Blue Thunder

Blue Thunder on Blu-ray Disc

John Badham's Blue Thunder translates to the Blu-ray medium beautifully – with a gorgeous picture and awesome sound that are so good they make help make you forget the very thin plot line.

Even if you don't forget, it makes for a very fun couple of hours in the home theater.

Blue Thunder is a paranoid tale of a secret government project to keep the unwashed masses in order by using high tech helicopters bristling with ordnance to ensure they stay in their place. The feds are the bad guys, and rather than solving the problems of urban crime and racial unrest they bring out the heavy guns instead.

But we find out that later. First we get to sit through some great helicopter aviation footage and a thin but fun story about a flawed hero named Frank Murphy (Roy Scheider), an ex-Viet Nam vet haunted by his past who's now a police pilot with a reputation for being, well, not as straight down the middle as his peers and employers may have wanted. After one particular episode, he's grounded.

But you can't keep a good hero down, and he's rewarded soon after with a plum assignment to shake out the new high tech Blue Thunder, a helicopter adapted from military technology that looks like it would be a barrel of laughs to fly. This thing can see and hear through walls, fly like a dream, and blow away just about any urban challenge that could be thought of back when the movie was made (before airliners had been used as weapons).

Scheider's nemesis is cocky Colonel Cochrane (Malcolm McDowell), a Brit with whom Murphy has had at least one run-in in years past – part of the skeletons that haunt him. They guy's insufferable – and as it turns out untrustworthy, so Murphy has his work cut out for him.

Then, Murphy and his partner Lymangood (Daniel Stern) discover the Big Plot surrounding Blue Thunder and the chase is on for them to blow the whistle before The Man can shut them up. He recruits his main squeeze (Candy Clark) to help and, flying cover for her in Blue Thunder, she sets off to deliver the damning evidence to the media and blow the cover off the conspiracy.

It's pretty standard stuff, but there's wonderful flying here, whether via Blue Thunder or an assortment of other rotary craft, with excellent stunts and special effects that are about as good as you could expect from this era before CGI.

Scheider is fine as Murphy, though we didn't really find McDowell as creepy or menacing as we should have. Stern's Lymangood sidekick is good, too, but the really great performance comes from Candy Clark, who brings real humanity to her role.

The Blu-ray is excellent and really "Blu" us away. The 1080p picture (2.4:1) simply pops off the screen, with incredible depth, excellent detail and contrast, and very good color. It's far better than we had expected.

Likewise, the audio (Dolby TrueHD 5.1) is also very good. While not quite up to the video standards, with a hint of shrillness in places, all the channels are used very well and really immerse you in the action beautifully. We'd have liked a touch more ".1" low frequency effects channel, but overall are quite satisfied.

Sony even puts in a decent selection of extras. There's a commentary with director John Badham accompanied by the film's editor and motion control photography supervisor. And there's more.

"Ride with the Angels" is a "making of" documentary that's pretty interesting, while "The Special" looks at the building of the specialty helicopter itself. There's also a promotional feature from 1983 and the original theatrical trailer. And there's BD Live capability.

All in all, a very pleasant surprise to find on Blu-ray.

Blue Thunder, from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
109m in. 1080p widescreen (2.4:1), Dolby TrueHD 5.1
Starring Roy Scheider, Malcolm McDowell, Daniel Stern, Candy Clark
written by Dan O'Bannon and Don Jakoby, directed by John Badham.

Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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