“Negative Ghost Rider, the pattern is full …”
For years fans of the 1986 mega-hit “Top Gun” have debated on a sequel. Should the Air Force get a chance this time? Will the F-35 have a role?
Answers: 1.) Sorry, Air Force, probably not; and, 2.) No Lightning here, Tom Cruise’s teaser tweet showcased an F/A-18E/F Super Hornet.
Cruise is on Naval Air Station North Island right now, completing the first of two days of filming at the San Diego base for “Top Gun: Maverick.” It’s all Navy. The service has already completed a first review of an initial script draft and sent it back with requested revisions, DoD’s entertainment office confirmed (but would not reveal what those revisions were.)
Will Maverick face off against MiGs of unknown origin again over the Indian Ocean, or will he test the skies over the Spratlys in the South China Sea?
That depends on the final script, which the Pentagon has not yet approved.
“It’s been in discussions for years,” said David Evans, the documentary officer for the Pentagon’s entertainment media office. The military’s approval is key to getting needed support to film on its ships and bases.
After the Navy gives its final blessing, the Pentagon’s entertainment media office will look at it to ensure “DoD entities are represented factually,” and just as importantly, look to see “what level of [military] support they are looking for,” said DoD entertainment office spokesman Army Col. Paul Haverstick.
Basically, the Navy and Pentagon review how many aircraft, ships or ground assets Cruise will need in his scenes; then the office sees if Maverick’s plotline can fit into fighter squadron and ship training schedules.
Which means some lucky fighter squadron or squadrons are about to get quite the cameo role.
“It will depend on the training schedules,” Haverstick said.
The Pentagon does not profit from military-themed movie-making; “it’s a zero-sum basis,” Haverstick said. Instead, it uses the scenes, where possible, as training opportunities. All military equipment that is actually flown, sailed or driven in scenes ― whether it’s the Buffalos so rampant in “The Hurt Locker,” or the Black Hawks providing overhead fires in “12 Strong,” is manned by military personnel.
The support may go beyond that, too. For movie producer Jerry Bruckheimer’s “12 Strong” for example, the producer asked for DoD support in finding a place to film that resembled Afghanistan. The Pentagon offered White Sands Missile Range and kept personnel on site to assist with uniforms and jargon.
When a movie can’t realistically marry up with a unit’s training needs ― for example, Haverstick said, if a director wants a very specific shot, at just the exact angle of an overflight at sunset and it makes no sense for the unit ― that command requests the movie house reimburse them directly for the cost of the operation.
A movie house is also on the hook for any equipment it breaks during production. The original “Top Gun” filming left at least one jet with a broken canopy, the office said. (Not including the canopy in Goose’s final scene.)
The “Top Gun” sequel is one of several movies the Pentagon’s entertainment office is involved in. The office is also supporting the upcoming movie “First Man,” about astronaut Neil Armstrong; next year’s “Captain Marvel” and the World War II Navy destroyer flick “Greyhound,” starring Tom Hanks.
Cruise got a jump-start on the “two day engagement” on North Island because initial filming had to take place before June 1 to meet the requirements of a California financial grant.
It’s not clear why a financial grant would be necessary, given that the original “Top Gun” was the highest grossing film of 1986 (and Cruise’s second-highest grossing film of all time.)
But if the sequel is half the boon it was for the Navy in the 1980s, it’s mutually beneficial.
“I am very confident in our team’s ability to assist in the development,” said Pentagon press secretary Dana White. “I personally have not read the script yet, but we will work very closely to ensure that it depicts our aviators in a realistic way.“
Tara Copp is the Pentagon Bureau Chief for Military Times and author of the award-winning military nonfiction "The Warbird: Three Heroes. Two Wars. One Story."