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Blue Thunder

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Blue Thunder

Starring: Roy Scheider, Candy Clark
Director: John Badham
Rated: R
RunTime: 110 Minutes
Release Date: May 1983
Genre: Action

*Also starring: Malcolm McDowell, Warren Oates, Daniel Stern, Paul Roebling, Joe Santos

Review by Dragan Antulov
3 stars out of 4

Less than a week ago Pope visited my town, and such, once-in-a-decade, event caused a lot of commotion among its citizens. Traffic was stopped, all the city services were in the state of emergency, and many aspects of everyday life weren't there any more. But, those were just a annoyances compared with the huge security operation that lasted weeks and months before the event. Both regular and secret police was conducting door-to-door searches of all the apartments and houses on the Pope's route; those who hadn't been visited by police had to endure endless sounds of helicopters flying over their heads and peeping into their homes in search of imaginary terrorists and assassins. Probably the very same thing happened in Los Angeles in the eve of 1984 Olympic Games. Fears of all-powerful and all-controlling government corresponded with the Year of Orwell, and movie producers in Los Angeles were affected by it just like any other citizens. Their paranoia actually inspired them to make a techno-thriller BLUE THUNDER, now almost forgotten, but in its time regarded as one of the best action movies of all times.

The movie's hero is Frank Murphy (Roy Scheider), helicopter pilot in Los Angeles Police Department, who does his job of flying policeman very well, despite the traumas he suffered in Vietnam. After being united with rookie pilot Lymangood (Daniel Stern), he must test the new prototype of next generation police helicopter - Blue Thunder. The machine is equipped with automatic cannons, armour, ultra- sensitive microphones and cameras, and with its silent engines can sneak into any part of the city almost unnoticed and wreak havoc or spy the unsuspecting inhabitants. Such powerful helicopter is to be used as part of security for the Olympics, or so the Federal people, led by Colonel Cochrane (Malcolm McDowell), his Vietnam nemesis, say to suspicious Murphy. But after he finds evidence that connects urban riots and the death of city official with the Blue Thunder project, his life is in danger. In order to save himself and warn the public, Murphy steals Blue Thunder and instantly becomes the target of spectacular manhunt by police and military.

One of the things that makes this movie so different from other contemporary action hits is its leftist anti-government agenda, which is in huge contrast with neoconservative American jingoism, so strong in Hollywood during the Reagan years. Instead of being the celebration of new military and police technology, BLUE THUNDER clearly warns the people of its possible abuses (even in the first shot, when the caption says that the "technology depicted in this film is real and in use in USA today"). Some of those abuses might be quite harmless - like the crew of police helicopters that peep into bedrooms of beautiful women, but it also can become quite frightening, like a recorded case of adultery. From those small abuses it takes the really small step to the huge conspiracy that would bring mayhem to unsuspecting public and throw them into the jaws of omnipotent police state. Those who want to control the masses from the air don't even need technological superwonders like Blue Thunder; regular helicopters are enough to make life miserable for any opposition in the ground.

Unfortunately, very good screenplay by talented Dan O'Bannon uses this dark overtones of 1970s political paranoia only in the first half. The carefully paced development of the plot serves only as an overture before the grand finale, when the politically conscious writer gives reign to action-oriented director. The ominous machine in the hands of the powerful conspirators is introduced in a shot that presents it as a threatening monster; however, when our protagonist gets a hand to it, it becomes a weapon of a superhero. The director John Badham, whose filmography shows that he can make masterpieces when given a good script (unfortunately, that didn't happen in more than a decade), is using the second part to make one of the most effective and impressive action scene in the last two decades of Hollywood movies. With the elements of chase and dogfight, and very cleverly done special effects (something very hard to imagine in today's computer- generated era) he uses the superb editing of the reactions bellow to give some pseudo-documentary feel to this action fantasy. He is so effective in it, that the viewer forgets to ask the simple questions, like "how can thousands of explosive rounds and numerous missiles can be fired in the middle of crowded city without single civilian casualty". However, suspension of disbelief is somewhat over- stretched in the last scene, when the highly implausible final dogfight between Cochrane and Murphy serves only to finish the story with the clich‚ more appropriate for Playstation action games than serious movie.

Despite the silliness at the end, BLUE THUNDER as a whole is a exceptional piece of good Hollywood cinema. The actors are superb - Roy Scheider is very believable as a reluctant hero who works well despite the stress and war traumas. Daniel Stern looks charming as a boyish sidekick, so different from the psychos he played in the later parts of his career. Such role is, on the other hand, somewhat overplayed by usually creepy Malcolm McDowell, who didn't even bother to get rid of the English accent (it was easier to write his English background in the story than to hire a dialogue coach). Other supporting actors are good, especially Warren Oates in his last role as Scheider's sympathetic boss. The electronic music of Arthur B. Rubinstein, with its enchanting yet menacing theme, works very well in order to enhance the movie's gloomy atmosphere. All in all, BLUE THUNDER is a movie that should be both the real inspiration for the makers of future action cinema and the warning to all those who forget how helpless the individual can be against the government.

Copyright © 1998 Dragan Antulov

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