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Blue Thunder: The Complete Series

Sony Pictures // Unrated // August 22, 2006
List Price: $39.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Louis Howard | posted August 4, 2006 | E-mail the Author
Blue Thunder: The Complete Series gets its name from a high-tech helicopter developed originally by the government as an anti-terrorist, crowd surveillance and control attack weapon, and what a weapon it is, boasting features the likes of an electric cannon, night sensors, whisper mode silent operation, heat detection that can "see" through walls, ultra sensitive microphones and a turbo speed engine. The series was based on the summer 1983 action film "Blue Thunder" which managed to rake in around 42 million at the box office and touted a decent array of stars- Roy Scheider, Warren Oates, Malcolm MacDowell, Candy Clark and Daniel Stern starred in the movie version. An often followed but seldom successful strategy, ABC developed the film into a television series and introduced it as a mid-season replacement in January, 1984. Their timing couldn't have been much worse; CBS launched their own flyboy helicopter series "Airwolf" with Jan-Michael Vincent only a few weeks later to considerably better viewer response. "Airwolf" was the darker series of the two with added appeal of Vincent to the female audience, and apparently the skies weren't big enough for two helicopters to patrol in the same season; Blue Thunder was cancelled after only 11 episodes.

This reviewer was working the evening shift in the mid-80's, so I missed the series during its prime time run altogether. I've always been a fan of the film with what I thought was a decently dark, grim plot supplemented by having two fine actors such as Scheider and MacDowell as adversaries. Because of that I was curious as to what the series had to offer.

Listed here is a synopsis of the 11 episodes-

Second Thunder- The beginnings of The Blue Thunder Team, which brings together the main chartacters and quickly proceeds into a story about stopping a madman running drugs and shooting police helicopters.

A Clear And Present Danger- A paramilitary group is the prime suspect in a series of bank robberies, including one involving a highly modified WWII fighter plane.

Arms Race- The team goes after an arms smuggling unit selling weapons to an African tyrant, and headed by an old pal of Chaney.

Revenge In The Sky-An F-86 Sabre jet is stolen from an airfield by KGB mercenaries.

Trojan Horse- A witness who could put a corrupt financier in jail is rescued by the Blue Thunder team.

Skydiver- The president of Sumora has invited major U.S. companies to set up offices in her country. It's up to Chaney to decide whether to rescue her from being assassinated or rescue Bubba and Ski who are in a small plane which is about to crash.

Clipped Wings-Chaney's arch-rival is given control of Blue Thunder while he is reassigned for curtailing a drug stakeout in order to pursue kidnappers.

Payload- Argo, a private space shuttle, is threatened by arms dealers who don't want their illegal sales of bacterial weaponry threatened by the shuttle's high profile attention.

The Long Flight- The kidnapping of Braddock's daughter sends Blue Thunder into an unautorized rescue mission.

Godchild- Chaney has to convince a dead mobster's daughter to turn documents over to the FBI before her father's enemies try to kill her in order to get their hands on them.

The Island- Blue Thunder travels to a Caribbean island to stop American mercenaries hired by the KGB from killing a prime minister.

First, I'll address what I like about Blue Thunder. First and foremost I like the helicopter, which, let's face it, is the real 'star' of the series. It comes across as being just as sleek, sexy and lethal as in the movie. James Farentino in the role of Frank Chaney is actually a smart casting choice; while no Roy Schneider, Farentino was a recognizable face during the period starring in countless TV-movie projects both before and after Blue Thunder the series. Ruggedly handsome and nearing fifty, he's a guy that should have a degree of appeal to both the ladies looking for a still-pretty face and the guys who want to see a man's man flying the bird. Surprisingly, an incredibly young looking Dana Carvey in the co-pilot seat as Wonderlove is a decent doppelganger for Daniel Stern's JAFO (now short for "Just Another Frustrated Obsever" in order to keep the censors at bay) and tech/computer geek character Lymongoode. A real plus for the series was bringing onboard two NFL heroes turned actors, Dick Butkus as Richard "Ski" Butowski and Bubba Smith playing Lyman "Bubba" Kelsey to serve as Blue Thunder's ground unit. They've worked together before and seem to effortlessly play off of one another in each show, sometimes they bicker like an old married couple but you know they're got each others' back.

What did I find to feel disgruntled about when watching the show? From the very beginning one sees that the series tries too hard to emulate the movie in such a way as to 'recreate' the characters and the movie itself, to the point of somewhat aping the movie's original scenes demonstrating Blue Thunder's considerable capabilities to the brass. We are quickly introduced to Frank 'Chaney'- the series' attempt at getting the viewer to more or less view this Frank (Farentino) in much the same way they did the 'original Frank' (Scheider). Just as in the film, this Frank is a hot dog, a savvy, highly skilled helicopter pilot, a Vietnam vet and a man who has no qualms with butting heads with both his superiors and authority figures in general. One Frank has "Lymongoode" for his co-pilot and comic relief, the other Frank has "Wonderlove", equally young, likable, green and geeky. Just as in the movie we immediately are to presume there will be consistant friction between Chaney and his Captain, Ed Braddock (played by Sandy McPeak); they argue and fight in a way that comes across as whining and tedious rather than tense and involving. I think the cast of actors do a credible job with their roles, the fault lies with the writing; its bad, and its bad alot of the time; plots are inane and overly simple, characters are handed to us in such a way as to not give the viewer much of an idea who they are. I diagnose this series as being born with a serious defiency in detail. At times the show has been likened to The A-Team, and indeed it does have some of that gung-ho ambience; trouble is, the A-Team consisted of a far more interesting bunch of diverse characters regardless of the storyline; even given their (often) weak plots Hannibal and the boys did it better.

One also gets this prevailing sense that nobody is ever going to get hurt much, let alone risk death, nor ever get in too much trouble for the super-copter to get them out of. While Blue Thunder is an incredible piece of machinery, it takes a great deal of the suspense away from the more colorful guys flying the craft, likening to shooting Superman with a machine gun- you're simply not going to do any damage. This makes for a boring hour in front of the TV set.

The DVD-

The 11 episodes are spread across 3 discs, coming in two clear thin DVD cases housed in a slick cardboard sleeve.


The case states that the series has been remastered in high definition; aspect ratio here is 1.33:1 fullscreen. overall I found the transfers to be fairly clean with only occasional print damage. Sharpness is adequate, but not what I would have expected given that the box touts HD remastering. Colors are pretty good, if a trifle overstated at times.


Audio track is Dolby Digital mono, a solid track that is clear and easy to understand. Nothing special, but fine for its purpose.


No extras.

Final Thoughts-

Blue Thunder-The Complete Series is basically a poorly executed attempt to recreate the original theatrical release for the small screen. "Airwolf" competition or not, it isn't difficult to see why the show was cancelled after 11 episodes. Having a soft spot for the theatrical version- I'm old enough to have seen it on its big screen release- I honestly wanted to like this extention of the concept, but I didn't. While I thought the studio did a good job in the casting department as well as showcasing the helicopter itself, the storylines are for the most part watered down without much to savor; this is Blue Thunder Lite, and I didn't care for the taste. Rent it.
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