Friday, March 3, 2023


 by Mark Ahn

Flying the most lethal weapon ever made.

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.
So, the idea of a vehicle as a major character in a movie was squarely in my wheelhouse. The helicopter looked absolutely bad-ass, which Wikipedia tells me is a French Aerospatiale Gazelle mixed with parts from an American AH-64 Apache. It has that perfect blend of bug-like weirdness mixed with pseudo-futuristic fantasy-tech. There’s also something so tactile and immensely satisfying about an actual helicopter flying around and doing the action, rather than computer generated images (more on that later).

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.
Good practical, terrible virtual - As expected, there’s lots of helicopter work; this movie probably has the most amount of helicopters that I can remember. Aside from Blue Thunder, there’s the Bell 206 (the normal police helicopter used in movies) and the Hughes MD 500, or what I call the Magnum P.I. helicopter. The realism of the action pays off in most of the movie, until a gunfight toward the end of the movie when Blue Thunder has to battle some computer generated F-16s. We all understand working on a budget, but it’s not great.

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.
Malcolm McDowell - McDowell is still a reigning title holder in whatever Halls of Fame commemorates Resting Jerk Face or All-time Movie A-holes. He’s only in the movie for a bit, but comes in hot. He could totally have put himself into auto-pilot and just sneered his way through a performance, but puts more into the villain than what’s on the page. Fun fact: he was (is?) deathly afraid of flying, and so the shots of him grimacing while in the helicopter were pretty real. Can’t knock somebody who actually puts themselves into a painful situation for a film.


1 comment:

  1. Yeah, this one is in my regular rotation of good movies, but easy to watch after a long day at work. The cat-and-mouse chase near the end is awesome