Blue Thunder

This year for my traditional summer movie retrospective I’ve decided to look back at the summer movie season of 1983. If you know your basic math, you can figure out that this is the, what, 40th anniversary of that summer? Sounds right. I was in the single digits at the time and from what I can remember only saw two of these in the theater that summer. So as always it will be fun to watch them in order of release and try to get a picture of what that time was like from an adult perspective.

I don’t really have a thesis for this one other than it had alot to live up to. The summer before saw the release of hits like CONAN THE BARBARIAN, ANNIE, ROCKY III, POLTERGEIST, STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN, and E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL, plus two flops that are now beloved classics (BLADE RUNNER and THE THING) and some other interesting stuff like THE SECRET OF NIMH and TRON. It’s widely considered the greatest summer movie season of all time, a claim I’m not inclined to argue against. So good luck trying to follow that, 1983. I’m sure you know what you’re doing.

They also all knew they were coming out against RETURN OF THE JEDI. That was the guaranteed biggest movie of the summer, and some of the others seem to have wanted to ride that wave. We’ll see if they can stay afloat. Anyway, that’s why I’m calling this series…


(Note: yes I did the research and I know that “love” in Ewokese is actually “nuv,” while “nub” is just half of the phrase for “freedom,” but I thought this would make people laugh more because they just know the song is called “Yub Nub.” Apologies to the Ewok community, who I have nothing but the deepest respect for.)

* * *
May 13, 1983 saw the release of a pretty crazy take on the police thriller: BLUE THUNDER, from director John Badham (SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER, DRACULA), working from a screenplay by Dan O’Bannon (DARK STAR, ALIEN, DEAD & BURIED, HEAVY METAL) & his first-timer writing partner Don Jakoby. It’s one of those movies that says, “Hey guys, check out this special police unit, it’s pretty interesting.” And the unit is the people who fly the police helicopters. Since I was a kid at the time I can only assume it did for police helicopters what SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER did for disco. I don’t know if some of it is based on research or if it’s complete horse shit, but in this they go around fingering people on the streets as drug dealers and rapists and shit, spot abandoned cars and report them, even do detective work in the sky. They don’t just look for and shine the spotlight on the guy making a run for it (although they do that too).

Roy Scheider (SORCERER) stars as Frank Murphy, cocky super cool sunglasses wearing Vietnam vet helicopter hotshot whose quirky thing is that he runs the timer on his digital watch and tries to stop it close to zero with his eyes closed to prove he still has a sense of time. In the opening his boss Braddock (Warren Oates in his next-to-last movie; he died before it was released) sticks him with the obligatory dipshit rookie partner, Lymangood (Daniel Stern, BREAKING AWAY), so he takes him out in the copter to show him the ropes (while also showing us what the job entails).

A very dated element of this is how much of the character of Lymangood is just being a horny peeper, and how it’s treated as kind of a lovable, rascally trait. Bizarrely, word has spread around the department that there is a woman (Anna Forrest) who does some very advanced nude yoga in full view of large windows at exactly the same time every night, and Murphy allows Lymangood, on his first patrol ever, to go off course and hover above this house to watch her for a while. Though this causes them to arrive late to an attack on a city council woman, which becomes central to the plot, that doesn’t stop them from doing this sort of thing. Lymangood later uses a high tech telescope to look down a woman’s shirt. I wish I could say this was strictly an ‘80s thing, but UNDER SIEGE 2: DARK TERRITORY is from 1995 and has a scene where a high tech spy satellite is used to check out babes on the beach. So maybe it’s an ongoing sky-based surveillance thing.

Braddock sends them to the Mojave Desert to watch a demonstration of a new advanced helicopter, Christian name The Special, street name Blue Thunder. To his credit, Frank notices that it’s fucked up that the thing has guns on it and they’re bragging about how many people they can shoot during a riot. They tell him they want this thing for crowd control when the Olympics come to town and appoint him to pilot it due to his experience in the war.

