Blue Thunder - Special Edition Blu-ray Review
Sony have brought a quite impressive transfer of Blue Thunder to hi-def disc. The 2.35:1 image is clean, damage-free, sturdy and relatively sharp, and the MPEG-4 encode devoid of all but the most minimal edge enhancement, and exhibits no artefacts or apparent DNR. The grain structure appears intact and the film's colour-timing looks accurate. I noticed some very slight banding during one interior scene at Murphy's place but, other than that, the transfer looks immensely respectful to the source, and very film-like.
Contrast is excellent for the most part, but especially during the night-time scenes. Look at the bit early on when Murphy returns home and mooches about the shadows, as it reveals the best of the acute contrast - the light illuminating Scheider's face, eyes and shirt - and the strong blacks in the moodiness of the enveloping gloom. Although they are deep and thick, I doubt that there is any detail crushed beneath the blacks. Some of the brighter daylight scenes can look a touch hazy, but this is almost certainly down to the natural lighting of the LA skies, rather than anything to do with the transfer.
Colours are accurate and keen without being overly saturated or exaggerated. The primaries - especially reds - are reliable and consistent. Blood splashing the cockpit window, the neon lights of the LA blanket and the red piping that lines Blue Thunder are natural and never overly vivid. Explosions are reasonable, some are wild and bright, others smothered with dust and smoke and, as a result, less outrageous. Other hues don't make all that much of an impact. The fatigues and flight suits of the various pilots - army, air force, LAPD, etc - can look a little soft, although hardware, such as aircraft, vehicles or weaponry seem to possess bolder colouring. The nice white V's of the T-shirts worn beneath the overalls come through nicely, though. Skin-tones are convincing. We have the famed leathery chops of Roy Scheider looking every bit as weathered and sun-tanned as they did back on the deck of Quint's Orca, and facial texture is readily apparent at all times. Perhaps McDowell can look a touch vague, from time to time, even his greyed-up hair with that little hint of red sometimes refusing to make a visual impression. If they wanted a grey man to blend into the background, they certainly found one with him.
Detail can be excellent. This is a film that thrives on wide, deep external action shots and the transfer makes no errors reproducing the rain of chickens, the distant roads and buildings, the dancing aircraft, the chewed-up concrete or the swirling smoke and flames, that I can see. Whilst it doesn't compare to more recent movies, Blue Thunder certainly retains that pure cinematic quality that is aided by a terrific sense of visual depth. Whether we are on the ground and simply moving through an office, or, more vividly, up in the skies and rolling about above acres of busy city, the transfer comes up trumps. Badham uses every inch of his frame and the BD captures his wild compositions with clarity and detail. Close-ups have plenty of punch though I would say that the hardware - metallic edges, cockpit switches and computer readouts - and Roy Scheider's shark-like face are the strongest elements on display.
I didn't know what to expect from it, but I was very pleased with this transfer. Blue Thunder gets a strong 8 out 10.
Almost as impressive is the new TrueHD 5.1 audio track that graces the BD arrival of Blue Thunder.
Unmistakably dated due to the gleaming synth score from Rubinstein, the film is, nevertheless, brimming with rotor-blade whump-whumping, airborne canon-fire, explosions and incendiary-impacts, and the roar of jet engines. A great deal of the track has to present aerial swoops and numerous fly-overs, and it does so with some very convincing panache. Movement from front-to-back, and vice-versa, is handled with superb precision, and steerage right around the set-up follows the on-screen action (and chaos) with sure-fire conviction and strict attention to positioning and detail. Even when an aircraft is no actually seen, we can still hear it and place it within the soundscape. This is readily apparent during Cochrane's demonstration in the mocked-up street of dummy terrorists when, after he has wheeled around to a position out of sight behind us and the characters watching from the grandstand, we can still clearly hear the thrumming of his engines and the whipping of his rotors. This attention to detail is carried out throughout the rest of the film as well, although there are times when the score can disrupt the natural movement of such a well-engineered design.
And, speaking of Rubinstein's music, the Synclavier II's metallic percussion and glacial tones come over well. You can't exactly say that the score sounds warm, but it certainly has presence, and the bass thumps away quite strenuously. Dialogue doesn't seem to suffer amidst all the action, gunfire and explosions. There is some dimensionality to it, although speech doesn't quite have the vibrancy and range that you would get with a newer transfer. A nice moment comes when the voice of the soldier doing the Blue Thunder briefing, as Cochrane goes about his strafing runs, echoes out of the on-screen speakers and your own carry it around the set-up with total authenticity.
