In Memorium: Tony Scott AKA ‘Top Gun’ and the Need for More Than Speed

Ask us what our three favorite movies are. Go ahead. Ask us.

Number one would probably be Wayne’s World. That’s just our movie. The one of which we know every word. The one we would just play over and over again the background, as if it was our Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The third movie we’d list would probably be Tombstone or Rushmore, depending on what kind of mood we were in or the audience we were with or if there was someone we were trying to impress; Tombstone if we wanted to seem more original, more honest, more badassRushmore if we wanted to seem more intellectual, more sophisticated, more melancholy. But the second movie on our list would no doubt be Top Gun, the Tony Scott film that was played on repeat during our childhood and pretty much taught us what an action movie should be: adrenaline-fueled, testosterone-soaked, hyperactive, supercharged, bombastic, loud, and frenetic, a visceral thrill ride. It essentially defined 80s popcorn blockbusters. In fact, it kinda defines the 80s. And maybe that’s why it’s so significant to us, why we still hold on so dearly to Scott’s definitive film (with all apologies to Crimson Tide and True Romance, and no apologies to anything from Scott’s later collaborations with Denzel Washington).

But we can’t honestly say that. In fact, we think that’s a cop-out, to profess that the reason that we cherish Top Gun and own it in more formats than any other film (VHS, DVD, Special Edition DVD and Blu-Ray) is because it reminds us of a bygone time, that it evokes our youth and  gives us a warm fuzzy feeling. That’s not fair to the movie and its direction and its performances. And nor can we just claim that Top Gun is so effective because it’s loud and big and fast and patriotic and at times resembles a video game. That’s not fair either (also, we owned a Top Gun game for our first PC (a Compaq Presario) and it was not nearly as good as the film, nor was the earlier NES title). Loud, big, fast, shiny does not necessarily equal entertaining. Entertaining equals entertaining. And that’s what Top Gun is. Entertaining, engaging, good, even when it is dumb and silly and plays on antiquated Cold War panic and promotes the explosive destruction of a faceless enemy at breakneck speeds.

What’s our favorite scene in Top Gun? Not any of the dogfighting scenes (although they are phenomenal and groundbreaking and “I’m going to hit the brakes, he’ll fly right by” is a line we still use frequently while highway driving). Certainly not the lovemaking between Tom Cruise and Kelly McGillis set to the strains (and it certainly was strained) of “Take My Breath Away” (See? For those who inveigh against mindless thrill-a-minute action flicks let this failed chemistry experiment be an example. Sometimes these movies don’t need that much intimate human interaction. More like “Take That Scene Away”). But, on the other hand, while the Maverick-Charlie romance fizzles, the love between Maverick-Goose crackles and sizzles. And, no, this is not in any way supporting the many homo-erotic theories surrounding Top Gun (sorry Quentin), it’s just admitting that the deep friendship and respect and admiration between Maverick and Goose is the core of the film. As is, you could argue, the relationship between all the fighter pilots, these daredevils who rely on their fellow pilots to be their wingmen, not to help them get a date, not to be their sexual partner, but to protect their life. The climax of the movie is not so cathartic and ebullient because Maverick shot down a couple bogies from parts unknown, but because Maverick and Iceman have reached a détente. They won, they survived, together. Which really, when you think about it, is not the macho, jingoistic, belligerent message you might expect.

Also, the movie is cool. It’s so cool. Tom Cruise is cool. Anthony Edwards, even with that mustache, is cool. Val Kilmer is cool, it says so in his goddamn call sign. So what’s our favorite scene in our favorite movie? No, not the volleyball scene (not because it’s weird and unnecessary and, fine, maybe vaguely homo-erotic, but because their combined volleyball skills are horrendous, insulting, and even with all the incredible high-speed mid-air dogfight sequences this was probably the most difficult scene to edit). Our favorite scene is, in fact, the flight deck lesson in which Goose teaches Charlie about the bird. If there’s a part of this movie that we’re going to recite (and this is different from reenacting the “You’ve Lost that Loving Feeling” routine, which we obviously do), this is it. Because it’s cool, and it’s fun, and it’s clever, and the performances are spot on. Sometimes it’s more fun to watch people talk about being in a 4G inverted dive with a MiG-28 than actually seeing the 4G inverted dive with a MiG-28. And if this scene and this movie are Tony Scott’s legacy, then that’s a legacy to be proud of.

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Filed under Crucial Taunt, In Memoriam, Nostalgia Corner, The Big Screen

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