Distributor: Fabulous Films
BBFC Classification: 12
Created By: Donald P. Bellisario
Starring: Jan-Michael Vincent, Ernest Borgnine, Alex Cord, Jean Bruce Scott, David Hemmings, David Carradine, Shannen Doherty, Christopher Stone, Gregg Henry, Ray Wise, P.J. Soles, Richard Lynch, Bryan Cranston, Belinda Bauer
Any child of the ’80s will happily reminisce about the TV shows that made up their childhood, and while everybody will have their favourites it was Airwolf that came the closest to feeling like you were watching an hour-long movie each week (and also had the coolest theme tune, although Magnum P.I. also had the best theme tune, as did Tour of Duty depending on my mood).
First aired in 1984, Airwolf starred Jan-Michael Vincent (The Mechanic/Xtro II: The Second Encounter) as Stringfellow Hawke, a helicopter pilot sent to recover Airwolf, a hi-tech supersonic helicopter, from the vehicle’s designer Dr. Henry Moffet (David Hemmings – Deep Red), who stole the helicopter during a live-fire weapons test and is now keeping it in Libya where he runs errands for Colonel Gaddafi. Hawke is hired by Archangel (Alex Cord – Inn of the Damned), director of the Firm, an offshoot of the CIA, to retrieve Airwolf from Moffet and return it to the US, which he does but then he refuses to hand the weapon over to the authorities unless the Firm help to find his brother St. John, who went missing in Vietnam in 1969. Archangel agrees to help Hawke find his brother but only if Hawke – along with his co-pilot and friend Dominic Santini (Ernest Borgnine – Escape From New York/The Devil’s Rain) – will use Airwolf on matters of national importance, and thus a TV show is born…
The feature-length pilot episode does stand as one of the best episodes of Airwolf, mainly because it has the feel of a TV movie with a straightforward plot built around a character with a bit more depth than your average square-jawed beefcake hero. Stringfellow Hawke is a complex character with a troubled background that you get to find out more about throughout the three seasons in this set, and Jan-Michael Vincent may not be the most articulate actor to ever pilot a helicopter and take down a dictatorship but his intensity overcomes his limited range and makes him an engaging lead. However, it is Ernest Borgnine who provides the lighter moments and watching the show as a child it was Dominic Santini who was the most entertaining character, almost providing the eyes for the audience as every week offered up a new take on real-world events for him and Hawke to get involved with.
Echoing the Cold War sentiment that was rife in action movies at the time, season one contains several adventures involving international espionage and a global scope that was reduced slightly for season two, where the action was ramped up a bit but generally kept to US-based adventures, which was more exciting when watching it as a nine-year-old but watching it now it is season one that proves to be the more interesting. By the time of season three the ratings were starting to take a dive and Jan-Michael Vincent’s battle with alcoholism was starting to show, although by season three the cinematography had been perfected and the action scenes were all the better for it.
Despite running for four seasons between 1984 and 1987 this box set only contains seasons 1-3, which is probably best because season four was picked up by USA after CBS dropped the show, gave it a low-budget makeover, changed the direction and recast all the main parts, leaving the show to meander to an unspectacular finish that nobody really noticed or cared for. That fourth season is available on DVD by Fabulous Films so completists can still own it but it is the three Jan-Michael Vincent-led seasons that hold all of the magic, and over 30 years on it still holds up as exciting, action-packed television. The Blu-ray quality isn’t amazing if truth be told; the audio is in mono and the 4:3 aspect ratio may put off those not used to seeing TV shows how they appeared before we had widescreen televisions, but despite the audio/visual shortcomings Airwolf is still must-see episodic television, the likes of which the producers of some of today’s needlessly drawn-out TV shows could take a leaf from.
Special Features: Season guide booklets, cast biographies, original concept notes.
UK Release Date: 14th April 2014