James Cole Clay has been working as a film critic for the better part of a decade covering new releases, blu ray reviews and the occasional drive-in cult classic. His writing is dedicated to discovering social politics through diverse voices, primarily focusing on Women In Film and LGBTQ cinema.
James Clay // Film Critic
Three healthy spoonfuls of “Classic Cruise” recently jetted its way onto home media, and the results are a slick reminder of why Tom Cruise is the perennial movie star of our time. Available on 4K disc – and just upgraded on digital platforms – TOP GUN, DAYS OF THUNDER, and WAR OF THE WORLDS just received the definitive treatment for film collectors.
While this showcases what Cruise has been traditionally celebrated for in his career, looking at these basic cable classics are a reminder that he’s one of the most diverse stars in cinema history. Of course, there’s the inevitable caveat where one is forced to pay lip service to his personal life. Even so, today we celebrate the actor who has never stopped running for his life. Additionally, we recognize filmmakers Tony Scott and Steven Spielberg’s ability to put human beings in peril masterfully.
These three releases from Paramount hit prominent touchstones in Cruise’s career. Even though they aren’t the deep cuts film enthusiasts crave, each represents a seminal moment in blockbuster cinema and important benchmarks of his career. Not saying Tom is batting 1.000, but I’d reckon you’d be hard-pressed to find a forgotten Cruise vehicle past the year 1986. (Maybe FAR & AWAY or THE COLOR OF MONEY qualifies, who knows?)
TOP GUN was in development for a while after an article was written about a school of elite Naval pilots in Miramar, just outside of San Diego. Cruise claims that he indeed always possessed “the need for speed” in the special features, and thus began his career as a student of filmmaking. He had a clause in his contract that stipulated he had to be filmed flying the jets, and at least some of those shots had to be used in the final film.
Aside from creating an iconic look of masculinity with Scott and producers Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson, this began what would be the template for blockbuster filmmaking for the next two decades, and Cruise was at the center.
With its borderline jingoistic view of patriotism and idealized look at the military, Scott and Co. created a near two-hour commercial for the military. TOP GUN isn’t your atypical action movie, yet it feels like dozens of other iterations that often were copycats. There’s really no antagonists other than Maverick’s (Cruise) ego and quite possibly the body of water that kills Goose. Even Ice Man (Val Kilmer) really isn’t a villain, just a hotshot with a lot of confidence who tries to talk some sense into Maverick. It has a love story anchored by Berlin’s overplayed ballad “Take My Breath Away” (even though the baseline is still killer) and way too many shots of planes taking off that may or may not be a coping mechanism for overcompensation by Scott.
All joking aside, TOP GUN still works beautifully as an outdated piece of cinema history. It’s easy to make fun of these days, and its gender dynamics are rendered obsolete. This 4K release allows the viewer to approach the film as audiences did in 1986, or at least try to attempt to revisit that place in our minds for only a few short hours. Pairing this film with the literal hours of special feature documentaries puts the entire film into the context of the period, and escaping the invisible threats of 2020 doesn’t make 1986 seem so bad.
DAYS OF THUNDER came out in 1990, and it’s famous for a few reasons, namely being the film where Tom Cruise met Nicole Kidman. But this is the chance where we can praise the late-and-great Scott and his eye for being a creative madman in the best ways possible. This is way before his later period, where he went gonzo in the 20th Century. This marks his second collaboration with Scott, Cruise, Bruckheimer, and Simpson, who got the band back together. The creative team only asked one question, and its arguably the most important: “What if TOP GUN, but with race cars instead?” The supporting cast includes a murderer’s row actors, including Kidman, Robert Duvall, Randy Quaid, John C. Reilly, Cary Elwes, and (the MVP of the film) Michael Rooker.
Scott’s direction had gained loads of confidence in the Paramount studio system following TOP GUN and the literal insanity of BEVERLY HILLS COP II. With DAYS OF THUNDER, he and Cruise create an absurdist look at conquering the NASCAR circuit while proving to everybody that you are indeed an alpha male. There’s not a lot of takeaways to be had except for the foolishness of male pissing contests, gorgeous sepia-toned skies, and moments that would never fly in today’s filmmaking climate. DAYS OF THUNDER proves lightning certainly doesn’t strike twice very often unless that movie is WAR OF THE WORLDS.
Celebrating its 15th anniversary this summer, Spielberg’s WAR OF THE WORLDS has caught an unfair amount of guff since it hit theaters in 2005. Starring Cruise as Ray, a dock-working dad who doesn’t give a rip about his kids, Robbie (Justin Chatwin) and Rachel ( Dakota Fanning, who gives an outstanding child performance), when his ex-wife (Miranda Otto) drops them off for a weekend. Only a few short hours into their stay, the unthinkable happens, giant alien tripods emerge from the ground and begin evaporating humans without prejudice. Lighting storms fill the sky, panic ensues, and the result is a scene filled with Cruise conducting his signature silver screen sprint. This time, completely covered in the dust of human remains.
The movie is a harrowing piece of popcorn entertainment about the survival instincts that rely on us all and the price for protecting family. Cruise gives yet another physical performance and has to convey the poise of an actor who’s well versed in stunt performing while looking lost like a deadbeat dad.
WAR OF THE WORLDS has its flaws, including a strange game of father/son catch, stance character decision making, trying to believe a guy that looks like Cruise is a dock worker, and a very out of place Tim Robbins. All of that aside, Spielberg made an unsuspectingly horrifying film about the fear of the other and how humans will turn on each other in a matter of mere seconds. His early to mid-2000s collaborations with Cruise proved to be some of the most satisfying sci-fi of that era.
These three entries that were selected to become back into public consciousness through high-quality 4K releases are a proper litmus at the versatility of Cruise as an actor and as a creative who pushes the boundaries of what actors are capable of doing on screen. Now, if only we can get a sequel surrounding his character Les Grossman from TROPIC THUNDER, then that would be the cherry on top of a strange and exciting career.
TOP GUN, DAYS OF THUNDER and WAR OF THE WORLDS are all available on 4K disc and Digital HD.