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HTF REVIEW: "Top Secret!" (with screenshots)

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#1 of 32 OFFLINE   Ronald Epstein

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Posted July 10 2002 - 07:49 AM

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Top Secret!

Studio: Paramount
Year: 1984
Rated: PG
Film Length: 90 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 16X9 Enhanced Widescreen (1.85:1)

It's not the first movie about a guy who
fell in love with a woman that he met at a
restaurant who turned out to be the daughter
of a kidnapped scientist only to lose her to
her childhood lover whom she last saw on a
deserted island who then turned out fifteen
years later to be the leader of the French

Please allow me to get on my soapbox for a
moment. Paramount is releasing two comedies
next week that come as a direct result of the
membership of Home Theater Forum. Top Secret!
and Better Off Dead were titles that our
membership campaigned for the studio to release.
We would like to thank Paramount for listening
and for releasing perhaps two of the greatest
comedy titles in their catalog.

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Following the success of Airplane and
before Naked Gun and Hot Shots!,
there was Top Secret!, one of the most
inventive and funniest of all the Zucker comedies.
Perhaps Val Kilmer's finest work, Top Secret!
is an inspired spoof of both World War II movies
and Elvis Presley musicals.

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Nick Rivers (Val Kilmer), a very popular American
Rock Star is invited to Germany to perform the
first ever German rock and roll show. There he meets
Hillary (Lucy Gutteridge), a member of the
underground of whom Rivers gets involved with,
risking his life!

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The subplot involves the Nazi's who are staging a
cultural festival so that the world will be focusing
on that rather than a secret attack on a submarine
fleet using a new secret weapon designed by a
captured scientist.

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The entire plot is just an excuse to set up a
variety of set pieces, sight gags and song parodies
that poke fun of just about everything and include
homages to "The Blue Lagoon" and "The Great Escape."

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What is absolutely amazing is how well the jokes
work in this film. If I dare say, I think Top
is funnier than Airplane, in
that the comedy is certainly more inventive this
time around. You have to keep your eyes on
everything that goes on within the screen's
parameter. Many of the action taking place in
the forefront usually gets upstaged by the comic
gags going on in the background. As many times
as I have watched this film, I still found myself
busting out laughing at things I've missed or

How is the transfer?

After being sort of disappointed with the transfers
of Hot Shots! and Better Off Dead, I have
sort of resigned myself to the fact that comedies
like this just aren't going to get the deluxe treatment
by any studio.

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Top Secret! doesn't look bad. In fact, it
looks better than Hot Shots! and Better
Off Dead
. The problem is that there is just
that annoying level of film grain that's evident
everywhere. In addition, the print sports quite
a few blemishes, and, visible minor scratches that
you wonder why wasn't cleaned up.

Overall, colors look fine. The blue in Nick River's
jacket during a German concert stands out quite
vividly. Facial tones run a little red, and this
is really what gives the film its dated look. Some
scenes look better than others as far as grain and
color accuracy go. In whole, the movie could have
looked a lot worse and I think most people will be
very happy with this transfer.

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The sound mix is sort of interesting. There is
terrific stereo separation and the 5.1 surround
provides some nice effects in the rear channel
that include train noise, explosion effects and
even a very funny echo effect when Nick sticks his
head in an oven.

The only slight problem I had was that the dialogue
in the front channel was a bit low. I found myself
having to constantly turn up the sound during the
dialogue sequences, and quickly turn down the volume
during the louder effect noises and musical numbers.
And speaking of the musical numbers, they have never
sounded better with all 5 channels coming into play
at once with the sound of the orchestra bringing up
the rears.

Special Features

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I have to give credit to Paramount on this one.
They provided some very cool supplements to satisfy
the fans who waited so patiently for this film to
be released.

It's not often I listen to commentaries. However,
as I have sat here writing this review, I have been
enjoying the full-length audio commentary
by Directors Jim Abrahams, David Zucker & Jerry
Zucker; Producers Jon Davison & Hunt Lowry; and
Moderator Fred Rubin.

These guys are having an absolute blast, and so
will you. Every little tidbit you wanted to
know about this film is brought out. We learn
about the first time the boys met Omar Shariff
and asked him to dinner only to be stood up.
The guys talk about finding a young Val Kilmer
(who was working on a stage play with Kevin Bacon),
and signed him for his very first film. If you
ever wondered what makes up a Nutcracker dancer's
boner, the guys will be more than happy to explain
it. A miniature of a street scene was left over
from the SUPERMAN movie, and the guys will tell
you where it can be seen. The guys don't hesitate
to point out their parents who were extras seated
during one of Val Kilmer's musical numbers. What
is nice about this commentary is that the guys
don't sit around laughing about their own jokes,
but rather laugh at how some of the creative sets
and miniatures were used such as the train station
that was pulled by an off-camera car. This is really
an all-out funny commentary that was well worth the
extra effort to listen to.

