Frank Murphy (Roy Scheider) is an ex-Vietnam war helicopter pilot working for the L.A. Astro-division; he's slightly on the edge being plagued by a war crime committed while he was flying and occasionally suffers from an undisclosed 'wig out'. During a routine surveillance trip Murphy is asked to break in a new partner Richard Lymangood (Daniel Stern) and with him the pair fly off course to do some impromptu voyeurism. Whilst there a serious attack on a councillor is perpetrated, even though their presence might not have saved the day, they are both grounded by their tough but fair captain (Warren Oates). Unsatisfied with the official report on the death, Murphy starts to dig a little himself, but soon finds himself drafted back to active duty when the military wish to test a new urban police helicopter, dubbed Blue Thunder. It is a highly sophisticated piece of military hardware, equipped with enough surveillance equipment and armament to run a war by itself. On a test flight, Murphy and Lymangood stumble upon a threat by some government officials that involved the death of the councilwoman and the future for Blue Thunder; in order to break the conspiracy Murphy steals the aircraft to ensure the recorded conversation is distributed and those concerned are brought to justice.
The film as scripted above is a far cry from the original screenplay by Dan O'Bannon and Don Jakoby which concerned a psychotic cop shooting up L.A. with a helicopter. No studio would accept such a script so taking on board the paranoia aspect a government conspiracy plus the intrusive capabilities of the helicopter were brought to the forefront but still leaving in the action. And what action it is, computer graphics are all very well and good, but there is nothing like seeing two helicopters duke it out in and around the real streets of L.A. It is in fact this last third that really raises this films standing because the rest of it is rather weak. For example the conspiracy angle is all rather ill defined, what the actual plans were for the helicopter are never discussed but are hushed up with the death of the councilwoman; it is the death that spurs Murphy into action. Why or how Murphy suddenly gets his flight status back is never explained and is a huge contrivance to get him back in the frame; surely an 'on the edge' pilot suffering post traumatic stress syndrome is not the ideal candidate to fly such a sophisticated machine? Scheider's portrayal of the burnt out cop is ok as it stands, it's just that he never gets to develop where the character is going, there is little motivation for his actions and the hints given don't seem quite enough to justify his actions.
Already available as a barebones disc since 1998, it was high time for a revisit and I'm glad to report that this is a special edition, read on to find out how.
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