Release Date(s)1986 (May 19, 2020)
Studio(s)Don Simpson/Jerry Bruckheimer Films (Paramount Pictures)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A+
- Extras Grade: A
Navy fighter pilot Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise) flies his F-14 Tomcat right on the edge. In the cockpit, no one can touch him. Unfortunately, Maverick sometimes flies too aggressively, often crossing a very dangerous line. This recklessness aside, when the lead flyer in his carrier squadron loses his edge and washes out, Maverick and his RIO “Goose” (Anthony Edwards) get the chance of a lifetime—the opportunity to fly against the best of the best at the Navy’s Top Gun fighter combat school. When the competition gets fierce, there’s only one question to be answered: Can Maverick reign in his personal demons enough to beat these elite pilots... or will he beat himself instead?
Rather than waste time praising Top Gun’s direction and groundbreaking aerial cinematography, its cast (including Tom Skerritt, Kelly McGillis, Val Kilmer, Meg Ryan, Michael Ironside, and Tim Robbins), and its iconic soundtrack (which features the likes of Harold Faltermeyer, Kenny Loggins, Giorgio Moroder, Berlin, Loverboy, and Cheap Trick), I’ll simply say this and move on to the A/V quality: This is as pure an example of 1980s pop-action blockbuster Hollywood studio Americana as you can find. Top Gun was a huge hit in 1986, it deserved to be a huge hit, and it was probably responsible for the biggest recruiting boost for the US Armed Forces ever prior to 9/11. Is it Lawrence of Arabia? No. But for its genre and ambition, it’s pretty damn close to perfect.
Top Gun was shot photochemically on 35 mm film (in Super 35 format) using Panavision Panaflex cameras and lenses, and was finished on film in the 2.39:1 aspect ratio. For its Ultra HD release, the original camera negative was scanned in 4K, digitally remastered, and graded for high dynamic range (this disc includes both Dolby Vision and HDR10 options). I’m not going to beat around the bush; the image quality improvement here is significant. Going back to the original 2008 Blu-ray release for comparison was actually a shocking experience—that presentation was rife with edge enhancement, compression artifacting, even encoding errors. (And keep in mind, at the time, we all thought it was pretty good—I reviewed it here. It’s amazing to me, looking back, to consider just how far the state of the art in home theater image quality has come.) The whole Blu-ray presentation had an unfortunate “digital” appearance. Well, no more. The 4K scan offers a dramatic increase in both fine detail and texturing, all of it much tighter and refined looking (save for the odd shot that’s optically soft). Given the film’s use of the Super 35 process, you’d expect to see grain and it’s definitely here, but it’s natural looking, moderate, and never distracting. (And by film grain, I don’t mean a DNR scrubbed image with static digital grain added back in—this is the real deal). Colors are now more naturally saturated and vibrant, but with added nuance and subtlety. Blacks are inky-dark but never look crushed. The brightest areas of the frame are just eye-reactive without appearing too hot or blown out (max luminance is 4,000 nits per the disc’s metadata). This is a beautiful and cinematic film image. I think the best way to describe it is that the film looks its vintage without showing its age. And that’s exactly what you want from a release like this.
As good as the new 4K image is though, the new English Dolby Atmos mix is even better. Paramount has been responsible for some fantastic surround sound mixes over the years, and this one is no exception. The soundstage is big, wide, and constantly immersive. It’s vertically large now too, with the addition of the height channels. Top Gun has always had an unapologetically aggressive surround mix, but it's smoother and more fluid here. Over the opening credits, the sound of jet engines, music, and radio coms filters in from every direction. Afterburners have real muscular punch and plenty of rumbling bass. You can almost feel the Faltermeyer score pulsing in your chest. Even the quiet moments have pleasing atmospherics, which get much more aggressive in action scenes. During air combat in particular, when you’re looking at in-the-cockpit shots you can hear the hiss of airflow and targeting instrumentation as kind of a close-in bubble of sound from all around, even above. This opens up dramatically when you’re outside the cockpit—the whole sound space swirls around you as the fighters roll and dive. Jets engines pan in from behind and above as enemy aircraft fly into view on screen, then move around the soundstage with the imagery, and pan away again. Clarity is impressive as hell. This is straight-up great Dolby Atmos. Optional audio is also available in German, Spanish, Latin Spanish, French, Italian, Brazilian Portuguese, and Russian 5.1 Dolby Digital, as well as Japanese 2.0 Dolby Digital (the “TV Tokyo” version), and Japanese Mono Dolby Digital (the “Fuji TV” version). Meanwhile, optional subtitles are available in English, English for the Hearing Impaired, Cantonese, Czech, Danish, German, Spanish, Latin Spanish, French, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin Chinese, Dutch, Norwegian, Portuguese, Brazilian Portuguese, Russian, Romanian, Simplified Chinese, Finnish, Swedish, and Thai.
