Blue Thunder Review

For a movie basing its entire existence around a helicopter, that aircraft sure is ugly. Maybe time has not been kind to the fantastical creation Blue Thunder, but the boxy, clunky, and station wagon-like look doesn’t offer much. It’s not very intimidating, excusing of course the technologically advanced turret strapped to the front of it.

Blue Thunder also doesn’t do much with its prize chopper, plodding along while our lead characters become increasingly creepy perverts. Frank Murphy (Roy Scheider) pilots this new aircraft, testing it out for around an hour before anything start propelling this lackadaisical script forward.

Eventually, after learning of the craft’s latest advancements, Murphy’s Vietnam history, painfully obvious foreshadowing, Blue Thunder finds its groove. Once its action kicks in, Murphy taking to the skies of Los Angeles, this is a blast.

What seems like it may end up being quite grounded in reality turns into a wonderfully overdone actioner in the skies, the sight of a chicken joint be blasted away by a missile as hundreds of the cooked birds fall from the sky is an ’80s classic. The military sends up F-16s to blow the machine up, yet they fail miserably.

It all comes down to a close quarters showdown amidst the skyscrapers as Murphy’s rival F. E. Cochrane (Malcolm McDowell) takes matters into his own hands, the superlative aerial stuntwork creating some genuine tension as the craft weave between the buildings. Seamless miniature work is utilized effortlessly, intertwined with precision flying for, at least in terms of the movies, realistic visual splendor.

Blue Thunder was adapted into a short-lived TV series the same year as the film, before the plotline was basically stolen by Airwolf, another helicopter based series with Jan Michael Vincent stealing a government prototype chopper and dealing with the bad guys. Airwolf, with its refitted Bell-222 chopper looked awesome, contained a spectacular ’80s intro theme, and probably lives on more so than either the Blue Thunder TV series or movie. That said, Jan Michael Vincent never took out a chicken shack in Chinatown, which gives audiences something to remember.

Movie ★★★☆☆ 

Sony’s AVC encode for Blue Thunder starts a little worrisome, appearing a bit sharpened and edgy, faces coming off a little pinkish and processed. While it does carry those qualities through the rest of the film, it does seem minor, certainly inoffensive as far as the overall quality is concerned.

This is a reasonably solid effort, the source pristine, and the black levels satisfying. The latter is a bit inconsistent, occasionally an effects shot slipping in terms of depth, or a nighttime sequence appearing a bit flat. Generally, shadow detail is intact, and the blacks rich enough to offer a sense of dimensionality.

A routine color scheme produces natural hues, nothing overdone or heavily saturated. Beyond the slightly pale flesh tones at times, nothing appears amiss. The grain structure can appear slightly heavy, almost certainly the results of that minor sharpening that seems evident, but remains in control. Only one spike is noted, and even that is minuscule.

The sharpness of the print leads to fine high fidelity detail coming through, Roy Schneider getting the bulk of the nicely rendered sequences. Multiple flashbacks to an incident in Vietnam produce some nicely done facial detail, the first at 13:06. Some of the darker shots inside the helicopters are equally as impressive, maybe even more so than the others due to the low light. The aerial photography produces some vivid visuals as well, the city clear and crisp when the camera remains still.

Video ★★★★☆ 

A TrueHD audio mix features a prominent score, this one from Arthur B. Rubinstein. Fidelity is superb at its peak, and those peaks are loud. There’s little questions as to how forceful it is, dominating the other audio effects by design when it wants to. There is no distortion, although the lack of any subwoofer support does leave it a little flat.

A few explosions have a bit of punch to them, as does the roar of the choppers rotors at 30:06. It’s a little flat, certainly not natural, but it does give a bit of a kick to an audio mix without much.

The real highlight is the surround tracking, prevalent as the F-16s move in for their attack. They sweep by the viewer, pushing front to back effectively. Separation is clear and precise. The track also produces some great ambiance inside the police station as frantic officials scatter about at 1:17:40, papers and chatter spreading the speakers wide with believable effects.

Audio ★★★★☆ 

Director John Badham, editor Frank Morriss, and motion control supervisor Hoyt Yeatman provide a commentary track, beginning a solid slate of bonus features. The Special discusses the look of the improved machine, followed by a 45-minute documentary Ride With the Angels. A promo from 1983 is included, followed by trailers and BD-Live access.

Extras ★★★☆☆