It’s one of those movies that’s very in awe of technology that was probly fantastical then (though the credits claim otherwise) but seems crude today. There are lots of dramatic closeups of gloved fingers pushing chunky buttons, flipping metal toggle switches and pointing at blocky computer readouts. Blue Thunder has an armor shell that looks a bit like the work of the OCP corporation. It uses microphones, telescopes and heat vision to spy on people, and can use a computer to look up files in government databases. And they make a big deal about it having a tape recorder. It’s in the belly of the thing, but Lymangood knows how to open it up and get to it.

Their world is turned upside down when they discover a conspiracy that ties together the attack on the councilwoman and the helicopter program. A total prick rival pilot from Frank’s war days, Colonel F. E. Cochrane (Malcolm McDowell, CAT PEOPLE), is involved in murdering political opponents to advance the program and further militarize the police. Frank and Lymangood manage to record a sinister meeting and then Cochrane looks out the window, sees the helicopter hovering, and makes eye contact with a caught-with-his-hand-in-the-cookie-jar type of look on his face.

Funny shit. So the movie turns into a fight over the recording, with a decent set piece where Lymangood has hidden it in a dumpster at a drive-in and Frank’s long suffering girlfriend Kate (Candy Clark, AMERICAN GRAFFITI) has to drive in to grab it and get it to the TV station while he’s watching and protecting her from above.

On one hand, I think the concept of a police helicopter thriller is kinda laughable, and I don’t like Scheider having to look ridiculous trying to make it cool. On the other hand this is a cop movie where most of the action is helicopters chasing each other around the city, which come to think of it is kind of cool, at least as a novelty. It’s kind of stiff and limited, but at least it’s unusual.

Frank is not supposed to be flying Blue Thunder anymore, so they send F-16s after him, and they’re just blowing shit up trying to shoot him down (like they did when they chased HULK). And then he has a one-on-one helicopter duel with Cochrane. Oh, and I didn’t mention that he has PTSD that gives him flashbacks that interfere with his piloting. But that goes without saying, I suppose.

I also like that at the end he lands Blue Thunder on some railroad tracks and makes sure it gets smashed.

It’s not the type of movie I expect from O’Bannon & Jakoby, but it’s not what they initially set out to make either. Apparently they came up with the idea when they were roommates living in L.A. and always hearing the police copters fly over. But it was supposed to be more of a critique of militarized policing and the surveillance state. That theme still exists in the movie, and it was the advertising hook, but the movie puts an emphasis on there being a heroic cop to save us from this overreach. The original version was more of a TAXI DRIVER type deal, with an unhinged protagonist whose sickness is an extension of the whole idea of Big Brother looking down at citizens from the sky.

The 1979 first draft is online and it would’ve made for a very different movie. Murphy does seem like the hero at first, but he’s slowly revealed to be totally crazy, having a weird shrine in his bedroom, getting a god complex from watching the city from above, thinking he sees numerical messages in the patterns of movement below, claiming to be Thor, the God of Thunder. (Whether or not the thunder he’s a god of is blue is not specified). At the end he goes on a helicopter rampage to “punish this errant city” until he gets shot down.

That story is way cooler to me, but the studio or somebody wanted to do that move where you buy a script for its great premise and then after a while you decide what would be better would to be to take that out of the movie and do kind of the opposite. So Badham had it rewritten (uncredited) by Dean Riesner (BILL AND COO, COOGAN’S BLUFF, DIRTY HARRY, CHARLEY VARRICK, THE ENFORCER).

According to some stories, which I think are either made up bullshit or a joke from an interview, Scheider did the movie mainly as an excuse to not do JAWS 3-D. He followed this with a more controversial, arguably more interesting sequel, Peter Hyams’ 2010: THE YEAR WE MAKE CONTACT, and then narrated Paul Schrader’s MISHIMA: A LIFE IN FOUR CHAPTERS.

BLUE THUNDER did well, opening at #1, opening above Jim McBride’s very cool remake of BREATHLESS starring Richard Gere (which I reviewed back in 2012 when it didn’t have much of a reputation, but I think people have been catching onto it lately thanks to blu-ray releases, including a recent one from Fun City Editions). The two of them knocked the early ’80s phenomenon FLASHDANCE down to #3 after a month in the top slot.

