Top Gun

The upcoming sequel to the 1986 classic Top Gun has reminded me of a favorite memory from my youth. When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time looking over the TV listings. Each daily newspaper had the TV listings for that day, but there was also a weekly TV guide that came with the Sunday paper. This was the one I’d pore over while eating breakfast each morning.

The weekly guide had a section where it listed all the movies that were airing on TV that week. Each movie was accompanied by a short, plain-spoken description of the plot. In addition to the star ratings (where the maximum was four stars, I believe), the descriptions also sometimes included a few words about the quality of the movie or performances. Something like this:

★★★★ JAWS
(Adventure, 1975) A killer shark terrorizes a beachside town. Suspenseful and thrilling. Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss. (2 hrs. 4 min.)
(Comedy, 1986) A high school student evades parents and the school principal to take a day off from school. Matthew Broderick, Alan Ruck. (1 hr. 43 min.)

One day in the late ’80s or early ’90s, I recall seeing the following entry for the movie Top Gun in the weekly TV guide:

(Drama, 1986) Trivializes war by turning it into a music video. Tom Cruise, Kelly McGillis, Val Kilmer. (1 hr. 50 min.)

There was no description at all, just this frank assessment. After spending years of my life reading these movie summaries, it was as if the author had finally broken through and had spoken with a clear voice for one brief, shining moment. Trivializes war by turning it into a music video.

It’s now several decades later and I still remember this movie review word-for-word. I have no idea who the author was, or how many similar gems were hidden in the pages of that weekly TV guide over the years. But I credit this tiny act of defiance with inspiring me in multiple ways.

It taught me the power of well-chosen words to shake people out of their daily routines and patterns of thought. It showed me that all jobs, no matter how seemingly dull, can be an outlet for self-expression and excellence. And it reminds me, to this day, that each work of art can be—deserves to be—considered from multiple points of view, not all of which will be comfortable.

Note: This post is not a polemic against Top Gun or war movies in general. I have always loved jet fighter planes, and I enjoyed Top Gun when I saw it. This review did not make me hate it. (That said, like most older media, I suspect a modern rewatching will reveal a whole host of problems.) My memory of this capsule review is one of surprise, subversiveness, and delight. The review is a slam on Top Gun, yes, but it’s also a celebration of the indomitable human spirit. Four stars.