DVD Review HTF REVIEW: Blue Thunder

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Aaron Silverman, Apr 5, 2006.

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  1. Aaron Silverman

    Aaron Silverman Executive Producer

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    [​IMG]
    Blue Thunder: Special Edition

    US Theatrical Release: May 13, 1983 (Columbia Pictures)
    US DVD Release: April 4, 2006
    Running Time: 1:49:06 (28 chapter stops)
    Rating: R (Lots of relatively bloodless violence, some swearing, and a bit of nudity)
    Video: 2.35:1 anamorphic (Extra Features: 2.35:1 anamorphic (yeah!) and 1.33:1 non-anamorphic)
    Audio: English DD5.1, French DD2.0, Portuguese DD2.0 (Extra Features: English DD2.0)
    Subtitles: English, French, Portuguese, Spanish (Extra Features (including commentary track): Portuguese, Spanish)
    TV-Generated Closed Captions: English (Extra Features: None)
    Menus: Some intro animation.
    Packaging: Standard keepcase; insert features cover images from other Sony Pictures titles on both sides.
    MSRP: $19.94

    THE WAY I FEEL ABOUT IT: 3/5

    About twenty-five years ago, writers Dan O’Bannon and Don Jakoby decided to tackle the subject of modern surveillance technology. With 1984 rapidly approaching, George Orwell’s fictional dystopia, where no thought escaped the notice of the all-knowing government, was front and center in the public consciousness. The concept of Big Brother, terrifying enough in the era of dictators like Stalin and Hitler, took on a new relevance as technology advanced beyond even Orwell’s vivid imagination.

    In O’Bannon and Jakoby’s script, the threat takes the form of a super-helicopter, nicknamed “Blue Thunder,” that combines the latest infrared and listening equipment with a machine gun that couldn’t possibly be useful outside of a full-blown battlefield, all wrapped in an intimidating-yet-snazzy armored shell. The inside of the chopper is decked out with plenty of computer and video screens, as well as recorders that preserve both the targets of the spy gear and the conversations of its own occupants– nobody is safe from Blue Thunder’s prying eyes and ears, not even its own pilots. Also on board is a computer link to a worldwide database of information on nearly every living man, woman and child. Pure sci-fi in 1983; a simple click on Google in 2006. Eerily prescient stuff. One can’t help but wonder if these writers imagined at the time that they would see their plot invention come to life not only for secret government agencies, but also for pretty much anybody.

    Roy Scheider leads the cast as the stereotypical maverick pilot with stereotypical flashbacks to ‘Nam. Daniel Stern is his stereotypical wide-eyed young partner – you know the one, the kid who needs to be avenged to kick off the third act. In his last role, Warren Oates verifies that he’s the perfect choice for a stereotypical gruff-yet-loveable police captain with a penchant for creative cursing. And who better to give us a snooty antagonist with a nefarious British accent than Malcolm McDowell? Candy Clark, on the other hand, gets to break the mold of the stereotypical ditzy girlfriend with her very own car chase scene.

    Blue Thunder takes a relatively leisurely hour-long stroll through a stock government conspiracy plot, with sometimes hackneyed dialogue (buoyed by Oates, who could turn a middling one-liner into a classic put-down) and only occasional moments of action (does spying on a nude yoga practitioner count?), before exploding into a series of chase scenes and aerial battles. The action sequences are nicely put together, riding the line between cool-but-realistic and far-fetched, occasionally stepping over the line but not quite all the way. In this relic of the pre-CGI era, the spectacular shots of helicopters flying and fighting mainly consisted of real choppers actually whipping around the skies over Los Angeles, which grounds the action (so to speak) and lends it a gritty, almost documentary-like feel. It’s not as flashy as the over-the-top digital graphics that we’re used to today, but this film is more interested in a story that the audience might find plausible than in simply blowing them away with visuals.

    As films go, Blue Thunder is a real man’s man. Although it considers serious themes, the details of the plot are there to set up the action, and the few female characters are tangential. Squealing tires, bullets, and explosions are the order of the day. The fact that they’re all blazing through a real city as opposed to a backlot or a computer-generated environment really brings the viewer into the action, even when it goes a bit over the top. Blue Thunder is a solid piece of popcorn-munching entertainment that also gives the audience a little bit to think about.


    THE WAY I SEE IT: 2.5/5

    The source print is mostly pretty clean, with just a few visible blemishes. It sports that grainy, somewhat washed-out look that’s common to films of the seventies and early eighties, which means that black levels are, for the most part, not terribly deep. Digital artifacts were not an issue, but many scenes feature a noticeable amount of edge enhancement.