Badham had another movie that came out three weeks later, so we’ll be revisiting him soon. O’Bannon of course followed this by writing and directing RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD. He and Jakoby reteamed for Tobe Hooper’s Cannon Films classics LIFEFORCE and INVADERS FROM MARS. Separately, Jakoby has credits on THE PHILADELPHIA EXPERIMENT, DEATH WISH 3, ARACHNOPHOBIA, DOUBLE TEAM, John Carpenter’s VAMPIRES, and (full disclosure) EVOLUTION. Despite my feelings on that last one, that’s a hell of an interesting filmography!

Hopefully they got some residuals out of this because i.p. franchise trademarks of the BLUE THUNDER lore mythos lived on in eleven episodes of a 1984 mid-season replacement ABC TV show starring James Farentino as the character renamed “Frank Chaney” and pre-SNL Dana Carvey as sidekick “Clinton Wonderlove.” They used stock footage from the movie to get more helicopters in there but also to make it easier on everybody they work with a team on the ground called Rolling Thunder, which includes characters played by act-thletes Bubba Smith and Dick Butkus. That’s really upping the ante on the movie, there – what if there was an elite helicopter police unit… except with cars?

I’ve never heard of this before, but apparently Teddy Ruxpin/Lazer Tag creators Worlds of Wonder had a short-lived video game system called Action Max, for which Coca-Cola Telecommunications (!?) released a BLUE THUNDER game cartridge in 1987. I don’t understand how it works, but you try to shoot at the helicopters in live action footage from the movie.

As recently as 2017 Sony was trying to develop a remake, or at least a reuse of the title, from writer Craig Kyle (THOR: RAGNAROK). And who could blame them, that title is money in the bank. It would’ve been about drones, which sounds more current than helicopters, but even less exciting. Hotshot Afghanistan vet Channing Tatum or whoever as the drone jockey sitting in a cubicle, trying to solve a mystery remotely.

Ah shit, actually I think I just talked myself into it. That could be a pretty cool thriller like THE GUILTY, but I’d lose the title, call it something new. Believe me, you don’t want to anger the copter bros.

This entry was posted on Thursday, May 11th, 2023 at 1:29 pm and is filed under Reviews, Action. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

37 Responses to “Blue Thunder”

  1. Ooooh. Summer of ’83. This should be a fun one!

    I’m embarrassed to say that the most vivid memory I have of Blue Thunder is hearing some kid in elementary school describe the peeping tom scene. Since then, I’ve seen the movie several times on cable or whatnot, and even now I have a more vivid memory of that kid describing the peeping tom scene than I have memory of anything from the actual movie. Not really sure what that says about me, although I promise I do not support peeping tom behavior.

  2. Damn, don’t tell me it’s been already a year since your examination of the summer of 1993!
    Oh well, 1983. I got nothing, because I was only 1 year old. Also I never saw this movie, but don’t know why. The German title is btw THE FLYING EYE, which sounds less cool, but is not a bad title if you ask me.

  3. Nice! I was born at end of summer of ‘83, looking forward to this.

  4. Franchise Fred

    May 11th, 2023 at 6:52 pm

    Man, is it already time for a summer movie retrospective? Hard to believe but this should be a good one. Can’t wait to get into Superman III which surely won’t be controversial at all.

    Holy shit Action Max! I remember getting so hyped for that because I thought you could actually interact with what’s happening on screen, like if you suit stuff it blew up. Man was I disappointed when it was just a vhs tape and you scored points and heard sounds if you hit the right spot. Like Captain Power which I already had.

  5. I love Vern’s “Summer of…” series. Although as a European, in the 80’s, given that it took months to cross over to us, Summer of 83 will feel more like Winter of 83. I was 10 that year and remember seeing Blue Thunder with my dad – and (spoiler alert) being quite affected by what happens to Daniel Stern’s character.
    Still – having a lot of affection of Blue Thunder. Love the scene when he steals the helicopter…

  6. This is a film I saw a lot as a kid. I rewatched it a few years back and still enjoyed it. The helicopter stunts are amazing and actually look dangerous.

  7. According to the book THE 80s the decade we trick ourselves into remember, started i 1983. The music, the fashion, the yuppies etc, etc. Having been there I know that the stuff that deserves being remembered, like the good music, the cool movies and rock’n roll dress sense that still holds up today, are what the 80s were really about. But I’m sure we’ll get into that later.

