Guilty Pleasures: “Blue Thunder”

February 6, 2012

Oh yes! Blue Thunder! Now, this is a proper movie. Sure, the plot doesn’t make any sense, but what the hell. Neither does the notion of a police helicopter that can muffle the sound of its rotors, use thermal-imaging to look through walls, employ directional mikes mounted right beneath the rotors, sport armor plating, and carry a 20mm Vulcan cannon—but we buy it. Why? Because it looks cool as hell and it blows a lot of stuff up. For a 14 year-old kid whose bedroom’s airspace was crowded with model aircraft engaged an all manner of aerial duels, this movie was like a straight shot of serotonin.  And you know what? It’s still cool as hell. Wanna know why? Oh yes you do…

* The chopper: Well, duh. No sense beating around the bush here. It’s an awkward, ugly, magnificent beast. More like a flying tank than a helicopter. It even looks mean enough to take on one of those monstrous Mil MI-24 gunships the Soviets so enjoyed using to terrorize the Mujahedeen and John Rambo. Of course, it’s ludicrously oversized and looks like it has no right being able to move under its own power. So what? You could say the same thing about The Rock, but it’s still fun watching him bust up things. Blue Thunder can bust things up from a thousand feet in the air.

Awesomesauce...now it can fly!

* Dog Fights: Okay, so what does Blue Thunder tangle with in this movie? Well, we got a bunch of wimpy LAPD Bell Jetrangers, a cop car (not a huge threat, that), a Hughes Little Bird with a mounted cannon, and…lemme see…was there anything else? Oh yeah, a freaking F-16 jet fighter! And all within the urban canyons of LA.

* Roy Scheider: No two ways about it, Roy was one of the coolest actors working. As I said in my obituary for him, he was the last of cinema’s real men. A broken-beaked, fast-talking, original Noo-Yawker with a face like a catcher’s mitt, this guy grounded every movie he appeared in. Nowadays it’s all skinny, pretty boys with soy-milk physiques and personal trainers, but Roy always came off like a guy that had taken his knocks in life, and had landed a few blows of his own. In Jaws, he (allegedly) ad-libbed that they needed a bigger boat. In Blue Thunder he got it.

None of us will ever be this cool.

* Malcolm McDowell: Even as a kid, I couldn’t quite figure out what a Brit was doing tossing Viet Cong out of an American chopper in Roy’s flashbacks to the ‘Nam. It made even less sense that he’d be showing up to instruct the LAPD on the proper use of an urban assault chopper. The Brits are not exactly know for their helicopter superiority. But what the hell? He’s a great bad guy—snide, craven, and sadistic. It’s a genuine pleasure to see him blown out of the sky.

Even his turtleneck is evil.

* The Stupidest Missiles Ever: Right, so the F-16s get off two Sidewinder heat-seeking missiles. Game over, right? Wrong! Roy tricks the first into hitting a barbecue joint in Chinatown (it was Watts in the original script, but obviously somebody decided not to be a racist douchebag). The other follows the reflection of the sun off a skyscraper. Goddamn, these are, like, the worst missiles ever.

*”Modern” Technology: Yeah, Blue Thunder can record video and audio on these things called “video cassette tapes.” Why, they’re just like the cassette tapes you use in your fancy new Walkman, except they can record not only sounds but video! I know, right! It’s like we’re living in space! They’re very compact—no bigger than, say, a volume of Black’s Law Dictionary, and if you remove them from their metal case, they can’t be erased. Amazing, huh? And it all really exists.

* A Nonsensical Plot: Now, it’s not inconceivable that the LAPD would mount a Gatling gun on a police helicopter—they probably would have by now, if not for that whole federal oversight thing—but the nefarious plot Roy uncovers—the one that forces him to steal Blue Thunder—is that a cabal of evil politicians and businessmen plan on using it to eliminate their political enemies. Um, is a helicopter gunship necessarily the most subtle way to go about this? Who cares? We need the plot to go.

"Can we move this plot along? I gotta blow some shit up."

* Daniel Stern Gets Killed: I’m sorry, but the dude’s voice just annoys the hell out of me.

* No Innocent Bystanders Were Harmed in the Making of This: Blue Thunder’s extended dogfights pour literally metric tons of debris down upon the city, yet everyone manages to scamper out its path just in the nick of time. Los Angeles may be a car-culture, but those Angelinos can be agile when they need to be.

"Collateral what now?"

* The Music Over The Closing Credits: Tell me this doesn’t say early ‘80s.

Yeah, Blue Thunder. Never not good (except if we’re talking about the lousy TV show that starred Bubba Smith and Dana Carvey…that sucked).


  1. I remember this movie when I was a wee lad. I never saw it but my grandpa watched it a few times. I think it was on Spectravision (like HBO but with an antenna). Never thought I was missing anything but I may have to check it out.

  2. Heh…Spectravision. I remember that.

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