The first of many exclusives to come on THE SPECIAL is this unpublished set of pictures shot at Disney/MGM studios Orlando,Fl from 2007. Presented above is a 360° view of the mockup helicopter prop built for the closeup scenes fro the movie and subsequently, the series. This perfect replica front portion of the chopper was originally mounted on a platform/hydraulic gimbal for scenes deemed too dangerous to be photographed in the air before being abandoned and laid to ruin after the cancellation of the TV Series.
This prop plus a menagerie of other mockup vehicles final resting place was the appropriately named ‘Boneyard’ only accessible by land train and featured on the ‘Backlot tour’ of MGM. Lined up for display from the studio’s opening in 1989 and steadily ravaged by the weather, Blue Thunder took its place alongside similarly outrageously treated pieces of film/TV history such as the Spinner Car from Blade Runner and aircraft from the Rocketeer. The rapid tour did not stop and only offered fleeting glimpses of the Boneyard as it flew by, making photography difficult and closer inspections an impossibility (despite repeated pleas onsite and by email)
Regardless of its status as the only 1:1 version of the helicopter still left in existence, by 2010 the frame had depleted to such a state that upon one of the many moves around the site it was decided it was too far gone and subsequently scrapped, much to the dismay of fans who had started a campaign to save it.
Luckily devotees like myself have visited the Studios on more than one occasion to try and record the prop in greater detail before its demise. Random pictures dating back from the early 2000’s show it in much better condition before the canopy glass collapsed permitting water damage on the inside. The set above represents the last time I would see it and its already apparent the shell was blistering – (its also one of the only records of the rear showing the framework) but the sheer magic of seeing this genuine and iconic piece from the production never diminished…
Director John Badham said it best in the Blue Thunder Special Edition DVD Documentary ‘Ride With The Angels’ when he mentioned “The best sign that you’re doing well is when people start to rip you off..”
To that end, when Columbia Pictures ripped themselves off by allowing ABC to commission Blue Thunder as a TV Series, they had some real obstacles to overcome, not least competition from Universal who were initiating a little rip-off of their own for CBS…
Firstly, according to Starlog magazine during an interview for 2010, star Roy Scheider had already been approached to reprise his role as Frank Murphy for the spin-off to which he had replied “No…Absolutely no” and then there was the small matter of the titular helicopter being obliterated at the movie’s end.
The studio’s simple fix for this was to dismiss the continuity set by the movie and rewrite it like it never happened – this would include watered-down versions of the same characters and the re-branding of the helicopter from its former sinister purpose to a force for ‘good’.
And so with the generous assistance of endless stock footage from the movie obtrusively inserted for most of the aerial scenes, Blue Thunder the series premiered on Jan 6th, 1984. The rest is history, however its 12 episodes will be chronicled here exhaustively with subsequent posts. For now, enjoy the nostalgia of the various TV Guide ads shown above, where having two forward-mounted electric cannons as illustrated (top) were the least of the series unfulfilled promises…
Filmex ’83 I imagine would’ve been quite the occasion. A glamorous Hollywood event of the old school at the Avco Centre Cinema, Columbia Pictures and Rastar Films, Inc. selected the venue for the US premiere of its summer blockbuster Blue Thunder.
Despite indifferent reviews from preview showings critical of placing the emphasis and value of technology over the human factor, Blue Thunder opened to strong box-office and audience popularity (especially with its eventual release in Europe).
The program for opening night starts with the ‘Blue Thunder & Lightning’ premiere (heralded by searchlights!) for the opening followed by the Filmex Benefit Ball at no less than the Beverly Hilton Hotel with star Roy Scheider in attendance. Parking passes were issued with the complimentary tickets –
I was lucky enough to acquire this set of memorabilia from the premiere (which included two tickets and a newspaper article) some time ago and have never seen it offered before to come.
Did you attend this event? What are your memories of it? Please share those or any other insights in the comments block…