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John Badham
Roy Scheider, Warren Oates, Candy Clark, Daniel Stern, Paul Roebling, David Sheiner, Joe Santos, Malcolm McDowell
Writing Credits:
Don Jakoby, Dan O'Bannon

He's Out There ...

The air above Los Angeles has become a battle ground in this explosive action thriller. Roy Scheider stars as Frank Murphy, a courageous and honorable Los Angeles police officer who is chosen to test run Blue Thunder, a high-tech experimental attack helicopter that comes complete with listening devices, camera lenses, and computer files. While flying Blue Thunder, Murphy and his partner, Lymangood (Daniel Stern) discover that the government intends on using the helicopter for corrupt crowd control and surveillance. The top-secret operation is being run by a sinister colonel (Malcolm McDowell), who will stop at nothing to keep the devious military conspiracy a secret. In an effort to expose the covert military operation Murphy decides to "borrow" Blue Thunder, flying against military and police aircrafts on a death-defying flight. Superb special effects and daredevil stunts combine with breathtaking cinematography to create a dizzying battle for justice.

Box Office:
Domestic Gross
$42.300 million.

Rated R

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby 2.0
Portuguese Dolby 2.0

Runtime: 109 min.
Price: $19.94
Release Date: 4/4/2006

• Audio Commentary with Director John Badham, Editor Frank Morriss, and Motion Control Supervisor Hoyt Yeatman
• “Ride With the Angels: Making Blue Thunder” Multi-Part Featurette
• “The Special: Building Blue Thunder” Featurette
• 1983 Promotional Featurette
• Storyboard Galleries
• Trailer
• Previews


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Blue Thunder: Special Edition (1983)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 16, 2006)

1983’s Blue Thunder hit movie screens right after my 16th birthday. I know I was excited to see it, as it looked like exactly the kind of high-powered action flick every 16-year-old guy would enjoy. Unfortunately, if I recall correctly, it didn’t quite live up to my expectations.

23 years later, I figured this new Special Edition DVD meant it was time for me to give Blue Thunder another look. LA police officer Frank Murphy (Roy Scheider) flies patrol helicopters. Along with his young new partner Richard Lymangood (Daniel Stern, he gets in trouble over a voyeur incident that may have slowed their response to an attack on local community leader Diane McNeely (Robin Brantos).

Though the authorities ground Murphy, he quickly gets a reprieve when they need someone to help test a special helicopter prototype. Called “Blue Thunder”, this chopper offers state of the art everything, and it apparently will be used to help quell civil unrest. However, Murphy soon learns that there’s more going on behind the scenes, a lot of it related to Colonel FE Cochrane (Malcolm McDowell), an old nemesis of his from his stint in Vietnam. The movie follows Murphy attempts to expose the truth and stay alive in the bargain.

As I noted, I hoped I’d enjoy Blue Thunder more today than I did in 1983. Unfortunately, it remains a lackluster movie. One main problem relates to its basic story. The whole plot about urban pacification and Blue Thunder’s potential use never really congeals. We don’t quite understand what the sinister government figures plan to do, so the threat seems toothless. We know they intend something nasty, but there’s just not a lot of definition to it.

The movie takes a while to get going as well. There’s precious little action until the third act, and by that point, it seems like it’s too late. The climax does offer some fairly good sequences, though I think they show an odd disregard for civilian safety. We start to question Murphy’s motives. Does he want to expose the governmental plans for Blue Thunder to protect the public, or does he just want to screw over Cochrane? Given that he opens up matters to all sorts of destruction and devastation, it’s hard to tell what he’s thinking.

Actually, the whole “cat and mouse” climax doesn’t make a ton of sense. Murphy battles jets and choppers while his girlfriend (Candy Clark) rushes a revealing videotape to a news station. Once she gets there, why does he continue to engage the enemy? Why not just come in and avoid more potential destruction? Granted, that would rob the movie of its big action sequences, but the lack of logic causes concerns.

In addition, the movie doesn’t give us enough character development to merit much interest. Since he remains haunted by events in Vietnam, Murphy possesses inherent psychological damage that should have made him intriguing. Unfortunately, the story does little more than tease us with these elements. Actually, I think the flick is somewhat shameless in this regard. It uses “Vietnam vet” as a shorthand for “screwed-up dude”. That’s simplistic and insulting to those who fought in the conflict since the movie doesn’t give us much clarification of Frank’s issues.

At least Thunder features a good cast. I always liked Scheider, and the supporting actors are solid. Warren Oates offers one of his very last performances – he died about a year before the flick’s release – and Stern presents appropriate comic relief. McDowell doesn’t seem terribly believable as a menacing tough guy, but he doesn’t do anything to harm the movie.

Instead, Blue Thunder shoots itself in the foot with its muddled story and lack of action. By the time it gets around to potentially exciting moments, we don’t particularly care. There’s some entertainment value on display but not enough to make this a particularly interesting movie.

