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Blue Thunder

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Blue Thunder is a 1983 feature film that features a high-tech helicopter of the same name. The movie was directed by John Badham and stars Roy Scheider.[1] A spin-off television seriesalso called Blue Thunder lasted 11 episodes in 1984.[2]

ContentsEdit

 [hide*1 Plot

Plot[edit]Edit

Francis McNeil "Frank" Murphy (Roy Scheider) is a Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) helicopter-pilot-officer and troubled Vietnam War veteran with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder(PTSD). His field partner is the newly assigned Richard Lymangood (Daniel Stern), who is given the nickname "JAFO". The two patrol Los Angeles at night and give assistance to police cars below.

Murphy is selected to pilot the world's most advanced helicopter, nicknamed "Blue Thunder," which is essentially a military-style combat helicopter intended for police use in surveillance and large-scale civic disobedience. With powerful armament, stealth technology that allows it to fly virtually undetected, and other accoutrements (such as infrared scanners, powerful microphones and cameras, and a U-Matic VCR), Blue Thunder appears to be a formidable tool in the war on crime.

But when the death of city councilwoman Diane McNeely turns out to be more than just a random murder, Murphy begins his own covert investigation. He discovers that a subversive action group, using the acronym THOR (Tactical Helicopter Offensive Response, the "proposed use of military helicopters to quell disorder"), is intending instead to use Blue Thunder to carry out an evil mission of their own, one that involves the secret elimination of political undesirables.

Murphy suspects the involvement of his old wartime nemesis, former United States Army Colonel F.E. Cochrane (Malcolm McDowell), the primary test pilot for Blue Thunder. After using the technology aboard Blue Thunder to record a meeting Cochrane has with other high-powered government officials planning to use the helicopter for nefarious purposes, Murphy tries to get the video tape to a television station before he is killed, as Lymangood has already been. Frank Murphy succeeds in giving the video tape to his girlfriend Kate (Candy Clark), who sends the tape to the television station.

A final showdown between Murphy and Cochrane, who flies a heavily armed Hughes 500 helicopter, takes place over downtown Los Angeles. It includes an initial battle with two Air National Guard F-16 fighters with one being shot down. By pulling off a spectacular 360° loop through use of Blue Thunder's turbine boost function, Murphy shoots down Cochrane. He then destroys Blue Thunder by landing it in front of an approaching freight train, having deemed the tactical helicopter too dangerous to be used by anyone else.

Cast[edit]Edit

Production[edit]Edit

Co-writers Dan O'Bannon and Don Jakoby began developing the plot while living together in a Hollywood apartment in the late 1970s, where low-flying police helicopters awoke them on a regular basis. Their original script was a more political one, attacking the concept of a police state controlling the population through high-tech surveillance and heavy armament. They sought and received extensive script help from Captain Bob Woods, then-chief of the LAPD's Air Support Division.

The first draft of the screenplay for Blue Thunder featured Frank Murphy as more of a crazy main character with deeper psychological issues, who went on a rampage and destroyed much of Los Angeles before finally falling to F-16s.[3]Filmed on location in Los Angeles during the winter months of 1980-81, this was one of Warren Oates's last films before his death in 1982, which occurred during post-production less than one year after principal filming had ended, and it is dedicated to him. He made one movie and one TV episode before and after filming during 1981-1982 that were released after Blue Thunder.

The LAPD Hooper Heliport served as home base for the fictional police unit in the while construction of the heliport was still being completed. The drive-in theater scene where Frank's girlfriend Kate recovers the tape was filmed at the Pickwick Theatre in Burbank, California; the theater has since then been demolished and replaced by a Pavilions supermarket.[4]

Malcolm McDowell, who acted out the villain F. E. Cochrane, actually hated flying, and no one, not even his then wife Mary Steenburgen, could persuade him to rid himself of this phobia. In an interview for Starlog in 1983, Badham recalled, "He was terrified. He used to get out and throw up after a flight." During the climax with Frank Murphy while McDowell's character of Cochrane was in the attack helicopter, McDowell's grimaces and discomfort were caught on film for all to see. There are a few shots, during the chase sequence, that show McDowell clearly not to be comfortable about being in the air. When Steenburgen saw the film, she incredulously asked the filmmakers afterward, "How did you get him into that little helicopter? I couldn't get him inside a plane!"[5]

Blue Thunder helicopter[edit]Edit

[1][2]A mock-up of Blue Thunder, as part of the Studio Backlot Tour of Disney's Hollywood Studios, FloridaMain article: Blue Thunder (helicopter)

Designer Mickey Michaels invented the iconic helicopters used in the film after reviewing and rejecting various existing designs. The helicopter used for Blue Thunder was a French-madeAérospatiale SA-341G Gazelle modified with bolt-on parts and an Apache-style canopy.[6] Two modified Gazelle helicopters, a Hughes 500 helicopter, and two F-16 fighter aircraft were used in the filming of the movie.[7] The helicopters were purchased from Aerospatiale by Columbia Pictures for $190,000 each and flown to Cinema Air in Carlsbad, California where they were heavily modified for the film. These alterations made the helicopters so heavy that various tricks had to be employed to make it look fast and agile in the film. For instance, the 360° loop maneuver Murphy performs at the end of the film, which catches Cochrane so completely by surprise that he is easily shot down by Murphy's gunfire and killed, was carried out by a radio controlledmodel.[5]

Reception[edit]Edit

Blue Thunder was released on May 13, 1983, and was the #1 ranked movie in the United States in its opening weekend, taking $8,258,149 at 1,539 theaters. It overtook Flashdance as the #1 movie that weekend. The movie was ranked #2 in its second and third weekends. Overall in the United States, it took $42,313,354 from 66 days on release. Blue Thunder was released in West Germany on February 5, 1983, before its United States release, then released worldwide between June–September 1983. Its UK release was August 25, 1983. It was released in East Germany and South Korea in 1984. Its international box office takings are unknown. The movie made $21.9 million in video rentals in the United States also.[8]

Blue Thunder received positive reviews, with an 84% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.[9] Variety called it "a ripsnorting live-action cartoon, utterly implausible but no less enjoyable for that."[10]

Cultural references[edit]Edit

An acronym used in Blue Thunder, "JAFO," means "Just Another Fucking Observer." This police community jargon is mentioned repeatedly in the film in reference to any police helicopter's non-pilot second officer, in this case Daniel Stern's character of Richard Lymangood. In the related TV series, the reference is expurgated as "Just Another Frustrated Observer."

The Galaxie 500 song "Blue Thunder" takes its name from frontman Dean Wareham's car, which was named after the helicopter.

Video Game[edit]Edit

In 1987, Coca-Cola Telecommunications released a Blue Thunder video tape cartridge for Worlds of Wonder's short lived Action Max game system. Using footage from the film, the player plays the pilot of the Blue Thunder helicopter as he tries to prevent the World Peace Coalition from being attacked by a terrorist organization.

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