    THE WAY I HEAR IT: 2/5

    The audio is a bit of a disappointment. The mostly synthesized music sounds alright, but the dialogue tends to be thin and tinny and a lot of the sound effects are anemic. The LFE channel is rather bizarre. It shows up about a half-dozen times, but is conspicuously absent most of the time in a film chock-full of helicopter engines, gunfire and explosions. For example, in the scene where Blue Thunder is demonstrated for an audience of local officials, its arrival is signaled by a throbbing subwoofer rumble. But as soon as its machine gun opens up and things start exploding – no more LFE. At the end of the scene, as the chopper flies off, the sub appears again for a moment. The lack of booming bass in what was a prime candidate for a real house-shaking experience is almost tragic. On the plus side, there are some decent directional effects, but they aren't enough to mask the missing subwoofer.


    THE SWAG: 2.5/5 (rating combines quality and quantity)

    Commentary With Director John Badham, Editor Frank Morriss and Motion Control Supervisor Hoyt Yeatman

    The commentary is pretty interesting, although it has a few too many quiet spots. Also, Morriss and Yeatman make nary a peep – Badham does nearly all the talking (which isn’t meant as a knock on him). Very little of it overlaps with the material in the featurettes, so it’s worth a listen.

    The Special: Building Blue Thunder (8:22; 2.35:1 anamorphic)

    This new piece features interviews with members of the crew and production photos, going into great detail about the design and construction of the Blue Thunder helicopter. Cool stuff.

    Ride With The Angels: The Making Of Blue Thunder (2.35:1 anamorphic)

    This great feature consists of 3 sections, which can be played individually or in sequence. It consists of newly shot interviews with John Badham, writer Dan O’Bannon, star Roy Scheider, and various other members of the crew, along with some vintage behind-the-scenes footage and production photos. They go into all sorts of interesting topics, with very little fluff. In a bit of wackiness, the small amount of 4:3 behind-the-scenes footage is stretched to fill the 2:35 frame.

    Part 1: Pre-Production (16:08)

    This featurette talks about the development of the story and script and preparation for the production.

    Part 2: Production (18:41)

    This piece focuses on the effects and big action set-pieces. You don’t see this kind of get-your-hands-dirty stuff much anymore in today’s world of CGI. A very cool blast from the past.

    Part 3: Post-Production (10:22)

    The final part mostly covers the editing process, plus a couple of scenes that were deleted and changes made for the TV version of the film. It also talks about the relevance of the film’s themes in today’s post-9/11 world.

    Behind-The-Scenes: Blue Thunder (8:18; 1.33:1 non-anamorphic)

    This vintage 1983 promo piece is essentially an EPK, but features a fair amount of behind-the-scenes footage and is worth a look.

    Storyboard Galleries

    Three sets of storyboards that can be clicked through using the remote buttons: Macy Street Bridge Sequence (23 frames), Montoya Attack Sequence (19 frames), and S.W.A.T. Attack Sequence (45 frames).

    Trailers
    • Blue Thunder (3:20) (DD2.0; 1.85:1 non-anamorphic)
    • The Patriot: Extended Cut (1:32) (DD2.0; 1.85:1 non-anamorphic)
    • The Fog (2005) (2:12) (DD2.0; 1.78:1 anamorphic)
    • The Best Of World War II Movies (1:21) (DD2.0; 1.78:1 non-anamorphic)

    SUMMING IT ALL UP

    The Way I Feel About It: 3/5
    The Way I See It: 2.5/5
    The Way I Hear It: 2/5
    The Swag: 2.5/5


    Blue Thunder is an old favorite of action aficionados that still has relevance to modern political issues more than 20 years after its debut. With government surveillance prominently featured in the news in recent months, the decades-old technology featured in the film doesn’t feel quite as antiquated as it might have a few years ago. The aerial battle sequences still hold up as well, but that’s due to the fact that exciting aerial battle sequences never really go out of style. While the new disc is certainly an improvement over the much earlier bare-bones release, it still leaves plenty of room for improvement in the eventual hi-def edition, especially in the audio department. (If it came out that the LFE track was somehow messed up during the production of the disc, I don’t think anyone would be surprised.) However, the merely passable A/V is complemented by a very cool selection of extra features and a quite reasonable price tag, so fans of the film who don’t want to wait for HD will get their money’s worth. If your significant other talked you into Memoirs Of A Geisha last week, and you want something a bit more masculine this time, Blue Thunder isn’t a bad choice, even if it won’t blow you away.
     
  2. Steve Christou

    Steve Christou Long Member

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    Thanks for the review Aaron. Blue Thunder's an old 80's favorite of mine, I already have two copies on dvd, a Region 1 followed by Region 2 (for 5.1 surround), so this will be a triple dip.