    Vern, did you watch the version with the prolonged car chase, where Candy Clark really gets to shine as Murphy’s wife?

  8. I’m gonna suggest that much of the impetus to redraft the screenplay may’ve come from the success of Knight Rider which had launched a year earlier. It feels like there were a slew of TV shows that followed the success of that with different high tech vehicles fighting crime – Airwolf, another helicopter show, and Street Hawk, a motorcycle, spring to mind.

    Badham is one of the great ’80s journeymen directors, with a filmography full of movies I’m always happy to watch, including this one. SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER is much better than any film about disco needed to be in 1979. And BLUE THUNDER, well, I mean, this a movie with Roy Scheider, Warren Oates and Daniel Stern taking on an early iteration of Malcolm McDowell’s villainy! And Brits playing villains, if not exactly new, was a big ’80s theme, with Steven Berkoff coming up swiftly in BEVERLY HILLS COP and RAMBO, Brian Cox starting the whole Hannibal train, Rickman as Hans Gruber, and the trend climaxing with Anthony Hopkins claiming Hannibal for himself.

    1983 specifically, I’m thinking some good King adaptations and a couple of great Cronenberg’s none of which will, I think, make this series – clearly autumn is the season for horror. But I’m excited anyway. And all those movies are already reviewed by Vern.

    So a couple of left-field suggestions/wishes, if it’s not already too late: ANGELO MY LOVE, Robert Duvall’s directorial debut, was a spring release in the US, I think, but is fascinating both because of its subject and to see how Duvall chose to use all his post-GODFATHER, post-APOCALYPSE NOW credit.

    More importantly, and I really hope this is gonna happen, MERRY CHRISTMAS MR LAWRENCE opened the summer of 1983. It’d be worth a look for the story alone, or to see David Bowie and Ryuichi Sakamoto smoulder, but what makes it a must here is that it pretty much introduced people outside Japan to Takeshi Kitano, and it changed the whole trajectory of Kitano’s career.

  9. It’s weird how in the 80s “He solves crimes with a really cool vehicle that even has a computer!” was enough to become a successful TV show.

  10. I remember this movie from STARLOG magazine, so I guess it was considered at least SF-adjacent…I think it was the “Knight Rider” issue, or one of them anyway. There was a photo of Candy Clark hip-deep in a dumpster holding up a cassette tape, so that tracks. I believe there was even a feature on her which included a still from a movie called THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH featuring Clark with a guy named David Bowie who I think was a musician of some sort.

    BLUE THUNDER the movie begat “Blue Thunder” the show which I want to say had Dana Carvey in it, though won’t Google that due to some weird hangup I have about not wanting Google to tell me I’m wrong. Maybe a football player too, like Dick Butkus? I don’t think it lasted long but may have been the inspiration for the superior Jan-Michael Vincent series “Airwolf” which I’d watch right now if it were on.

    Life, man. Life’s weird.

  11. For the record I want to say I did not read Borg9’s post before making mine. In rapid succession we both have references to Knight Rider, Airwolf, and David Bowie.

    See? Life’s weird.

    (Just to be safe though would hope this goes without saying…well aware of David Bowie)

  12. Someone should point out that Airwolf had Ernest Borgnine too; it might as well be me.

    Which tangentially takes me to SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES which was apparently an April 1983 release in the US, and is the second weirdest movie Disney made during this period. After 1979’s THE BLACK HOLE, obviously, which had Borgnine and both cute and freakin’ terrifying robots. Both Peckinpah and Gene Kelly had apparently wanted to make SOMETHING WICKED at some point. Imagine!

  13. Yes, BLUE THUNDER the movie begat BLUE THUNDER the TV show which I watched religiously and was saddened that it didn’t last more than a season. It had the very intense James Farentino (most likely porting that over from his troubled personal life, as the man was arrested for cocaine possession, stalking an ex and assault and battery in his lifetime) in the Frank Murphy role except he was now called Frank Chaney. Yes, Dana Carvey was in the Lymangood role and the show had 2 ex-NFL players in supporting roles, Dick Butkus and Ole’ Hightower from POLICE ACADEMY himself, Bubba Smith.

