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Blue Thunder (1983)

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 8/11/2009

All Ratings out of
Audio: 1/2
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 8/1/2009

We all like to think that we are above all that. (Whatever the particular "all that" may be.) I will readily admit that I watch movies for escape, but I like to think that I strive to view films which have some artistic merit. But, there's no need to lie here -- some movies are enjoyed for their base values. Blue Thunder is such a film. Yes, the movie has some kind of socio-political subplot, but man, have you seen that helicopter?!

Blue Thunder introduces us to Frank Murphy (Roy Scheider), a helicopter pilot for the Los Angeles Police Department. Apparently, Murphy is somewhat of a loose cannon, so much so that his old partner has changed shifts and a rookie, Lymangood (Daniel Stern) is assigned to fly with Murphy. Murphy quickly shows Lymangood both the pros and cons of overnight helicopter duty.

Given his track record, Murphy is quite surprised when he is chosen to test-pilot a new helicopter, nicknamed "Blue Thunder". The helicopter is a heavily-armed, armor-plated assault copter, which, Murphy is told, will be used for crowd control during the 1984 Summer Olympics. While Murphy is excited to try the helicopter, he is disappointed to see that his old nemesis from Vietnam, Colonel Cochrane (Malcolm McDowell), is involved with the project. Despite Cochrane's protests, Murphy and Lymangood are able to take "Blue Thunder" out and Murphy is immediately impressed with the machine's surveillance capabilities. Unfortunately, he and his partner overhear a conversation revealing the true nature of the project and Murphy now finds that Cochrane's group will do anything to keep the truth hidden.

Blue Thunder shouldn't be unfairly judged. Screenwriters Dan O'Bannon (Alien) and Don Jakoby have constructed a very tight and dense script with Blue Thunder. The story contains nice details such as Murphy's Vietnam flashbacks (which seem cliched today, but were fresh in 1982) or the involvement of the media in the finale. Also, the federal government's covert involvement in the "Blue Thunder" project certainly fits the idea that the goal is to control something taking place in 1984 (nodding to Orwell's novel). Although, it must be stated that the true nature of this secret plot is at once vague and far too simplistic. Director John Badham (whose resume from the mid-70s to the mid-90s showcases a surprising number of hit movies) does a fine job of balancing the drama and the technology, and the cast, most notably Scheider, is good. But, McDowell is oddly miscast as the villain of the piece and his "Catch you later" catch-phrase sounds horribly forced.

But, none of that matters when the helicopters are on-screen. Today, helicopters seem very commonplace in movies, but in 1982, they hadn't been used very much, save for war movies such as Apocalypse Now. And also, keep in mind that this was several years before Top Gun. Throughout the film, we are treated to many shots of "Blue Thunder" in action, but it's all just foreplay leading up to the inevitable helicopter dogfight at the end. The last third of the film does drag somewhat, as Murphy tries to expose the conspiracy, but one another helicopter joins the fray, things get very interesting.

Much of Blue Thunder looks dated today, but one can't deny the primal appeal of the movie. The film is actually better upon repeat viewing once one gets a handle on what the government cover-up is (or at least, what I think it is). That aside, the movie can simply be enjoyed for the fact that it set the standard for helicopter movies.

Blue Thunder goes all JAFO on us on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 25 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing only very slight grain and no major defects from the source material. The colors look good, but the image is a tad dark. The image shows a nice level of detail and the depth in the action scenes is good. This may sound a bit trite, but despite the look of this transfer, Blue Thunder still looks like an "old movie". The Disc carries a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 1.7 Mbps. The track delivers clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are pretty good, but the subwoofer effects are far too faint. When Amos' BBQ explodes, it should have more of an impact. The surround sound effects are good, but they only come at certain times, as if the mixer felt that this moment "had" to have surround sound.

This Disc contains some nice extras. We start with an Audio Commentary from director John Badham, editor Frank Morriss, and motion control supervisor Hoyt Yeatman (although I can't remember hearing him speak). This is an OK track, but there are too many silent spaces. When Badham does talk, he does a nice job of discussing the logistical problems of shooting with the helicopters and he also mentions how much Roy Scheider loves to be tan. "Ride with the Angels: The Making of Blue Thunder" (45 minutes) is a three-part featurette which contains comments from Badham, Scheider, O'Bannon, and others, as they discuss the origin of the script, the filming of the movie, and post-production. There is some behind-the-scenes footage here, but it's mostly made up of interviews and clips. "The Special: Building Blue Thunder" (8 minutes) examines the creation of the helicopter. I found this especially interesting, because I'd always assumed that "Blue Thunder" was some form of the AH-64 Apache (it's not). This segment also contains footage of a R/C model of "Blue Thunder" being tested. The 8-minute "1983 Promotional Featurette" is more like a long commercial for the movie. The extras are finished off with three Storyboard Galleries and the Theatrical Trailer for the film.

Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long