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This is the kind of stuff I love! After all these
years it's amazing to find that there are four
additional scenes available for the very
first time. Though the scenes are very short (less
than a minute each), they are gags that the
Directors obviously felt didn't work. I disagree.
Presented in completed finished form, the four
sequences include:

* While imprisoned, the Professor explains the
atomic structure of a small apple to Nick.

* The German General playing fetch with his
German Shepard. Be careful where you throw that
ball as the dog may just follow it. Very funny!

* While sitting on a park bench, Hillary exclaims
she is thirsty. Thank goodness Nick has just
about every beverage on hand to satisfy her thirst.

* Burning passion has the two lovers rolling
across a floor filled with burning fireplaces,
ending up below a window of something larger

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There are three sets of storyboards for
key scene sequences in the film. These sequences
include Skeet Surfing; Nick in Prison and
The Nightclub. You can surf through each
of the drawings using the arrow keys on your remote.

Boy does this bring back memories. I was working
in a theater when I first saw the original
for this film. I remember audience
after audience busting out in laughter as some
of the best gags of the movie played against Val
Kilmer singing "Tuti-Fruity". This was the trailer
that sold the movie for me even before I had seen

Final Thoughts

For some reason, Top Secret has always
been highly underrated and unappreciated. In
my opinion, it stands out as being just as good
as any of the other Zucker productions that came
before or after it.

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Paramount has done justice to a film that fans
on this forum have pushed to be released. They
didn't just give us the film -- they gave us an
enormously entertaining commentary, storyboards
and deleted scenes.

Anyone that loves Airplane!, Naked Gun or
Hot Shots! should not hesitate to go out
and buy this film.

Release Date: July 16, 2002


Ronald J Epstein
Home Theater Forum co-owner


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#2 of 32 OFFLINE   Will K

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Posted July 10 2002 - 07:55 AM

The transfer may not be reference quality but I think I'll be more than happy with this one when I get mine next week. Can't wait! "How do we know you're not Mel Torme?"
My Blu-ray collection so far:Casino Royale, The Fifth Element, 300, Unforgiven, T2, The Descent, The Road Warrior, The Untouchables, Purple Rain, Deliverance

#3 of 32 OFFLINE   Nicholas Vargo

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Posted July 10 2002 - 08:06 AM

Yesterday, when I went to a retailer, I decide on a whim chance that they might have "Top Secret!" out early. I looked in the "T" section and I saw "Top Secret!". In fact, I also saw "Better Off Dead". I was happy I saw them early, but I didn't buy either title for two reasons: 1.They were both $25 a piece 2.I didn't have any money on me Simple as that As for the movie, I saw this for the first time in the early '90s on HBO and thought it was one of the weirdest comedies I had ever seen. I thought the Pac-Man sequence was very funny and if I have money next week, I will eagerly consider buying it. I would love to hear that ZAZ commentary. I thought their commentary for "Airplane!" was hysterical. Remember, check you local retailer for both "Top Secret!" and "Better Off Dead" and maybe "Gung Ho" and "Kids In The Hall: Brain Candy" too, but check. If they have those titles, it might be your first chance to pick them up. Post Edited by Administrator - Do Not Repost! Please don't name specific retailers that break street dates in releasing DVDS. Thank you. HTF Administrator Robert Crawford
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#4 of 32 OFFLINE   Wes C

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Posted July 10 2002 - 08:10 AM

IM only nineteen and Top Secret is one of the first movies I remember seeing. I first saw it at my cousins house, and the only scene i remembered was the dalmatian cows. Of course, I was about 4 or 5 and could not remember the name of the movie. Anyway about 8 years later, I walked past the Top Secret! at Blockbuster instantly recognized the cow, and instantly rented. I laughed harder than I ever have before for the entire movie. Imagine a 13 year old watching the ballet scene. Top Secret! instantly became my favorite comedy of all time, and it still is. Thank you paramount for releasing this movie!!! Now I only have 6 VHS movies leftPosted Image

#5 of 32 OFFLINE   DaViD Boulet

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Posted July 10 2002 - 08:11 AM

can't wait Posted Image
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#6 of 32 OFFLINE   Ron-P



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Posted July 10 2002 - 08:14 AM

This is one of my very favorite comedies. Thanks for the review Ron, a must buy for me.

This and BoD next week, thanks ParamountPosted ImagePosted Image

Peace Out~Posted Image
You have all the weapons you need...Now fight!

#7 of 32 OFFLINE   MichaelG


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Posted July 10 2002 - 08:39 AM

I will also be getting this one. I haven't seen it in years, can't wait.

