If you were alive in the late ‘80s, you’d be hard-pressed to meet someone who didn’t know Tom Cruise. He’d made some waves as greaser Steve Randle in the adaptation of S. E. Hinton’s The Outsiders (1983), entertained as entrepreneurial high schooler Joel Goodson in Risky Business (1983), and cemented his heartthrob status fighting the Darkness in Legend (1985). It’s safe to say that Cruise would not begin to hit the level of being a household name until Tony Scott’s Top Gun hit theaters May 16th, 1986, staying there for seven months while it ensured that audiences everyone had the need for speed. Dropping on digital May 13th, 2020, and hitting shelves May 19th, are three Cruise pictures — Top Gun, Days of Thunder (1990), and War of the Worlds (2005) — being released on 4K UHD for the very first time, just in time to celebrate several respective anniversaries and continuing to build the excitement for the long-awaited sequel, Top Gun: Maverick. Though COVID-19 is making any return to theaters questionable, the desire to see Pete “Maverick” Mitchell return to the skies continues to burn like a great ball of fire. Only until we get the chance to see Maverick once more playing with the boys will we idle in the danger zone to ensure we don’t lose that lovin’ feeling by reveling in a beautiful 4K UHD release from Paramount Pictures.
The story of Maverick is a pretty simple one. Driven by the same fire that fueled his Naval pilot father, Maverick and his partner Nick “Goose” Bradshaw (Anthony Edwards), earn a spot at the prestigious U.S. Navy Fighter Weapons School at the Miramar Naval Air Station known as Top Gun. There, the two train with the best pilots in the Navy to earn the top spot and the right to call themselves the best of the best. This interpersonal drive is a large part of what makes Top Gun stick with audiences, even 34 years after its initial release. Who among us hasn’t dreamt of achieving our goals, to earn the highest accolades possible, and, perhaps, make our parents proud in the process? The fact that Maverick’s father died in the line of duty under circumstances deemed Classified helps make the character arc Maverick undergoes deeply painful as the audience knows, just as he does, that it doesn’t matter how good Maverick is, his father will never know it. That combined with an unexpected loss make Top Gun a surprisingly heavy drama amid quite a bit of machismo. Thankfully, even with changing views on gender and masculinity, Top Gun manages to remain largely timeless and free of questionable tropes or choices. Certainly, the bit where Maverick follows recently met love interest Charlotte Blackwood (Kelly McGillis) into a bathroom starts to send up creep alarms, but the way Scott handles the staging of the actors in the sequence plays less as Maverick being a creeper and more as charmingly bold. It does walk a line, but, credit to writers Jim Cash and Jack Epps Jr for writing Charlotte as a strong character with her own agency.
The big sell with the new release is the 4K UHD transfer and it looks beautiful. There’s the usual grain with any movie that was shot on film originally, helping Top Gun to retain its sense of the period, but the colors are sharp and crisp. The opening sequence of the flight deck on the aircraft carrier is beautifully hazy, the orange and yellows warm against the shadows as the crew moves in early dawn. In the following sequence in which Maverick and Goose intercept enemy fighter jets— a classic scene of keeping up foreign relations, if you will — the blues are entirely natural and the planes are crisp, even at high speeds. In short, if you’ve been holding off on picking up or upgrading your copy of Top Gun, this is the version to do it with. Be advised that most of the special features included with the release are included with previous editions. What makes this release special, other than the 4K transfer, are two new features: “The Legacy of Top Gun” and “On Your Six – Thirty Years of Top Gun.” The first is brief and features interviews with producer Jerry Bruckheimer, Cruise, and several members of the Top Gun: Maverick cast, all of whom are discussing the original film and what it means either to them personally or to audiences at large. It’s a fun piece that will make already eager fans even more so. The second is a nearly 30-minute, five-part featurette that digs into Top Gun using previously unreleased footage and brand-new interviews. In rewatching Top Gun, it’s very clear that aviation films, as well as action films in general, learned quite a bit from what Scott and his crew achieved making the film. The comments from Cruise in “On Your Six” cement this notion as he discusses how he made sure it was in his contract that Cruise be allowed to fly one of the jets and that the footage must make it into the final cut. Audiences now are familiar with how Cruise is willing to kill himself in almost Jackie Chan fashion to get a great shot, but, back then, it was a fight to get that done. Cruise comments that not only is great for the story to show his character in the jet, but he knew how audiences would feel seeing the actual actor in the air. There’re plenty more stories, including a hilarious one involving a motorbike accident, about the making of the film that will just increase your already existing love of the film.
Top Gun available on 4K UHD digital May 13th, 2020.
Top Gun available on 4K UHD Blu-ray Combo Pack May 19th, 2020.
