Viking Night: Blue Thunder

By Bruce Hall

March 26, 2013

Technically, that is not a bigger boat.

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Wanna see something scary? Google yourself. I’m serious. Go do that, behold the wonders of Skynet, and then come back. See what I mean? There was a time when you could take steps to keep yourself off the Internet. But today, anyone can do a quick search using just your name and in moments, know more about you than your mother does. Like it or not, we live in a benevolent surveillance state. Total privacy is forever a thing of the past, and most of us have come to terms with the fact that much of our personal information is now public.

Sometimes it helps - psycho killers and terrorists both get caught on a regular basis using things like GPS, Internet activity and the fact that there are cameras literally everywhere now. On the other hand let's not forget Facebook - the world's biggest data mining operation, disguised as an innocent social networking site. Suppose someone wanted to use it against you? Suppose that someone was the police? You might be surprised to find these questions being asked as early as 1983 by director John Badham, best known for the techno-paranoia thriller WarGames.

Badham’s other big score that year was Blue Thunder, which is not a social networking site for sexual deviants, but a fictional attack helicopter used by the LAPD. It has state of the art (for 1983) electronic surveillance gear that allows it to hear through walls, see in the dark, and peep down a hooker’s blouse two thousand feet away. It has a stealth mode for sneaking up on things, a 20mm gatling gun and even an embryonic form of Internet, sophisticated enough to tell you what you had for breakfast. And, it looks like what Darth Vader probably flies to work every day.


If you’re thinking this doesn’t sound exactly legal you'd be right, and that’s precisely what bothers Officer Frank Murphy (Roy Scheider), chopper pilot for the (fictional) LAPD Astro Division. Murphy is a Vietnam vet who suffers from PTSD, making it hard to adjust to civilian life, and even harder to accept authority. He’s prone to the occasional in-flight flashback, and is on a first name basis with the department shrink. Although he takes his work seriously (if not his superiors), his rebellious streak soon sees himself and his copilot, computer nerd Richard Lymangood (Daniel Stern), grounded. So naturally, they are chosen as test pilots for the division's new experimental death machine.

As an added bonus, the team leader turns out to be an old nemesis of Murphy's, the sadistic Col. Cochrane (Malcolm McDowell). The two men butt heads from the start, and Murphy's instant cynicism toward the program makes for a doubly tense reunion. But crime is on the rise, and with the recent murder of a prominent councilwoman and the Olympics around the corner, our hero is advised to correct his attitude. This proves difficult when during their first test flight, Murphy and Lymangood decide to engage in a little mischief and use Blue Thunder to snoop on Cochrane. It’s all fun and games until they accidentally tape a secret conversation between him and a group of government bigwigs. It turns out the council woman's death wasn’t as random as it appeared, and someone has sinister plans for Blue Thunder - and only one man stands in their way.

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