    And moving on to another show about a souped up helicopter starring another actor with an infamously troubled personal life…..I liked AIRWOLF (for the record let me submit that Stringfellow Hawke is the coolest fucking name for a Lead. EVER!) but anyone remember after it’s cancellation, it got picked up by another network and we had 1 woeful season where they killed off Borgnine and retired Vincent and Barry (Son of Dick) Van Dyke assumed lead duties?

    Yeah…that was awful.

  14. As for BLUE THUNDER…man I love this movie. I believe it was the one that made me jump on the John Badham bandwagon from which I don’t think I’ve ever hopped off.

    Where I deviate from Vern is that right off the bat, I thought an action movie with helicopters was the coolest shit ever.

    Still my fav scene from this movie: Murphy’s girlfriend is stopped on a bridge by a policeman clearly working for the baddies. And then, the THUNDER looms over the bridge, then Candy Clark steps on the gas to get away, the cop proceeds to give chase, only to have his car cut in half from the chopper canon. COOL.AS.FUCK!

    An expertly shot, paced and edited action movie, filled with great performances, chiefly from the great Roy Scheider who proves that when you put a genuinely GOOD actor in an action movie (De Niro-RONIN, Day Lewis-LAST OF THE MOHICANS, Odenkirk-NOBODY) that’s half the battle won.

  15. dreadguacamole

    May 13th, 2023 at 9:41 am

    I convinced myself to love this as a kid because of all the helicopter stunts, even though I had to admit to myself at some point I found it boring as shit. Even made my dad rent it multiple times just to watch those scenes. Luckily I watched it later as an adult and really dug it, despite the laughability of the whole drama around helicopters loop-de-looping. Didn’t know about the original script, that sounds amazing.
    And I remember the Blue Thunder videogame! It was on display on several arcades back then; It looked incredible, but IIRC it cost a full dollar instead of a quarter to play so I never got to try it.

    @Kaykay – I recently caught up with a low budget 80’s action/horror movie called MIDNIGHT AT NOON (with Bo Hopkins, George Kennedy and Cole Hauser!) It’s cheesy b-movie fun, and it’s got a great, completely gratuitous helicopter chase intercut with its big western-influenced action climax.

  16. @dreadguacamole, thanks for the recommendation. Lemme see if I can track this movie down!

  17. I always love the summer movie series. I love seeing the first sign of it pop up in May. It’s like the baseball season opening.

    I’m pretty excited about 1983. I partially spoiled myself by doing a little research to refresh on what was released that year. There are actually a lot of interesting ones and a handful of infamous oddballs that I’m looking forward to seeing covered. 1982 spawned more classics (and more than its fair share of instant classics), but 1983 is no slouch, and it may actually be more fertile ground for interesting reviews because it has a nice balance of of forgotten gems, high-profile misfires, and bona fide smashes. This should be good.

  18. Awww man Vern, did the Yu-storm wipe you out? This one’s missing your usual analysis flair. I saw this in the theater and have caught it many times since as it is a meat-and-potatoes ridiculous wallop of fun. Could the original script have ended up a decent flick? Sure, but let’s talk BLUE THUNDER as it exists and rope in some non-viewers if we can.

    I don’t think McMurphy is necessarily cocky so much as exasperated in his world-weariness. As flippant as he is to Braddock he is still respectful unlike the way he is to the suits much less the overt hostility he slathers on Cochrane from the beginning. And sure, Lymangood is a horny young guy, but I think some of the character bits that come out as he asks to see what he’s only heard about as well as scenes with the copter’s manuals and chatting up the tech guys show he’s more a man of curiosity rather than primarily a “peeper”. In addition Lymangood is not sent to the demonstration nor does Braddock send McMurphy, he accompanies him as the pilot chosen to test things for the department. I will leave the nitpicking at that because…

    The Blue Thunder demonstration scene is awesome! In addition to the visceral fun of “blow’d up real good” you learn things about about the characters and get a glorious introduction to Cochrane. Once on the ground and he and McMurphy get into it and I think both actors are having fun.

