Replay: Blue Thunder

You know how sometimes you see a film that you loved as a kid and are profoundly disappointed by it not being anywhere near as good as you remember? Well I caught the end of one of my favourite films from the 80s on Five USA last night and it was better than I thought it would be.

The film Blue Thunder was successful enough to spawn a TV spin-off, but is most famous as being the likely inspiration for the much more-famous Airwolf. Whilst Airwolf maintained the fun of the futuristic helicopter dogfights, the show's plot was usually just something to sit through until the inevitable pay off. Blue Thunder, on the other hand, matched its action with a decent story.

The sadly-departed Roy Schneider plays Frank Murphy, a Vietnam-veteran helicopter pilot suffering from post-traumatic stress and now flying surveillance choppers for the police. He, along with his partner, wisecracking Richard Lymangood, are selected to test-pilot a super-secret prototype helicopter. The vehicle, codenamed Blue Thunder, has what, to the 80s, must have seemed like hi-tech gadgets, parabolic microphones and infra-red cameras, all set to revolutionise crime fighting with their surveillance capabilities. Only things take a turn for the paranoid when Murphy happens upon a government plot involving his sinister army pal Malcolm McDowell.

The film was a revolution. Whereas Airwolf looked more like a blimp than a super-copter, Blue Thunder was modelled on the Apache helicopters premièred only a few years before, all based on hard science fact. Actually, most of the futuristic gadgets are commonplace nowadays. Indeed, so forward-thinking was the plot that there are times when modern situations and technology could easily be inserted into the film, like when Murphy is flying over his girlfriend's car as she navigates through traffic and you want to scream at the TV for him to use a cellphone. Beyond this, the film's central themes consider the limits to which we can trust anyone to see into our homes and private lives, long before Big Brother was anything but a fictional character.

Elsewhere, the plot rockets along, with great moments, memorable characters, gags and tension you can cut a knife with. You honestly won't have seen such thrilling dogfights since A New Hope. It isn't a common film, but it is absolutely worth a watch, particularly if you can catch it on TV for free.

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