Blue Thunder is the story of Chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) who got sick of fighting sharks in Amity, changed his name to Frank Murphy and decided to become a divorced police helicopter pilot for the LAPD’s Astro Division. Roy plays things fast and loose and is constantly in trouble. In fact, he’s just been called in again for a psych evaluation because a great many people suspect he’s crazy because he suffers from PTSD from Vietnam.
Anyhoo, Roy and his partner are chosen to be the test pilots for a new program the federal government is testing in Los Angeles. Under this program, the cops will be armed with one kick ass helicopter called “Blue Thunder,” which will patrol the skies of the city. This thing has a canon on the front which shoots very precisely, except when it doesn’t, and the feds admit that they want to use the chopper for “crowd control from the air” during the upcoming Olympic games. Roy smugly tells them that “crowd control from the air” didn’t work so well in Vietnam.
Roy then goes on his first patrol with Blue Thunder. Fortunately for him, the feds are having a midnight meeting with their brigade of killers while Roy is in the air and they speak openly about wanting to use Blue Thunder for crowd control. Oh, and they talk about killing Roy. Roy makes a video of the meeting using Blue Thunder’s recording equipment. At the same time, Roy discovers that the supposed rape of the council woman is connected to Blue Thunder because Blue Thunder is part of something called “Project Thor,” and the “rapist” dropped a note at the scene which included the word THOR.
Roy decides to steal Blue Thunder and take the video to the press. The rest of the movie is a sort of three-dimensional chase scene where Roy is chased by choppers and F-14s while protecting his girlfriend’s car from the pursuing police.
Hmm. Ok. Let me start by admitting that this movie is nonsense. It is packed with key points that are flat out stupid and seriously flawed. Consider these issues:
● Roy is a troublemaker and is viewed as crazy enough to need psychological evaluation. Yet strangely, he gets chosen to be the lead pilot in this impressive new program with its ultra-expensive new chopper? Who made that decision?Arg. What a load of stupidity! So you have a guy who is given a key assignment no sane person would ever give him. He is given that assignment by the bad guys who then decide to kill him when they discover that he’s been assigned to their project... a project for which they no doubt had the power to select the pilots. He freaks out about something he already knew an hour earlier in the film, after watching the stupidest meeting ever between the bad guys and their hired killers, and a running shootout begins.
● Roy determines that the council woman wasn’t raped because he saw an abandoned vehicle in the area and it later vanished. He assumes this means it was a professional hit. But, um, why? Why would a professional drive a beater but a rapist wouldn’t?
● At the scene of the rape/assassination, they find a paper with the word THOR written on it. This is the name of the government’s secret project. Why would a competent hit man carry around such a paper? Also, Roy later connects this to prove that the council woman was assassinated. This is meant to vindicate Roy, only Roy was just guessing about the rape and his crime was peeping instead of working, not guessing wrong about the rape.
● How can the naked dancer not hear a helicopter right outside her window? Those things aren’t silent. And again, why would Roy get this plum Blue Thunder assignment after getting caught messing around on the job?
● Malcolm McDowell was in Vietnam? Really? He’s British.
● If Malcolm and the feds thought Roy was unsuitable, presumably because he won’t stop insulting Malcolm and complaining that the program is immoral, then you would think it would be easy for them to pick a different pilot. Why risk putting him on the project? And why not put a federal observer in the chopper instead of Roy’s buddy?
● Why are the feds holding a meeting at night? Why are they meeting with their assassins?
● Finally, the reason we (and Roy) are supposedly outraged by Blue Thunder, i.e. the thing that motivates the entire movie, is that Roy discovers that the government wants to use it to quell riots at the Olympics. And supposedly it is Roy’s discovery of this which causes him to steal and destroy Blue Thunder. But the feds actually tell this to Roy right at the beginning when he tells us that “crowd control from the air” didn’t work so well in Vietnam. In other words, they are up front with him the whole time, and everyone just acts like this is still a secret.
What’s more, what riots? There aren’t any in the film and America hadn’t seen riots in nearly 20 years at that point. Also, as an aside, nothing of the sort actually happened in Vietnam as the US military never got involved in riots or crowd control.
This is a stupid film.
And yet... it’s fricken awesome. Yes, it is.
So as bizarre as it may sound, the unbelievably of this film is precisely what makes it believable.
Beyond that, shooting this thing was an amazing technical challenge. For example, to get many of the air shots, Director John Badham (Saturday Night Fever, War Games) actually placed stuntmen with cameras on the outside of helicopters to get the right shots. That makes some of the flying scenes second to none. Check out this photo...
What more could you want?
Check this one out if you haven’t. You’ll like it.