by Mark Ahn
The Plot in 83 Characters (for 1983 week)
A worn-down cop uncovers a conspiracy in LA involving an advanced super-helicopter.
The Best Bits
The helicopter, obviously
To take you all back to 1983, elementary school-age me was riding high on life with the action shows that dominated the airwaves, like reruns of S.W.A.T., new episodes of The A-Team, and my new favorite piece of pop culture, the artificially intelligent KITT in Knight Rider, which could not only talk to you, but was decked out as a beautiful jet-black Pontiac Firebird. You’re about to tell me that life was only going to get better in the ensuing years with Airwolf, Street Hawk, Automan, and the ill-fated Blue Thunder TV series, and I would say yes to that, but don’t forget Hardcastle and McCormick or Viper, either.
Roy Scheider, everyman but not every man
There’s been nobody better at playing the leathery, benevolent local constable than Roy Scheider, although throughout his career, he played many other kinds of roles. He’s playing a traumatized Vietnam veteran (Frank Murphy) who now works for the “Astro Division” for LAPD, which is the air support arm of the police. He’s worn down from his experiences, but still cares about being a good cop and doing the right thing. His calm gravitas is the biggest reason why the movie would still work if it didn’t have a helicopter.
The Most 1983 Part of This
Daniel Stern being such a horndog - Stern plays Lymangood, Murphy’s just-out-of-the-academy partner, and Murphy is obligated to show him the ropes. Also, probably because he’s just out of the academy, Lymangood is an absolute horndog, who within the first 10 minutes of patrolling with Murphy peeps in on a naked yoga enthusiast, and then uses Blue Thunder’s surveillance cameras and microphones to check on a server’s cleavage and a colleague’s booty call. Such are the stakes of the surveillance state.
Why it still works in 2023
Dan O’Bannon - Forever a legend for his work on Total Recall, Lifeforce, and Return of the Living Dead and as one of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s named “warriors” on the documentary about his failed Dune project. Blue Thunder was one of the screenwriter’s first big budget projects, back when he was still working in the movies in different capacities. His original idea for Blue Thunder was to have Murphy be more unhinged and a danger to the city, but the director and the studio overrode that decision to its current form. The undercurrent of a militant invasive force surreptitiously trying to take over America still resonates in the current cultural clime.