The Need for Speed – Top Gun in 3D (Blu-ray)

Not only was Top Gun a massive blockbuster hit during the summer of 1986, the film remained so popular over the years that, when Paramount went looking for titles from its catalog to convert into 3D during that format’s revival in the early 2010s, of course Top Gun shot to the top of the list. That work was completed in 2013 and received a limited re-release in IMAX theaters. Even then, 27 years after its original debut, the movie continued to draw crowds eager to see it on the big screen, enough to pull in another few million dollars during its brief one-week engagement. Even decades of cultural saturation could not diminish the appeal of Tom Cruise in a fighter jet.

That IMAX run was mainly a promotional stunt to generate publicity for the physical media release on 3D Blu-ray that quickly followed. The 3D fad has once again waned in the ensuing years, and 3D conversions for older movies originally filmed in 2D have especially fallen out of favor, but of all the titles to undergo the process, Top Gun instinctively seems well suited to it. That the conversion was actually done well helps a great deal. While Top Gun may not need to be in 3D, and while 3D may arguably not even be the best presentation for the film, the aerial scenes make good use of the format. In this case, an occasional 3D viewing can be a fun way to revisit a familiar movie.

Title:Top Gun
Years of Release: 1986 – Original Release
2013 – 3D Conversion
Director: Tony Scott
Watched On: Blu-ray 3D
2D Version Available On: 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
Various VOD rental and purchase platforms

First, a disclaimer: Manufacturers no longer make 3D televisions. Although some home theater projectors continue to support the format, mine among them, I almost never use my projector for 3D anymore. I never found a good way to calibrate for 3D picture quality on it. The results I got were not entirely satisfying, and the need for maximum brightness in 3D was very hard on the lamp. As a result, in the rare instances when I might want to watch something in 3D these days, I typically use a Vizio 3D TV that I purchased back in 2011 and can easily roll out to the front of my home theater room on a cart. The screen is much smaller (only 32″, which I’m sure most home theater fans would consider too tiny), but I’ve always gotten better 3D results on it. If I wheel the cart close enough to my seat, I can still get immersed in a movie. Also, as a passive 3D display, it has fewer issues with image crosstalk, and the lightweight glasses are more comfortable to wear over my regular prescription glasses. I may not consider this an ideal home theater experience, but for 3D purposes it works for me.

As for the disc itself, the 3D Blu-ray (labeled as a “Limited Edition,” though it still seems to be readily available a decade later) originally came packaged with a neat lenticular slipcover over the keepcase. That part may not be available anymore. The 2-disc set includes both a 3D disc and a regular 2D Blu-ray. Unfortunately, the latter is a copy of the 2008 Collector’s Edition Blu-ray with a poor, dated video transfer plagued by Digital Noise Reduction and edge enhancement issues. Paramount did not remaster the 2D version of the film at that time. However, the later 4K Ultra HD edition does come packaged with a remastered 1080p Blu-ray as well.

The 3D conversion was performed by a company called Legend3D, which claimed that the work was based on a 6K scan of the film elements downsampled to 4K for the digital restoration, then in turn split into two 2K eye views for the stereoscopic image. The 4K master eventually formed the basis of the 4K Ultra HD edition and shares many traits in common with that version. In good news, DNR and edge enhancement are no longer problems. In fact, much of the movie is quite grainy, especially the opening scene. It’s often believed that grain doesn’t work with 3D, but this conversion manages it well by keeping the grain as a textural layer in the background.

On the downside, the movie was heavily coated in a yellow tint during a new color grade. This is bothersome enough in the 4K edition, but it’s even worse when you factor in how much 3D glasses tend to skew and flatten colors. Practically the whole movie is swallowed in yellow here, with other colors struggling to pop through. Additionally, the brightness was cranked up, which helps with 3D but makes the contrast bloom and clip. Without the benefit of HDR to retain detail in highlights, brighter images such as the Navy dress white uniforms or the sun glaring onto Kelly McGillis’ hair look blown-out.

I’m not a fan of any of that, but I can forgive it. When watching 3D, my mind immediately prioritizes the “3D-ness” of the image over other picture quality attributes. To that end, this conversion is excellent. Obviously, the aerial sequences benefit the most, and have been given the most aggressive 3D object separation. Planes fly through a very convincing three-dimensional space from foreground to background, while the ground looks miles down. Regular talky scenes on the surface are more restrained, but still demonstrate a naturalistic sense of spacial depth. This 3D is both impressive and tasteful, with the caveat that it’s primarily focused on depth behind the screen rather than pop-outs in front. I’m not saying that I need plane noses to poke me in the eye, but a little more foreground action might have been fun.

Top Gun (1986) 3D Blu-ray

The 3D Blu-ray predates the Dolby Atmos remix featured on the later 4K Ultra HD, and instead carries over both the Dolby True HD 5.1 and DTS-HD Master Audio 6.1 soundtrack options from the older Blu-ray. Some fans will actually appreciate that, as the DTS option in particular has noticeably more bass than the tamer Atmos track. It may not have as much discrete overhead activity, but the surround channels still get a good workout and it upmixes well, with a fair amount of height action once I applied the Dolby Surround Upmixer in my A/V receiver.

The 3D disc has no extra features on it. Supplements are all found on the 2D Collector’s Edition Blu-ray that, as already noted, originated from 2008. Those include an audio commentary, a 2.5-hour documentary, another half-hour featurette, storyboards, cheesy music videos, and a host of vintage promo materials.

All things considered, I’m still more inclined to watch the 4K Ultra HD copy on my next Top Gun viewing, but this 3D version is an entertaining alternative that I won’t mind pulling off the shelf from time to time.


2 thoughts on “The Need for Speed – Top Gun in 3D (Blu-ray)

  1. Josh! What happened to your dual rig setup??! No more separate projector, just for 3D??!

    And also… HOLD UP! If I understand you correctly, you’re saying that you wheeled a 32” TV out into the theatre to watch Top Gun 3D??! You would rather do that than watch it on your JVC? Is the 3D quality on that projector really that troublesome??!


    1. The DLP projector I previously used for 3D died a couple years ago. I only have one projector now.

      I had just watched Top Gun in 4K on the projector a few nights earlier. I initially only pulled out the 3D disc to check a couple scenes, but wound up watching the whole movie again. If I hadn’t just seen it on the larger screen, I might have tried to make 3D work on the projector, but it’s such a pain in the ass that I didn’t feel it worth the bother. First I would have had to wait several hours to recharge the glasses’ battery. Then I inevitably spend a lot of time adjusting picture settings on a disc-by-disc basis until I find something watchable.

      I watch 3D so rarely these days that doing it on the TV is so much easier, and the 3D works better on it anyway.


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