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Category:    Home > Reviews > Action > Thriller > Terorism > Vietnam > Blue Thunder (1983/Sony Blu-ray)

Blue Thunder (1983/Sony Blu-ray)


Picture: B     Sound: B     Extras: B-     Film: B-



John Badham is one of Hollywood’s underrated journeyman directors and may even be an auteur on some level, but the highly competent and efficient television director started to make a reputation for himself as a feature film director with the Motown Records-produced The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings (1976), then followed that with the huge hit Saturday Night Fever (1977) setting him up with a freedom few directors get.  After one of the more interesting Dracula films and dark comedy Whose Life Is It Anyway? (1981), he made the thriller Blue Thunder.


Roy Scheider (the late, great character actor still at his peak) plays a helicopter police pilot named Murphy in Los Angeles whose training in Vietnam has helped him be one of the top cops on the force.  Along with his partner (a young Daniel Stern), they do their job and sometimes get carried away with their flying.  Their Captain (one of the last roles of the legendary Warren Oates) has to deal with the complaints and tells them about it, but a new type of helicopter is on the horizon.


With advanced weapons, computer technology, electronic audio surveillance and armor, the Blue Thunder helicopter could be a real help to the force and when used within the law, could really also be a problem if in the wrong hands.  There is a competing pilot (Malcolm McDowell in another oddball performance) who could land up flying it, but Murphy soon discovers that because of its anti-terrorist capacities and ease of abuse beyond the law, certain military interests within the government may have deadlier plans.  When he turns out to be correct, things become dangerous.


I always like the idea of the film, but thought some of it was not as focused as it could be.  It has suspense, a fine cast, good acting and good action, but the action film side sometimes hurts the realism and the implications of the super-copter are not as deeply dealt with as they should have been.  Nevertheless, this film has aged very well, even appreciated in value and deserves serious rediscovery, especially after so many imitators and because this is an impressive Blu-ray.


When the film was released in 1983, the Rollback mentality was kicking in.  Fantasy films were taking over so a mature R-rated film like this (that might have received a PG-13 if released after Indiana Jones & The Temple Of Doom) cut out younger viewers and Columbia should have released this later in the Summer of 1983 instead of a few weeks before Return Of The Jedi.  Dan O’Bannon (on a roll with Dark Star, Alien, cult film Dead & Buried and the first animated Heavy Metal feature) co-wrote this with Don Jakoby (his first work) and an uncredited Dean Riesner.  It offers some fine writing and though a commercial film, is not fast food filmmaking with no point.  The original Blue Thunder is one of the better action films of the 1980s and even if you’ve seen it before, you should see it again.


The 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image was shot Director of Photography John A Alonzo (Chinatown, Black Sunday, De Palma’s Scarface) in real 35mm anamorphic Panavision and was also blown up into 70mm prints.  I have seen this film in many video copies, but not 35mm, yet this transfer is a huge surprise.  Despite some grain and very minor noise, it is an amazing transfer with excellent color reproduction, depth and high quality big-screen look that was soon to be lost with the success of VHS.  This transfer is so clean that you can easily imagine you are watching a film print, there are even some demo quality shots and you can also easily imagine this being blown up to 70mm.  Many 1980s films (and filmed TV shows for that matter) have looked shoddy, but Blue Thunder is now easily one of the best-looking films from that decade on Blu-ray and will remain so for a very long time.


The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 is also superior to the previous DVD versions, remastered from its 4.1 70mm Dolby magnetic stereo soundmix with only some of the audio sounding dated like the first demo attack of Blue Thunder itself.  That should have moiré impact and maybe a remix from the original sound stems would help.  However, the sound mix from 1983 for 70mm had some interesting choices in directionalized sound, sound fields and is a must-hear for all serious film fans.  Arthur B. Rubenstein (who rejoined Badham for WarGames later that year) delivers an interesting score that holds up just for being so different.


Extras include the original theatrical trailer, 1983 Promotional Featurette, two making of featurettes (The Special (about making the actual copter) and Ride With The Angles (in multiple parts)) and a feature length audio commentary including those who made the film like Badham and motion control supervisor Hoyt Yeatman.



For information about the TV series Columbia made, which is already issued on DVD, try this link:





-   Nicholas Sheffo


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