Intermission: In Memoriam Tony Scott

I am sure a lot will be written in the coming days about Tony Scott. This great American director, who always sported his signature red cap, jumped to his death last weekend after hearing he had inoperable brain cancer. He was only 68 years old. Scott, brother of Ridley Scott, was a director who had just about as many detractors as fans. His incredibly kinetic way of shooting movies made him into some kind of a punchline with people calling his style the fuel for the MTV generation.

People die more often, and people commit suicide more often, then why does the cinematic society at large react so intense to the news of Scott’s death? His movies haven’t always been the most deep and thoughtful and to make an inevitable comparison, his movies never really caught up to his brother’s movies. They both, however, worked the system perfectly. He was the perfect Hollywood director with enough style and brains to make his movies stand out from the crowd. My theory for the outcry about Scott’s death is the fact that a great percentage of people today grew up on his movies.

Scott started his movie career with a little movie called The Hunger that not a lot of people have seen, But it was Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer who recognized something special in him and they asked him to take a look at Top Gun. Although Scott was reluctant he did it eventually and it cemented his name and style in the heads of many young boys. Top Gun remains one of the greatest action movies from the ’80s. I wrote about it earlier this year and I stand by my comments then.

The death of Tony Scott made me put Top Gun in my player again and with the very first sequence, the shots in slow motion of the fighters rolling on the deck of the carrier, I was reminded of the incredible power it still possesses. It made me well up at the thought that the man who thought these shots up chose to take his own life in a moment of despair. Scott influences my love for movies so much that it actually hurts to see this beautiful sequence. And this was only his second feature film. After Top Gun he went on to create his own style that would spawn numerous imitations.

Movies like Days of Thunder, True Romance, Crimson Tide, Spy Game, Man On Fire and even more recent outings like The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 and Unstoppable will be studied in the future for their relentless use of movement and tension. In addition to his directing chops he also was a very prolific producer through his and his brother’s Scott Free Productions. The list of properties he produced is enormous and also for that I would like to thank him. Tony Scott was a great director and he will be sorely missed. My thoughts go out to everyone around him. Now I will go back to watching Top Gun, one of my favorite movies, ever, period.

> Tony Scott @ IMDb

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090: Top Gun

Top Gun is a guilty pleasure for me. I saw it twice in the theater, I listened to the soundtrack constantly and loved (and still love) the high adrenaline action that Tony Scott unleashed onto the world. Be honest, what’s more exciting than fighter jets screaming across the screen, hopelessly macho talk and unadulterated romantic thoughts about what it means to be a hero.

Top Gun is about hot shot pilots who are chosen to go to the infamous Navy Fighter Weapons School (TOP GUN) at Miramar, California (now located at Naval Air Station Fallon in Nevada). One of these pilots is Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise), who takes this challenge on with both hands along with his navigator Goose (Anthony Edwards). At TOP GUN they must contend with equally impressive pilots who are hellbent on being the best of the best. Even if that means they have to play volleyball all oiled up and bare chested.

Not exactly the truth

Everyone who thinks this is what really goes on at TOP GUN is sorely mistaken. This is a Jerry Bruckheimer/Don Simpson production directed by Tony Scott. Everything you see here should be taken with a grain of salt, even though the script was written with the consent of the Navy and under the guidance of a slew of real life pilots and crewmen. There is a ring of truth somewhere underneath all the machismo, but you will have to dig deep, because it is buried pretty good. There were numerous moments during the development phase when consultants told the writers that they got things wrong, but it fell on deaf ears. Probably for the better, otherwise Top Gun would have been a lot more serious and likely a lot less fun.

This was Tony Scott’s second feature film after The Hunger and he wastes no time to get Top Gun going. After the beautiful and rousing opening title sequence the F-14 Tomcats screech off the deck of the carrier with Kenny Loggins’ Danger Zone screaming from the speakers. We are treated to an encounter between Maverick and a Mig (always as faceless as they can be) and then a terrifying ordeal involving a pilot too scared to land his F-14 on the carrier. If those first few minutes don’t get your heart racing, I don’t know what will. After that it is smooth sailing for Scott, who has the audience eating out of his hand by now, and his merry band of magnificent men.

We go from one training session to another. All of them filled to the brim with brilliant shots of fighters doing some incredible flying. All, of course, nothing like it’s done in reality. But hey, where’s the fun in that. On top of all this we get a classic love story between Maverick and Charlie (Kelly McGillis) involving a lot of back-and-forth and one of the best love themes ever written for a movie (Berlin’s Take My Breath Away). Val Kilmer is vicious as Iceman, Maverick’s nemesis, who just wants one thing: prove Maverick isn’t as good as he seems. And I almost forgot to mention Meg Ryan in her (almost) starmaking role as the young wife of the ill-fated prankster Goose.

The Hero’s Journey

Top Gun is a movie that is often dismissed as being only about jerks flying jets under a blanket of terrible ’80s music. I happen to think that Top Gun is more than that. This is a fun movie about heroics and the Hero’s Journey. In a lot of ways Maverick is the quintessential hero according to Joseph Campbell’s theory on what makes a hero. Campbell says the following:

“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”

If that isn’t Maverick’s trek than I don’t know what is. Maverick is taken from his everyday life to go to TOP GUN, a magical world where he is allowed to fly these enormous machines in what feels to him as a game. The fabulous forces are his classmates (Val Kilmer’s Iceman in particular) and of course the Russians who he faces in the decisive battle. He comes back from that a bigger, maybe even wiser, man. Along the way he conquers the girl (not exactly a damsel in distress), has several encounters with the wise wizard (Tom Skerritt’s Viper) and he overcomes severe tragedy. It is fascinating to see that Campbell’s theory yet again can be applied in such a successful manner.

This might very well be the reason why Top Gun works so well, along with the most obvious example where Campbell is utilized: Star Wars. Maverick is the guy we all want to be. He is cocky, brash, handsome, arrogant and he gets to fly fighter jets.  Like Luke Skywalker. What more does one want from life? But Maverick also has doubts; doubts we all can relate to. Will he ever measure up to his almost mythological father, who was a brilliant fighter pilot over Vietnam. Will he be able to perform at the level these people except him to? All questions we all have struggled with at one time or another. This makes Maverick a well rounded character we can all relate to in a movie that is just incredibly fun to watch and to return to often.

> IMDb