholson (A Few Good Men). He also took a lame story and turned it into a hit movie (with a hit soundtrack to boot): Cocktail. In 1990, when he decided to take his love of racing NASCAR onto the big screen in Days of Thunder, many film critics dismissed it as "Top Gun on wheels." Having seen it, I agree. Its basically the same plot as Top Gun, adapted for the NASCAR set. At least Cruise got a wife out of it, Nicole Kidman. They made a few other movies together: Far and Away and Eyes Wide Shut. Of all the actors out there, Tom Cruise has the best compatibility rate with me. His film choices are close to 100% in making films that I am interested in seeing (for actresses, Laura Linney, surprisingly, has the best track record of making films that I want to see). But, I think Cruise's star is fading. Knight and Day not only bombed in theaters, but when I saw it on DVD, I was stunned by how awful it was. I expected better, coming from him. He doesn't seem to be aware of it, though, because a fourth installment of Mission: Impossible is under wraps, even though the third one was rather ho-hum, been there-done that. What happened to the Cruise who made A Few Good Men, The Firm, Minority Report, The Last Samurai, and Valkyrie? I want that Cruise back making movies.

As far as soundtracks go, the Top Gun soundtrack is second only to the Footloose soundtrack for me. Those two (along with Dirty Dancing soundtrack) encapsulates the 80s "musical" (more MTV than Rogers and Hammerstein of old). Just the way I like it. The soundtrack is hard charging, energy pumping adrenaline, from the hit song by soundtrack king Kenny Loggins: "Danger Zone." Other standouts include "Destination Unknown", "Playin' With the Boys", "Mighty Wings", "Lead Me On", and the beautiful, bagpipe-sounding "Top Gun Anthem". The love theme, "Take My Breath Away" was a big hit, but I never really liked that song (I was never a big fan of ballads to begin with). I thought "Heaven In Your Eyes" was a far superior ballad. This soundtrack was a soundtrack of my teenage years. When I was stationed on an aircraft carrier during my final year in the Navy, I used to listen to this soundtrack a lot. It was eight years old at that point but it made for a great soundtrack to life aboard an aircraft carrier. It was so great to grow up in the 1980s when the music was great feeling pop (compared to the crap on the radio today). I doubt that we'll ever see soundtracks as great as the ones for Footloose, Top Gun, and Dirty Dancing anytime soon, even with the upcoming Footloose remake, which will undoubtedly have new songs that reflect the music of today. That's okay, though, because I never get tired of listening to the 80s soundtracks.

Below is a re-edited trailer to reflect what has now become known as "bromance." Ever since Quentin Tarantino spelled out the true plot of Top Gun in some movie, there have been many articles online about the homo-eroticism of Top Gun. Its weird to realize that the cynics and the sarcastic just may be right. Top Gun just may be the greatest "bromantic film of all time." The preening, the lengthy glares, the jocular jibes masquerading affection, and the time spent in locker rooms...its all so cheesily "gay"! Kelly McGillis never really had a chance against the Iceman. Anyhow, happy Silver Anniversary, Top Gun! You are a true product of the Reagan era: All-American adrenaline with a killer soundtrack. Ooo-rah!

Five best lines from the movie:

5. "I feel the need...the need for speed!"
4. "You can be my wingman anytime."
3. "I don't like you because you're dangerous."
2. "Take me to bed or lose me forever."
1. "Your ego is writing checks your body can't cash."

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