By Natasha Samreny
Fans of Airwolf will recognize the DVD as a version of the movie that launched 1980s TV series of the same name. For those who aren’t familiar with the show, director Don Bellisario also created Magnum, P.I., JAG, Quantum Leap and more recently NCIS.
Airwolf follows the format of a hero with military experience and a complicated past who is called to action by a bigger power-that-be for his expertise. When super helicopter Airwolf is hijacked by its creator Dr. Charles Henry Moffett (David Hemmings) and taken to Libya, the CIA drafts Vietnam vet Stringfellow Hawke (Jan-Michael Vincent) to recover the billion-dollar chopper.
Hawke’s a young, handsome pilot, and one of the elite who can fly Airwolf. But when we first see him, he’s playing the cello on a dock in the mountains, watching an eagle hunt in the glistening lake outside his mountain cabin. He wants to keep to himself, and we learn that through his work, he has lost nearly everyone he loves.
CIA director Michael ‘Archangel’ Coldsmith Briggs III (Alex Cord) shows up at his cabin unannounced, with beautiful agent Gabrielle in tow to convince Stringfellow to join the agency’s mission to recover the top-secret aircraft. Cord’s superiors ensure Hawke moves forward with the mission by taking the priceless art collection lining his cabin walls for collateral. Inevitably, Hawke and Gabrielle get involved with each other too.
Enter Ernest Borgnine as Hawke’s dearest friend Dominic Santini. Santini raised Hawke and his brother after their parents died, and Hawke confides in his surrogate father (who’s also a renegade pilot) to join forces and retrieve Airwolf.
Watching Borgnine was my favorite part of the viewing experience. Granted, I’m new to this Bellisario creation, but the moment I recognized those eyebrows on the disc box cover, I smiled. In terms of laughs, it’s no McHale’s Navy, but Borgnine still presses funny into the role—like when he busts out in his native Italian. When Santini and Hawke pull up to Qaddafi’s compound under the auspices of oil delivery men, Hawke warns Santini that the guards speak French. This is where Moffett’s stowed the chopper, and Santini can’t speak French, so instead he greets the military guard with open arms, Bungiorno! You’re not supposed to come until next Saturday, the guard challenges in Italian. E verro? This Saturday, next Saturday, why does it matter what day we come, Borgnine convinces with his wide-smiled, toothy charm. The guard laughs and waves him through See? Everybody speaks Italian.
Airwolf is the epitome of a 1980s action movie, video quality included. Not my cup of tea, but I did appreciate the era movie-making style for its nostalgic value: miniature blow-up special effects sequences, hot action figure guys with longer hair and smoldering stares, keyboard-synth music soundtrack. And of course, it wouldn’t be complete without a villain staked out in the desert or backed by some rich Middle East/North African prince. Here it’s Qaddafi, so it’s not too far of a stretch.
In the end, the hero gets the villain and the helicopter, but he doesn’t get the girl. Moffett abducts and tortures Gabrielle in the desert for information. By the time Hawke and Santini fly up, she’s almost dead. Hawke blows Moffett up in a sad rage, and he and Santini leave the desert the same way they came—defeated and victorious, together and alone.
The disc includes a gallery of still shots, and a 15-minute documentary narrated by a new interview with Ernest Borgnine. Borgnine offers a few behind-the-scenes nuggets, and the stills are neat to see. But unless you’re a big fan of Airwolf or Borgnine, they’re nothing extraordinary.