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Blu-ray Review

DVD cover

Blue Thunder (1983)


Starring: Roy Scheider and Malcolm McDowell
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
RRP: £19.99
Certificate: 15
Available 03 August 2009

Frank Murphy is a man with a troubled past, having come out of the Vietnam war with mental health problems, who subsequently has been working as a helicopter pilot for the L.A.P.D. He is unexpectedly assigned as one of the pilots of the new Blue Thunder helicopter, a formidable machine, equipped with stealth capacity and enough armament to start a minor war. Although the helicopter is supposed to be designed for civil unrest, the assassination of city councilwoman Diane McNeely increases Murphy’s unease with the project ad he uses the machine's capabilities to uncover a plot which threatens his own life and the civil liberties of his country...

Blue Thunder (1983 - 1 hr, 49 min, 14 sec) is an action thriller, with science fiction overtones, directed by John Badham (Saturday Night Fever (1977), WarGames (1983)), from an original script by Dan O’Bannon. The movie was nominated for an Oscar for best editing.

The film starred Roy Scheider, as Murphy, an everyman character caught up in a plot, to use the advent of the Los Angeles Olympics to create trouble in the ghettos, which would allow the authorities to let loose the Blue Thunder. Nobody is pretending that the plot is particularly logical; the main reason for watching the film is the last third of the movie, with its aerial dog fights.

The best way to watch the film is to disengage you brain's higher functions. The plot as it stands is full of holes, a lot of unexplained events and relationships which make little sense. Who, after all, gives a man with a mental health problem a helicopter, armed to the teeth? Whilst I’m sure that we are all sympathetic to people who suffer this debilitating condition, I can’t imagine that it would make him a suitable candidate. The relationship between Murphy and Cochrane (Malcolm McDowell) is never fully explained, but where would an action film be without a villain? McDowell hams it up for all he’s worth, the only thing he is missing is a moustache to twirl.

To flesh out Murphy’s life he has a gruff boss, Capt. Jack Braddock, played by Warren Oates, his last film before his untimely demise - in fact the movie is dedicated to him. For a sidekick Murphy is given Officer Richard Lymangood (Daniel Stern) who fulfils the role of a Doctor Who assistant, allowing Murphy to explain the tenuous plot to both Lymangood and the audience. Murphy, being a real man, has to have a love interest to show his softer side, so stand up Candy Clark (Kate), who won a Saturn award for her performance.

The disc is essentially the same as the special edition DVD. It sports a sporadic director's commentary, which only true fans of the film will want to listen to. There are snippets of interesting information, most of which appears in the featurettes. I guess the best part of the extras is that they are not in high definition, which may be an odd thing to say, but if you’re going to upgrade your copy to a Blu-ray then it’s useful to see how the film originally looked, in order to appreciate the leap in quality. The movie has three Dolby trueHD 5.1 audio tracks, in English, Spanish or French, with eleven language options for the subtitles.

The featurettes, which heavily feature both cast and crew, open with The Special: Building Blue Thunder (8 min, 23 sec) looks at how they adapted a French helicopter into Blue Thunder. Ride with The Angels: Making Blue Thunder, which is a three parter. Part 1: Pre production (16 min, 10 sec), Part II: Production (18 min, 44 sec) and Part III: Post Production (10 min, 21 sec). These features can be played separately or as one piece. Normally I would recommend that you watch the extras after the film, but in the case of Blue Thunder, watch them first and then be blown away by the increase in quality of the print. Next up is the original 1983 Promotional Featurette (8 min, 36 sec) which is one of those cheesy overlong adverts for the film, which used to appear on TV. There is an option for BD Live, but at the time of review there was no extra content.

The film suffered from the writers’ strike and even Badham agrees that some of the rewritten dialogue was less than spectacular. Given the amount of time given over to the helicopter, it competes with Scheider for top billing, a competition which it wins.

Fans of eighties liberal paranoia film - it was set in 1984 to increase its Orwellian appeal - will find much to like here, with its demonstration of fear without much logic. Of course fans of the film will lap up the improved print but for the majority I suspect it will be an enjoyable if ultimately forgettable film.


Charles Packer

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