The summer blockbuster movie season kicked off on May 27 with the release of a long-delayed sequel to the 1980s hit “Top Gun.” And Pacific Northwest moviegoers may recognize familiar mountain scenery in the background.
“Top Gun: Maverick” returns actor Tom Cruise to his role as an ace Navy fighter pilot.
Cruise reportedly insisted on filming the aerial action in real fighter jets and rejected the use of computer-generated footage if possible. So Paramount Pictures made a production aid deal with the Navy to make it that way.
A copy, first obtained by The War Zone website, shows Cruise and company set up shop at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island in March 2019. The Navy rented the officers’ club on the base for the crew uses it for catering, briefings and rehearsals. . The cast and crew were allowed to sleep in a hostel on base, which provided privacy.
The actors flew eight sorties with a squadron of two-seat jets. While experienced Navy pilots were at the controls, the aerial scenes were filmed to make it look like Cruise or his co-stars (still in the back seat) were actually flying the powerful attack plane in tight formations.
The short residence of the Top Gun sequel cast and crew at Oak Harbor Airfield was kept secret at the time. Paramount gave the production a code name, “Island Plaza”. When the local paper sought to confirm rumors of movie star sightings, NAS Whidbey public affairs officer Mike Welding did not answer any questions containing the words “filming” or “Tom Cruise”.
But now the results are on screen for everyone to see. Naval aviators at the air stations where the filming took place actually got an early glimpse. NAS Whidbey Island held a preview screening at the base on May 21.
In the film, Navy EA-18 Growler jets based at Whidbey Island fly fast and low through the Cascade Mountains, flying over reservoirs, snow-capped ridges and dodging peaks. In the film, this climactic sequence is presented as the terrain of a hostile, nameless rogue nation.
But for those who live around Washington state, this landscape is familiar like the noisy, low-altitude flight training roads long used by the military in the Northwest.
The executive director of Washington State’s Office of Film and Television, officially known as Washington Filmworks, says “Top Gun: Maverick” did not receive any film production incentives from the State. Separately, a film liaison for Whidbey and Camano Islands said she provided modest assistance to help the team find accommodation and meals.
Much of the film was shot in California, with additional aerial footage captured at the Top Gun Combat Tactics School at Naval Air Station Fallon in Nevada. The Navy’s extensive cooperation in filming the sequel should give the Army a significant recruiting boost.
“Top Gun: Maverick” proves to be an early hit, leading to its wide release. As of May 27, it holds a 97% ranking on Rotten Tomatoes (and a 99% Audience Score). Cruise also received a five-minute standing ovation during the film’s screening at the Cannes Film Festival.
Kenny Loggins wrote songs for the original Top Gun movie, which became radio hits, including “Danger Zone” and “Playing with the Boys.” Loggins is from Everett, Washington. It is not listed in the sequel’s music credits (Lady Gaga is). But “Danger Zone” is included in the soundtrack.
KUOW producer Dyer Oxley contributed to this report.