There something fun about going back to movies that you remember from your childhood and revisiting them as an adult. I’ve been fascinated by some 80s action flicks in the last few months, I suppose mostly through nostalgia more than anything else. It’s funny how over the top so many of them are, and whileBlue Thunder is better than most, its ending is a little much.
The story has Roy Scheider at the peak of his fame, this time playing a burned out helicopter pilot with the Los Angeles Police Department’s air unit. This is a familiar site to most people who either live in or have seen moves featuring the west coast city, but at the time it was relatively new. The helicopters assist police officers on the ground to track down criminals and monitor the city. Scheider’s Officer Frank Murphy is one of the best, but suffers from post-traumatic stress from Vietnam (this movie was made in 1983).
Murphy, along with his rookie partner, Officer Richard Lymangood (Daniel Stern), are tasked with testing out an experimental helicopter developed by the military to be used during riot control. It features the latest in spy technology, including highly sensitive microphones, video equipment, as well as a whisper mode that allows it to fly in near silence. Oh, and it also sports some heavy fire power. But Murphy soon discovers that the recent death of a city official may be tied to a government cover-up (which includes Murphy’s nemesis played by Malcolm McDowell) that would lead this helicopter being covertly used over the streets of Los Angeles.
There actually isn’t very much action throughout Blue Thunder. Instead you have a thriller that eventually has Murphy steal the experimental helicopter and fly through Los Angeles, as he attempts to out maneuver fighter planes, missiles and more. For the most part, this is a smartly done flick. It has a tight script and moves rather quickly. It isn’t until the film gets into the aerial action that things start to fall apart.
After Murphy snatches Blue Thunder, the military sends jets in to knock him out of the sky. However, they wind up destroy buildings and endangering civilians. It’s simply impossible to believe that the military could possibly be that stupid, or would actually authorize that kind of action. Blue Thunder ultimately becomes another 1980s action flick, which isn’t necessary bad, but the film’s climactic sequence could have been a little smarter.
Still, what I enjoyed was the realism of these section of the film. Today, this stuff would be done with computer effects, which no matter how pretty they look never feel real. But in the case of Blue Thunder, the helicopter was actually real. It may not really have been as fancy as the movie suggested, but it existed. And the sequences that had it flying through Los Angeles were real, too. The explosions and so forth were a mixture of antiquated special effects work, but the benefited from being actual, tangible things. As such, they look and feel more real than the computer created explosions and characters you see today.
This new special edition DVD of Blue Thunder includes commentary by the film’s director, John Badham, editor Frank Morriss and the film’s motion control supervisor, Hoyt Yeatman. This commentary was interesting, but a little dry at times. There is also a three-part making of featurette, which features some new interviews with people like Scheider and Badham, and screenwriter Dan O’Bannon, along with a documentary about the helicopter, Blue Thunder, and how it was built. There are also storyboard galleries and the film’s original trailer, along with a 1983 promotional featurette.