Top Gun Maverick soars onto 4K disc
By Jim Bray
This past summer's theatrical blockbuster is now available on a 4K disc, and if you're a fan of the Top Gun franchise, aviation in general, and/or Tom Cruise movies, this one is a must have for the 4K home theatre.
More than 30 years after the late Tony Scott put the original Top Gun into service, Cruise and a group of producers, friends and, I assume, acquaintances revisited the concept. It would have been easy to rehash the original film – just look to such sequels as Star Wars Episode VII The Force Awakens, for a fairly recent example – but instead Cruise and the producers went for an all new, kind of, story that takes into account the star's age and the changing geopolitical and technological scene.
And for the most part they've done a really fine job of pulling it off. Oh, sure, I found the mission for which the pilots were training was a pretty blatant rip off of the Death Star trench battle from the first (or is it fourth?) Star Wars – which itself was a pretty blatant rip off of the mission in The Dam Busters, but if you can over look that, you're in for a fun ride.
So, I choose to overlook it, though in fairness I must note it.
In this version of Top Gun, Pete "Maverick" Mitchell (Cruise, of course) is still flying for the U.S. Navy, still a Captain instead of having climbed the ladder in the intervening years. He's a captain because he's a loose cannon, of course, but mostly – we get the impression – because he lives to fly and promotions would saddle him with a desk, as happened to his former colleague Iceman (Val Kilmer).
Fortunately, however, Iceman is still around because Maverick – who's now a test pilot, which makes sense – gets grounded and told he'll never fly again (because of his latest indiscretion). But Iceman bails him out with a gig at the Top Gun school, training the best of the best (though still not as good as him, of course) for an important mission against a rogue enemy's soon-to-be-nuclear facility.
So, he takes on the task, reluctantly, training twice the number of pilots who'll undertake the mission in a kind of "The Apprentice" type of thing where the ones that don't make the cut are, in effect, fired from the mission.
Naturally, he can't keep from going afoul of the authorities and finds himself grounded again, and out of a job. But, because he's the star of the movie, he takes it upon himself to demonstrate that the hopeless mission is, in fact, doable (possibly because he used to bullseye womp rats in his T-16 back home, and they're not much bigger than two meters.)
So, also because he's the star, he gets to not only train the mission, but to lead it. This leads us to some really fine aviation footage a lot of which – I'd say the lion's share of which – was shot live, in camera, as opposed to models or computers. Check out the supplements for more on this!
Kelly McGillis is gone from this version, replaced by Maverick's more recent love interest, saloon owner Penny Benjamin (Jennifer Connelly), and she's a welcome addition. Not only does her beer slinger remind me a bit of Pancho from The Right Stuff (and there are some other apparently homages to that aviation masterpiece in Maverick as well), and the other pilots, for obvious reasons, are younger and "more diverse" than in the original film. But you aren't beaten over the head with any of this.
One thing I enjoyed being beaten over the head with was the opening sequence which (though my memory may not be up to snuff) appears to be a shot-by-shot re-enactment of the opening of the original Top Gun movie, but with F-18's replacing the aged F-14 Tomcats from the original. Works for me; the F-18 is a much cooler plane!
There are other homages to the original movie, and other aviation flicks, but mostly Cruise et al go for a new story that grows out of the original, not merely a rehash. I enjoyed it a lot.
Of course, I'm a sucker for aviation movies anyway, but I must admit I enjoyed this Top Gun more than I did the original, which I found kind of lame. Er, physically challenged.
It took a while for Top Gun Maverick to reach 4K disc and if you sit through the supplements, you'll find out why. One of the extras is a reasonably interesting/reasonably excruciating interview with Cruise at the 2022 Cannes festival, and in it he talks about how he will never have one of his movies released initially other than in theatres, with the big screens and sound. I can applaud this, and he's at the state of his career and the height of his clout to let him dictate that.
