Converting Paramount‘s “Top Gun” for 3D was no easy feat, especially since none of the aircraft or ship sequences were digital. But the surprisingly hardest footage to convert, according to Legend3D founder Dr. Barry Sandrew, is the scenes with nothing but actors in a room. Tiny details like reflections in their eyes must be converted to show depth or else the eyes look dead, he told attendees of a special early look at 20 minutes of the IMAX 3D footage Friday night (Jan. 1, 2013) at the AMC Century City 15 in Los Angeles. (I reviewed the entire movie a few days later in a screening room at the IMAX headquarters in Santa Monica, where, as always, the IMAX 3D pre-movie 10-to-1 countdown is instantly riveting, followed by the dynamic 3D version of the Paramount branding logo that draws your eyes to mountain peaks you never noticed before.)
Sandrew worked closely with the late director Tony Scott on the 3D conversion and even invested his company’s money in the project to ensure its completion.
Despite the challenges, all of the various types of footage looked quite dynamic. The separation and rack focus shots were quite effectively enhanced between Maverick (Tom Cruise) and Iceman (Val Kilmer) during the icy glares in the early classroom session. The subsequent aerial dogfight training sequence was much more impact-ful with some jets appearing to fly right to the front of the screen while others were clearly further in the distance, and the separation so much more apparent when a jet flew close to a mountain ridge.
Of course, all of this looks even better on the giant IMAX screen, where the 110-minute iconic film will get an exclusive one-week run on several hundred screens starting this Friday, Feb. 8 (special 10 p.m. screening Thursday, Feb. 7), before potentially moving into other 3D theaters.
The 1986 movie is showing its age in terms of the film graininess and somewhat washed out colors, as well as some of the banter between the hot shot Navy pilots, a remarkable amount of which are playful gay references and plenty of shirtless young guys hugging and touching each other in locker rooms, public bathrooms, and even playing volleyball.
In fact, the volleyball scene with the shirtless guys is one of the most effective 3D-converted sequences on the “Top Gun” Blu-ray 3D edition (Paramount Home Entertainment, $39.99), which will be released on Feb. 19. Even the most subdued and tender dialogue and romantic sequences are more engaging with the added dimension bringing heightened emotional as well as physical depth.
The entire movie appears to have been designed for 3D, with even the most static scenes at a bar table and piano featuring beer bottles, flowers, and other objects seemingly strategically positioned at the front of the frame to accentuate the depth. Every aerial battle generates more excitement as little things like the visible white swirling wash behind the jets feels more visually tangible.
The graininess of the IMAX presentation is less noticeable on the Blu-ray version, presumably because of the smaller screen. The 3D disc even offers the main menus in 3D, but all the bonus features are on a separate 2D Blu-ray disc — the previously-released Special Collector’s Edition featuring hours of documentaries and behind-the-scenes featurettes, music videos, audio commentaries with Scott and producer Jerry Bruckheimer, and interviews with Cruise.
Here’s hoping this outstanding effort sparks studios to re-initiate the 3D conversion of classic movies like this for theatrical and Blu-ray release.
– By Scott Hettrick