Carnage-wise, the film offers us lots of heavy impacts, directional streams of gunfire, the crashing down of blasted metal gangways, bullets raking up the ground and the sides of tenement blocks, warning alarms sounding in the cockpit and explosions aplenty. But, what I have to say is that many of these more heavy-duty effects lack the real meat that you would have expected from a track that is simply wonderful at realising impeccably steered movement elsewhere. The sub is engaged often, but a lot of the stuff that gets blown up does so in only a fair-to-middling fashion. There isn't really anything here that will drive you back in your seat, and some of the more showy eruptions - the missile going into the office block and showering those in the plaza below with glass and debris, for example - sound somewhat disappointing in their lack of detail and oomph! The rears are used well, however. As I have said, the full set-up plays a part in carrying the aircraft right around you and, in this respect, the TrueHD does very well.
All in all, this is a solid and entertaining audio track for a catalogue title. Another good 8 out of 10.
John Badham is joined by his editor Frank Morris and his motion-control supervisor Hoyt Yeatman for a perfectly reasonable commentary recounting what it tool to get Blue Thunder into the air. The script is covered, as is the casting, but this is quite a technical track that goes into logistics and specifics much more than actual anecdotes. Quite slow in places, this is certainly still worth your time if you are a fan of the movie.
A vintage 1983 making-of is EPK stuff that only scratches the surface of the film's production but, even at only 8 minutes, this is still a lot better than you might have expected. With Badham and Scheider available on-set, the whole Big Brother spying-on-you message is brought chillingly home.
But the disc is very appreciably furnished with the highly detailed and rewarding 3-part retrospective documentary Riding With The Angels. Playable either in its individual segments - entitled Pre-Production, Production and, er, Post-Production - or as a whole, running for a total of 44 minutes, this is great stuff. With plentiful input from Badham, co-writer Dan O' Bannon, the late Roy Scheider and various other production luminaries, the film is very neatly, and comprehensively dissected. Whilst Badham and Scheider are enthusiastic about the project as well as detailed and informative, the increasingly strange O' Bannon (see his interview on Dead & Buried - BD reviewed separately) is the most frank and opinionated. Lots of behind-the-scenes footage, including early test footage with model aircraft, and stills illustrate the many aspects of this hugely technical undertaking. The genesis of the film and how its script would evolve - taking the character of Murphy from a much more extreme nutter (Travis Bickle in the sky was how he was once referred to) to only a borderline maverick suffering from understandable post traumatic stress disorder - are honestly probed. The cast are given brief applause, with both Scheider and McDowell getting the most detailed examination. Everyone praises Oates, and Badham likes to remind us that the film is dedicated to the actor, and the stunts, airborne innovation - some amazingly brave cameramen - and ingenuity that went into the production are thoroughly chronicled. And, of course, there's that fetching shot of Candy Clark, as well.
“The Special” - The Making Of Blue Thunder: The Helicopter is pretty perfunctory and workmanlike. Running for 8 minutes, this details the modification that the Gazelle underwent and treats us to some archival stills of the bits being added to it and the aircraft's eventual shape coming together. Sadly, although this is, on paper, a very necessary addition to the film's extras, the resulting featurette is still quite dry and tedious.
Plus, we get the film's original theatrical trailer.
For a vintage actioner, this is a good package of bonus features. Whilst there is nothing here that hasn't been seen before - the only BD exclusive is BD-Live functionality, I'm afraid - what remains is solid, informative and certainly boosts appreciation for what went into the audacious production.
A decent set of extras and a great-looking transfer seal the deal on this immensely enjoyable slice of 80's action. Scheider is possibly slumming it, but this is still a refreshing angle on the maverick cop routine. Some of his dialogue is a little wince-inducing, but Murphy is nicely rounded character whose edginess is given an agreeably comical spin by Scheider, and this works well against the rather obvious villainy of a host of shady government ne'er-do-wells. The actual helicopter scenes naturally dominate the film and they are, without a doubt, some of the most spectacular, exhilarating and memorable that the movies have provided. Blue Thunder certainly doesn't short-change you with its aerobatics - and it is always wonderful to see something pre-CG that doesn't rely on visual effects, just honest-to-goodness stunts and real flying.
The story is a tad cliché-ridden but the now-commonplace formula was still pretty new back when the film was made. A dated, though enormously enjoyable score completes this nostalgic adrenaline-rush, and Blue Thunder's hi-def debut comes highly recommended for ballistic hardware-junkies, paranoia geeks and fans of troubled Vietnam veterans everywhere.
“Catch ya later!”
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