Epstein's mother's Doctor!

#8 of 32 ONLINE   DaveF



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Posted July 10 2002 - 09:27 AM

I wasn't planning on getting this (didn't even know it was coming out, for that matter), but Ron's review reminded of how much I enjoyed it back in the day. This one goes on my list for future purchase. Posted Image

#9 of 32 OFFLINE   Matthew Chmiel

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Posted July 10 2002 - 09:29 AM

When I was eight, my babysitter at the time showed this to me and I remember finding it funny. I haven't seen it in a while, but I will purchase the DVD on Tuesday (along with Better Off Dead... and Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy).

And Ron, we agree on yet another thing today. Posted Image

#10 of 32 OFFLINE   Jacinto


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Posted July 10 2002 - 10:06 AM

Thanks for the review, Ron. I marked the release date on my calendar when it was first announced, and have been waiting anxiously ever since. Does it make me a total dork that I just bought a new widescreen RPTV and Progressive Player last week in anticipation of this glorious event? I'm trying to bribe my brother (an ISF Calibrator) to come tweak my TV this weekend so I can enjoy this masterpiece in its full glory.
Chachi Hernandez


#11 of 32 OFFLINE   BrettB



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Posted July 10 2002 - 10:50 AM

LATRINE! Posted Image

Thanks for the review Ron, and many thanks to Paramount.Posted Image

#12 of 32 OFFLINE   Matthew Furtek

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Posted July 10 2002 - 10:58 AM

I just ordered the Naked Gun movies in anticipation of owning the Zucker Abrahmans Zucker (ZAZ) Anthology. Kentucky Fried Movie (original cover) Airplane Top Secret The Naked Gun Hopefully sales of all their previous DVDs have opened them up to putting out Police Squad on DVD. I don't know who owns the rights, but I'm sure ZAZ would love to do it. Matthew Furtek

#13 of 32 OFFLINE   Sam Owens

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Posted July 10 2002 - 12:51 PM

Thanks for the review Ron. I have this on order and all I can say is 'Bring on Police Squad'.
30 AFI Top 100 films left to watch.

#14 of 32 OFFLINE   Bob Turnbull

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Posted July 10 2002 - 02:25 PM

Let me echo echo echo the comments about Police Squad. Only 6 ever episodes made and still in my mind one of the best TV shows ever aired. Subtlety mixed with total silliness and very little mugging for the camera. Special features (ZAZ commentary and anything else they might have stashed in the vaults) would be just lovely. Oh yeah, I'll be snagging Top Secret day of release too (and Better Off Dead and Amelie).

#15 of 32 OFFLINE   Colin-H


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Posted July 10 2002 - 03:33 PM

Oh man. I saw this movie on Comedy Central at like 8am. It was one of those morning-after-all-nighter deals, and I figured the movie would put me to sleep. I gotta tell you, I was howling. It was impressive. I think I'm going to have to pick this one up. I can't resist this DVD thing. Better Off Dead is such a staple of the 80s teen movie canon, I'm going to have to get that, too. Are there therapists available to HTF members? I'm squandering my weekly paycheck on DVDs now.
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#16 of 32 OFFLINE   Aaron Silverman

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Posted July 10 2002 - 05:51 PM

Joy! Weren't some of the best gags from Police Squad! redone in the Naked Gun movies?
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#17 of 32 OFFLINE   Ronald Epstein

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Posted July 10 2002 - 09:24 PM

There is no doubt that Paramount has hit the jackpot next week with these two releases. In fact, for the rest of the year, Paramount's catalog releases seem to be more exciting as most of the "A" titles being released from other studios. We really are getting the meat of their catalog and it just feels so good to have this stuff available.


Ronald J Epstein
Home Theater Forum co-owner


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#18 of 32 OFFLINE   Scott Weinberg

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Posted July 10 2002 - 10:13 PM

Couldn't agree more, Ron! I LOVE Top Secret! and I cannot wait to get this DVD!! As always, great review. None of my family members have seen Top Secret! yet, and I anticipate one giggle-filled evening!

#19 of 32 OFFLINE   andrew markworthy

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Posted July 11 2002 - 07:54 AM

I posted this on another thread as well, but what the heck. There's a v. good Easter egg, which let's you see the Swedish bookstore scene as it was originally filmed and to hear the originl dialogue (in the final movie, you're actually seeing the film run backwards). To access it:
Find the extras menu page with the bookstore owner holding a magnifying glass to his eye. Move the pointer onto the eye and click.

#20 of 32 OFFLINE   Jeremy Conrad

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Posted July 11 2002 - 08:43 AM

The Pinto will always be my favorite moment Posted Image

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