Top Secret! (Special Edition) (Blu-ray) (1984)

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Released 18-Mar-2020

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Comedy Audio Commentary
Deleted Scenes
Storyboards
Trailer-Coming Soon
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1984
Running Time 90:06
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Jim Abrahams
David Zucker
Jerry Zucker
Studio
Distributor

ViaVision
Starring Val Kilmer
Lucy Gutteridge
Peter Cushing
Warren Clarke
Michael Gough
Omar Sharif
Jeremy Kemp
Christopher Villiers
Jim Carter
Harry Ditson
Case Standard Blu-ray
RPI $24.95 Music Maurice Jarre


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English DTS HD Master Audio 5.1
English Alternate Audio Linear PCM 48/16 2.0 (1536Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (448Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio ?
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 1080p
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes, Val Kilmer singing over latter half of credits

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    1984's Top Secret! is another side-splitting spoof comedy from the filmmaking minds of David Zucker, Jerry Zucker and Jim Abrahams, the trio who brought you Flying High! and the short-lived television show Police Squad. Setting their sights on new genre targets, Top Secret! primarily skewers World War II espionage pictures (most notably The Conspirators) and B-grade Elvis Presley musicals (think Blue Lagoon), though the ZAZ trio do not stop there. Indeed, the writer-directors adhere to the familiar spoof template previously established in Airplane!, packing the 90-minute feature with as many jokes as possible while parodying the likes of Casablanca and The Wizard of Oz, and even Pac-Man. Although not as consistent as Flying High! or The Naked Gun!, Top Secret! is nevertheless a classic comedy in every sense of the word, and it deserves your attention.

    American rock n' roll singer Nick Rivers (Val Kilmer) is invited to East Germany to perform at a cultural festival, which is actually a diversion while the government carries out a top-secret military operation. In Germany, Nick meets the beautiful Hillary Flammond (Lucy Gutteridge), a French Resistance fighter whose scientist father (Michael Gough) was kidnapped to create a devastating doomsday weapon for the German government. Rapidly falling in love with Hillary, Nick agrees to help the French Resistance to thwart the Germans' plan and rescue Hillary's father. Thus, Nick teams up with the likes of Chocolate Mousse (Eddie Tagoe), Déjà vu, Soufflé, Montage, Latrine, Escargot, and other French Resistance fighters.

    Abrahams and the Zucker brothers began scripting Top Secret! after the success of Flying High! in 1980, wanting to create a hybrid of WWII movies and Elvis flicks. However, the team couldn't crack the story, and consequently brought in a fourth screenwriter, Martyn Burke, to tie all their vignette ideas into a (relatively) cohesive narrative. It all comes together, but this is not a story-driven endeavour; Top Secret!'s plot exists as a flimsy excuse to string together comedic scenes and non-sequiturs, though it is not as absurdly haphazard as most modern spoof films. On that note, recent spoof pictures also too often revel in their cheapness, and it never appears that anybody behind the camera put in any effort. (See Epic Movie or Meet the Spartans.) However, Top Secret! feels enough like a legitimate motion picture; there are pyrotechnics and special effects, and it was captured on film by veteran British cinematographer Christopher Challis (S.O.S. Titanic, Force 10 from Navarone, The Deep). Furthermore, Nick Rivers' original songs are catchy and feel authentic, which again demonstrates that this film was not carelessly thrown together on the ultra-cheap.

    Almost everything on-screen throughout Top Secret! is a joke, including sight gags, wordplay (the "little German" joke), witty dialogue, subverting familiar cinematic tropes, and parodies of famous movies - even Jaws and E.T. are targeted. Hell, for one shot, a city street miniature from 1978's Superman is used, with hamsters and mice set loose amid the cars. Of course, not every joke is a home run, and some jokes will not work for everybody since comedy is so subjective, but this reviewer still laughs heartily upon every re-watch. Plus, because the ZAZ team deploy gags at such an alarmingly constant rate, even if only 20% of the jokes register, you will still be laughing more frequently than most other comedies. Additionally, Top Secret! is mostly inoffensive, with little in the way of profanity and gags that will upset anybody. Sure, it is a tad saucy at times, but it's very tame by 2020 standards in this sense. It's a very silly film, and if this type of comedy appeals to you, it is absolutely uproarious.

