Review - Blue Thunder Special Edition (DVD-2006)
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Blue Thunder Special Edition (DVD-2006)

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Reviewed by Larry Jakubecz



(play featurette intro)


The preview trailer for Michael Moore’s next film? Nope. That was the introduction to the original featurette for the entertaining 1983 film Blue Thunder. Blue Thunder is also the name of that picture’s title character, an ultra-tricked-out, whisper-quiet police surveillance helicopter with some pretty impressive capabilities. This “robo-copter” was based on actual hardware in use at the time, and looked a bit like an airborne tank. The film was successful enough to spawn a TV series, toys and a model kit. Now, 23 years later, Blue Thunder comes to DVD in a very nice Special Edition from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, and I’m pleased to say, it holds up very well.


Roy Scheider stars as helicopter observation pilot Frank Murphy who, along with his new rookie partner Lymangood (played by Daniel Stern) is chosen to test the Police Department’s new high-tech chopper. While checking out the craft’s features, which include the ability to hear through walls, spy in ultra-quiet “whisper mode” and record conversations from a distance, Murphy accidentally intercepts a high-powered secret meeting in which Blue Thunder’s real—and more sinister—purpose is revealed (Hint: it involves the military). Complicating matters is the presence of Colonel Cochran (played with restrained malevolence by Malcolm McDowell), a fellow pilot and fellow ex-Vietnam vet with suspicious motivations. With time running out, a tense confrontation plays out in the skies above Los Angeles.


Director John Badham, best known until then for Saturday Night Fever, has always shown a flair for creating characters in interesting situations. Blue Thunder was one of two films he had out that year (the other being the even-bigger hit WarGames). Here, he gives us a potentially unstable hero, a dangerous counterpart and a gruff LAPD boss, played by Warren Oates, and neatly avoids any hokey qualities between them. Sadly, Blue Thunder would be Oates’ last film-- he died only a month after shooting wrapped. Most impressively, the film sports some spectacular aerial photography... much of which was done for real over downtown L. A.!


In the way of bonus features we get a brand-new 3-part making-of special, covering Pre-Production, Production and Post-Production. Averaging 15-19 minutes each, the segments give plenty of background on casting, character development and particularly, the careful planning necessary to capture the airborne action. We learn that the two leads were filmed actually in flight, and though his performance is all focused nastiness, McDowell found the experience to be rather unpleasant. We’re also shown differences between the theatrical and TV versions, and get a good look at the value of editing. A separate feature called “The Special: Building Blue Thunder” is a no-nonsense look at the creation of the copter itself. In addition, there is the original 1983 production featurette which is in unusually good shape and makes for a tantalizing preview. Also accessible is a running audio commentary with Badham, Editor Frank Morriss and Motion Control Supervisor Hoyt Yeatman, which plays nicely as a companion to the other features.


Technologically, we’ve come a long way (for better or worse), but Blue Thunder’s capabilities are still pretty amazing. Indeed, you may find that in 2006 the film plays a lot less like fantasy! If you haven’t seen it, the plot may sound a bit a bit familiar. However, director Badham handles all the elements with ease and tells a bang-up story. Though I’ve always thought the physical logic of the film’s final scene doesn’t quite work, it’s still a satisfying ending to a thrilling movie.




2006 Larry Jakubecz/Celluloid Dreams



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