Another Roy Scheider film, coming shortly after post #792’s 2010 – The Year We make Contact. This time Roy takes his likable masculinity to the skies of Los Angeles. He plays Frank Murphy, a police helicopter pilot charged with looking after rookie flight-engineer Richard Lymangood (played by a fresh-out-of-the-womb Daniel Stern). There’s something not quite right about Murphy though. He spends a lot of time in the locker room, pre-shift, with his eyes shut as he times himself against his digital watch. IT’S VIETNAM, MAN! YOU DON’T KNOW, YOU WEREN’T THERE!
Murphy and Lymangood spend their time in the air peeping at a naked chick doing yoga in her living room, before they’re rudely interrupted by having to do some actual work. A city councilwoman is murdered in a seemingly random murder, and Murphy starts investigating it himself.
Meanwhile, Malcolm McDowell’s Colonel Cochrane turns up with a prototype military helicopter – codename: Blue Thunder – presumably named after x-rated flatulence. Murphy and Lymangood are tasked with testing the new helicopter, which has been developed for riot control at the 1984 Olympics. Things are not as they seem, and the film finds Murphy battling Cochrane in the skies in the thrilling finale.
I have a strong memory of watching Blue Thunder on video when it was first released, which would place me around the age of five. Something happens to Daniel Stern’s character mid-way through the movie, and I definitely remember being shielded from the scene by a parent who was starting to figure out that the film’s ‘15’ rating was justified. Aside from this bit of nastiness, the rest of the film is an easy-going thriller, with aspects of gung-ho heroism. Directed by John Badham and co-written by Dan O’Bannon, it prefaces the late-1980s action-thriller boom at the hands of producers like Joel Silver.
The soundtrack score, composed, conducted and produced by Arthur B. Rubinstein is fantastic, expertly making use of the Synclavier II alongside Moog, Jupiter and Prophet analogue synths. The main title feels like one of the great, lost action themes of the 1980s, and definitely deserves a listen if you’ve never heard it.
In terms of casting, McDowell’s character may be a cartoon cut-out but Roy Scheider and Daniel Stern are so damn affable, it’s a shame the film didn’t lead to a sequel. If it had been made five years later, it probably would have led to a franchise. A short-lived TV spinoff (featuring Dana Carvey in the flight-engineer role) aired for one season in 1984 before being overshadowed by the sleeker Airwolf, which took off in the same year, eventually running for 4 four seasons and eighty episodes.
Hit: Main Title / Dusting
Hidden Gem: Thermographics