    Top Secret! marks Kilmer's feature film debut, and he clearly enjoys himself in the role of Nick Rivers, showing top-notch comic timing and playing the material totally deadpan. Additionally, Kilmer demonstrates his surprisingly great singing voice here, performing all of his own songs which were subsequently released on the film's soundtrack album. Meanwhile, it's a thrill to see veteran actors like Peter Cushing (Star Wars), Omar Sharif (Lawrence of Arabia) and Michael Gough (Batman) in supporting roles, and Gutteridge makes for a beautiful leading lady. Top Secret! is not an actors' movie, but the performers at least put in genuine effort, and do not appear to be in on the joke.

    Top Secret! is not as revered as the other ZAZ movies, but, in this reviewer's humble opinion, it stacks up incredibly well alongside the likes of Flying High! and The Naked Gun!. Despite an abrupt ending, an almost complete lack of plot momentum, and some underwhelming moments which expose the meagre budget, this is nevertheless a funny, energetic and easy-going comedy which miraculously holds up on repeat viewings. The spoof genre is now sullied beyond repute after the likes of Meet the Spartans and Disaster Movie, making it all the more refreshing to revisit Top Secret! in 2020, and remember a time when spoof movies were actually good. If you refuse to watch Top Secret!, I'll put your name on the Montgomery Ward mailing list...

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Transfer Quality

Video

    Top Secret! has long been relegated to DVD, and said DVD from Paramount has been difficult to obtain locally for some time. Fans have cried out for a Blu-ray release for years, particularly since Paramount issued Flying High! and the Naked Gun trilogy on Blu-ray all the way back in 2013. Top Secret! debuts on Blu-ray as a world-first exclusive courtesy of Via Vision Entertainment, with an AVC-encoded, 1080p high definition presentation that represents an expected improvement over the dated DVD. Unfortunately, Via Vision were supplied with an ancient video master, which is framed at 1.78:1 (slightly different from its theatrical 1.85:1 aspect ratio); the same master that was prepared for its DVD release nearly twenty years ago, and has been streaming on iTunes for several years. In addition, the movie is placed on a dual-layered BD-25, resulting in a mediocre average video bitrate of just below 25 Mbps. Consequently, do not expect any sort of revelation in the video department, as this is a very perfunctory HD upgrade that leaves considerable room for improvement. A lot of the time, it barely looks HD. There's no other way to put it: Top Secret! is crying out for a proper remaster.

    Let's dive right into the nitty-gritty: there's evidence of digital noise reduction throughout the presentation, as the transfer cannot reveal fine detail, while edge enhancement is also apparent. Smeariness frequently sneaks in, which is more distracting in some shots than others, and some textures seem to disappear in motion. Added to this, some grain does remain and is frequently apparent, but it's noticeably blocky as opposed to fine or organic, especially during optical shots which look very underwhelming. It also appears that there's a layer of noise, which is probably a result of the scanning and remastering techniques from two decades ago. The shortcomings appear wholly attributable to the master, but it's disappointing all the same. It's not an especially sharp transfer, either, and some shots look softer than others (an optically zoomed-in shot at 28:55 looks like a 240p YouTube video). The optical shots fare the worst in this department - whenever there's an on-screen title or a special effects shot, it looks very soft while also exhibiting heavy grain and extensive print damage. Film artefacts are apparent throughout the majority of the movie, with scratches, flecks and telecine wobble frequently appearing, but optical shots definitely fare the worst in this regard. Paramount definitely did not use the original camera negative to create this master - it was more likely an interpositive, though it looks more like a print that's a few more generations removed from the original camera negative. Those with smaller TVs probably won't notice the transfer's shortcomings, but it's extremely underwhelming on my 65" TV.

    The colours are also very disappointing. Blacks are never deep or inky enough, and several scenes look desaturated and flat. Greens are sickly, and primaries are underwhelming. While, say, an early scene in the German military HQ looks adequate, the subsequent beach montage, or the nightclub scene at the 15-minute mark is severely lacking in terms of colours and saturation. This inconsistency continues throughout the movie, and it's a far cry from what we should be seeing on a premium Blu-ray disc. There's also flickering during the optical shots - just see Hillary speaking to the waiter in German at the 21-minute mark, as there's severe flickering which affects the colours and brightness. Again, there's just no getting around the fact that Top Secret! needs a full remaster - it was a more expensive production than Flying High!, but looks considerably worse than Flying High!'s pretty good Blu-ray presentation. Perhaps this is why Paramount held off releasing Top Secret! on Blu-ray for so many years - perhaps the master wasn't deemed adequate for Blu-ray, and they didn't want to splash out the cash for a remaster.

