Blue Thunder (1983)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: A technologically advanced helicopter.

Frank Murphy (Roy Scheider) is a LAPD officer still suffering from flashbacks from his time in Vietnam while working now as part of the air patrol division where he mans a helicopter at night and gives assistance to the cops on the ground.  Due to his expertise he is given the chance to helm the first advanced helicopter called Blue Thunder, which has abilities to fight crime like no other machine before it. As he tests out the new product with his partner Richard (Daniel Stern) he overhears a conversation, through using the machines built-in microphones that can pick up voices from inside buildings, talking about using Blue Thunder for nefarious means. Frank records the conversation and then gets hounded by the bad guys who are led by his lifelong rival from his army days F.E. Cochrane (Malcolm McDowell). To escape their clutches Frank boards the helicopter and flies all over the city of L.A. while waiting for his wife Kate (Candy Clark) to get the incriminating tape to a TV-station where it will be broadcast for the public to hear, but Cochrane, who is an expert pilot as well, gets into another helicopter and tries to shoot Blue Thunder down.

The script was written by the prolific Dan O’Bannon who also wrote the scripts for Alien and Total Recall. He got the idea for this one while living in L.A. and constantly having a police helicopters routinely fly over his neighborhood at night. The original script was darker in tone and portrayed Frank as a psychotic who steals the helicopter and terrorizes the city until he is finally shot down, but that idea got nixed and like with most big-budgeted Hollywood projects got toned down to help appeal to a wider audience.

Personally I would’ve found the original idea more interesting as it also contained political overtones that get completely washed over here. The story here is pretty generic with one-dimensional villains and situations simply thrown in to create cheap conflict and nothing more.

What impressed me though was the modern visual style and effects. It hardly seems like a mid-80s movie at all let alone one that was actually filmed in late ’79 and early ’80. The overriding sentiment has a trendy feel and the cinematography is vivid and colorful. The helicopter action is the film’s biggest selling point and no matter how dippy the story gets the exciting aerial footage more than makes up for it. I loved the way director John Badham captures all sides of Los Angeles from its glitzy skyline to its more grimy and rundown working class areas. It’s also nice to have a REAL helicopter REALLY flying in the air over the city instead of computer generated effects, which makes many of today’s movies look fake and cheapens them while still keeping many of the ‘80s action flicks superior.

Scheider has never been a leading man that I’ve found particularly impressive as his presence seems transparent. However here his laid-back demeanor nicely contrasts with McDowell’s hyper one and makes the bad guy seem even more vindictive. Stern is engaging as Scheider’s partner and it’s too bad this wasn’t made into a buddy movie with Stern’s character staying on for the whole time. Clark is also enjoyable particularly with the wild look that she elicits with her eyes and the car chase that she has with the cops in an abandoned lot of a drive-In theater.

This also sadly marks Warren Oates last project. It was filmed in 1980 and he did a few other films after this one, but this was released last. Oates is one of the most distinctive character actors to ever grace the screen and even in a bland supporting role like the one here he still finds a way to enliven it.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: May 13, 1983

Runtime: 1 Hour 49 Minutes

Rated R

Director: John Badham

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

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