DirectorJim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker
Release Date(s)1984 (March 18, 2020)
Studio(s)Paramount Pictures (Via Vision Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: C
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: B-
[Editor's Note: Despite being labeled as a Region B release, it's actually Region Free.]
In between the success of Airplane! in 1980 and The Naked Gun in 1988, the Zucker/Zucker/Abrahams directing triple threat produced the underdog of their brand of absurdist spoof humor, 1984’s Top Secret! Tackling everything from Elvis movies to World War II spy thrillers to The Blue Lagoon, it’s also one of their most offbeat and surrealist efforts.
Heart throb and pop tune extraordinaire Nick Rivers (Val Kilmer) has been invited to East Germany to perform and represent the United States in a cultural festival. Meanwhile, the Nazi undercurrent is using the event as a pretense to bring all of Germany back under their control. Spies inside the country, including Cedric (Omar Sharif), Hillary (Lucy Gutteridge), and her father and scientist who is being forced to work for the Nazis (Michael Gough), bring Nick on board to help them in their cause. Amidst the intrigue, Nick and Hillary find themselves falling in love.
Clocking in at 90 minutes, Top Secret! is a tour-de-force of outrageousness. Val Kilmer is at the center of things, effortlessly performing a string of radio-friendly pop songs in the vein of The Beach Boys, but also managing to sell the comedy. The rest of the cast is also dutiful, hilariously delivering one silly moment after another. Whether it’s a man being knocked off the top of the building and shattering like a statue, bicycles being herded like cattle, the sound dropping out after being told to be quiet, or saying lines like “if they find out you’ve seen this, your life will be worth less than a truckload of dead rats in a tampon factory,” Top Secret! pushes through its story chock-a-block full of goofy one-liners and nonsensical sight gags. See Val Kilmer having a fist fight underwater, which also happens to be an old west saloon, or Omar Sheriff being crunched inside a car compactor, only to appear minutes later walking around inside a metallic cube. It’s gloriously off-the-wall stuff.
Unusually, Top Secret! was not a hit when it was released in the summer of 1984. Granted it was up against some tough competition as both Gremlins and Ghostbusters opened that same weekend (with Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom still in theaters), but it was a bitter blow for the comedy team who had also just gotten over the complete failure of Police Squad! on TV. As the film hit home video, it slowly grew over time as an underappreciated comedic pastiche, especially for those who grew up with it.
Sadly absent on Blu-ray in the US, the Australian company Via Vision Entertainment (who you can find here on Facebook) has seen fit to finally give Top Secret! its due in high definition. The resulting disc is a mixed bag when it comes to the A/V quality. The presentation is clearly derived from an older HD master, possibly from the early 2000s. It’s soft with chunky grain and pixilated detail. The increase in clarity over the film’s original DVD release is only slight, and the color palette lacks real boost. Blacks are uneven and textures, particularly facial features, are hidden behind a smeared palette that was good enough 18 years ago, but doesn’t hold up in 2020. It’s not unwatchable, but it’s in dire need of a fresh scan.
The audio is included in English 5.1 DTS-HD and 2.0 LPCM with optional subtitles in English SDH. Both tracks feature a minimal amount of surround activity, mainly spacing out music and score. Sound effects occasionally manage to move around, such as during the passing of a train, but all of it is inherently mono. Of the two, the 2.0 track is the closest to the original theatrical soundtrack. Both tracks are otherwise fairly clean with clear dialogue exchanges.
The following extras are also included:
- Audio Commentary with Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker, John Davison, and Hunt Lowry
- Alternate Scene: One Little Apple (SD – 0:33)
- Alternate Scene: Fetch (SD – 0:44)
- Alternate Scene: Thirsty (SD – 0:49)
- Alternate Scene: Burning Passion (SD – 0:47)
- Storyboard: Skeet Surfing (SD – 31 in all – 2:35)
- Storyboard: The Nightclub (SD – 32 in all – 2:40)
- Storyboard: Nick in Prison (SD – 19 in all – 1:35)
- Theatrical Trailer (SD – 1:32)
The audio commentary is lively as the writers and directors reminisce about the making of the film, dryly lamenting some of their choices along the way, but the track goes quiet a few too many times. The alternate scenes appear to be sourced from the TV version of the film, featuring additional jokes, while the storyboards show early versions of three scenes. Unfortunately, the DVD Easter egg of the backwards scene played forwards has not been included.
Though a more ideal Blu-ray release of Top Secret! is still to be desired, this is a nice rest stop for the time being. It carries over (almost) all of the previous extras and adds uncompressed audio tracks. And as of this writing, has an ideal price tag attached to it.
– Tim Salmons