[Editor’s Note: A few Bits readers are reporting that another site’s review of this 4K disc indicates a lip sync issue (at 1:27:20) and brief instances of uneven pitch. If you go back and look at the 2008 Blu-ray release, it’s there too—it’s how the film was originally released in 1986. The lip sync issue occurs in a wide shot of the combat briefing; the filmmakers never imagined you’d be able to watch this film closely enough to notice it. The issue has always been there. It’s not a defect of the 4K disc.]
Surprise! Paramount’s new 4K release actually includes a few extras on the UHD disc, among them:
- Audio Commentary with Jerry Bruckheimer, Tony Scott, Jack Epps Jr, and Naval Experts
- The Legacy of Top Gun (4K – SDR – 5:39)
- On Your Six: Thirty Years of Top Gun (HD – in 5 parts – 29:54)
The feature-length commentary includes director Tony Scott, producer Jerry Bruckheimer, co-writer Jack Epps, Jr., aviator Captain Mike Galpin, technical advisor Pete Petteigrew, and Vice Admiral Mike McCabe. It’s the same track created for the excellent 2004 Special Edition DVD and an interesting listen, mostly because of its unique mix of personnel. While Bruckheimer starts to get a little par for the course, the Navy guys provide plenty of substance. The track is entertaining right off the bat, as Scott reveals that he was fired from the project three times—he chimes in with a number of good stories. The Legacy of Top Gun is a newly-created EPK retrospective with Bruckheimer and Cruise, along with director Joseph Kosinsky and some of the cast from Top Gun: Maverick, looking back at the original film and ahead to the sequel (a bit of footage from this appears as well, in actual 4K). On Your Six: Thirty Years of Top Gun is a 5-part mini documentary created for the 2016 30th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray—as such, some of you will have seen it before. It’s got a little more substance, and it’s particularly interesting to see Cruise talking about how he negotiated his contract for the film to let him be part of the script and marketing meetings in order to learn that part of the filmmaking process.
Of course, the package also includes the film on Blu-ray. The first piece of good news here is that this too is remastered from the new 4K scan and it has the Atmos mix as well. (And again, compared to the previous Blu-ray, the improvement is not small.) The second bit of good news is that it carries over nearly all of the previously-created content (in addition to the extras listed above). Here’s the list of the additional material:
- Danger Zone: The Making of Top Gun (SD – 16x9 – in 6 parts – 147:44 in all)
- Multi-Angle Storyboards: Flat Spin (SD – 4x3 – 4:02 – with optional Tony Scott commentary)
- Multi-Angle Storyboards: Jester’s Dead (SD – 4x3 – 2:52 – with optional Tony Scott commentary)
- Best of the Best: Inside the Real Top Gun (SD – 16x9 – 28:46)
- Kenny Loggins: Danger Zone music video (SD – 4x3 – 3:48)
- Berlin: Take My Breath Away music video (SD – 4x3 – 4:13)
- Loverboy: Heaven in Your Eyes music video (SD – 4x3 – 4:05)
- Harold Faltermeyer and Steve Stevens: Top Gun Anthem music video (SD – 4x3 – 4:10)
- Behind-the-Scenes Featurette (SD – 4x3 – 5:31)
- Survival Training Featurette (SD – 4x3 – 7:31)
- Tom Cruise Interviews (SD – 4x4 – 6:42)
- TV Spots (SD – 4x3 – 3:37 in all)
Danger Zone is, of course, the terrific multi-part documentary created by Charles de Lauzirika for the 2004 DVD release. The rest of this content is from the DVD as well, except Best of the Best (which was actually created for the DVD but didn’t appear until the 2008 Blu-ray release for disc space reasons). All that’s missing is the extensive gallery of production photos from the 2004 DVD (which included shots from a deleted scene, so you should keep that disc if you have it), along with the Blu-ray 3D version of the film (still available separately). Picking nits, I wish an actual theatrical trailer had been included, but no release of the film thus far has had one (and the TV spots suffice). In any case, this has always been a great extras package and it remains so. Plus there’s a little new material too. And you get a Digital copy code on a paper insert. All around, I’d call it a win.
What’s perhaps most remarkable about Top Gun is the degree to which the film continues to hold up thirty-four years and counting later—a clear testament to Tony Scott’s superb direction and the film’s authentic aerial combat photography. The film has long deserved a great Ultra HD release and I’m very pleased to say that it’s gotten one—Top Gun has quite simply never looked or sounded better. This is a must-have 4K title. Do not miss it.
- Bill Hunt