    I love the little notes even small characters get: the one fighter pilot calling the other “Cookie”; Cochrane’s finger gunning, teeth rattling “catch ya later”; Montonya’s playful barbs; Kate’s seeming scatterbrained while really having it together; and there’s even a nice spin on the usual gruff commander with Braddock.

    Part of the ridiculousness of the film is it playing out over the course of what, three days? The training sets up McMurphy’s bonafides and Lymangood’s naivete. The demonstration leads to the try-out that leads to the discovery that leads to the tragedy. The way they pull off Lymangood’s trip home is still a suspenseful then fist-pumping and finally somber set-piece. And finally there are two chases and a denouement, the villain gets his, the hero gets to walk off with an explosion behind him. C’mon!

    The big thing I thought would have gotten a paragraph or two out of you is the helicopter photography. The fighter jet rear projection is woeful, but the copter action is great. The use of models was obvious in a few scenes but most of the action with the actors was great as were the wide shots where you really got to soak in the practical location filming.

    There’s a lot of other fun stuff but I’ll leave it at that, but given this is a half-baked start to another glorious Summer Rewind I gotta say I’ll be keeping an eye on you, young man.

    Fun RoboCop bits: both starred cops named “Murphy” and feature an TV News anchor played by Mario Machado. Are there others?

  19. I’m always interested in how these waves start. Why was helicopters all of a sudden the big thing in the early 80s? I took it for granted that the aerial scenes in CAPRICORN ONE was a major influence. But then I stumbled upon director William A. Graham, who directed not only DEADLY ENCOUNTER in 1982, with Larry Hagman as a helicopter pilot trying to escape from the mafia, but also BIRDS OF PREY in 1973, with David Janssen as a pilot trying to catch some bank robbers in his helicopter. Both for TV. So I guess helicopters have been a thing for a long time.

  20. The Joseph Losey-directed FIGURES IN A LANDSCAPE from 1970, has two men relentlessly pursued by a helicopter for almost the entire length of the movie. The helicopter is essentially the antagonist, with the pilot never seen properly, and many long shots taken from within the cockpit looking out at the men on the ground. Much of the air-to-ground action is, to my recollection, the stuff of John Landis’s nightmares. The two men are played by Robert Shaw, who also wrote the screenplay from the novel by Barry England – which reads like Samuel Beckett wrote an action movie -, and Malcolm McDowell. So McDowell had history in what I am proposing we call choppersploitation.

  21. I may have come across as too enthusiastic about NIGHTMARE AT NOON, don’t really want to hype it too much. It’s a fun B-movie, but… well, it’s still a B-movie, and one that has been mostly (rightfully) forgotten.

    FIGURES IN A LANDSCAPE sounds amazing, I’ll add it to the pile. Thanks for the recommendation.

  22. I have not forgotten NIGHTMARE AT NOON. Niko Mastorakis isn’t what you’d call a reliable filmmaker, but I’m always willing to give him a chance. If you liked that one, I’d recommend THE ZERO BOYS, starring NIGHT OF THE COMET’s Kelli Maroney and Joe Estevez playing a character named “Killer.” Like NIGHTMARE AT NOON, it’s mostly an action movie but with some enjoyable horror trappings.

  23. Spookily. J. J. Perry is on a recent Corridor Crew’s Stuntmen Reacts video and discusses in passing the proliferation of made-for-TV helicopter action movies in the 1970s. He attributes the rise of these movies to the ready availability of “gnarly” helicopter pilots who had honed their skills and their tolerance for danger during the Vietnam war.

  24. @Majestic – it sounds great, thanks. For some reason none of the video stores I frequented growing up carried the guy’s movies… I discovered him a few years ago, but it was with THE WIND, which kind of soured me on him.
    I did buy the soundtrack for it though – killer poppy synths courtesy of a young Hans Zimmer.

  25. I recall this one being fun enough to check if any boutique DVDers have put it out on 4K, but it’s not even on Blu-Ray yet. Shame.