The DVD Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B+/ Bonus B

Blue Thunder appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The transfer was almost shockingly good.

Black levels caused the only concerns that kept the image from an “A”-level grade. The flick offered a lot of dark scenes, and blacks tended to look a bit inky. They sometimes appeared as though someone had turned up the brightness control on my TV, as they lacked much depth. Shadows were a little murky as well, though with the elevated brightness, they usually seemed visible.

Otherwise, this was a stellar transfer. Sharpness looked immaculate. The movie always seemed crisp and well-defined. I noticed no issues with jagged edges, shimmering, or edge enhancement, and source flaws were exceedingly rare. I detected one or two specks but nothing else interfered.

Colors also seemed strong. The movie featured a natural palette that demonstrated quite a few attractive tones. The hues consistently appeared concise and vivid. Despite the issues with blacks, I really liked this transfer.

Similar positives greeted the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Blue Thunder. My criticisms connected to the quality of the audio. Most of the time the mix sounded very good, but a few concerns interfered. Speech showed a little edginess, though the lines consistently remained intelligible and usually demonstrated good clarity.

Effects were reasonably robust, though distortion came with some of the louder elements like explosions and gunfire. Music seemed fine, as the score presented nice definition. Bass response varied but we occasionally got strong low-end, especially when we heard the helicopters.

The soundfield seemed quite good for a movie from 1983. The action sequences fared the best, especially since they used the choppers well. Helicopters flew about the room with smoothness and precision, and other combat elements opened up matters well. The score showed nice stereo imaging, and the whole thing used the surrounds to good effect. The back speakers kicked into action frequently and formed an active partnership with the front. The track seemed a little too distorted for an “A”-level mark, but I remained impressed with it.

Heading to the extras, we begin with an audio commentary from director John Badham, editor Frank Morriss, and motion control supervisor Hoyt Yeatman. Badham and Morriss sit together for a running, screen-specific discussion; Yeatman joins them at about the 58-minute mark.

The commentary covers the requisite topics. Badham dominates as we learn about the cast, the story and its development, stunts and action sequences, sets and locations, photographic choices and challenges, and filming the helicopter shots. We get many technical notes related to the chopper scenes, and these prove pretty informative. We also find a few nice anecdotes such as when we find out that Malcolm McDowell was terrified of flying.

At its best, the commentary gives us decent rudiments related to the production. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of depth on display, and the track suffers from an awful lot of gaps. The dead air often dominates the piece. Though it improves in its final act, this remains a moderately useful program that loses points due to frustrating elements.

Next comes a featurette entitled ”The Special”: Building Blue Thunder. This eight-minute and six-second program presents movie clips, archival materials and interviews. We hear from Badham, visual consultant Philip Harrison, and art director Sydney Z. Litwack, They discuss the design and assembly of the flick’s star helicopter. Subjects include research and various component choices. The show offers a solid overview of the topics and proves nicely illuminating.

After this we locate a three-part documentary called Ride With the Angels: Making Blue Thunder. Taken together, the three segments fill a total of 44 minutes and 23 seconds. They include notes from Badham, Harrison, Morriss, Yeatman, Litwack, writer Dan O’Bannon, and actor Roy Scheider, “Angels” starts with “Pre-Production” and looks at the project’s genesis and development, differences between the original script/characters and the final result, cooperation with the LA Helicopter Division, casting, and storyboarding. “Production” examines shooting the aerial and action sequences, photographic choices, and visual effects. Finally, “Post-Production” examines editing and deleted scenes, reactions to the flick and studio pressures, and final thoughts.

The only real negative connected to this documentary stems from the small roster of participants. I’d like to hear from more people, especially since only Scheider represents the actors. Nonetheless, it offers quite a few useful notes. Some of these inevitably repeat from the commentary, but we get plenty of fresh material. The program gives us a tight little piece that covers the flick well.

A 1983 Promotional Featurette lasts eight minutes, 18 seconds. It features Badham, Scheider, The piece looks at story and character basics as well as some aerial elements. We get a couple other notes like Scheider’s research and Badham’s interest in the movie, and we also find decent footage from the set. This remains a long advertisement, though, so don’t expect much from it.

Three Storyboard Galleries appear. We find “Macy Street Bridge Sequence” (22 drawings), “Montoya Attack Sequence” (19), and “SWAT Attack Sequence” (45). This offers a decent collection of art, though I’d have preferred to see it as a storyboard/film comparison.

In addition to the trailer for Blue Thunder, we get a few Previews. The DVD includes ads for The Patriot, “The Best of World War II Movies”, and the 2005 remake of The Fog.

Blue Thunder disappointed me when I was 16, and I don’t think more highly of it at 38. The movie had a lot of potential but lacked coherence and excitement too much of the time. The DVD offers surprisingly positive picture and audio along with a few good extras. Although I don’t think a lot of the film, I can’t complain about this solid DVD.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.6666 Stars Number of Votes: 12
3 3:
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