The Direct to Video Connoisseur

I'm a huge fan of action, horror, sci-fi, and comedy, especially of the Direct to Video variety. In this blog I review some of my favorites and not so favorites, and encourage people to comment and add to the discussion. If you click on an image, it will take you to that post's image page, which includes many more pics from the film and other goodies I couldn't fit in the actual review. For announcements and updates, don't forget to Follow us on Twitter and Like our Facebook page. If you're the director, producer, distributor, etc. of a low-budget feature length film and you'd like to send me a copy to review, you can contact me at dtvconnoisseur[at]yahoo.com. I'd love to check out what you got.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Black Thunder (1998)

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When last we saw Michael Dudikoff, he was making out with Julie Brown in the cult horror classic Bloody Birthday. When last we saw Richard Norton, he too only had a bit part, in the Rowdy Roddy Piper/Billy Blanks classic Tough and Deadly. Now, Norton isn't exactly the star in this on a par with Dudikoff, so it's not exactly a "Norton film", but he's in it more than just a bit part-- oops, did I give something away?

Black Thunder is about an Air Force plane that can cloak itself, similar to the Romulan cloaking device. Anyway, the test pilot flies off with it-- at least we think he does, even though it looks like his twin brother killed him in the previous scene, so the twin ran off with it. Anyway, Norton is the best pilot the Air Force has, but he's dead, so they call in the second and third best, Dudikoff and Gary Hudson, to go out and retrieve it. After some scenes of Dudikoff gritting his teeth and firing automatic weapons, and some stunt men either doing the shimmy and falling over, or looking like they slipped on a wet floor, Dudikoff re-appropriates the secret stealth plane, and everyone goes home happy.

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This is pretty rough. Plenty of stock footage of fighter jets, which, no matter how much you cut in shots of people pushing buttons and flipping switches, or screens showing animations of missiles being armed, or people in flight helmets gritting their teeth, or people in officer uniforms on the ground giving status reports in tense tones of voice-- no matter how much you do any of that, you can't make that any more exciting than what it is: stock footage of fighter jets. Top Gun pulled it off somewhat, but they had a much bigger budget, much better actors, and much greater resources at their disposal. Stock orchestral music, often inappropriately placed, does not substitute Kenny Loggins. And when I say inappropriately placed, I mean like wondering if it's actually a part of the soundtrack inappropriate. By the time we get to the final dogfight between Dudikoff and the baddie, we're wondering why the two didn't just show us their stuff with a little hand-to-hand action. It would've been nicer, except all the action on the ground was as I mentioned above excitement by repetition comprised of teeth-gritting gunfire and dancing stuntmen falling over, so maybe it wouldn't have been any better than what we ended up with.

See, therein lies the rub with airplane movies, the action seldom translates. Think of a car chase. We know where in relation the two parties are to each other, we can tell from landmarks how fast it is (even if it's just an illusion of trick photography), and the crashes at the end are real. With planes, you're limited to so much, especially in terms of stock footage. I imagine it's much cheaper to use stock footage than it is to map out a car chase and make it happen, but if you go the cheap way out, expect lackluster results.

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Speaking of lackluster results, somehow I neglected to mention in my Flight of Fury post that that film was a remake-- or near copy, rather-- of Black Thunder. I read it on imdb, and knew I wanted to mention it, and somehow I forgot. Sutekh over at Explosive Action (he was just Sutekh at that time) brought it to my attention when he made a comment on the Steven Seagal film, and when I read his comment in the e-mail notification, I was like "didn't I say that in the post?" Apparently I didn't, so a thank you to Sutekh for bailing me out on that one. I think what they thought they could do with the remake was replace some of the stock footage with newer computer generated images. The problem was the same problem I mentioned above, airplane movies are hard to pull off, especially when done on the cheap like that. The remake was equally as boring as the original.

