Universal // 1984 // 592 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // July 6th, 2005
Airwolf was a treasured memory of my childhood TV watching. The adventures of Stringfellow Hawke and Dominic Santini tooling around in their invincible attack chopper scratched that boyhood itch to watch helicopters blow up. But it was with bittersweet feelings that I heard the show was bound for the land of the digital; it was cool to have these memories at my fingertips, but would it end up being the dated disappointment so many other beloved series from long ago turned out to be (*cough*cough* 21 Jump Street)?
With shock and joy, let me proclaim: Airwolf: Season 1 is even better than I remember it!
"Airwolf" is the code name for the state-of-the-art Mach 1 assault helicopter developed by a clandestine wing of the CIA called the Firm. The project, headed by the white-suit-clad head honcho "Archangel" (Alex Cord) was supposed to give the definitive edge in air assault to the United States.
But when Airwolf's designer steals the helicopter, blows up the Firm's HQ, and bolts to Libya, Archangel is left with a mess only one man can clean up: Stringfellow Hawke (Jan-Michael Vincent). Hawke is the only other pilot to have flown Airwolf, but he's a tortured recluse, preferring to live in his mountain cabin and play the cello on his pier.
Eventually, Hawke agrees to recover Airwolf, on the condition that the Firm throws all of its resources into finding his lost brother, St. John, who has been MIA in Vietnam for over a decade. With his best friend and copilot Dominic Santini (Ernest Borgnine), Hawke succeeds in recapturing the super-aircraft (the details of which are expounded upon in the pilot, a 90-minute television movie). But Hawke throws Archangel a curve ball when, instead of returning it to the government, he hides it, using the chopper as leverage until the CIA produces St. John. So now the Firm and Stringfellow Hawke have a tenuous agreement: While Archangel keeps the feds off of Hawke's back, the renegade cellist/pilot will fly covert missions.
And this almost always leads to some poor schmucks' getting blown to cinders courtesy of one of Airwolf's belly-mounted missiles. But that's what puts butts in the seats!
Airwolf rocks! Seriously, it's frickin' great! Hey, I'm just as stunned writing these sentiments as you no doubt are reading them. Sure, I remember getting a kick out of the show way back in the day, but what are the chances it was actually good?!
I'll be the first to admit I wasn't exactly flush with critical discernment in the mid '80s, and I mainly thought the show was awesome because, well, the helicopter was awesome. Airwolf was a true action show, one with balls, where people died and political correctness took a back seat to a pair of badass chain guns. This wasn't the gunfire-happy, zero-body-count endeavor of The A-Team, or the happy-go-lucky crime fighting of MacGyver. Airwolf is red-meat action bliss. The Libyans were bastards, the Soviet Union was the evil empire, and Fidel Castro was a douchebag. Good luck finding that kind of stuff on our morally relativistic airwaves these days.
Stringfellow Hawke, played by a pre-public-displays-of-drunkenness Jan-Michael Vincent, is a cool hero, aside from some of those corny cello-playing bits. He's a gruff, narrow-eyed curmudgeon (Squintfellow Hawke may be a more appropriate moniker) with a black-and-white worldview. Ernest Borgnine as Dom Santini elicits mixed feelings. Yeah, you need his lighthearted demeanor to balance Hawke's tight-lipped stoicism, but I can't help but think that every time Hawke and Dom take to the air in Airwolf, it's Someone's Grandfather riding shotgun. Dom just doesn't seem to square up. Plus, those eyebrows look like two deceased mongooses were stapled to his forehead.
Archangel is the gimmicky character, parading around in white outfits with his glasses-eyepatch, flying in white helicopters, and escorted by a bodacious coworker, also dressed in white. Though the Firm is highly reminiscent of the Foundation from that other '80s show about a loner and a state-of-the-art vehicle, I dig it -- partly because of my bizarre fascination with fictional clandestine agencies.
And speaking of Knight Rider, which preceded Airwolf and almost certainly influenced the show, how does KITT compare to its titular battle copter rival? As characters go, where KITT had the voice and demeanor of a tight-ass male butler of questionable sexual orientation, I'd think Airwolf, if she could speak, would have the voice and demeanor of a hard-ass female biker of questionable sexual orientation.
All eleven episodes of Season One, including the 90-minute pilot, are dumped quite unceremoniously onto two two-sided discs. Here's what Season One has to offer:
* Airwolf: The Movie
Airwolf's creator, Dr. Moffett, steals the weapons and blows up the Firm before hightailing it to Libya. Archangel enlists Hawke and Dom to retrieve Airwolf, while sending in a female operative who just so happens to be Hawke's girlfriend. After treading some water plotwise for the first two-thirds of the film, the final act opens up with Libyans getting mowed down, buckets of air-to-air combat, and a final act of vengeance, all played to that iconic Airwolf theme, set on loop.
Dominic Santini says: "I like it, String, I like it a lot!"
