Kevin: I knew the millennial generation was doomed when my wife and I sat down to watch Seth McFarland’s “Ted” a few years ago with a couple in their 20s. Although the film is less than two hours, it probably took us twice as long to finish it due to the number of times we had to pause and explain to our guests the references to “Flash Gordon,” “T.J. Hooker,” “Cheers,” the theme from “Knight Rider,” the song “All Time High” from “Octopussy,” the phrase “stay golden Ponyboy” from “The Outsiders,” the meaning of a “Silkwood shower,” and the version of Joan Crawford as a wire-hanger-wielding psychopath in “Mommie Dearest,” among others. Ignorance may be bliss, but not when you are surrounded by people that ignorant about basic pop culture signifiers.
Now I get it, I wouldn’t expect people that age to have seen all four seasons of “ALF,” but I also didn’t need to sit through “Citizen Kane” to at least know that a movie named “Citizen Kane” existed and a sled called Rosebud was somehow involved. Whereas just to show what I was dealing with, the supposed male of this particular couple had never even heard of “Action Jackson,” “Tango & Cash,” or “Commando”! So yeah, don’t be expecting America to be winning any wars in the future with this group.
By the time we had to stop “Ted” for the 87th time and explain who Tom Skerrit was and what his role in a movie called “Top Gun” involved, I knew we had failed this generation, but I was not going to let the same thing happen to our current crop of young minds, so I decided it was time for my 11-year-old nephew to discover the joys of Maverick, Iceman, Goose, and Kenny Loggins. Now I didn’t want to have the same recent experience as a friend of mine, who had to compete with an iPhone for his son’s attention when trying to introduce him to “The Fugitive,” so fortunately a recent screening at the Alamo Drafthouse allowed us to experience “Top Gun” the way I had back in 1986: on the big screen, with a packed audience, and free of modern-day distractions:
There’s not much to say about the greatness of “Top Gun” that hasn’t already been said, but I will note that it is one of the rare ‘80s movies that is not completely dated by then-current fashion trends, hairstyles, or accessories (the soundtrack is another story, but more on that below). Instead the film takes place in almost an alternate universe in which normal humans don’t exist; everything revolves around the Navy, no one leaves the base, everyone either wears uniforms or hangs out just in towels, and they all look spectacular either in or out of clothes. The film doesn’t even specify the foreign entity we are fighting against; when it was released during the Cold War I think we all assumed it was supposed to be Russia, but it could have easily been Cobra Commander for all we know.
The film is, however, probably the definitive time capsule of that very ‘80s of movie genres: a bunch of awesome dudes competing to see who is most awesome, and the biggest setback our supremely awesome hero has is that he briefly doubts his awesomeness, before finally proving to everyone that he is indeed the most awesome at the end. On that note, anyone who wonders how Tom Cruise became the biggest movie star in the world needs look no further than “Top Gun.” On paper Maverick is a dangerously undisciplined and insubordinate naval aviator, who will likely get many of his fellow pilots killed due to his recklessness, but Cruise practically wills you into rooting for this cocky asshole through the sheer power of his megawatt charisma.
Now getting back to the hit soundtrack, after seeing the film again on the big screen, my favorite part of “Top Gun” is now officially a 10-minute stretch in the middle in which every scene between Cruise and Kelly McGillis begins and ends with the hook from Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away,” to the point where it becomes comically transcendent. Probably the biggest laugh in our screening all day occurred when Hollywood leans over to whisper something in Maverick’s ear, and “Take My Breath Away” kicks back up again as if they are about to share a romantic moment themselves.
Instead though that leads into the love scene between Cruise and McGills set to the strains of, yes, “Take My Breath Away,” and something else I was reminded of while watching it on the big screen again was that despite being in a PG-rated film, that moment in “Top Gun” is way more uncomfortably intimate than anything in “50 Shades of Grey.” Seriously, you can clearly see Cruise and McGillis slipping each other the tongue in silhouette, and by the time we get an extreme close-up of her licking him from his neck up to his chin, I was starting to worry that my nephew’s puberty was about to kick off a little early.
Fortunately we quickly transitioned from this icky cooties stuff to some more incredible fighter jet action, and watching the film you would assume that its numerous aerial stunts were carefully storyboarded in advance. However, one of the extras on the most recent Blu-ray revealed that “Top Gun” was actually a mess of a movie that was saved in post-production, with a behind-the-scenes team taking the insane amount of random footage shot by director Tony Scott and shaping various storylines around it in the editing bay. Even much of the romantic subplot was a last-minute addition, including the elevator scene filmed months later in which McGillis wears a cap to cover up a recent change in hair color, while Cruise’s hair is wetted down to disguise the pompadour he was sporting for “The Color of Money.”
But no matter what issues they had to deal with while making it, the important thing is that the final product is as much a crowd-pleaser now as it was in 1986, and if you live in Austin you still have a couple of chances to see “Top Gun” on the big screen this week at the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz. And in case you are still not convinced, here is what my nephew had to say about the film after two hours of awesome aerial combat, bad Everly Brothers karaoke, homoerotic volleyball action, and Michael Ironside being peak Michael Ironside:
“It was pretty good I guess.”
Trust me when I say that’s as big a recommendation as you are ever going to get from this kid. If children are the future, then the future is looking bright indeed. As with anything though, I’ll let Val Kilmer have the final word: