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4K Ultra HD Reviews: Top Gun, Days of Thunder and War of the Worlds (2005)

May 19, 2020

By John Corrado

This week, Paramount is giving the 4K Ultra HD treatment to a trio of their catalogue titles; Top GunDays of Thunder, and War of the Worlds (2005). What all three of these films have in common, aside from them being extremely well suited to being watching in high definition, is that they all star Tom Cruise, one of our last remaining movie stars.

Top Gun

First up is the 1986 classic Top Gun, directed by the late Tony Scott and starring Tom Cruise in what remains one of his most iconic roles as Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, a cocky fighter pilot known for his daring maneuvers, who is sent to the Navy’s elite “Top Gun” flight school with his partner Goose (Anthony Edwards), where he falls for the instructor Charlie (Kelly McGillis), competes with his rival Iceman (Val Kilmer), and tries to learn from the veteran pilot Viper (Tom Skerritt).

The film’s souped up machismo (almost to the point of homoerotica), great synth-pop soundtrack (including the Oscar-winning Berlin song “Take My Breath Away” and the Kenny Loggins classic “Danger Zone” which sets the mood over that exciting opening set-piece), and great cinematography by Jeffrey L. Kimball (which combines impressively shot flight sequences and orange-hued “magic hour” shots to intoxicating and incredibly cinematic effect), have made it iconic.

The film was a blockbuster success when it was first released in May of ’86, playing in theatres for months and going on to become not only the highest grossing film of that year, but also an enduring, highly quotable pop culture staple. This new edition had initially been timed to coincide with the release of director Joseph Kosinski’s long-awaited sequel Top Gun: Maverick, which was supposed to open this summer before getting pushed back to December due to the COVID-19 theatre shutdowns.

The 4K Ultra HD disc is complimented by a selection of new bonus features, including The Legacy of Top Gun, a short featurette that features the original actors talking about their roles joined by cast members from the sequel, and On Your Six – Thirty Years of Top Gun, a half-hour piece divided into six chapters (Looking BackAmerica’s BestInto the Danger ZoneGoing Ballistic, and Narrow Targets and the Future) that prominently features Cruise and legendary producer Jerry Bruckheimer reflecting on the film. This is followed by a previously released commentary track featuring Bruckheimer, Scott and co-writer Jake Epps joined by Naval experts.

The set also comes with a regular Blu-ray disc that includes these bonus features, along with the previously released six part “behind the scenes” documentary Danger Zone: The Making of Top Gun, two multi-angle storyboards with optional commentary by Scott, the extended featurette Best of the Best: Inside the Real Top Gun, four music videos (Kenny Loggins – “Danger Zone,” Berlin – “Take My Breath Away,” Loverboy – “Heaven in Your Eyes,” Harold Faltermeyer and Steve Stevens – “Top Gun Anthem”), and some original theatrical promotional materials.

Top Gun is a Paramount Home Media Distribution release. It’s 109 minutes and rated PG.

Days of Thunder

Four years later in 1990, Scott and Cruise teamed up again for Days of Thunder, which is essentially Top Gun with race cars. The film stars Cruise as Cole Trickle, a cocky stock car driver who is given the chance to compete in the Daytona 500 when businessman Tim Dalend (Randy Quaid) brings him on as a driver, and convinces retired Nascar crew chief Harry Hogge (Robert Duvall) to get back in the game and build him a car. The friend here is Rowdy Burns (Michael Rooker), the rival is Russ Wheeler (Cary Elwes), and the love interest is Dr. Claire Lewicki (Nicole Kidman), who treats Cole after a crash.

While Days of Thunder doesn’t quite reach the heights (pun intended) of Top Gun, and its plot is largely derivative of that film, this is still a thoroughly fun and enjoyable popcorn flick that is solidly directed by Scott and features some exciting racing scenes. The film boasts strong cinematography by Ward Russell, who served as the chief lighting technician on Top Gun, and does an excellent job of shooting the race track set-pieces in a way that recalls Kimball’s aerial stuff in Top Gun.

The 4K Ultra HD disc also includes the featurette Filmmaker Focus: Days of Thunder as well as an isolated score track. The set lacks a regular Blu-ray of the film, but a digital copy is included.

Days of Thunder is a Paramount Home Media Distribution release. It’s 107 minutes and rated PG.

War of the Worlds (2005)

Finally, we have a new 15th anniversary edition of Steven Spielberg’s 2005 science fiction blockbuster War of the Worlds, which offers a dark reimagining of the classic H.G. Wells story and its previous adaptations. The film stars Cruise as Ray Ferrier, a construction worker and estranged father to two kids, Robbie (Justin Chatwin) and Rachel (Dakota Fanning), whom he is looking after when tripod-like alien creatures come down from the sky and start taking over our world. The film was nominated for a trio of technical Oscars (Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, and Visual Effects), and deservingly so.

Spielberg’s film offers a bleak, nightmarish vision of an alien invasion that has more in common with the director’s war movies than his previous alien films like E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It’s a blockbuster made for post-9/11 anxieties, offering a chilling, on the ground look at a major disaster from the perspective of those trying to survive it. The special effects are still quite strong after fifteen years, and the excellent sound work helps provide an immersive experience, including another fine score by composer John Williams.

Spielberg delivers a series of gripping and at times genuinely terrifying set-pieces that are masterfully shot by his frequent collaborator Janusz Kaminski, whose perfectly choreographed camera glides around to reveal visual information and action. The film is very well acted by Cruise, who gets to show off both his dramatic and action capabilities, and Tim Robbins brings much to War of the Worlds through his supporting role as an unstable survivalist, and the film reaches its apex with a haunting basement sequence involving his character that ratchets up both suspense and despair.

There are no bonus features on the 4K Ultra HD disc, but the set comes with a regular Blu-ray that holds a selection of previously released bonus features, including the featurettes Revisiting the InvasionThe H.G. Wells LegacySteven Spielberg and the Original War of the WorldsCharacters: The Family Unit, PrevisualizationProduction DiariesDesigning the Enemy: Tripods and AliensScoring War of the WorldsWe Are Not Alone, as well as galleries and the theatrical teaser trailer for the film.

War of the Worlds is a Paramount Home Media Distribution release. It’s 116 minutes and rated 14A.

Street Date: May 19th, 2020

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