    The “cop on the edge” draft sounds like it could’ve been interesting, but also silly. I’m trying to imagine a killer being ominous or intimidating while buzzing around in this huge whirlybird–like Michael Myers staring at Jamie Lee Curtis, while also making sure to watch his rotor wash. I think they made the right call to go with a more conventional action movie. We rarely get action centered around a helicopter, unless it’s John McClane shooting one down. And it sounds like the first draft would’ve been a “one bad apple” kinda story, while the ‘villain’ in Blue Thunder as it stands is the militarization of the police force and the people who are gleefully onboard with that.

  26. Not sure what you’re talking about Kaplan, I have the Blu-ray. Pretty sure it has the same special features as the DVD:

    If I remember correctly there’s some cool behind-the-scenes stuff about the various ways they filmed the helicopter stuff.

  27. Quick Amazon search showed me there was no Region 1 Blu-ray available, so I can get it if I want to pick up a region-free player. But I should probably finish up with my American to-watch pile before I start in on other continents.

  28. @dreadguacamole pretty sure the arcade game you’re taking any was called Thunderblade. Closer enough though.

    Always enjoyed this one. Might’ve been the first time i was aware of nipples. Plus the urban helicopter action was even better than the dogfights in Firefox.

    I can remember really liking the series too and being in s minority of one in endless playground arguments over which was better: Airwolf or Blue Thunder. Even as a kid I could see that Airwolf’s concealed weaponry was a cheap con.

  29. In 1989 the Supreme Court decided a case called FLORIDA v RILEY (488 US 445) and said surveying people from public airspace (i.e., from a police helicopter) did not require a warrant.

  30. I’ve always considered BLUE THUNDER, Badham’s next film after this, and SHORT CIRCUIT to be parts of an informal trilogy that I refer to as his “Defense Contractor Trilogy.” Defense contractors were kind of a hot topic in the ’80s. William Friedkin’s DEAL OF THE CENTURY would come out in the Fall of 1983, and BEST DEFENSE (directed by William Huyck) would come to theaters a year later. Badham’s three films would strike a nerve with audiences, while Friedkin and Huyck faltered at the box office despite all their films mining similar territory. I think what’s most interesting is the change in tone over the course of Badham’s three defense contractor films. BLUE THUNDER is a straightforward action thriller paying lip service to the dangers of the surveillance state and the militarization of our cities’ police forces. By the time SHORT CIRCUIT comes out, the message is that weapons of mass destruction are people, too. I’m looking forward to reading what you have to say about the movie in between the two, Vern!

  31. My theory as to why Badham enjoyed far longer lasting box office success than Friedkin is because after THE EXORCIST and THE FRENCH CONENCTION, the latter got saddled with this Polanski-esque Visionary Auteur who Will Change Face of American Cinema mantle, and expectations were applied accordingly to everything he cranked out, not helped by the fact Friedkin himself always made movies that he thought should transcend the genre, which had mixed results. I think SORCERER is criminally underrated and TO LIVE AND DIE IN LA gripping and even entertaining although I still can’t quite get behind CRUISING. I can’t decide if it’s attempting to be sympathetic to the gay community or trafficking in outright homophobia. But they’re all very, very, SERIOUS movies, y’all and Friedkin does NOT want you to forget that.

    Badham on the other hand, in spite of the success of SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER, just said, fuck it, I want to make accessible action adventure films, and proceeded to give us quite a few good ones. And thus birthed my abiding love for journeyman directors who just hunker down and get the fucking job done which is to entertain you, regardless of genre.

  32. Sadly, I think CRUISING is homophobic as hell. But that aside, all the Friedkin movies you mention are great. He’s just a miserable person without much humor, and people pick up on that.

    On another note, I read somewhere that promising directors called John burns out sooner than the rest. And if you think about it, there are quite a few of them. Singleton, Badham, McTiernan…

  33. “On another note, I read somewhere that promising directors called John burns out sooner than the rest. And if you think about it, there are quite a few of them. Singleton, Badham, McTiernan…”

    Damn, is that why we’ve yet to get a UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: DAY OF RECKONING sequel from the very promising John Hyams?

    In the case of Badham and McTiernan,

    Badham has continued to be pretty prolific directing TV shows and TV movies. Maybe it was a case of his last couple of big theatrical releases not being huge hits and offers subsequently dried up? It’s a shame because I really did enjoy the Wesley Snipes skydiving movie DROP ZONE (whose sole misfortune was being released in the same year a slightly more entertaining Charlie Sheen Skydiving Movie came out) and the Johnny Depp thriller NICK OF TIME back in the days when it was rare for Depp to do something so straightforward. Have yet to watch Badham’s last big screen release INCOGNITO though.