Days of Thunder
1990’s Days of Thunder would be the first time Cruise and Scott would work together since Top Gun, yet you get the sense that this partnership never let up. Hot off The Color of Money (1986), Cocktail (1988), Rain Man (1988), and Born on the Fourth of July (1989), Cruise could really write any check he wanted. Returning to work with Scott and Bruckheimer resulted in another in a long line of successful films for Cruise when it released on June 27th, 1990, and has since made about 3x its $55 million budget. Inside of racing the skies, Days of Thunder saw Cruise play Cole Trickle, a racer without a ride, teaming up with Harry Hogge (Robert Duvall), a car builder without a driver, to race for dealership owner Tim Daland (Randy Quaid) in hopes of winning the Daytona 500. When this film first released, all I cared about was the racing, which always seemed too short, and never about the dramatic elements, which always seemed too long. Watching Thunder as it celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, the film feels different: heavy in a way only really understood with time. In many ways the Robert Towne and Cruise written story is just Top Gun in a car, but in the ways it’s not. It’s a singular story about recognizing the difference between knowledge and wisdom and that asking for help isn’t weak. When so many action films centered on hyper-masculine narratives like NASCAR or stock car racing, having two pivotal moments driven by characters learning that (a) communication is key and (b) helping your friends is the best kind of love is truly revolutionary. Now, before you start thinking that I’m ready to wave the checkered flag on Trickle, do keep in mind that the romantic storyline between Trickle and Nicole Kidman’s Dr. Claire Lewicki is creepy as hell, not to mention entirely unethical. Seriously, tracking down your doctor’s private address and phone number is a line one shouldn’t cross, but considering Lewicki doesn’t mind breaking the physician’s code of ethics by getting involved with a patient she is currently treating, maybe they’re right for each other?
As far as the home release is concerned, you can find Days of Thunder in one of two collectible editions: 4K UHD with digital copy or Blu-ray as part of the Paramount Presents label. The Paramount Presents edition is like the previous four releases wherein the film is a 4K remaster from the original, the slipcover opens to reveal an original mini-poster, and the inside features images from the film. Both releases include a new featurette, “Filmmaker Focus: Days of Thunder,” in which Bruckheimer and Cruise discuss the making of the film. It’s not as lengthy as the new features included with Top Gun, but fans of the film won’t feel like it’s something they’ve seen before. Speaking of, the 4K UHD is more than just a fresh coat of paint on an old frame, making it worth the upgrade for fans of the racing classic. It may not change how you feel about the film, but there’s no denying how good it looks. The already amplified colors of the stock cars don’t radiate the neon yellow-green as glow; the blacks of the uniforms and grit don’t push the range of HDR, but look more natural; and similar Top Gun–esque haze which returns contains a warmth it didn’t emanate before.
Days of Thunder 4K UHD digital May 13th, 2020.
Days of Thunder available on 4K UHD + digital Combo Pack and Blu-ray May 19th, 2020.
War of the Worlds
Coming off their collaboration with 2002’s Minority Report, Cruise and director Steven Spielberg come together to offer their take on the H.G. Wells story The War of the Worlds. Celebrating its 15th anniversary, War of the Worlds seeks to make contemporary Wells’s story by shifting the story away from the mid-1980s to the relative present (2005), the unknown Narrator is turned into divorced father Ray Ferrier (Cruise) who has his two kids, Rachel and Robbie (Dakota Fanning and Justin Chatwin), visiting for the weekend. The film goes out of its way several times to highlight how Ray isn’t a good father, meaning that he’ll have to learn how by trying to keep them alive when the aliens attack. It’s hard not to see the sway of 9/11 in the picture, as most films coming out of 2001 did bear some form of influence, which is why the initial sequence wherein Ray and his neighbors get attacked seems so cold and emotionless. Considering how infrequently Cruise plays against type, it’s refreshing to see him play someone like Ray, selfish and self-centered, but the character arc is so predictable, it’s difficult to engage fully. Additionally, while Spielberg is the perfect director to take on Wells’s story given his more classic Hollywood sensibilities, there’s very little that feels fresh or dangerous. However, there’s no denying that few directors could pull off a story that balances so perfectly the larger world elements and the smaller stakes of the Ferrier family as well as its done here. As the Ferrier family travels to Boston to find other relatives, the way in which danger ebbs and flows into the story, escalating and plateauing, feels absolutely natural, lacking much of the force other directors might use to ensure the audience knows how the rest of the world is responding. The sequence when the Ferriers drive into a town to find the streets crowded has to be one of the most chilling sequences in the entire film, especially in a COVID-19 era. Rather than offering coverage to ensure the audience can understand the intent of the rapidly escalating crowd, Spielberg stays locked on the Ferriers, using their relative isolation and confusion to amplify our own.
For the home release, don’t expect anything special beyond the 4K UHD transfer. The bonus materials include no new material that wasn’t already released in previous iterations. This is important to keep in mind as at least Top Gun and Days of Thunder offered something to entice new purchasers. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t pick up the 4K edition if you’re a fan of the film, just that you should be aware if bonus materials are your big draw. In terms of the 4K UHD, this is the part that both hurts and helps War of the Worlds. In the initial attack sequence, the 4K makes the CG more obvious, almost creating a sense that you can see the seam between Cruise on location and the digital effects used to create the illusion of people being lasered to ash. This occurs again later in one of the nighttime sequences wherein the use of CG helps create the sense of the giant robotic machines lumbering across a rural area, yet it seems less blended and more obvious of the computerized addition. In the former, the lack of seamlessness appears accidental whereas the latter could be intentional, attempting to evoke the visual style of the Nuclear Age of cinema, the 1950s. Considering how much takes place at night, the HDR works wonders in ensuring that the deep blacks don’t obscure colors, like the metallic blues of the machines or the crimson red of the mysterious blood vines.
War of the Worlds available on 4K UHD digital May 13th, 2020.
War of the Worlds available on 4K UHD Blu-ray Combo Pack May 19th, 2020.