Top Gun: Musings

Last night, I watched Top Gun for the first time.

Yeah.  THAT Top Gun.  That quintessential Guy Story that’s mostly zooming fighter planes and arrogant big-shot pilots and hot chicks and “Highway to the Danger Zone.”  And I know what you’re expecting me to say:  I didn’t like it.

Here’s the thing, though.

I actually kind of did.  

I don’t find Tom Cruise attractive.  Nor am I a fan of the ‘swaggering jock’ archetype.  I tend to get bored during action sequences.   I have little interest in military life.  And I found the romance cheesy and uninspired to no small degree.  But even with all that . . . Top Gun does one big thing right; one thing that makes up for the long list of obvious reasons why I ‘shouldn’t’ like this film.

Top Gun offers a relatable protagonist who undertakes a compelling emotional journey and comes out changed on the other side.

Tom Cruise, aka Lieutenant Pete Mitchell, aka Maverick, may be a self-proclaimed hotshot (yuck), but the filmmakers make sure he is one thing above all else:  he is human.  A struggling, wandering human being like you and me.  At bottom, he’s just a frightened kid who doesn’t know how to deal with his dad’s death—except by becoming the most reckless pilot the U.S. Navy has ever seen.  Dumb strategy, right?  But the writers don’t let him stick in that rut.  No, they make him learn a better way . . . sending a second tragedy that completely shatters his facade of overconfidence; then giving him a second chance to prove himself and build a new life.

And it’s actually, ya know, compelling.  Even if you have no interest in the setting or subject matter.  It’s still compelling.

BEHOLD:  THE POWER OF THE HERO’S JOURNEY, DONE PROPERLY.

You see, this whole experience got me thinking, about writing and about writers and how we should approach our craft.  Because obviously, genre is a Thing, too, right?  We don’t write with the goal of “every human being on this planet will love my story!” but rather, “my target audience will love my story.”  There’s a reason we craft our books and/or movies to the specifications of a particular set of people . . . same reason the makers of Top Gun included cheesy sex scenes and interminable aerial combat battles that make me, Charles Baker Harris, go “ehhhhhh.”  Because they knew their audience!  And their audience didn’t include me!  And that’s okay!

You should, absolutely, write for your target audience.  BUT (and this is the specific point I gleaned from Top Gun), satisfying genre expectations is never a substitute for the universal rules of good storytelling.  Have F-15s or crass language or volleyball scenes [um, seriously, what was up with that??] or whatever you need to include . . . but, first and foremost, make sure you have a flippin’ protagonist who goes on a flippin’ journey that taps into some flippin’ human emotions.

If you follow this simple rule, like Top Gun, you may well pick up some fans outside your target audience.  You may even attain the staying power of a long-term cultural icon.  Always a nice bonus, right?

And if you fail to follow this simple rule—well, you’ll wind up somewhere next to The Crimes of Grindelwald, I’m sorry to say.  A story that makes a few die-hard fans go “oooooh, look at all the shiny things!  so shiny!” while other fans, as well as The World At Large, go, “THAT WAS A HOT MESS.”

(Because it was a hot mess, okay.  It had no protagonist and no story goal and nobody cared and I’m still salty that I spent two hours of my #life on it.)

(But I did really enjoy Top Gun.)

This has been a PSA about writing well.

 

12 thoughts on “Top Gun: Musings

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  1. I always love your reviews!! This one is fabulous. Your thoughtful, rational analysis, and your thoughts on the craft of writing, are awesome. Well-crafted character arcs catalyzed by a well-structured story are a thing of beauty. I can totally see why you enjoyed it! You appreciated the part that counts.

    And also, the post reminded me that last month, a random guy told me I look a lot like Tom Cruise. Bwahaha! No idea where that came from, since i don’t think I do, exactly. Beyond dark eyes/hair and fair skin. I guess he thought we had similar face shape/facial structure, but I really don’t agree! It was funny, though, if a little odd.

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    1. Thank you so much, Mary!!! ❤ And yep! That's it in a nutshell! There is just nothing like a well-crafted story, no matter what it's about.

      LOL! That's sort of odd, but it's quite the compliment, I think, especially coming from a guy! Cause a lot of guys like Tom Cruise and think he looks Cool 😉 So maybe you gave off a "I-can-save-the-world" vibe to him. *grins*

      Like

      1. Yes!!

        Hahaha, true! I didn’t think about it that way, with the perception of coolness. 😉 It was a stranger, an older man with adult kids, but it wasn’t weird, only odd. XD I’ve never cared for Tom Cruise, but I chose to take it as a compliment, haha! 🙂

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  2. Had to scroll back up and take a nice looooong look at you know who. 😉

    Because I do happen to find him attractive. ❤

    *cough* Anyway, about the actual post…one hundred percent agree with you. Good storytelling is a MUST. I'm actually considering a post kinda like this about that TV show, Turn, because I see some flaws in it there (mainly in characterization, which I feel bleeds into the storytelling). If the story isn't interesting in a movie, book, or TV show, I'll fall asleep.

    So yeah, I agree with this post.

    Like

    1. *giggles*

      I think he’s got like . . . an objectively well-proportioned face? It’s just not to my Taste. 😉

      Awesome!! I’d love to see that post! And yep! You just can’t get anywhere without a good story.

      Thanks! ❤

      Like

  3. I haven’t seen this one, but I want to. I generally like Tom Cruise movies, like all of the Mission Impossibles, Jack Reacher, and Knight and Day. It will be cool to watch one of his older ones.

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  4. This is a movie I really wasn’t sure I’d like either, aside from the fact that Val Kilmer and Tom Cruise were in it, but I liked it enough to watch it probably 4 times in college. And never since then, because I don’t love any of the characters, but I had a roommate who was obsessed with ’80s movies, so when she wanted to watch it, I’d say, “Sure, why not?” Cuz it’s quite watchable.

    I find Tom Cruise attractive in a, “Well, he knows he’s attractive, doesn’t he,” sort of way. Which is not my favorite brand of attractiveness, but I like a lot of his movies, so I’m glad he’s not hard on the eyes.

    Like

    1. It is, indeed! It’s got a very solid emotional arc.

      Haha! I can see that he’s objectively attractive (if there is any such thing), but his type just doesn’t appeal to me much. I think it’s the black hair partly 😛 Never been one for that.

      I do really respect him as an actor though.

      Like

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