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Paramount Studios presents
Top Secret! (1984)

Nick Rivers: I'm not the first guy who fell in love with a girl he met in a restaurant who then turned out to be the daughter of a kidnapped scientist only to lose her to a childhood lover who she'd last seen on a deserted island and who turned out fifteen years later to be the leader of the French Underground.
Hillary Flammond: I know. It... It all sounds like some bad movie.

- Val Kilmer, Lucy Gutteridge

Review By: Brian Calhoun  
Published: July 15, 2002

Stars: Val Kilmer, Lucy Gutteridge
Other Stars: Omar Sharif, Peter Cushing
Director: Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker

MPAA Rating: PG for (adult themes)
Run Time: 01h:30m:00s
Release Date: July 16, 2002
UPC: 097360156744
Genre: comedy


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A ACB- B+

DVD Review

Top Secret! is one of the most successful comedies ever produced. It is not successful in terms of revenue (the film lost money at the box office), but successful in terms of generating nonstop laughter. The secret is that the jokes are not rooted within the shallow boundaries of reality. Plot and story both take a distant backseat to creating gigantic belly laughs. Very few comedic filmmakers know this sacrifice like the Zucker brothers, whose claim to fame was the legendary Airplane!, a masterpiece in its own right. Top Secret!, unlike Airplane!, which was more focused around a storyline, has spared everything, including the story, for the greater pursuit of laughter.

The film's modest plot is predominately a spoof on old World War II spy movies and Elvis musicals. American rock 'n' roll idol Nick Rivers (Val Kilmer) is in Germany to perform at an important music festival when he gets involved with the beautiful Hillary Flammond (Lucy Gutteridge). Nick then finds himself risking his life as he discovers that Hillary is part of an underground resistance against the German High Command, who are forcing Hillary's imprisoned father to design a deadly weapon.

This entire premise is merely a vehicle to help pave the way for an endless number of jokes. Where other comedies may deliver a few sparse laughs, Top Secret! is continous hilarity. Out of the umpteen times I have seen it, I often miss so much because I have tears of laughter in my eyes. Many of the jokes do not even make logical sense, yet these are often the most humorous. One classic scene in a Swedish bookstore is played entirely in reverse, for little reason other than it is a laugh riot.

The laughs are not generated as much by witty dialogue as they are by an abundance of sight gags. As a matter of fact, the dialogue is often irrelevant, and merely for the sake of continuity while the main joke occurs elsewhere. I still cannot recall what Nick and Hillary are discussing in the scene on the park bench, simply because I am too distracted by the background, which can best be described as the antithesis of a pigeon defecating on a statue.

The Zucker brothers certainly spare no expense for a laugh, and they revel in making films that are gloriously excessive. While this could be seen as overkill if executed improperly, the Zuckers know exactly what makes their material so funny. A simple exaggeration can often open the door to a million and one laughs, and Top Secret! utilizes this to the fullest. Have you ever been distracted or even appalled by the revealing nature of those skintight pants worn by male ballerinas? The Zuckers have exaggerated this awkward sight into a visual gag so fitting, that one cannot help but be pulverized by its sheer comedic genius.

Recently, I had the great pleasure of reviewing another Val Kilmer classic, Real Genius. I mentioned in my review how that film is arguably Kilmer's best film, but I now feel I may have jumped the gun. Top Secret! is Kilmer's first feature film, and most likely his best ever. He possesses great charm and charisma as the Elvis-based Nick Rivers, yet also shows off his comedic abilities quite well. At the same time, Kilmer understands that many of the film's jokes are not based around his dialogue or even his actions, and shows a tremendous amount of restraint in allowing the surrounding jokes to work their magic. All that, and he gets to show off his singing voice too, which is very impressive.

