Comments on the Movie Blue Thunder (1983)

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Blue Thunder is the name of a black military-style helicopter with advanced surveillance and heavy firepower capabilities. It also is tied into data banks with information on individuals. The helicopter is one of the main stars of the film. The other is Roy Scheider, who delivers an excellent performance as he always does. He carries the film over its many weak spots.

In 1983 the idea that the federal government wants to militarize the local police forces and the idea that it will use false flag events to get what it wants were less common than 30 years later (today). Introducing these themes is a major contribution of the script. In the script, the federal government bad guys murder a community activist so as to produce riots so that Blue Thunder will be adopted by the LA police.

After seeing the data bank and other capabilities, Scheider, who is a helicopter pilot and tests Blue Thunder, says this: “A dozen of these and you could run the country.” Not so far-fetched.

The film is inconsistent. When Blue Thunder is introduced, the horns give us patriotic glorious-style music, there are glowing orange heavenly clouds from which the vehicle descends, and visually it is treated as some kind of personification of the superior technology of the superior American soul. Soon we find that the federal government has all the bad guys, while the LA police who use their own helicopters to fight crime are depicted as the good guys. There is in fact a long opening sequence that glorifies the swooping and snooping of the smaller LA helicopters.

Blue Thunder provides a slam-bag demonstration of its firepower in a staged exhibition in which there is much simulated collateral damage. Scheider is wincing every time the helicopter accidentally takes out a dummy that portrays civilians and then it takes out a busload. The LA police would never go for such excessive firepower — that’s the message. And that message is repeated at the end when the federal government starts firing heat-seeking missiles from F-16s over LA, and they go wrong. Hollywood has to have good guys and bad guys. They can’t all be bad, except in film noir which this isn’t. Life is getting to be more like film noir, as the lines between local police and federal agents, data banks, armor, techniques, and military arms are blurred. So LA hasn’t reached the stage of using F-16s quite yet, but on the ground the SWAT teams are not exactly your friendly cops walking a beat; and we are seeing tank-like vehicles coming into use.

After the demonstration of Blue Thunder’s overkill, the federal guy attempts to save face, saying “That kind of firepower would be used in our worst-case scenario like armed insurrection.” This is 9–10 years before Ruby Ridge and Waco. It’s 4 years before Robocop, in which the machine really goes wild during a demonstration.

There is a sequence in which Scheider and his co-pilot hover quietly outside an office building and record the conspirators who are planning to kill him. Fast forward to spy drones equipped with listening devices and the surveillance state grows exponentially. The surveillance state is already upon us. There will have to be limits, just as there have to be limits to debt. If people will sabotage cameras that monitor intersections, they will learn to sabotage intrusive spying devices even if it means taking down whole networks.

10:20 am on September 21, 2012
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