I was just a kid when I first saw this movie and fell in love with it. To be more precise I fell in love with that experimental helicopter Murphy was flying. And then I forgot all about it until a couple of weeks ago when I decided to revisit it. And all the memories came rushing back as soon as hit play. I started remembering certain scenes but the biggest payoff was the memory of me drawing that damned helicopter. I went through something similar with Harley Davidson and Marlboro Man. So, after that little stroll down memory lane, let’s see what we have here. Blue Thunder is a fascinating early eighties movie that works on many levels.
Firstly, I doubt you’ll see crazier main characters presented to us as average people. I’ll just say that our two heroes spend their time on patrol watching nude women doing yoga. Although I have to admit that the scene in question is extremely effective. You can also sense strong racial undertones hiding under the main story. We will be following Murphy, a slightly unhinged LAPD officer as he starts uncovering a dangerous conspiracy. However, the star of the movie Blue Thunder is the helicopter itself that did actually exist. They strapped the visual appearance of AH-64 onto the body of a French helicopter SA 342 Gazelle.
After forty years, it still looks impressive and just plain old cool. The whisper mode was just bonkers. The movie opens by saying that all the technology you’re about to see exists in the real world. This was a true statement at that time and it’s even truer today. Now, the reason why Blue Thunder feels completely unhinged is because it went through several rewrites. The original script follows a crazy helicopter pilot as he’s terrorizing the LA citizens. The studios liked the idea of a helicopter but wanted a more appealing main character. Whether they succeed is up to you to find out.
However, whatever you might think about the characters in this movie, you can’t deny the fact they’re awfully authentic. That’s what happens when the writer of Alien, Dan O’Bannon, and the writer of Lifeforce Don Jakoby join forces. I’m just wondering who was the one to suggest having a nude lady do yoga not ten minutes into the movie. When it comes to the cast, Roy Scheider and Warren Oates were excellent but I expected more from Malcolm McDowell. He seemed like a generic villain with an annoying catchphrase you simply knew is going to come up later in the movie.
Frank Murphy is a helicopter pilot working for the LAPD still wrestling with his experiences in Vietnam. As one of the best pilots in the squad, he’s selected by the mayor to test out a new type of experimental helicopter nicknamed Blue Thunder. With the Summer Olympic games just around the corner, the police want to have something powerful in the air to protect the visitors. However, Murphy will soon start to learn more about why this single helicopter is so important.
You would think that there would be a lot of movies about helicopters but you would be wrong. 1990 Fire Birds starring Nic Cage is the only one I could dig up. Black Hawk Down and San Andreas do feature some helicopter footage but it’s rather meager compared to the previous two entries. Blue Thunder features phenomenal action sequences that still look mind-blowingly realistic. The helicopter chase towards the end of the movie is thrillingly realistic.
The choppers were flying under the bridges and awfully close to buildings. I know that most if it were practical effects but they were just so damn effective! Now, I have never flown a helicopter but I did play a lot of GTA and Battlefield 4. And the feeling you get from this movie is exactly the same. So, if you’re feeling nostalgic for the good old early eighties, you better check out this underrated gem. Blue Thunder will surprise in more ways than you think it can.
Director: John Badham
Writers: Dan O’Bannon, Don Jakoby, Dean Riesner
Cast: Roy Scheider, Warren Oates, Candy Clark, Daniel Stern, Malcolm McDowell, Jason Bernard
Fun Facts: The car Murphy drives in Blue Thunder is a black 1981 Pontiac Turbo Trans Am Special Edition.