Roy Scheider stars as Murphy a maverick cop (those were the only ones around in the 1980’s) who is enlisted to test a new state of the art helicopter by the name of Blue Thunder. As with most new hi-tech weaponry there’s a pack of sinister bad guys who are looking to exploit it for their own uses. Murphy stumbles onto their plot and has to stop them, ironically with the use of Blue Thunder.
Directed by John Badham Blue Thunder is a fondly remembered film from those who saw it originally back in the early 80’s. It was an example of what a big exciting action film was back in the day. It eventually spawned a short-lived TV series and was the inspiration for the Jan Michael-Vincent television show Air Wolf. So Blue Thunder did leave a mark, but is the film any good?
Rewatching it I found it….ok. It’s a very cliché-heavy film that has some decent action and performances. As I said there’s the ‘maverick’ cop with the strained personal relationships. Candy Clark is Murphys put upon main squeeze who has to endure his renegade habits and accept she’s with a guy who is fighting some demons.
Murphy is haunted by memories of his Vietnam experiences and an old foe from back then played by Malcolm McDowell, who naturally shows back up as Blue Thunder’s pilot and is the movies bad guy. There’s also Daniel Stern’s naive rookie cop, who has to get a crash course in aerial police work by Murphy.
And no cop/action movie is complete without the loud, unhappy, strict boss who has to consistently chew Murphy out for his behavior. Warren Oates has a few funny lines and he fulfills his duties in the required role decently enough.
All of that is a pretty by-the-numbers cop movie. The thing that distinguishes Blue Thunder from the crop is the helicopter.
Blue Thunder is really the star of this. The whole time you’re waiting for its appearance. Today it might not exactly look as ominous and hi-tech as it did back in ’83, but it does still look really cool. The final aerial battle between Murphy and McDowell is pretty good. There are lots of nifty copter shots, explosions in the city, citizens running for cover. I wish we got more of that.
I know Blue Thunder has its fair share of hardcore fans, but I’ve never been a member of that group. For me, it’s not a bad film, some of the actors and action are entertaining enough to hold my interest, but it averages out to be just an adequate movie for my taste. It was really never one of my favorites back then or now.
I’ve heard plans for a remake of Blue Thunder have been discussed for years. Last I heard they were going to swap the helicopter with drones. That doesn’t sound too appealing. I’m not sure if kids would be as wowed by drones compared to a futuristic fully-armed black helicopter. But there’s still no sign of that remake yet.
The only thing I really remember about this movie is spending a week meticulously building the Revell model. I then promptly took it into my back yard, filled it with firecrackers, and the rest is history.
I was 15 when it first came out, and for a 15 year old boy it was great. Looking at it now, yes, I can see the flaws: The clichés, the formulaic details, the squelchy synthesiser soundtrack and wondering how Malcolm McDowell both manages to keep his immaculately cut-dry English accent and yet is a fully paid up member of the US Army with Vietnam war experiences?
However it does serve as a measure for how action movies were back then and how they are now and Blue Thunder gets things right that a lot, if not most, modern action films fail at. For example, it remembers to make the protagonist sympathetic, even if he is a troubled maverick cop. It helps to have a likeable actor in Roy Scheider in the lead role, but it also helps to have him be interesting enough to want to care about when things go wrong. Also, the third act is tense and exciting. The antagonists keep upping the ante on Murphy and he can't just blow them all up because some of them are his colleagues in the police force or pilots from the air force who are following a hangdog mayor's orders, so he has to resort to being cunning and smart….and how many smart heroes do you see in movies these days? If Blue Thunder was going to be remade, it would just rely on Murphy blowing stuff up, everything would blow up, there would be fireballs a-plenty and not one real helicopter or stunt pilot in sight.
I'd enjoy a version that had Roddy McDowell as the bad guy. It would be an excellent against-type bit of casting.
What is interesting is one of the most “futuristic” features of Blue Thunder, the gun which moves with the pilot’s helmet, became a standard feature of the UH-64 Apache attack helicopter a year later.