Saturday, 6 December 2014

A need for speed: Remembering "Top Gun"

The poster for the 1986 movie "Top Gun" starring Tom Cruise and Kelly McGillis.
Recently I heard there are plans to make a sequel to the 1986 classic “Top Gun” with Tom Cruise reprising his role. It was an iconic movie in the 1980s, and I have a lot of memories associated with it.

Going to the movies
It was the middle of the week, in first semester of Grade 12, which made it in the fall of 1986. I had befriended a fellow named Cliff at the tail end of Grade 11, and we decided to go see this new movie called “Top Gun”.

It was a good action movie. The movie had already started when we got there, so I was unclear on how they encountered that Mig fighter in the first scene. Nevertheless, it was pretty easy to catch on to the plot. Tom Cruise played Maverick, a cocky, hot shot pilot who, with his co-pilot Goose, played by Anthony Edwards, were naval pilots who qualified, just barely, for Top Gun, a flying school for the best of the best pilots. Along the way they encounter adventure, love, loss, and triumph. Val Kilmer plays a rival pilot, a young Meg Ryan plays Goose’s wife, and Kelly McGillis plays a flight instructor who Maverick falls in love with.

On the way home, it was storming pretty badly. I remember Cliff telling me we actually hydroplaned for a bit on the highway from Lethbridge back to Coaldale. The lightning was so bright Cliff had to put on his sunglasses

Sound track sensation
One of the trademarks of the 1980s was that every movie came out with a soundtrack. “Top Gun” was no exception, producing several top 10 singles, and even a number one hit.

It started with “Danger Zone” by Kenny Loggins. He held a hot hand at the time, with a bunch of soundtrack singles, most notably “Footloose”. It was a great, upbeat song that captured the speed of the movie.

Next came “Take My Breath Away” by Berlin. It was the obligatory love theme that every movie needed in that period. Unlike many though, it headed straight to number one, and became the only major hit for the band.

The final song that permeated the radio was my favourite of them all. It was called “Heaven in Your Eyes”, and it was by the Canadian band Loverboy. It was part of this string of success they had, that also included a single on the “Footloose” soundtrack. That song in fact, was also the movie’s love theme. It actually was not Loverboy, but their lead singer Mike Reno singing a duet with Ann Wilson, lead singer of Heart, called “Almost Paradise”.

All in all, the “Top Gun” soundtrack became one of the best selling of the time.
Another odd thing. My buddy bought it and said he’d lend it to me. We listened to it once in his truck cruising Mayor Magrath Drive on a Friday night. The next time I asked if I could borrow it, he told me tragedy struck. He had left the tape on his dashboard – and it melted.

Wedding crashers
There are some odd “Top Gun” memories as well. In my first year of university, making it the early part of 1988, I was living in the Lister Hall res at the University of Alberta with my best friend Chris Vining. There were these girls we liked, and we hung out with them a lot.

Lister Hall is also a full conference centre, so there were a lot of events, especially wedding dances. One Saturday night, we were walking by the stairs to the big dining hall and the girls noticed the music coming from there.

“We should go,” one of them said.

Vining was all for that.

I was all for the girls, so I went along.

We went back to our rooms to dress up. I mentioned it to my good friend Av, who lived just down the hall. He knew how much I liked one of the girls, and told me to dress up. After all we were going to a wedding. He even gave me his cowboy boots – the first and only time I have ever worn cowboy boots.

When we met up with the girls again, the one I really liked told me I looked good. I lied, and told her I was trying out my clothes for student teaching, which was actually coming up. The truth was, I was trying to impress her.

We mounted the stairs and, to my surprise, there was no one at the door. We just walked in.

The dance was in full swing, and they had this giant video screen playing the music videos that went with the songs. The girl I liked, asked me to dance, and the song playing was, “Danger Zone”. It was so cool. The screen was so big, it looked like the planes were coming right at us.

It was a nice night.

The Summer of ‘89
After my second year of university, I found myself going to summer school and living in res, where I also had a part-time job as a residence life assistant.

As it happened, Av needed one more course – any course – to get his degree. So he enrolled in the one I was taking.

We spent every weeknight working on assignments, which were due every few days. Av was a big movie fan. Over the two years I had known him, he was regularly getting VCRs and watching movies in his room. The summer of 1989 was no exception. The thing was, we did not have a lot of time or mobility. Av had signed out a VCR from res along with a tape full of movies.

For six weeks, we watched the same tape over and over, and it was awesome: “Animal House”; “Back to the Future”; “Aliens”; and … “Top Gun”.

That’s where I really got to know the movie, and some of my favourite scenes began to stick in my mind – like the beach volleyball game; when Maverick and Goose sing, “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling”; and when Goose dies (oh, spoiler alert).

The other thing we started, which goes on to this day was this joke about Tom Cruise movies. It seemed, in every movie he played a cocky whatever, and had an authority figure of some kind dress him down.

It started in “Top Gun” but became classic Tom Cruise. In this case it went something like this: “You’re a good pilot, you’re too good, you’re dangerous.”

There was “Days of Thunder”: “You’re a good driver, you’re too good, you’re dangerous.”

And Av joked, there was also “Cocktail”: You make a good Tom Collins, it’s too good, it’s dangerous.”

Parting thoughts
“Top Gun” was one of those iconic movies of the 1980s. It was fast-paced, exciting, and accentuated by a driving soundtrack.

I did not like Tom Cruise at the time but, over the intervening years, came to like then dislike then like then dislike him again.

However, the best parts of the movie had nothing to do with Tom Cruise. For me, one highlight was Anthony Edwards as Goose, who was the perfect wingman. He had all the best lines, and was the comic relief for Cruise’s Maverick, who was often way too intense. We've been using the term wingman ever since.

The other highlight was Val Kilmer as Ice Man, Maverick’s nemesis. Just like he stole the show in a supporting role in “Tombstone” as Doc Holliday, Kilmer stole the show in a supporting role as Ice Man. He may have been cocky and arrogant, but everything he said about Maverick was true. He was not a team player, he was selfish, he was arrogant, and he was dangerous.

The best line Kilmer delivers doesn’t even have any words. After some comment by Maverick, Ice Man just looks at him and snaps his gum. It was awesome.

I never saw the chemistry either between Tom Cruise and his love interest, played by Kelly McGillis. It seemed to be an add in, like they needed to have a sex scene, so let’s just throw one in.

If they actually do make another “Top Gun” movie, I hope it is a new story, not a remake. After all, with no Cold War and no Soviet Mig fighters, who would Goose and Maverick flip the bird at?