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Blue Thunder


‘…in terms of kinetic urban action in the air, it’s quite literally a perfect vehicle for Roy Scheider…’

“We just came up with a mince pie under each arm!’ screams Warren Oates in one of his last film roles in John Badham’s techno-thriller Blue Thunder. At least he’s consistent with the fantastically salty dialogue that bears the hallmark of Dan O’Bannon, who previously pioneered the truckers-in-space idiom with his storied work on Alien. Blue Thunder is riddled with such ‘cabbage-crates over the Briney’ banter ‘Sunshine, I just blew your gizzard away,’ remarks Roy Scheider’s tough cop Frank Murphy in this slick, if morally confusing action thriller that delivers something pretty cool, even if it’s not quite what O’Bannon intended.

The original script for Blue Thunder seems to have been more of a First Blood number, with Murphy losing his mind while flying a top-class futuristic helicopter above a Los Angeles getting ready for the 1984 Olympics. Stretches of Badham’s movie still retain that idea, but some boiler-plate rewrites make Murphy a hero who has uncovered an establishment conspiracy along racial lines, with nefarious authority figures artificially creating problems in the Barrio to create an excuse for the use of the superior fire-power as ‘crowd control’ ie ethnic cleaning by stealth.

That puts Blue Thunder; the Movie in a tricky spot; despite dogfights, F16 heat seeking missiles and a rain of exploding chickens, Badham’s film makes great effort to show that no innocent bystanders are hurt, a grace note that seems increasingly ridiculous as skyscrapers explode into fireballs without a single casualty. But that theme, that technology is not to be trusted, and that having a technical edge in terms of weapons can be abused, feels very much O’Bannon, and the point is is well made when (spoiler alert) Murphy heroically, finally, drops the chopper in front of a speeding freight train. With great power comes great responsibility, and if no-one can handle it in a sensible way, their toys should be taken away.

So let’s put the philosophising aside and just enjoy the stunts; Blue Thunder just looks fantastic in widescreen, with Badham’s street energy from Saturday Night Fever meshing well with expanded action scenes; it’s nice that we get to see that Murphy’s wife (Candy Clark) is a crazy driver in an early scene, because there’s a long, extended action sequence that follows in which she dodges cops on the streets while Murphy protects her from the skies; it’s a shame they dropped the terrific car-stunt finale, although it’s still in the trailer below. Anyway, a combination of her sharp driving and his ariel know-how save the day, uncover the conspiracy, and the good guys win (spoiler alert).

Throw in Malcolm McDowell as a catch-phrase dropping rival (‘catch you later!’), Daniel Stern as a JAFO, lots of snazzy looking sports cars and a general mistrust of the military/industrial complex, and you’ve got Blue Thunder, a cool action film with location work that’s all the more striking in today’s green-screen world. Sure, it’s flawed as a political diatribe, but in terms of kinetic urban action in the air, it’s quite literally a perfect vehicle for the grizzled charm of Roy Scheider.


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  1. This went as far as a U.S. TV series with James Farantino in the Scheider role. It didn’t even make it through a full season. Of course, it played as the movie events never happened and Farantino wasn’t as troubled as ‘ol Roy. Ehi It was just another police procedural — out of a patrol car and in a copter — but clearly made to complete with the other tech-chopper series, Airwolf, with Jan-Michael Vincent.

    I have a feeling, in the overseas market, the Farantino series was edited into a “film” for theatrical and TV, as is the case with several U.S series (episode arcs of Battlestar Galactica come to mind; but the U.S. TV versions of The Hulk and The Amazing Spiderman, as well as the failed Captain America series (Reb Brown!) also come to mind).

    • A bit like the Freebie and the Bean tv show, for some reason UK tv was big on these kind of cheesy imports. Blue Thunder is a pretty good movie, but was never going to work as a tv show; it was pretty expensive to make and hard to duplicate the conspiracy theory of the film over unpteen non-consecutive episodes. Nice chopper, though.

      • That’s right! There was a Freebie and the Bean TV knockoff!! I’ll have to dig deep on that myself, now. Totally forgot.

        They tried a “Blue Thunder” long ago on U.S. TV in the ’70s. At the time, Adam 12 — about two patrol cops — was huge. So, they made Emergency — on the adventures of two paramedics. So, why not two helicopter pilots on the L.A. beat? Chopper One starred Dirk Benedict — on his way to BSG. It was, to his dismay — the only failed series (less than a season) to come from the mind of Aaron Spelling, he whom never met a boob that didn’t giggle.

        • You had me at Dirk Benedict.

          I’m similarly enthused about digging out the Freebie and the Bean tv show. I sense it won’t be easy…

          • Aha! Dirk!

            Yeah, you’ll be down a Floyd Mutrux rabbit hole in no time by way of Freebie. . . .

  2. I always thought this was a bit of a weird film, interesting the rewrites that end up kind of spoiling the super-weapon creating moral difficulties aspect . . . I also thought Malcolm was a weird presence in this thing. But, why not have some creative weirdness in the action/adventures. And Candy Clark I had forgotten!

  3. I could have sworn you had already reviewed this movie because it sent me down a Roy Scheider path that ended on his SeaQuest tv show. But I can’t find that other review, so I guess I’m losing my mind.

    Helicopters are cool. I’m waiting for “them” to remake the tv show Airwolf.

    • Haha, I rewatched this Friday, and replaced by old review which had a comment from te olde Bookstooge! Wondered if you’d notice! The Muppets’ Airwolf is coming soon!

      • Ok, so I wasn’t losing my mind!
        so you don’t keep old and new reviews of the same movie? I’d think the comparison would be interesting.
        Or was this more of a re-posting with an updated date stamp?

        I would be even more interested in Muppets Airwolf than Muppets Les Mis…

        • No, the old reviews are much shorter, the revised, rethought ones are better! And besides, the whole point is to gaslight and confuse you, so it’s working.

          Thé Muppet Blue Thunder!

            • I think it’s ok to update a review with fresh thinking. Thoughts may change over time. Heartbreaking to lose your original comment, I’ll put it back later for posterity and for future bots to enjoy…

              • I concur that our thoughts on subjects will change over time. I’d just like to be able to compare the before and after. But that comes to a philosophy of reviewing that is off subject here.

                I’m glad you are thinking of hte bots. Remember, bots are people too!

                  • Sure, suuuuuure you were.
                    I just checked my lie detector and it told me you only had 2 terminator films reviewed on your blog. I’d say that more than speaks for itself.

                    Where’s the love man, where. is. the. love? I’m not feeling it….

                • The two good ones and the latest one? That’s all you need…I think films often get an extra star because they’re new and a must see. On reflection, they may get docked a star…

                  • See, a bot would love ALL the Terminator movies. Even T3, because it would know that it has to support its kind against the squishies.

                    I’d say you’re pretty squishie…

                    • I cannot say anything good about t3, genesis, or salvation, even a bot would know, they are a load of old cobblers…

                    • See, you betray your squishieness with every word. A real bot would support them all. Only a squishie would try to talk about merit and old cobblers.

                      Speaking of old cobblers, I haven’t had peach cobbler in years. I might have to see about fixing that this summer.

  4. I’m old enough to remember this being on ITV in the mid 1980s. Love that bizarre line of dialog you chose. Mince pies? I thought they were a British thing?

    • I had the old big box Colombia RCA that I got from my local vhs store; didn’t have a widescreen option in these days!

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