Before the short lived TV series was a much better action thriller feature film!
During my childhood, there was a period where the American television networks were all trying their hand at creating shows all based upon super powered vehicles.
Obviously the most famous and successful of these was Knight Rider starring David Hasselhoff. Soaring through the air you’d find the high-tech helicopter code named Airwolf.
But for each successful iteration, there’s usually a rival that didn’t fare so well. Knight Rider, the story of a car that contained artificial intelligence, ran for several seasons.
On the flip side, there was the secret government project known as Street Hawk, a motorcycle loaded with weapons and gadgets built to fight urban crime. Street Hawk only lasted thirteen episodes before it was cancelled.
The same can be said for the helicopter variants. Airwolf, like Knight Rider, ran for several seasons and was very popular.
Blue Thunder, a rival show about a high-tech helicopter used by the police only lasted eleven episodes.
But Blue Thunder didn’t start out as a television show, it was originally created as action thriller film starring Roy Scheider. That’s what I’m reviewing here today.
Frank Murphy is a courageous and honourable Los Angeles police officer who is chosen to test run Blue Thunder, a high-tech experimental attack helicopter. While flying Blue Thunder, Murphy and his partner discover that the government intends to use the helicopter for corrupt crowd control and surveillance.
Murphy, formally a Vietnam helicopter pilot, now flies for the city helicopter division.
His job is to fly above the city streets with his fellow “observer” and watch out for any crimes, report any wrongdoings and also to assist the police on the ground.
Having just lost his observer who transferred to another shift, he is assigned a new rookie, Lymangood.
Observer Lymangood (Daniel Stern), Murphy (Roy Scheider) & Capt. Jack Braddock (Warren Oates)
On their first shift together, Lymangood asks if it’s time to see “the event”? Murphy rolls his eyes a and flies over to an apartment building where they watch a young woman perform yoga in the nude. Unfortunately, they are spotted by a neighbour who informs the police.
They are soon called away to assist in an attack on a nearby household where a city council woman has been attacked in her front garden.
The police with Murphy’s and Lymangood’s assistance catch the two perpetrators but the council woman is seriously wounded.
Once back at base, Murphy and Lymangood are chewed up by the head of the department and are grounded for two weeks. The Mayor’s attack is being labelled as a rape but Murphy disputes this strongly claiming the facts don’t add up. The council woman dies later that evening.
However, before their suspension has even begun they are contacted by the FBI and asked to come and see a new high-tech helicopter, code name Blue Thunder.
The FBI would like to see Blue Thunder as the new police force of the sky, especially as the streets will soon fill with more people due to the upcoming Olympic Games.
Murphy and his boss sit down amongst other invited parties including military generals where they are treated to a demonstration of this amazing new helicopter.
Murphy is concerned that such a powerful tool is too much for the urban streets of a large city.
Once the helicopter lands and the pilot disembarks, it turns out to be Cochrane, Murphey’s old colleague from Vietnam.
After an uncomfortable reunion, Cochrane admits to his colleagues that he doesn’t like the idea of Murphy becoming the Blue Thunder pilot for urban tests over the city.
Murphy doesn’t believe what is being said about the council woman’s murder and starts his own covert investigation. He discovers project T.H.O.R. (Tactical Helicopter Offensive Response), and a group of high powered government and FBI officials who are secretly eliminating political opponents to advance its agenda.
What can Murphy do to stop this and how is Cochrane involved?
Cochrane (Malcolm McDowell)
I remember watching Blue Thunder as a child and being entertained by the action involving the helicopters, but how does it stand up today?
Blue Thunder makes for a good action thriller with an excellent ensemble cast.
Murphy is played by Roy Scheider and really you can’t say a bad thing about this guy. Having already been in such classics as The French Connection and Jaws (and to a much lesser extent Jaws 2), the guy was simply a great actor.
So, who could you possibly cast to play Murphy’s nemesis in this film? Step forward, Malcolm MacDowell. As revealed in the making of documentary, the writers never envisioned Cochrane being English but apart from that, Malcolm took the character from their script and brought him to life perfectly.
He perfectly plays a nasty piece of work which is even more impressive when the behind the scenes material revealed he was scared of flying, even his wife couldn’t get him on a plane!
The only irritation for me was Daniel Stern as Lymangood. I understood he’s a wet behind the ears rookie, but his eagerness to please, new at the job attitude irked me for a while during the start of the film.
However, this persona doesn’t last for long and for reasons that I won’t spoil here, I did feel sorry for him later in the film.
If you find Daniel Stern looks familiar, then a quick IMDb check will reveal he was one of the thieves thwarted by Kevin in Home Alone 1 and 2!
Blue Thunder in action high above the city streets.
Now to the sections of the film that obviously caught my attention as a child, the helicopter action sequences.
This is a film from 1983 and obviously doesn’t have the fast-paced editing and computer-generated visuals the film would have if it was made today. Everything was done for real in live action and you can see this whilst watching the film.
Comparing Blue Thunder to a modern-day action film would be wrong as it would make the film’s action look almost pedestrian but I still think it holds up very well.
Blue Thunder was built using a real helicopter apart from one scene that used a radio-controlled miniature. Even though I know which scene used this footage, I completely forgot until watched the bonus materials afterwards revealing their secrets. This is surely a testament to their work.
The only aspect which does date the film is the use of model work when the plot calls for the appearance of two F16 fighter jets but this doesn’t detract too much from the overall picture.
The whole film is a testament to director John Badham who’s created a great piece of work. The name didn’t ring any bells and I was surprised to find out during research for this review that he was also at the helm of other childhood favourites of mine such as Wargames (1983) and Short Circuit (1986).
Blue Thunder is a great action thriller with a great cast that I believe still holds up today.