    The much-maligned 80's may have produced few genuinely great landmark films but it was packed with enjoyable movies like this one. I know I've said this before but IMO no other decade has produced as many cult favorites and guilty pleasures "Catch you later." [​IMG]
     
  3. Jerome Grate

    Jerome Grate Cinematographer

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    I'm another fan of this movie, I'll be picking this one up thanks to the anamorphic transfer.
     
  4. Shawn.F

    Shawn.F Supporting Actor

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    Ah, J.A.F.O. [​IMG]

    I remember owning the RCA Videodisc of this one (remember those?).
     
  5. Robert Crawford

    Robert Crawford Moderator
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    Was the previous release non-anamorphic?




    Crawdaddy
     
  6. Chuck Mayer

    Chuck Mayer Lead Actor

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    I was unable to see this in theaters, because I was an elementary school kid. It was the first movie I ever "wanted" to see, that I was unable to because of the rating. A few years later, when I was allowed to see R films (6th Grade), it was one of my first rentals.

    One of my mom's favorite stories is me crying my eyes out because "they" made the "helicopter movie" R. "How could they do that?!?!"

    So, yeah...I'm buying this [​IMG]
     
  7. Steve Christou

    Steve Christou Long Member

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    Both my previous copies, R1 and R2, were anamorphic.
     
  8. Rhett_Y

    Rhett_Y Screenwriter

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    This really disapppoints me with the lack of sound. Man they could of really made this one sound good. I may rent it to see if it is worth a double dip. I was really stoked about getting this too....

    [​IMG]


    Bummer.....

    R~
     
  9. Aaron Silverman

    Aaron Silverman Executive Producer

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    I actually have the original release, but I can't seem to find it! I'll keep poking around and post a comparison if it turns up.

    Even if the A/V turns out to be identical (which, from what I've heard, I doubt to be the case), the extra features are almost certainly worth the tiny price difference between the two editions.
     
  10. Aaron Silverman

    Aaron Silverman Executive Producer

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    That reminds me of Robocop -- when I saw that it would be rated R, my reaction was "that looks like such a kid's movie! How are they going to sell any tickets?" [​IMG]
     
  11. Russell G

    Russell G Fake Shemp

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    I remeber seeing this in one of the few dirt theaters we had. I loved it. Loop-d-loops-in-a-helicopter baby!

    As far as this release goes, it's one of those films I'm kinda scared of now. Alot of films I loved as akid are just awful now, to the point of I don;t want to ruin my memory of it. Ahh hell, I'll probably snag this on sale.
     
  12. Aaron Silverman

    Aaron Silverman Executive Producer

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    It's a bit cheesy, but it's certainly not awful. The vintage non-CGI action sequences are definitely nostalgia city!
     
  13. Jordan_E

    Jordan_E Cinematographer

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    This movie really hit the ol Nostalgia Button for me and was worth the price, if only for the memories it raised. Was a little disappointed with the transfer and sound, but the Way Back Machine moments recalling seeing this at the local drive-in with 4 buddies and a case of beer made any shortcomings moot.[​IMG]
     
  14. Paul McElligott

    Paul McElligott Cinematographer

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    Two words for this movie's appeal to me and my friends: nude yoga. [​IMG]
     
  15. Aaron Silverman

    Aaron Silverman Executive Producer

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    Check out the featurette where they show the nude yoga scene side-by-side with the bikini yoga scene they shot for the TV version. [​IMG] (IIRC, in one picture you can see the woman's real-life boyfriend standing off to the side -- according to the director, he was armed!)
     
  16. Will_B

    Will_B Producer

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    Now we just need Albert Finney and Susan Dey in Looker to complete the selection of "prescient" action films.
     
  17. Jon Martin

    Jon Martin Cinematographer

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    Does anyone remember in the early 80's, there was a show on Nickelodeon, hosted by Leonard Nimoy, where they showed promos of films in release? I remember seeing one for BLUE THUNDER. This must be the same one.

    Great review! I'll be double dipping (well, triple, I have it on laserdisc too).
     
  18. Jeff_HR

    Jeff_HR Producer

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    The same here! [​IMG] [​IMG]
     
  19. Dave Hahn

    Dave Hahn Second Unit

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    Nice review Aaron, your description of the film was spot on.

    I find it amazing that the studio let this out with such a poor audio track. Blue Thunder is, at it's heart an action movie. It demands good LFE. This isn't 1999, studios just can't throw out a dvd and expect everyone to scoop it up anymore. There are just too many choices competing for our dollars these days. I have the original release and can wait for the eventual HDDVD. Special features are nice but for me, its about the movie.
     
  20. Aaron Silverman

    Aaron Silverman Executive Producer

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    Thanks, guys!

    I too was surprised at the relatively anemic audio track. Every now and then there's a weird QA issue with a Sony title, like the SE of Leon that wasn't flagged properly for progressive scan. Hopefully we'll eventually get a butt-kickin' audio track on Blu-Ray.
     

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