Blue Thunder appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.40:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Given the film’s age, 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 TrueHD 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.
How did the picture and audio of this Blu-ray compare to those of the Special Edition DVD? Both showed minor improvements. I would guess that the Blu-ray came from the same transfer created for the 2006 DVD. That meant a little more robust lossless audio here, and visuals demonstrated greater definition and vivacity as we expect from Blu-ray. The DVD looked and sounded good, but the Blu-ray worked even better.
The Blu-ray provides most of the extras from the SE DVD. 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.
In addition to the trailer for Blue Thunder, we get a few Previews. The disc includes ads for Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, The Da Vinci Code, Casino Royale, The Sky Crawlers, and Blood: The Last Vampire.
Does the Blu-ray lose anything from the SE DVD? Yup: it omits some storyboard galleries. Those weren’t particularly memorable, but it still disappoints that they fail to reappear here.
Blue Thunder disappointed me when I was 16, and I didn’t think more highly of it at 42. The movie had a lot of potential but lacked coherence and excitement too much of the time. The Blu-ray 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 Blu-ray.
Fans who own the 2006 DVD won’t find that the Blu-ray blows away that disc, but it does improve upon it. If you really like the film, I’d recommend the Blu-ray, as it’s a very nice presentation.
To rate this film, visit the Special Edition review of BLUE THUNDER