Though this is post number 22 for Dudikoff, it's technically only his 21st film reviewed, because we did American Ninja 2 twice. If you throw in that he was barely in Bloody Birthday, it means he's closer to 20 films, which is right in the Lorenzo Lamas zone (though Lamas has a few Bloody Birthday sized roles himself). I was looking at the numbers, and we're only about ten films away from getting his entire DTV oeuvre on the site, which is actually closer than Don "The Dragon" Wilson. The difference between the two is, I'm having a little more trouble getting those ten than I am the 13 or so of Wilson's. What I do know is In Her Defense will be the last one we do, no matter what. As far as Mr. Norton, another DTVC Hall of Famer, this is only his twelfth film up. As he was only inducted last year, we can make that up eventually-- there is another film with Dudikoff he did that we can go to too... One film he did do that won't be reviewed on here though, is that Road House cash-grab disguised as a sequel that came out a while ago. I swore when I started this site that I'd never cover that one, even to give it a bad review.

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Any excuse to get Catherine Bell up here I'll take. She's in the film-- technically. Some of her scenes from Crash Dive were edited into Black Thunder, but I'm not complaining. In addition to Bell, there was also the aforementioned Hudson, Michael Cavanaugh (who's currently in a Progressive car insurance ad), and hottie Nancy Valen. All were great, but all were fighting an uphill battle against the boringness of fighter jet stock footage, a fight they ultimately lost (or in Bell's case, she didn't even know she was fighting.)

If you're a Dudikoff completist, you may enjoy Black Thunder, but if you're new to him, I'd go to the American Ninja well first and work your way down to this, way, way down to this. Netflix no longer has it on offer, as it's out-of-print here in the States. People abroad might have better luck, or you can just snag it on VHS. I would say, don't go too far out of your way for it though, because it's really not worth it.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0118732/

10 comments:

  1. My local library actually has this film believe it or not, anyways as far as Dudikoff's filmography goes this one was pretty average, I don't really mind stock footage that much, though for me, Flight Of Fury was more fun and entertaining then this one.

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  2. I always find stock footage overuse hilarious, but lifting scenes from your own other movie Crash Dive is genius. This is readily available here in Aus in the $2 bins which is the price I've paid for all my Dudikoff's so far. I had the complete American Ninja series in the post at one stage which cost me forty, but the postie stole it.

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  3. You Aussies seem to have it so much better than us, though I guess there's some things we get over here that you guys don't so maybe it evens out. That definitely sucks about the postie stealing your movies, though. Near here, in Springfield, MA I think, there was a mailman who was stealing people's Netflix films and selling them. Over like a four or five year period he had stolen tens of thousands of them. I was never a victim of it, but it still sucks. It's hard enough to get some of these movies, without posties and mailmen stealing them on us!

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  4. Michael Dudikoff was such a babe in Bachelor Party. Fun Review.

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  5. I'm glad you like it, and yes, I agree about Dudikoff in Bachelor Party. I think we all were wondering what Tawny Kitaen was doing with Tom Hanks.

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  6. Tawny was SO HOT back in the day. I love those whitesnake videos. I use to dream about David Coverdale. Gorgeous.

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  7. I love Whitesnake too. I did "Here I Go Again" at a karaoke bar for my 30th b-day. Growing up, though, most girls I knew were in love with Bret Michaels. I remember one wondering aloud why you couldn't see "everything" in the "Every Rose has its Thorn" video.

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  8. I actually thought Road House 2 was a pretty decent film all things considered, I can see why you'd refuse to review it with Swayze's untimely death and all, but Norton was pretty good in it, and I have to ask, did you actually see the film and don't want to review it because you hated it? Or you never saw it and don't want to review it on principle?

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  9. It's not so much that Swayze is no longer with us, as much as Road House is one of my all-time faves, and that movie was nothing more than a sack-of-asscrack DTV cashgrab. And yes, I did see it, and it sucked a fat one.

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  10. That makes sense, I guess I didn't find the sequel too bad since I wasn't really as big on Road House as most people were(I mean I liked it, just not THAT much) therefore the idea of a sequel wasn't a huge turn off to me, did you at least like Norton's performance in that film? Also since you hated it so much, i'd think you'd at least want to review it so you could warn people to stay away from it, But in any case I don't mind too much if you don't review it.

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