Me, I'd rather be torn apart by wild dogs than go to a movie theatre these days. But I'm willing to wait for the video version, too, so I guess everyone wins with this strategy, as long as home video fans are patient (which, in this case at least, is worth the wait). It also gives home viewers a chance to get the buzz of a movie, so maybe they'll be extra – or less – anxious for the disc when it comes out.
And it's a darn fine disc, though instead of including a Blu-ray disc of extras they've stuffed all the supplements onto the 4K disc. I'd have preferred them to use the disc's storage space to make as much room for the feature's file size as possible (the other stuff is gravy, after all), to optimize picture and sound.
That said, I can't really fault the picture or sound on Paramount's 4K, with HDR, disc. The picture, which alternates between "cinemascope" and "IMAX" aspect ratios (the best and most exciting flying scenes take advantage of IMAX, and they look fantastic), is uniformly great. Colours pop off the screen (and some of the beautiful cinematography deserves it), blacks are uniformly dark, and detail, not surprisingly, is Top Gun, er Rate.
It isn't the best example of 4K disc I've seen, but it is definitely up there, and Paramount has nothing for which to apologize. Look at the detail, for example, whether the instrument panels in cockpits, backgrounds in the bar, whatever – it's a wonderful display that's well worth your time. The HDR is Dolby Vision, which translated to HDR10 on my system, and while some 4K HDR discs often look excessively dark on my system, this wasn't nearly the case with Top Gun Maverick.
Neither can I fault the audio quality. The disc comes with Dolby Atmos, which my system (and I daresay most home theatres to date) takes to mean is Dolby TrueHD. Doesn't matter: the sound is fantastic!
Sound quality is almost always important in a movie or show, but to this aviation buff it's nowhere as important as in a show that has loud airplanes. And here, Paramount excels in its release. The F-18's sound just like they should, and the mix across the channels is absolutely perfect. Dialogue is always clean and clear, which is a bonus, but when the audio needs to be loud and bombastic, it comes through in spades. I might watch this movie again just to hear the jets.
Okay that's a lie. I want to see them in all their glory again, too!
The supplements aren't extensive, but they're very good. The longest is the Cannes stuff, which is pretty well just talking heads, but it has its moments. Cruise tends to go on, but I guess that's what the audience wanted because they lapped it up.
As for me, I wanted to know more about the jets, the filming, and Cruise's aviation activities in the film. It's well known that Cruise is an aviation buff and a pilot with his own airplanes and if memory serves, he isn't above using the premise of a film to further his aviation dreams (I believe he mastered helicopters for his work in the last Mission Impossible film, the excuse being to shoot more live and less staged footage), and so I wondered how he'd use that in the world of the F-18 Hornet.
I don't know if he got pilot's chops in the jet, but he certainly got to do a lot of neat stuff! There's a shot where he's catapulted in his F-18 off the deck of an aircraft carrier – something I'm confident he arranged because I'd have done exactly the same thing in his position – and I figured from the final shot that he really did it. Then, in the supplements, he admits he got to do it six times!
There are also a couple of scenes with a classic North American P-51 Mustang, which was the masterpiece of a fighter of the second half of WWII the way the Supermarine Spitfire was in the first half (they used the same Rolls Royce Merlin engines as well). I wondered if that were really Cruise's plane and if he were really flying it in the sequences.
I didn't need to wonder. It was his and it was him.
The rest of the "pilots" also had to go through intensive training for their roles, in which they'd be pulling major gees and undergoing a variety of very cool maneuvers. I don't believe the Navy actually let them fly the planes (if they did, I repeat: Lucky Bastards!) but in the scenes where they're pulling those mighty gees, they're actually doing it – maybe not 10 G, but enough that you can see the effects on their faces.
Damn, I wish I'd been in this movie!
Anyway, bottom line is that Top Gun Maverick is everything it should have been and despite the derivative nature of their ultimate mission, I loved nearly every minute. And I'll be watching it again very soon – as soon as I get through the backlog of other 4K discs that arrived while I was on an enforced hiatus from work.
I'd better get busy!
Copyright 2022 Jim Bray