WHEN: 11:15am EST, January 15th, 2012
WHERE: John’s apartment in Portland, ME (Alderaan)
FORMAT: Blu-Ray on a Vizio 47″ LCD HDTV
COMPANY: Cinemanaut John, who had never seen it before, and Life Partner Becca, who had seen it an estimated 8 times
PHYSICAL AND MENTAL STATE: Sober, just finished grocery shopping, curious to see what John thinks of it, ready to compare it to the rest of the 80’s
WHAT JOHN KNEW ABOUT TOP GUN BEFORE WATCHING IT:
“Tom Cruise, I guess, just acts really gay around a bunch of fighter pilots, one of whom might be named Maverick. I hear volleyball is involved. The cover of the DVD makes it look like planes are involved, but nobody ever talks about them. Uh… Goose? I’m assuming Goose is a woman, but I don’t know. Maybe a shrewish woman? Really, that’s all I know.”
REACTIONS OF NOTE:
- From the opening text: “…the lost art of aerial combat…” John: “Yeah, in the fifties we just forgot how to fly planes.”
- The transition from “Top Gun Anthem” to “Danger Zone” is terrible. This is the first time I’ve noticed.
- Is Cougar being freaked out by the MiG a little forced? If you’re worried about leaving your child fatherless, land your plane.
- I really want to know about Penny Benjamin. Like, prequel bad.
- “We don’t make policy… we are the instruments of that policy.” That’s pretty upfront. More than I would expect.
- I’m enjoying how condescending Charlie is being to Maverick this time around, ie. super impressed that he’s a naval aviator, when she deals with them all the damn time.
- I’m not liking Mav’s rule-breaking this time around. Follow the damn rules, dickface.
- Is this how you talk to someone about their dead dad? I don’t think so.
- Maverick is too aggressive in his seduction style, ie. of course I’ll be trying it out. They make a point of how he’s too aggressive as a pilot, though, so good on ‘em, I guess.
- Yeah, the volleyball is all man candy. I tried to see plot in it, but I can’t. We already know they’re competitive.
- Both John and I thought the line “He’s got 8″ was “He’s got AIDS.” Because 80’s?
- Aagh, this is the tonguiest sex scene ever. Stop it.
- Baby Maverick has goofy teeth.
- Sundown just kinda took Maverick’s flip-out. No questions asked. I think he should have at least stood up for himself.
- I got weird undertones of Charlie not being attracted to Mav unless he’s a fighter pilot, like she only gets off with guys who rock planes. When she calls him “Pete Mitchell” towards the end, all I hear is “I only fuck Maverick.”
- What happens if your call sign is taken? Can you be Maverick_69?
- “Talk to me, Goose.” They are Star Warsing the shit out of this.
- I have to track down the article “Top Guns” as published in California magazine.
After this viewing, we all watched the music video for “Top Gun Anthem,” which is honestly so bad that it is unable to be parodied. One scene caused John to explode with wonder: “His musical cum killed an airplane!”
Okay, ladies and gentlemen, just like the volcano’s encounter with Joseph, it’s time for quality cinema to meet the Reagan years. I present…
GOOD VS. 80’S
So, if you read my last viewing, my appreciation of Top Gun that week was a little wobbly due to a small problem: what the hell constitutes a good movie in the 1980’s? Are even the best films of that decade still plagued by shitty music, weird values, slow pacing, over-the-top acting, cliched writing, confusing cinematography, and readily accessible cocaine?
Not that those are strictly 80’s problems…
In order to find out, I tried to compile a short list of films from the decade that were both huge at the box office and critically acclaimed. I also checked the rankings on IMDb, making sure that these pictures were loved by both snobs and any old doofus with a computer. So, here’s the list that you already disagree with (and spoilers aplenty if you haven’t seen any of them).
Back to the Future
E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial
Full Metal Jacket
and, okay, fine… The Empire Strikes Back
Okay, some notes on the list… I don’t want to count Empire. I really don’t. I’m only bringing it back onto the list because it supports some of my claims, which is a dirty, cheating thing to do when you want to win an argument, but I’m only arguing with myself here. And I left Raiders out too, because I think there are enough kid-friendly adventure movies on the list. John suggested I add Working Girl, which I thought was fair, but I absolutely could not get my hands on a copy of it before this viewing. He also suggested An Officer and a Gentleman, but holy hell, that’s going to be its own separate article. Also, depending on your source, Platoon is just more Oliver Stone garbage and Full Metal Jacket is totally one of Kubrick’s lesser efforts, man, so I just included both of them rather than neither.
So, how do you make a good movie between 1980-1989?
1. Set it in a time that’s not the 80’s. That’s five and a half on the list, the half being Back to the Future. This immediately fixes the music problem. However, Top Gun‘s music is not entirely 80’s. If anything, the contrast between Loggins and the oldies helps the tone of the picture quite a bit. This is only half a compliment; I don’t even like “Dock of the Bay,” but it’s a welcome release from the 39th time they play “Danger Zone.” Of course, for the real oldies, head to Amadeus.
NO! I have enough 80’s music stuck in my head! Dammit.
Strangely enough, Amadeus really does feel like an 80’s movie. It’s a great one, set the farthest from its release date than any other film on the list, but I still smell the 80’s all over it. (The Empire Strikes Back is actually set in 1922, it’s just in a galaxy that’s really far away.) E.T. has a certain timeless quality to it that makes it work. Ghostbusters… let’s just skip the soundtrack altogether, shall we? I don’t get a big whiff of 80’s from Raging Bull, but I do see some common themes that it shares with Amadeus that I’m probably going to talk about soon.
