When I was a wee lad in the 1980s, our family bought a Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). That was its official title, after all. We were super excited, but perhaps no one more so than my mother, who, while my sister and I were at school, mastered Super Mario Brothers. She was the first one to beat it in our family, and she did so with the use of the controversial warp zones. She was not the only adult in our extended family to take to video games at this time. Two of my uncles were borderline obsessed with Top Gun, the video game. As I recall, they joined some sort of fan club with other enthusiasts who wrote (yes, before the internet) back and forth about their high scores. They even had hats. I barely remembered the movie on which this game is based. Remember how cool such things seemed when we were kids? Wow do things change.
In the cinematic version of Top Gun (1986), Lieutenant Pete Mitchell (Tom Cruise), callsign “Maverick” (get ready for a parade of callsigns, and those will be the names used in subsequent references), and his co-pilot Lieutenant Nick Bradshaw (Anthony Edwards), callsign “Goose,” patrol the strangely yellow skies of the Indian Ocean in their F-14 Tomcats. While flying about with their wingmen, they encounter a group of Russian Migs (fighters, though apparently not the real McCoys because this was still the Cold War, by the way) who are in a place they should not be. The encounter rattles Maverick’s wingman so much so that he is having trouble landing on their aircraft carrier. Maverick then takes it upon himself, against orders, to fly next to his wingman and coax him safely down. For their heroics, Maverick and Goose are sent to the eponymous elite fighter training school. As it turns out, Maverick’s reputation precedes him, not just for a certain amount of recklessness but for something his father did as a pilot years before that many believe to be shady. Hence, he has an F-14 sized chip on his shoulder. His main competitor at the school is Lieutenant Tom Kazansky (Val Kilmer), callsign “Iceman,” a precise, by-the-books pilot who is Maverick’s polar opposite. In the course of their military exercises, while Maverick and Icemen are wingmen, Iceman pulls out of a chase in such a way that causes Maverick’s jet to careen out of control. Maverick and Goose are forced to eject, but in the process Goose slams into the jettisoned window and breaks his neck, killing him. Maverick is devastated and cannot be convinced to come around by his instructor and love interest Charlotte “Charlie” Blackwood (Kelly McGillis). Before he can quit, though, the school’s head instructor, Commander Mike Metcalf (Tom Skerritt), callsign Viper, intervenes. Viper tells Maverick the true story of the young man’s father, and how he died in service to his country. Renewed, Maverick completes his training and returns to active duty aboard his old aircraft carrier, and of course Iceman is his new wingman. Almost as soon as they are out there, the Russians cause trouble again, this time with actual shooting taking place. Iceman is first up but is unable to deal with the Russians on his own. In flies Maverick to the rescue, though it would seem their actions did not trigger World War III. For this new round of heroics Maverick is sent back to Top Gun, this time as an instructor. And, of course, Charlie is there waiting for him.
As alluded to at the beginning, Top Gun is a lot cooler when you are six years old and it is 1986. To be fair, director Tony Scott did the best he could with the limitations of the era. Apparently, the film was made with the cooperation of the United States military, the Navy in particular, which means you are seeing real fighter planes on screen. Today it would be all Computer Generated Images (CGI), which was in its infancy in 1986 and hence why you did not have real Russian Migs. Had they attempted CGI for this movie at that time it would have looked even more hokey than it does today. There were a few other things that I found silly, and I am not sure if they are solely a function of when the film was made. For one, holy crap, do people sweat profusely. Almost every scene, inside or outside, no matter what is going on, there are beads of perspiration on every brow and upper lip. The other is the music. Now, there are a few songs from this film that have become classic, namely “Danger Zone” by Kenny Loggins, and “Take My Breath Away,” by some band called Berlin. Interesting Cold War band name, but I digress. It is a tried and true cinematic technique to use music to set moods, but in Top Gun it becomes heavy-handed and distracting. As the film went on, whenever there was an emotional moment, in would come usually one of two songs because there were really only two moods: “Danger Zone” for the excitement and “Take My Breath Away” for the romance. It got to the point where I started humming one or the other at inappropriate moments just for the sake of variety.
Okay, these are silly things to say about Top Gun, but neither is there a ton of substance it. There is not a lot to say about it from a Catholic angle, either. There is one scene where Maverick enters Goose’s room after his passing, and there is a Rosary on the nightstand. That is about it. It is a movie about fighter pilots flying fast planes. One of the more famous lines from it about having a “need for speed” says about all you need to know about it. There is no nudity in it, thankfully. The love scene between Maverick and Charlie is in a darkened room with their bodies silhouetted in dim blue light. That stupid song is playing over the scene, and you can make out some heavy petting, but nothing more. I am not even sure you need to watch it in order to prepare for the sequel that was supposed to come out this past Summer, but has been pushed to the next. I mean, it has been well over thirty years since the first came out. Do they really expect people to remember the last one? I certainly did not, outside of various recognizable pop culture references.