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Mystery TV - Blue Thunder - The Complete Series

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Blue Thunder The Complete Series
James Farentino, Dana Carvey, Dick Butkus
11 Episodes 3 DVDs
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment 2006

This action TV series followed the famous 1983 movie Blue Thunder with Roy Scheider and Malcolm McDowell. Blue Thunder The Complete Series tried to recapture the movie's popularity in a series that described the day-to-day operations of the Blue Thunder helicopter, its crew, and its ground support team, nicknamed Rolling Thunder.

The Blue Thunder Complete Series 3 DVD set contains all 11 episodes from this series starring James Farentino as Chaney, the pilot of Blue Thunder, Dana Carvey in one of his early roles as JAFO (short for just another frustrated observer), the co-pilot and tech-wiz aboard the helicopter. Two former NFL players, Dick Butkus and Bubba Smith play "Ski" and "Bubba", the two tough guys who man the support truck "Rolling Thunder" and "Junior", the machine gun equipped all terrain pickup carried by Rolling Thunder.

When I was asked to review this series, I was surprised to learn that there had been a series based on Blue Thunder. I've been an aviation buff since childhood and I remember seeing the Blue Thunder movie on many occasions, so why didn't I see the series when I was young? Well, after reading a little about the series, I found out one of the reasons why the series was originally cancelled is that it couldn't keep up with its main competitor: Airwolf, another hit show featuring a high-tech helicopter. That explains why Blue Thunder probably never made it to my area. I remember Airwolf being very popular in the 80s.

Now let's move on to Blue Thunder The Complete Series. To no one's surprise, the hero of the series, just as it was for the movie, is Blue Thunder itself. I must say here that Blue Thunder is a fictional aircraft. It's basically a French-built Gazelle helicopter with a "gunship-like makeup". It has a directional main gun similar to what we could find on an Apache helicopter that can be aimed through the pilot's helmet. It has a turbo boost which increases engine power and speed to allow special manoeuvres like the famed 360 degree loop. It can see through walls and it has long range sound amplifying surv mikes. The chopper is also equipped with a whisper mode which allows it to travel covertly.

In the movie, the helicopter's purpose was to provide security against possible terror threats for the "then" upcoming Los Angeles Olympics. In the series, the helicopter belongs to Apex, a Federal agency that loans Blue Thunder to the LAPD mostly, but also sends it on special missions throughout The United States and beyond.

The story of most episodes revolves around the helicopter's ability. Apparently, during the eighties it was pretty easy for bad guys to get a hold of former WWII, Korean or Vietnam war era planes because for the first few episodes, we see an F-8F1 Bearcat refitted with powerful machine guns, An F-86 Sabre Jet and other relics that fall in the hands of drug smugglers, KGB plotters and even bank robbers. That's when Frank Chaney and his Blue Thunder come to the rescue. With the help of his team, he must find ways to beat his opponents which cannot be stopped by the regular Police choppers.

The plot of the first few episodes of Blue Thunder The Complete Series was quite repetitive, but later episodes seemed to be a bit more creative. All in all though, it's mostly typical American macho man beats the bad guy type. Speaking of macho, the characters of Bubba and Ski are all arms and brawn. They provide most of the fight scenes in the series and most of the tongue-in-cheek humor so typical of similar series from the 80s. Chaney is the kind of guy who can create miracles at the hands of Blue Thunder, but he can't follow the rules that Captain Braddock wants him to follow. His hunches are always right and he always ends up being the rebellious hero. We can see that Dana Carvey was already aiming for a career in comedy as he performs a few imitations and he constantly has a joke to tell.

I felt mostly that this is the kind of TV show aimed at young teenagers which were undoubtedly the target audience for this show when it was produced. The problem today is that most teenagers have seen technologically advanced weapons and aircraft that were nicely done and more technically accurate. Therefore, I'd say this show will be more fun to watch for people who were young in the 80s and just want to get a fun action TV series with all the cheesy and corny things we saw in the 80s.

One of the funniest things for me was to note the technical errors and what I call the "low budget not-so-special effects". The funniest of them all was when a KGB group had stolen an American plane hoping to shoot down a Russian airliner and blame it on the US government. Well, being right in the middle of the cold war, it was practically impossible to get the Russians to loan an airliner to a film crew, so for the in flight views of the Russian aircraft, it literally looks like they took a picture of the plane, cut with scissors around the contour of the aircraft, and glued the image to a TV set showing a background view of a sky going by at high speed. Not something you see a lot these days. Also, in the first 3 episodes, every time someone fires on Blue Thunder, you always see the exact same shots of fiery bullet impacts. This is really a clear sign of a limited budget for Blue Thunder.

Another funny error is when someone tries to blow up Chaney by putting a bomb in his car. As he's driving, he has a radiator problem so he stops to call for a ride. As he's talking on telephone, his 1984 Camaro blows up. In the next shot when he's near the wreckage of his car, it's clearly an old 60s Mustang that we see on fire.

Then there are the more technical errors. For example, the electronic counter measure system (ECM) that they install on the chopper in one of the episodes doesn't reflect reality. In real life, all an ECM does is it emits radar waves to confuse enemy radars. In the show, it protects the helicopter from huge electrical discharges and it protects it from laser cannons, another thing we have yet to invent!

Despite all the technical errors, once you get to suspend your disbelief Blue Thunder The Complete Series has a few interesting things to offer. After only 3 episodes, I almost felt like I was really part of this team and I felt attached to the characters. In one of the episodes, the daughter of the captain gets kidnapped. I could really feel that all the characters we doing all they could to help the captain save his daughter. The acting, while not Oscar material, was at least good enough to make me believe there was some depth to the characters.

In the end, I'd say this series will appeal to the fans of the movie, or people who like cheesy 80s series. The younger crowd might not understand some of the issues (especially the ones dealing with communism, the KGB and cold war themes) and they will probably think that the special effects really stink. People like me who know a lot about aviation will have to pretend they don't know anything to believe all the things Blue Thunder can achieve. Bottom line: I'd recommend it for a rental to 80s action series fans (if you liked Airwolf of Knight Rider for example). If you simply loved the movie, it may be worth a purchase for you.

Vincent Lemire

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