2. Focus on the theme of “excess.” Everybody talks about the 80’s as a decade of excess. I dunno, I didn’t exist for half of it and I was getting away with pooping wherever I damn well pleased for a good chunk of the other half. Mozart is a sex-crazed rock star genius; excess achieved. But the rest of the movies are fairly modest. Marty is rewarded with plain old richness at the end of Back to the Future. But E.T. is about a nice young boy. The Ghostbusters are poor (though once they become celebrities, their party life is briefly mentioned). And Raging Bull shows Jake feeling the worst when he’s living “the good life.” And we don’t see Maverick doing a shitload of blow and firing guns in the air, though he does have a public sex kink going on. (Though maybe he faked all of their sex bets? Hmm…) He certainly learns to not be so aggressive and maverick-y throughout the course of the film, so Top Gun may be allowed in the “Don’t Be So Crazy, Everybody” category. (I do think they muddle this message quite a bit, but that’s yet another exploration for a different day.) So, for all the lavish partying that the 80’s allegedly represent, the best 80’s films avoid it or scrutinize it.
Oh, also, Vietnam. Sorry, I keep forgetting Platoon and Full Metal Jacket.
3. Make it quotable. Full Metal Jacket! Did I mention Full Metal Jacket?
I am absolutely fucking quotable, maggot! Cartoonishly so!
How do you really make a movie quotable? Do the screenwriters sit around and say, “This’ll make a dandy T-shirt”? And how is quotability measured? Well, the 80’s have many units of… it. Roger Ebert’s Ghostbusters review constantly mentions how important quotable dialogue is, and Empire is part of a language I speak called Star Wars. Also, I’m told Joe Pesci did something to Robert DeNiro’s wife. Perhaps the 80’s (and late 70’s) were a time when improvisation peaked as being an important part of crafting a scene. Good, memorable dialogue is often the key ingredient in relating to or understanding a character, and letting the actors just go with it can make each line spectacular. Top Gun, I feel, doesn’t pass the improv test. I hear lines that were written for merchandise, but not much that comes across naturally, and very little that sticks with me afterwards (aside from the fact that I’m going to hear it 52 times this year). And quotable dialogue makes it easier to…
4. Have a likable protagonist. Okay, bear with me here, but Peter Venkman is making me like Maverick more, and the reason why is this: I used to hate Venkman. No, really, when I first saw Ghostbusters as a kid, I wondered why anybody liked this asshole. Ray was my favorite, and I liked Winston and Egon, but Venkman just struck me as a dick. But now, I’m starting to see it: both Venkman and Maverick are genuinely good guys with mild rebellious streaks. It’s their quick, clever jabs of douchery that keep the real douches like Peck and Iceman at bay. I spent a fair portion of my life thinking Goose and Maverick were the hotshots. It took Ghostbusters to make me realize that they’re Nerds in Jocktown. They act exactly like I would if I were a fighter pilot. (Though… isn’t that why I’m not a fighter pilot?) So, again, the 80’s might have been a lesson in being modest among the truly despicable. Salieri fits too… Mozart may have been the crazy rock star, but he wasn’t a true prick. And Luke and Marty and Elliott and Pvt. Joker and everybody else… the main character in all these films is completely likable through and through, just like in Top Gun.
Eh, you forget somebody? This thing on?
Maverick is likable, Jake is not. And as I hear from some reviews, he’s not even relatable. I disagree; I actually find Jake to be that sickening sort of relatable that you feel in your gut, that you’re ashamed to think you have anything in common with him. This all depends on how you like your characters. It’s like the split between Spider-Man fans and Batman fans. Some people like a supremely upstanding and fun character, others like a dark, moral-gray-area sort of character. Maverick is a rule breaker, but in fun, tower-buzzing sorts of ways. Jake does it in statutory rape ways. Where’s the 80’s lesson here? We like likable characters? Pretty redundant. You can like a character that you don’t agree with. Maybe “relatable” is a better word.
Man, I gotta get some fucking Platoon in here.
5. Use slow motion. Some of them do!
6. Add in a forbidden relationship. This might be the big one for the 1980’s. Maverick is boinking a person of authority. Luke and his dad don’t exactly get along. Jake’s brother gets with his wife, plus that “not 18″ nitpick. Elliott is separated from E.T. by the government. Lorraine wants to boink Marty, and Marty has a friendship with his dad that’s simply impossible in our world. Salieri wants Mozart’s wife, but also Mozart’s life and talents. Ghostbusters… well, it only briefly touches on it, but Peter certainly wants a relationship with a client. Also, Vietnam. So, running with the theme of a good 80’s movie, I think Top Gun probably has the least interesting of the forbidden relationships, but it’s still intriguing enough to make it… not entirely boring. I like the dynamic they have going. I just feel like nothing happens as a result of it. “This is going to be tough… or maybe not.”
“Don’t do this or whatever.”
So, that’s what I noticed on this pass. Top Gun understands the important 80’s principles of forbidden relationships and likable protagonists, it kind of gets learning to quell your excessive nature and speaking like a real person, and it utterly fails at not being set in the synthesized, drum-machine-fill-filled 80’s. And I think there’s some slo-mo, but maybe accidentally?
This scene looks like total shit when it’s moving. Even on Blu-Ray.
I have loads more notes from this analysis which I hope to turn into more articles, but for now, on to Week 4!