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Movie review: ‘Top Gun’ in IMAX 3-D still shoots narrative blanks

Dennis King Published: February 8, 2013

It seems somehow fitting that one of the last tasks credited to director Tony Scott before his tragic suicide last year was the re-mastering and IMAX 3-D conversion of “Top Gun,” the slick, bombastic 1986 blockbuster that virtually defined action movies of the MTV era.

Tom Cruise
Tom Cruise

With its thrusting, rock-infused musical score, its dizzying pace of rapid cuts and acrobatic camera shots, it betrays Scott’s early grounding in quick, glossy commercials and music videos and stands as one of the first fusings of MTV-style editing techniques with big, blustery, high-concept action conventions. It’s flickering eye candy, powered by pulsing jolts of adrenaline, without much in the way of story or characters to slow the relentless onslaught.

Looking at “Top Gun: An IMAX 3-D Experience” today, it stands as a dubious relic of Hollywood’s obsession with stimulation over storytelling, with star power over acting. Not that the movie business has abandoned those values. They’re still alive today. But blowing “Top Gun” up to IMAX proportions is instructive because it so glaringly magnifies the movie’s monumental mediocrities as well as its minor graces.

The razor-thin screenplay by Jim Cash and Jack Epps Jr. (said to be about 80 pages instead of the usual 120) is filled with shallow, cartoonish characters – starting with Tom Cruise’s callow, cocky jet-jockey Maverick – uttering some of the dumbest dialogue imaginable (“I feel the need … the need for speed!”). Projecting it larger only seems to make it dumber.

The familiar story really doesn’t merit synopsis. But along with a very fresh-faced Cruise the IMAX images show us startlingly young players such as Anthony Edwards as Maverick’s fated wingman Goose, Val Kilmer as the Mav’s maddening nemesis Iceman and Meg Ryan as the cute pilot groupie Carole. Kelly McGillis is lovely in the thankless role of Charlie, Cruise’s civilian instructor/love interest.

“Top Gun’s” best feature was always its thrilling flight sequences. Its twisting, G-force-intense aerial choreography (in dogfights with an imaginary Russian enemy) is stunning and so effective that the Air Force actually co-opted some of that style and macho pizzazz to jazz up its own recruiting commercials. On the IMAX screen with digital 3-D perspective, they’re all the more exhilarating, visceral and queasy-making.

If Tony Scott sometimes seemed to labor in the shadow of his more polished and artistically astute older brother Ridley Scott, he nonetheless played a key role in redefining slick, noisy, high-concept action movies and changing the genre for good or ill forevermore. And with this jet-jockey tale and later the mindlessly revving “Days of Thunder,” he had a major role in setting Tom Cruise off on a path as his generation’s premiere peacock action star.

“Top Gun: An IMAX 3-D Experience” is indeed an experience, but one that serves as a caution – making a mediocre movie bigger and louder doesn’t make it better.

- Dennis King

“Top Gun: An IMAX 3D Experience”

 

PG

1:50

2  stars

Starring: Tom Cruise, Val Kilmer, Kelly McGillis, Tom Skerritt

(Adult situations, language, violence)