    McTiernan had the misfortune of going from the famously troubled shoot of 13th WARRIOR to 2 bombs ROLLERBALL & BASIC, and that was before being embroiled in the whole criminal wire-tapping case which pretty much torpedoed his career although am hoping he gets to direct a few more movies. The man who gave the world DIE HARD, PREDATOR AND THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER deserves a better send off.

    Singleton…hmmm…wonder if being touted as THE NEXT GREAT BLACK FILM MAKER after his very first movie was a bit of a cross to bear because he clearly demonstrated an affinity and talent for more genre fare? I’ve enjoyed SHAFT, FOUR BROTHERS and 2 FAST 2 FURIOUS has only grown in my esteem these past few years. Although that Taylor Lautner flick was a snooze.

  34. Ford, Huston, and Woo all seem to have done pretty well for themselves though…

  35. There was a recent AV Club article about Summer of 83 being the Summer of Disappointing Sequels. It wasn’t a good article, not least because it was clearly written by someone who hadn’t actually seen most of the films, but it did get me thinking that 1983 is actually a pretty weak year for movies, at least in comparison, sandwiched between 1982, often considered the high water mark for popcorn films, and 1984, the year that has the even higher honour of being my pick for the high water mark for popcorn films.


  36. Is it just me though or do the films from 1983 somehow feel older than the ones from 1982? The key films from 1982 mostly make me think of other early 80s touchstones, like New Wave/New Romantic Bands, early MTV, Arcades etc., the ones from 1983 mostly feel of a piece with those late 70s adventure shows like THE INCREDIBLE HULK. I guess WARGAMES vs TRON is the key here; 1982 is Arcades, 1983 is like the Atari 2600 port.

    I look forward to determining what was the soundtrack jam of the summer between these two titans (They Won’t Get Me by Roger Miller and Ticket for the Wind by John Stewart if these don’t work, which they almost certainly won’t);

    They Won't Get Me

    Provided to YouTube by Rhino/Warner RecordsThey Won't Get Me · Roger MillerSuperman III - Original Soundtrack℗ 1983 Warner Records Inc.Auto-generated by YouT...

    Ticket For The Wind- John Stewart (Vinyl Restoration)

    Taken From The Album: Smokey and the Bandit Part 3Almost New VinylRecorded @ 24bit/48khz

  37. Having rewatched this before it left Hulu, I find it very McClaney in that it’s all about how humanity and populism are superior to technological advancement and militarism. Murphy is a bit of a fuck-up: he’s psychologically fraught, he screws around on the job, he has a troubled relationship with his girl. But he’s deeply compassionate and driven: pushing the investigation of the councilwoman, being the first to call out the Blue Thunder for how unnecessarily aggressive it is, even having trauma flashbacks from one of the bad guys being gunned down in justifiable self-defense. The bad guys have this ideology that anything is worth being able to use these advanced gadgets and oppressive weaponry to fight crime and unrest, even faking the justification for it, while Murphy says that the only way to police is to care and wear out shoe leather and keep chasing down leads until the case is solved.

    It’s all about how we go almost directly from this demonstration of the Blue Thunder (which climaxes in Cochrane blowing away a school bus) to a sequence of Murphy’s helicopter being sabotaged. He’s forced to crash-land, narrowly avoiding a school bus, and finally putting it down in a mostly clear construction site. He checks if Lymangood is okay, then vitriolically tells him “get off me.” By the same token, a mob of bystanders rush in to break open the helicopter and help Murphy out of. A construction worker bitches him out for crashing in the middle of his worksite, but I think it’s the same anger-born-of-concern as when Murphy yelled at Lymangood a moment ago.

    I think it’s saying yeah, there’s always going to be a friction between cops and civilians, but at the end of the day they’re part of the same populace and it’s better for a policeman to be a man of the people than some high-tech sentinel who does his ‘policing’ from a mile up in the air with a Vulcan cannon.

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