The first modern action film?

I remember seeing Blue Thunder in 1983 in Germany and being completely blown away. I had never seen such aerial photography, special effects and skyscrapers being shot down in the midst of Los Angeles so convincingly. Directed by eighties top director John Badham (who gave us such favourites as Saturday Night Fever, Short Circuit and Stakeout) and written by Alien writer Dan O'Bannon, this featured Roy Scheider as a helicopter pilot suffering from Vietnam induced post traumatic stress disorder. Taken off regular duties for hovering with a police helicopter in front of model's penthouse to show her to his n00b co-pilot ( a very young and funny Daniel Stern) performing naked yoga in her livingroom, he is being put in charge to test the LAPD's newest piece of equipment, a monstrous helicopter with a front cannon resembling the warthog's and surveillance equipment right outta Orwell's 1984. This flying nightmare is apparently the state's idea of crowd control for the 1984 LA Olympics.

On their first testflight they accidentally stumble over a political conspiracy involving their own department and then end up on the run from their own colleagues and the government, using the helicopter to its fullest and trashing downtown L.A..

This movie is still setting standards for aerial stunts and photography and introduced the handheld, jittery camerawork into the mainstream that we're now expecting from every better cop-show. The story is gripping, the technology still remarkable (in 1984 still SF), and Roy Scheider has in Malcolm McDowell an unforgettable menace, but the true hero of the movie is obviously Blue Thunder, the omnipotent chopper:

The Blue Thunder used in the movie (there was a horrible TV-series as well) was a modified french Gazelle, flying at speeds of up to 200 mph through L.A. . Filming the aerial shots was done on the weekends, when police had to cordon off up to 12 blocks to allow the crews to fly at 50 feet over the ground to shoot their footage.

The result is a classic: the movie's production values still hold their own 20 years later, Scheider, Stern and McDowell make a terrific cast, and the chopper is still the most awesome looking piece of machinery flying through cinematic skies. The downside? Well, VT100 terminals are not that en vogue anymore and Scheider pushes the envelope at times when it comes to his PTSD attacks, but don't be deterred.

This movie still rocks.


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