BLUE THUNDER (1983)
Article 4400 by Dave Sindelar
Directed by John Badham
Featuring Roy Scheider, Warren Oates, Candy Clark
What it is: Action thriller
A policeman who specializes in air surveillance is pegged to test a new experimental helicopter with the latest technology and capable of firing weapons. He stumbles across a conspiracy surrounding the helicopter, and finds he must stay alive long enough to provide proof of it.
The opening message in the movie claims that the technology on display in the movie already exists, which made me wonder why this movie would qualify as genre. However, there are two factors to consider: 1) the technology may exist for each specific aspect of the helicopter, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they have been combined in this form, and 2) movies don’t always tell the truth. So let’s assume the movie is indeed genre, and proceed from there.
I first encountered this movie via a trailer I saw in a movie theater. It showed the helicopter in question appearing over the horizon and then letting its weaponry loose on a bus filled with dummies, all of which are violently destroyed. I do have to admit that the trailer was quite effective, though it probably had for me the opposite effect that was intended; because I tend to dislike movies that so baldly exploit paranoid mind-sets, I had no desire to see the movie after seeing the trailer. Though I did eventually see the movie, I was surprised that the sequence from the trailer did not appear in the movie, though there is an equivalent sequence where the helicopter is demonstrated on a fake town full of cardboard people. Yet the thing that surprised me most from this watching was that within the movie, the helicopter is never used to threaten the general populace, as almost all the scenes involving it have it being flown by the hero of the story.
With this current viewing, I found myself once again thinking about this curious aspect of the story, and an interesting thought occurred to me. The story itself could have reduced the super-helicopter to a Gizmo Maguffin, as the main thrust of the plot involves a conspiracy surrounding the helicopter, and, with some shuffling of the plot elements, the whole movie could have been written without ever using the helicopter at all. Instead, the helicopter becomes the instrument by which the plot is uncovered and brought to light, which is certainly an unusual use for a Maguffin. This offbeat use of a Maguffin manages to alleviate a little some of my problems with the movie, which is sometimes slow, has some action sequences which are a little silly (especially having the hero’s girlfriend take a dangerous u-turn in traffic and going the wrong way down a one-way street for no better reason than she missed a turn-off), and has a story that makes use of an astonishing set of coincidences. Apparently, the original script had the hero flipping out and terrorizing people with the copter, and I suspect that the Vietnam subplot came from the original conception. All in all, I found the movie sporadically effective. The movie was dedicated to Warren Oates; this was his last movie.