Top Secret! is high on my list of the best comedies ever made. I wish more comedies would subscribe to its carefree methods. When I watch a comedy, I go into it with the sole intention of laughing myself silly. I do not want to be emotionally distracted with fruitless romance or touchy dramatic moments. Top Secret! proves that it does not take a deep plot or a thought-provoking story to make an entertaining comedy. It simply takes an abundance of funny material.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: The new anamorphic widescreen transfer of Top Secret! certainly shows signs of age. From the opening sequence I was overwhelmed with the amount of film grain evident. It looks as if there are a swarm of tiny bugs creating a filmy haze over the image, which causes the picture to appear dirty throughout. The dirty aesthetic also contributes to the lack of shadow detail in darker scenes. Color is pleasing, yet fleshtones tend to look predominately orange. Also abundant is a plethora of film artifacts. While the image is visually disappointing, much of the deficiencies are the result of a dated print rather than poor restoration efforts. Either way, the mediocre picture quality does not distract from the comedic nature of the film.

Image Transfer Grade: C

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoFrenchyes
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The original Dolby 2.0 and a newly remastered Dolby Digital 5.1 track are offered. Both mixes are serviceable, but with the exception of slightly better expansion on the 5.1 track, the soundtracks sound unexpectedly similar. Dialogue is often strident and unnatural, yet unintelligibility is never a factor. Stereo separation is quite convincing, creating a wide soundstage with sound effects and musical numbers. Music is the most impressive quality of the soundtrack, filling the soundfield and utilizing the dynamic range of the 5.1 format. As I expected, surround use is nearly non-existent. Occasionally, the rear speakers will engage with music or ambient effects, yet I was disappointed to find that these few instances sound artificial. While this is certainly not a winning soundtrack, it suits the film well and will not distract from an enjoyable experience.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
4 Deleted Scenes
Storyboard
1 Feature/Episode commentary by directors Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, & Jerry Zucker, producers Jon Davidson & Hunt Lowry, moderator Fred Rubin
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: At first glance, Top Secret! fans may be disappointed with the lack of extras. While a bit on the light side, these special features are all presented in anamorphic widescreen and greatly enhance this already fantastic film.

The main special feature is a commentary with directors Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker, and producers Jon Davidson and Hunt Lowry. Fred Rubin is also along for the ride, periodically interviewing the filmmakers during particular scenes. I was surprised to discover so many gaps of silence, especially for a commentary with so many people involved. The group makes up for all of these awkward silences by revealing unique information about the film's production. While not as energetic as many of the best commentaries, this track is an interesting listen rather than the tiresome information typically heard on many commentary tracks.

Next, is a section of alternate scenes. These four scenes are lengthier versions or variations of what is seen in the finished film. I get the feeling that the scenes were modified because the filmmakers felt they were not funny, yet, with the exception of Thirsty, I found them to be hilarious. With each segment clocking in no longer than 50 seconds, this is a humorous but brief affair.

Atypical for a comedic DVD is a storyboard section for three scenes: Skeet Surfing, The Nightclub, and Nick in Prison. While most of the storyboards mirror the final film quite closely, there are a few interesting elements in Skeet Surfing that were not included in the final film. Furthermore, the Nick in Prison section shows an extended version from what appeared in the final film. The overall presentation of this section is very nice, with the storyboards appearing large and clean.

Also included is the theatrical trailer, presented in anamorphic widescreen with Dolby stereo sound. The trailer has no problems conveying the outlandish humor of Top Secret!, but it is a randomly edited piece of work. I am not sure this trailer would have drawn me to the theater, which could account for the film's lackluster box office intake.

The best special feature comes in the form of an easter egg. When found, this gem shows the Swedish book store scene in forward motion, complete with the original dialogue intact. This is an enjoyable inclusion to an already excellent set of extras. Do not fret over the fact that this is a hidden feature; it is incredibly easy to find.

Extras Grade: B+

 

Final Comments

After a long wait, Top Secret! is finally available on our beloved format. The audio and video are lacking, but does this truly matter? Top Secret! is still funnier than ever, and I guarantee that anyone looking for laughter will not be disappointed.

 


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