THE SANITY-CHECKER

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“Its sort of a test – I read somewhere that if you really think you’re going over the edge the first thing you lose is your sense of time.  With your eyes shut you can’t tell 25 seconds from 5…”

 – Frank Murphy

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State of the art for its time and a retro classic today, the Dual-Layer Casio Digital watch represented advances in real-world technology that would define the 1980’s both as an era of innovation and paranoia on the silver screen thanks to movies like Blue Thunder.

Model AA-85 would be thrust into moviestardom out of necessity rather than anything so calculated as product placement, however.  In fact, Casio, having been at the forefront of the digital revolution since 1957, apparently had no involvement with the picture and therefore did not endorse use of their product for the screen.  Nevertheless, the script required lead character Frank Murphy to sport a cutting-edge stopwatch and Director John Badham needed a quick solution –  

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“This was my own Casio watch – I found it would come up with that little weird countdown – and it was always Dan O’ Bannon’s idea that somebody trying to test his sanity would see if he could tell time with his eyes closed…”

-John Badham

Although Badham has repeatedly stated he donated his own watch it would appear (based on the evidence above) that he merely recommended use of the same model.  To distinguish it from the factory version Murphy’s watch would be fitted with a replacement lizardskin strap and worn over a military-style green sweatband.  The sanity-checking watch was created and a timepiece star was born.

This was not the screen debut of the watch, however, with module 103 (housed in the Casio A201)  having appeared in the opening scenes of 48hrs the year before.  Setting the precedent for alternative use of its functions for the screen, the demo mode would stand in for Nick Nolte’s wake-up alarm.

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The minute increment on the stopwatch for Murphy’s ‘countdown’

With the countdown representing pivotal moments in the screenplay but limited by minimal animation in the existing stopwatch feature, other modes were adapted by the production to make the AA-85 display more dynamic.  In other words, the watch does not perform the functions in the same way as shown in the movie.  The final effect is actually achieved by holding down the ‘C’ button (bottom left) to advance minutes to set the countdown (notice the seconds in the bottom right of the display remain at 00).  The beep effect at five-minute increments was added in post to complete the illusion of representing seconds (see countdown alarm operation below)

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The Module 103 Instruction Manual (Click to enlarge)

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The sixty-minute countdown display.

(Images: Kung Fusion)

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(Image: Gwynnfan1)

(Images: J. ABmann)

(Images: Kung Fusion)

Due to its brief but memorable appearance  the AA-85 has gained cult status and is now coveted by watch aficionado’s and movie fans alike.  Though there is nothing to suggest this model was a limited edition, they are nonetheless extremely rare today.  The trusty Module 103 was used in several other models released by Casio in the early ’80’s – and most all are referred to as the ‘Blue Thunder’ watch.  While this is essentially true, only the AA-85 released in 1981 is the genuine prop used in the film.  As for the fate of the screenused piece, it remains a mystery. There may or may not have been a backup maintained by the Wardrobe Dept. but to date it has never appeared at auction and most likely resides in a private collection…