Directed by John Badham (Saturday Night Fever, Dracula, Stakeout) and written by Dan O’Bannon (Alien, Dark Star, Return of the Living Dead, Lifeforce) and Don Jakoby (The Philadelphia Experiment, Death Wish 3, Double Team), Blue Thunder stands between the conspiracy thrillers of the 70s and the big budget action films of the 80s.
O’Bannon and Jakoby began lived together in a Hollywood apartment where low-flying police helicopters kept them awake all night. Their original take was even more political with the police state controlling the population of Los Angeles through high-tech surveillance and military-level weapons. They also got extensive script help from Captain Bob Woods, then-chief of the LAPD Air Support Division.
What emerged was a movie with a totally awesome helicopter — I owned the toy as a kid — designed by Mickey Michaels. They’re a combination of Aérospatiale SA-341G Gazelles and Apache military helicopters with alterations that made them so heavy that they could barely fly much less pull off the moves in the battle at the close of the film.
Frank Murphy (Roy Scheider, who made this so he wouldn’t have to be in Jaws 3D) is a Vietnam War vet with PTSD who flies a helicopter for the Metropolitan Police Department — you know, the LAPD — along with observer Richard Lymangood (Daniel Stern). Together, they help police forces on the ground in Los Angeles. They’re invited to check out — and even pilot — a special helicopter known as Blue Thunder that can help protect the city during the Olympics.
It all seems too good to be true and Murphy figures that it’s a conspiracy to lead to more police militarization and illegally spying on civilians. He learns that the copter is part of T.H.O.R. Tactical Helicopter Offensive Response) and is being used to kill any politician that is standing in its way. It will eventually be piloted by U.S. Army Colonel F.E. Cochrane (Malcolm McDowell, who hated flying and looks incredibly upset during the fight at the end), the same man who gave Murphy all those bad memories from the war.
When Murphy and Lymnangood film evidence of this conspiracy, the pilot takes Blue Thunder and the observer is murdered by hitmen. Murphy gets the videotape to his girlfriend Kate (Candy Clark, who is awesome in this) and escorts her via the super copter to a TV station while more hitmen are in pursuit, as well as more copters, F-14s and Cochrane come after him.
This was one of the last films Warren Oates made and do I even have to tell you how incredible he is in it?
Somehow, a movie about the dangers of the LAPD getting these machines led to a series where they did and it was sold as a good thing and the dark movie that inspired the movie gets forgotten. James Farentino flew Blue Thunder along with Dana Carvey with Dick Butkus and Bubba Smith working as the ground crew. It lasted eleven episodes. However, another show about a futuristic helicopter, Airwolf, lasted 79 episodes.
“The hardware, weaponry and surveillance systems depicted in this film are real and in use in the United States today.”
Just imagine what’s out there 39 years later.
The Mill Creek Through the Decades: 1980s Collection has a ton of great movies at an affordable price. It also has Punchline, Who’s Harry Crumb?, Vice Versa, The New Kids, Roxanne, Little Nikita, Suspect, Band of the Hand and Like Father, Like Son. You can get this set from Deep Discount.