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Director: Donald Bellisario
review by Mark J. Cairns
Airwolf was a futuristic action adventure from the mid-1980s about a sleek, awesome, Mach 1+ chopper that could 'kick butt' (via 14 firepower options), and its loner, cello-playing, hotshot pilot, Stringfellow Hawke (played perfectly by Hollywood hellraiser, Jan-Michael Vincent) who lives in a mountain cabin with Tet, an old BlueTick Hound.
When the hi-tech helicopter (a real wolf in sheep's clothing) is stolen by its deviant creator, Dr Moffet (a gloriously slimy performance by David Hemmings - recently seen again in Gladiator) and flown to Colonel Kadaffi's (note spelling, perhaps for libel reasons?) sand-pile in Libya to indulge in his favourite pastime of raping and torturing young women, the Deputy Director (Alex Cord) of an agency within the CIA ('the Firm') that developed Airwolf asks for Hawke's assistance in recovering the helicopter, in return for them finding Hawke's brother, St John, still MIA from the Vietnam war. Hawke asks for help from his old friend and mentor, Dominic Santini (played by veteran Oscar-winning actor, Ernest Borgnine) and together they try to recover Airwolf from Moffet and the Libyan military.
Airwolf was part Blue Thunder, part Knight Rider and far superior to both from the very start, featured magnificent, feature film production values within most of its 55 episodes and especially with its lovingly shot aerial hardware. The subsequent three seasons (forgetting its awful final fourth Canadian-based season) resembled the intentions of the Blue Thunder and Firefox films from two years earlier, but its macho solemnity ultimately gave it the edge and allowed it to still acknowledge and explore the muddier areas of international politics and officialdom's often questionable behaviour - as Hawke and Santini skimmed around the skies as a sort of blackbird of death amalgam of Lone Ranger, Mighty Mouse and God, dispensing instant justice in the name of fair play and apple pie. There were no wimpy sirens or formalities like arrests and trials (most of the time) where Airwolf was concerned; neither the CIA nor vigilantes require such minor details of inconvenience. With a concept such as Airwolf, an element of tongue-in-cheek was almost mandatory to get such a provocative premise on the air (the initial outcry against the mercenary heroes of The A-Team had only been dissipated by the series' stubborn refusal to take itself seriously - as the critics had), but in Airwolf the self-parody is deliberately almost subliminal to enable the series to play both sides of the fence. It was a show that still stands the test of time today - even most of the technology and look of the show hasn't aged at all - with its real world (mostly Right-wing) politics, a reality that extends to its story locations, with stories set in real countries including: Libya, Laos, Nicaragua, Cuba, Mexico and Russia.
This release by Universal Playback is their fourth release (in the past 16 years) of this film version of the 'pilot' episode for the series and is about 14 minutes shorter than the original TV version of the pilot, due to its creator, Don Bellisario (Magnum PI, Quantum Leap, JAG) wishing to make this version of the opening episode self-contained for a limited theatrical and future video release worldwide. It is an (18 / R) certificate release and features dialogue overdubs with more adult swearing and scenes cut from other first season episodes, but contains different (and superior) orchestral and music cues than the TV version.
The superb music in this episode (and on the show) - created by Hungarian composer, Sylvester Levay - is one of the most recognisable and superb pieces of television music ever created and adds even further to the show's feature film production values during the aerial action sequences. Some of the music cues are different in this film to the TV version, although I personally feel they are superior, and here re-mastered in hi-fi stereo for the first time.
In my personal opinion, this is one of the finest action-adventure series ever created on American television, pandering to the darker instincts making for very satisfying viewing.
previously published online, VideoVista #20
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