If you only know me around Cinema 52 as that Back to the Future guy, you should know this: last year, as phase one of this experiment, I watched Top Gun every week of 2012 and took detailed notes of each viewing, which is so many articles that I need to think of a few more things to cram into this sentence so that all these words will link to them. Obviously, that sort of activity takes its toll on a man. Once you know the movie so well that you remember what color Charlie’s parrot is and which locker has a naked lady on it (you can see her for over a second!), it’s kind of hard to muster up the courage to ever watch Top Gun again.
And yet, I did. Because all the excitement, romance, and coffee spills are NOW IN 3D.
So if you’re one of those people who can’t do a Magic Eye, now you get two headaches.
Since Top Gun: An IMAX 3D Experience is only in theaters from February 8th to the 13th, I had to jump on this opportunity immediately. I rustled up a carful of folks to come with me, partially so they could monitor my convulsions as I subjected myself to another round of tower-buzzing, but primarily because I’ve learned beyond a shadow of a doubt that Top Gun is way more fun with other people. I had with me Cinemanauts Becca and John, our webmaster Derek, my Top Gun quiz pal Phil, and newcomer Ben, the only member of the group who hasn’t seen Top Gun with me previously. But enough stats… let’s get to the experience.
We decided beforehand to each quote a line from the movie while purchasing our tickets, because we’re fucking nerds. I told the theater employee I wanted to go Mach 2 with my hair on fire. She paused, looked at my bitchin’ TOPGUN hat, then asked, “Does that mean Top Gun?” It does. Sigh. What am I doing here? To my right, I heard Phil say, “You are still dangerous… you can give me a ticket for Top Gun any time.” He then asked if she had seen Top Gun. Nope.
I’m sad to report that the 3D glasses are not aviator-styled. That would have been awesome. Probably not cost effective, or practical, but what do I know? I’m not in marketing. This whole campaign is to get people who already love Top Gun to come see it. They’re not hoping to sell it to a new generation. Which is probably good, considering how bad trailers aimed at children can turn out. Still, rows of kids in aviators with giant popcorn tubs? I don’t care how cynical you are about the state of film these days, that’s adorable as hell.
When the film started up, my heart was racing at the thought of doing this all over again, but the terror subsided when I began to fully take in how great the film looks. The 3D conversion is pretty amazing. I assume most moviegoers are excited for the planes to really pop out at them, but I know this movie too well; the middle chunk of it has a lot of down time. But the 3D crew didn’t slack; I was just as mesmerized by a volleyball net or curls of cigar smoke. Of course, this is also a problem. When I watch a movie that wasn’t shot in 3D, but was instead converted in post, I can’t help but think of all the poor people who had to cut around the edges of every object in every frame. And that’s bad, because I’m supposed to be focusing on the movie itself. It was at this point that I realized: the people who converted this movie probably know more about the unimportant background details of this movie than I do. Somebody out there not only knows what color the cups are at the Fightertown airport, but has their exact parameters etched into his brain. I feel for you. I do.
Hey, you know what was depressingly absent from my theatrical experience? Laughter. There must have been fifty people in there, and I didn’t hear so much as a chuckle for the majority of the movie. Top Gun is a goddamn hilarious movie on multiple levels. Sure, I laugh in the theater more than I probably should, because I’m a cheese connoisseur. (John and I were almost glared out of a Green Lantern screening once.) Sadly, even the intentional humor didn’t stir anything in these people. Where is the joy in your lives, audience? And for the record, there are only two scenes in the movie I can laugh at any more. I’ve seen it so many times, there are few surprises left, but I still have a giggle fit over Air Boss Johnson shouting, “I want some butts!” and Merlin screeching, “You’re gonna do what?!?!” I heartily guffawed at both of these lines, and heard stray laughs here and there for a few minutes after each of my outbursts. Did I just grant these people permission to laugh?
Some of the choices the 3D team made really immersed me in the experience. Not only do the titles pop, but the drop shadows are back a bit further to really highlight the effect. Maverick’s targeting display feels like it’s right inside your glasses. The explosions are nothing short of beautiful; you can tell they cut out every little chunk of debris and made them jump in multiple directions. My only complaint was that some of the more difficult shots to convert seemed like they added a slight defocusing effect. I may have completely imagined it, but when Iceman shuts down his engine during the film’s climax, those little wisps of smoke must have been a 3D nightmare, so it appears they blurred it a bit. Oh, and I swear they popped out some of the reflections in the pilots’ sunglasses to highlight the fact that you can see the film crew in them. I’d double-check, but at fifteen bucks a ticket… maybe I made all this up. Top Gun probably doesn’t even exist. Go about your business.
When the credits began to roll, my biggest surprise was hearing John say that he rather enjoyed the movie, even though our prior viewings of Top Gun had him at wrist-cutting levels of boredom. But what about the audience? The majority of them shuffled out immediately, silently, like audiences do. Who were these people? Were they longtime fans hoping to discreetly take in a movie they were ashamed of? Frat bros who forgot that Top Gun doesn’t actually have as many explosions as they thought? Confused dates? Hipsters? Maybe they all have a blog where they’ve seen this thing 52 times, because they certainly sounded like people who were watching it because they had to.
Finally, as the first credit for the 3D team came up, I heard a small child say, “I want to see it again!”
Kids and movies, man. Kids and movies.