    So... Is there any good news? Sure. The high definition upgrade yields all the expected refinements, with texturing and sharpness looking marginally improved, and the superior video encode makes for a more pleasing picture overall than the dated old DVD. Clarity is strictly mediocre, but again it's more watchable than the DVD. Unfortunately, though, there's some glaring ringing on all the letters in the opening titles. Hell, every on-screen title exhibits ringing around the edges, which is a bit annoying. And on closer inspection, there's minor ringing and macroblocking in almost every shot - just look at any fine edge. All things considered, I guess the video is good enough on the most basic of levels to allow some folks to retire their DVDs or VHS tapes, but temper your expectations.

    Thankfully, English subtitles are included. There are a few errors (the New York Post is written as New York Post, with random italicisation), but the track is fine for the most part.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    Aside from the audio commentary, there are two audio options on this disc: a lossless DTS-HD MA 5.1 track, and a Linear PCM 2.0 stereo track. For the purposes of this review, I concentrated on the primary 5.1 track, and the news is thankfully quite good. Thanks to the lossless encoding, clarity is greatly improved compared to the DVD, with comprehensible dialogue, clear music, and some impactful sound effects. It's not an overly dynamic track, and I couldn't detect much evidence of panning or separation, but the surround channels are nevertheless engaged to deliver music and other minor sound effects. Other than that, this is a front-centred track, which no doubt reflects how it was originally mixed. In addition, low-frequency effects are non-existent, but sound effects like gunshots and explosions still carry ample impact, and sound appropriately deep as opposed to tinny or hollow. Paramount did an ample job tidying up the audio, as there's no distracting hissing, nor are there any sync issues or drop-outs. Prioritisation is hit-and-miss at times, with dialogue sounding a bit low compared to the louder sounds and music, but that's about my only real concern.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    Via Vision could have just put the movie on disc and called it a day, but they thankfully also licensed all existing special features for the film. However, it appears to lose the Easter Egg on the DVD; the bookshop scene played forwards. The disc is billed as a "Special Edition," though that's probably a bit on the disingenuous side.

Group Audio Commentary

    This archival track features Jim Abrahams, the Zucker brothers, as well as producers John Davison and Hunt Lowry, and it's moderated by Fred Rubin. There are ample pauses throughout, and they enjoy superficial comments on certain scenes and moments, but they also have some fun trivia and stories to impart, and they're good-humoured throughout. They talk about how scenes and moments were achieved, and point out that the Pac-Man sequence was animated by Davison's wife, Sally Cruikshank. They also mention that industry legend Peter Lamont did the film's production design, and discuss using an optical printer to remove wires, among many other topics. They even reveal that they always offered film roles to Charlton Heston, who always politely turned them down. It's not an especially engaging or consistent track, but I don't regret sitting through it.

Alternate Scenes (HD)

    Here, you'll find four alternate scenes featuring excised footage. I laughed out loud during all four scenes, and I wish some of this stuff was in the final film. These were originally assembled for the DVD back in the early 2000s, and are a great inclusion to the disc. All four scenes are encoded in 1080p, but are from standard definition sources.

Storyboards (HD)

    Next up, we have a selection of storyboards. These are presented without music and advance automatically, but you can skip through the storyboards using your remote. I can't say these are essential, but it's still pleasing to see these being carried over from the DVD. As with the previous section, you can only watch these individually - there is no "Play All" function.

Coming Soon Trailer (HD; 1:32)

    Presented in 1080p, but struck from a standard definition source, here we have the original trailer for Top Secret!. Nice for historical purposes.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    This is a world exclusive at the time of writing, and it retains all existing extras. The local disc wins by default.

Summary

    It's not as consistent or as well-remembered as Flying High! or The Naked Gun!, but Top Secret! is well worth your time and attention. It's frequently side-splitting and entertaining, even if it does end rather abruptly.

    For its Blu-ray debut, the technical presentation is...underwhelming. It's a perfunctory HD upgrade, and there's no getting around the fact that this film needs a fresh remaster. It's also nice that Via Vision ported over all the existing extras, but I wish there were more. I don't regret owning this disc, but hopefully we eventually get better.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Callum Knox (I studied biology)
Saturday, March 14, 2020
Review Equipment
DVDSony UBP-X700 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Player, using HDMI output
DisplayLG OLED65E6T. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 2160p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationSamsung Series 7 HT-J7750W
SpeakersSamsung Tall Boy speakers, 7.1 set-up

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