Blue Thunder

Screening on Film
Directed by John Badham.
With Roy Scheider, Warren Oates, Candy Clark.
US, 1983, 35mm, color, 109 min.
Print source: Swank

In Blue Thunder, paranoia of the 1970s meets the macho action film of the 1980s and anxieties that have only grown more pronounced since the film was made. Roy Scheider is a LAPD air-support division officer and a PTSD-inflicted Vietnam vet, charged with piloting a military-style combat helicopter. Equipped with infrared scanners, microphones, cameras, mobile telephone, VCR, and a local network-attached computer and modem, the helicopter was designed for enhanced municipal surveillance, due to fears of terrorist activity and civic disobedience during the 1984 Olympic games. In classic 1970s paranoid style, the government has more than everyday surveillance on its mind—and the true pleasure of Blue Thunder lies not only in its early anxieties regarding drone-style violence, but in its extensive areal action sequences. In these, Los Angeles becomes a spatially embodied version of the world in which we live; the film presents a state power that flies above and intrudes upon the networks through which we circulate, using technological control and datafication to turn us into its supplicants. 

Part of film series

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The Early Internet in the Paranoid Imagination