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Blu-ray Reviews

HTF Blu-ray Review: Blue Thunder

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#1 of 5 OFFLINE   Todd Erwin

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Posted August 10 2009 - 12:51 PM

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 Blue Thunder (Blu-ray)

  • Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
  • Theatrical Release Year: 1983
  • US DVD Release Date: August 11, 2009
  • Rated: R
  • Running Time: 109 minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 anamorphic
  • Audio: Dolby TrueHD (English, French)
  • Subtitles: English, English (SDH), French

Movie: 3.5 out of 5
I will always fondly remember the summer of 1983. I had just graduated from high school, and had a great lineup of summer movies to look forward to: Return of the Jedi, Trading Places, The Man With Two Brains, Twilight Zone: The Movie, Superman III, Jaws 3-D, Cujo, Strange Brew. Director John Badham managed to make two movies that were released that summer. Although better known for his June release War Games, just two weeks earlier saw the release of Blue Thunder.
Roy Scheider plays yet another cop, Officer Frank Murphy, a helicopter pilot who patrols the night skies above Los Angeles. As the film opens, he is breaking in a rookie partner, Lymangood (Daniel Stern). A councilwoman on the mayor’s task force for violent crimes is brutally murdered on their watch, and the two officers are suspended. But Murphy suspects something else is going on in connection to the councilwoman’s murder. When Murphy and Lymangood are chosen to test a new high-tech military helicopter prototype over the city, supposedly to deter riots and hostage situations during the upcoming Summer Olympics, the two officers discover the government has a much different, terrifying use for the new copter. What follows is a highly entertaining cat and mouse game amid the skyscrapers of the City of Angels.
This was Badham’s first action-thriller, after directing the dramas Whose Life Is It Anyway (with Richard Dreyfuss), Dracula (with Frank Langella), and Saturday Night Fever (with John Travolta). Badham does a good job keeping the story moving, and is an impressive first attempt in this genre. He would later go on to direct a series of action movies, including Stakeout (and its sequel), Bird On a Wire, The Hard Way, and Point of No Return (a remake of Luc Besson’s La Femme Nikita), although more recently he’s been working in television, directing episodes of Crossing Jordan, Heroes, Las Vegas, In Plain Sight, and Psych.
Scheider is good, as he usually is, and very comfortable at playing Murphy as a Viet Nam veteran turned police officer. Stern is very likeable in a geeky, goofy way as the partner Lymangood, fresh from his role in Diner, although his character seems more of a plot device than having any real depth. In his final screen performance, Warren Oates chews up the scenery as Captain Braddock, who is in charge of the ASTRO division for Los Angeles Metro Police (LAPD is never mentioned in the film). He spews some good one-liners, courtesy of Alien scribes Dan O’Bannon and Don Jakoby, but his character is still well-grounded and never as crazy as his Colonel “Madman” Maddox in Steven Spielberg's 1941. Malcolm MacDowell is excellent as the creepy, arrogant Colonel Cochrane, Blue Thunder’s assigned pilot who has a history with Murphy, dating back to the Viet Nam war. Candy Clark rounds out the cast as Murphy’s girlfriend, Kate.
Time has not been kind to Blue Thunder, though. Most of the special effects used are still effective, but much of the technology featured in the film is very outdated. All of the monitors inside the chopper are CRTs, surveillance is recorded on ¾-inch U-matic videotape, and the title design was obviously created on a MS-DOS command prompt. The music score by Arthur B. Rubinstein is what really dates this film, desperately wanting to sound like a Tangerine Dream score, but coming off as a cheap knockoff. But, that was 1983, so if you are a forgiving viewer, like myself, you can give the film some slack for its now-dated look and sound.
Video: 4 out of 5Sony brings Blue Thunder to Blu-ray in a spectacular 1080p AVC encode, framed in the film’s original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The film has never looked better, especially for a film shot in the early 1980s. Black levels are good, flesh tones accurate, and colors not overly saturated. The print used is free of noticeable dirt or debris, other than those inherent in the original negative. Film grain is noticeable but not distracting, offering a theatre-like presentation.Audio: 3 out of 5The Dolby TrueHD soundtrack is active when it needs to be, with some impressive panning effects during flyovers and during the many dogfights in the third act. Dialogue is intelligible, and overall the track has pretty good fidelity for what was originally a Dolby Stereo mix created in 1983, although the LFE is virtually non-existent. Explosions sound a bit flat, and Rubinstien’s music score suffers the most, sounding a bit tinny at times.
Special Features: 4 out of 5Sony has ported over virtually all of the features from the 2006 Special Edition DVD produced by Charles de Lauzirika, in standard definition. All of the 2006-produced features are in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen.
Filmmaker’s Commentary: Director John Badham and editor Frank Morriss discuss making the film, including how the movie was developed, problems with the helicopter, how they were able to use the LAPD’s new helicopter base before it opened, working with the cast, their thoughts on the music score, etc. It’s a very engaging track, with the two bouncing thoughts and memories off of each other.
“The Special”: Building Blue Thunder: An eight minute look back at how the helicopter used in Blue Thunder was designed, by taking a Gazelle helicopter from France and bolting panels to the frame to make it appear more masculine.
Ride With The Angels: Making Blue Thunder: This 45-minute documentary is a detailed look at how the movie got made, featuring interviews with writer Dan O’Bannon (discussing how he and Don Jakoby wrote the script “on spec” after their success with Alien), director John Badham, Roy Scheider, visual consultant Philip Harrison, editor Frank Morriss, and motion control supervisor Hoyt Yeatman.
1983 Promotional Featurette: A nine minute EPK piece, featuring on-set interviews with Roy Scheider and John Badham. This appears to have been filmed in 16mm, and possibly transferred from a ¾” U-matic videotape. Oddly, the video has been cropped to 1.78:1 ratio, but is presented in non-anamorphic widescreen.
Original Theatrical Trailer: The big surprise on this disc is Sony’s inclusion of this trailer. Let's hope Sony will continue this trend. Unfortunately, the trailer is in 1.85:1 non-anamorphic widescreen.
BD-Live: As with all Sony Blu-ray releases these days, this disc is BD-Live enabled, providing access to their BD-Live portal. As of press time, there were no exclusive BD-Live features for this title.
Overall: 4 out of 5
Although a bit dated in its technology, Blue Thunder is still an entertaining action-thriller. Sony’s Blu-ray release of this catalog title will likely not disappoint its fans.
Edited by Toddwrtr - 8/11/2009 at 01:19 am GMT

#2 of 5 OFFLINE   Eric F

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Posted August 10 2009 - 01:10 PM

I loved this movie when I was a kid- I guess this is good news and I should pick this up.

#3 of 5 ONLINE   Neil Middlemiss

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Posted August 11 2009 - 10:11 AM

Excellent review, Todd. I saw this again last year when it was shown on HD-NET Movies (I think). Still a good thriller.

And it's been quite some time since I saw anyone reference Strange Brew - Still makes me laugh.
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#4 of 5 OFFLINE   ScottJH


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Posted August 13 2009 - 11:36 AM

Amazon currently has this for $10.99.

#5 of 5 OFFLINE   RickER



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Posted August 13 2009 - 04:22 PM

Originally Posted by ScottJH 

Amazon currently has this for $10.99.
Im on it. Had to cancel, and re-order from them. Seems like they are a bit slow at dropping a price on something you ordered, but has yet to ship. That was a nice $10 savings!

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