* "Daddy's Gone a Hunt'n"
When the Firm learns of a possible traitor in the Air Force who is about to deliver a top-secret jet to the Soviets, Hawke is dispatched undercover to find out what's up. The traitor turns out to be a former war buddy and is trading the jet for his son, whom he fathered in Vietnam. Look for Chad Allen caked with eyeliner and eyeshadow in order to embody a faux Asian boy.
Dominic Santini says: "F*** those commies, String!"
* "Bite of the Jackal"
Hawke and Archangel saddle up to rescue Dom after his helicopter is shot down by an ex-Firm agent. Meanwhile, Dom must survive with an unexpected stowaway -- Shannen Doherty (which begs the question -- is it a cockpit or a "peach pit"?)
Dominic Santini says: "Hey, String, what's she doing in my seat?!"
"Proof Through the Night"
Hawke and Dom are deployed to Mother Russia to rescue a double agent. To make the long trip, Airwolf is stripped of her armaments, forcing the boys to go commando in very hostile airspace. The agent's daughter is reluctant to leave the USSR, but is attracted to Hawke's swagger and his persuasive anti-Communist rhetoric.
Dominic Santini says: "Thanks for that lesson in multiculturalism, String. Still, though, f*** those commies!"
* "One Way Express"
Hawke and Dom clash over a job Santini Air is hired for: piloting a helicopter for a dangerous movie stunt. Hawke fears that his friend might be in over his head, but Dom refuses to believe he's washed up. Their conflict is placed on the back burner when they discover the stunt is really just a cover for a high-stakes gold theft.
Dominic Santini says: "Who you calling old, String?!"
* "Echoes from the Past"
Hawke encounters a man claiming to know the whereabouts of his brother. But a freak helicopter accident leaves Hawke in a hospital bed, his memory whacked, and learning that Dom and Archangel are dead. Newspapers and newscasts claim he's been out for many months, but his gut tells him different.
Dominic Santini says: "Hmmm, String, that's a little far-fetched if you ask me."
* "Fight Like a Dove"
Dom and Hawke are asked to capture an ex-Nazi turned arms dealer by the daughter of one of his victims. The two agree to bring him to Israel for due process, but out of the blue Archangel shows up and orders the two to lay off. The Firm has something cooking, and Hawke may risk going up against Archangel.
Dominic Santini says: "You know the one thing I hate more than commies, String? Nazis! F*** them Nazis!"
* "Mad Over Miami"
When Dom gets stranded in Miami after a failed operation in Cuba, Hawke and Airwolf go after him to help. Soon the two are landed in the middle of a small turf war between Cuban rebels and a handful of dirty communists.
Dominic Santini says: "Hey Fidel! Eat this! Right, String?"
* "And They Are Us"
Archangel sends Team Airwolf to the war-torn African country of Limbawe to neutralize a brutal general. Hawke is stunned to find out that the lead pilot for the general is an old Nam comrade. And he may know where Hawke's brother is.
Dominic Santini says: "Where the hell is Limbawe, String?!"
* "Mind of the Machine"
A computer wiz from the Firm (David Carradine!) and washed-out Airwolf pilot develops a virtual simulation of the real Airwolf, and Hawke is enlisted to test it out. The tension between the two masks a plot by an assistant to steal plans to Airwolf and deliver them to enemies of the U.S. Someone's going to get a missile in the tailpipe!
Dominic Santini says: "You know what, String? I don't trust them computers! In my day we targeted enemy aircraft with a pair of shoelaces and a protractor!"
* "To Snare a Wolf"
Hawke must elude the tenacious actions of a Washington bureaucrat bent on capturing or destroying Airwolf. With Archangel mired in a congressional hearing, Hawke is on his own to keep Airwolf tucked away.
Dominic Santini says: "Hey String! Are you finished with those Doritos?!"
I actually enjoyed each of these episodes. Again, let me restate: this show is better than I remember it. Though stock footage is used here and there, and some Airwolf stuff is recycled, the aerial scenes are great. When you add the liberal use of pyrotechnics, it's obvious this show must have cost a sackful of nickels to produce.
Sadly, the series would be overhauled in 1987, its budget obviously slashed, and aerial photography replaced with crude proto-computer graphics. But it was fun while it lasted.
Universal went the minimalist route here. From the shoddy front-end menu system to the boring packaging, this set cries "rushed," or, worse, "who gives a crap." Visually, the transfer is spotty and aged, with some scenes profoundly grainy. The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono mix is endurable, and improves when decoded with Dolby Pro Logic II. Basically, it looks like you're watching this show in 1984. That's not a compliment.
And about those extras? They must be hidden in the Valley of the Gods, too.
Rarely have I enjoyed a blast from the past as much as I have Airwolf: Season 1. For the first time, my prepubescent television sensibilities were on the money!
Not guilty. But Universal needs some blanketing chain gun fire on the corporate headquarters for its lamentable presentation.
Review content copyright © 2005 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 592 Minutes
Release Year: 1984
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* TV.com: Airwolf