Monday, October 17, 2016

Only now does it occur to me... BLUE THUNDER

 Only now does it occur to me...  that I waited way too long to watch BLUE THUNDER.

Directed by John Badham (SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER, WARGAMES), and written by Dan O'Bannon (ALIEN, THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, John Carpenter's DARK STAR) and Don Jakoby (DEATH WISH 3, ARACHNOPHOBIA, John Carpenter's VAMPIRES), it's a thriller about the militarization of our police forces and the obliteration of personal privacy. It's about brave whistleblowers and bitchin', fully rad helicopters; possibly the median point between SNOWDEN and AIRWOLF.

The inimitable Roy Scheider stars as an LAPD helicopter pilot (battling PTSD from Vietnam) who's paired with a nerdy rookie (Daniel Stern),

and bossed around by a crusty but lovable Warren Oates

who is given an ample platform to growl "goddammit" and "you bright-eyed sons of bitches" with impunity, and chide the newbie Stern with monologues like: "You're supposed to be stupid, son, don't abuse the privilege.... for Chrissakes, I had 20 years in this outfit when your idea of a big time was sittin in front of the TV tube, watchin' Bugs Bunny and gnawin' on your Fudgesicle!"

Candy Clark appears in a brilliant supporting role as Roy Scheider's ex-wife; at the beginning, at least, it feels like outtakes from the most depressing domestic scenes in ALL THAT JAZZ.

"Goddamn your Black Irish heart, Frank Murphy!"

Malcolm McDowell plays the villain of the piece, obviously, named Colonel Cochran (and I'm going to continue with my conspiracy theories about HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH being an inspiration to filmmakers everywhere), a nefarious Brit who was essentially a prep-school bully to Roy Scheider back in 'Nam (there are flashbacks).

He wears turtlenecks and uses "Catch you later!" as his evil catchphrase, which is fine, I guess.  It's okay, I think he's having fun.

"Catch you later!"

In all, it's a genuinely exciting conspiracy thriller with high stakes, despite sorta feeling like a big-budget episode of (the aforementioned) AIRWOLF, or even MACGUYVER. Prefiguring TOP GUN by three years, when its politics begin to show, it presents itself as anto-jingoist, opposing in every way the values of post-TOP GUN, Michael Bay school of filmmaking. In BLUE THUNDER, military technology is to be feared, not fetishized; and it depicts the new generation of Reagan-era jet fighter jockeys and their masters as schlubs propped-up by propaganda, accidentally firing heat-seeking missiles into a BBQ joint (because of misinterpreted thermal imaging) and into an office building (whose windows are reflecting the rays of the sun).

Also: Roy Schneider flies a helicopter upside down while screaming "Come on, you tub of shit!" which is without a doubt the "Smile, you sonofabitch!" moment of this movie.

If that's not enough of an endorsement, I don't know what is.

P.S.––Coming soon: horror films for Halloween.


Jack Thursby said...

Nothing better than the cool reassuring presence of Roy Scheider in the leading role of a film pre-1990. I remember my dad and I having a long argument (pre-internet) about whether his name was Scheider or Schneider. I lost.

This is a great little flick but, yeah, it IS basically a big budget TV episode with one of the smallest and poorly kept conspiracies ever.

Sean Gill said...


Indeed. It was sad to see Roy do so many terrible 90s and 00s flicks––I think of NAKED LUNCH as his last hurrah, in a way.