So, there I am, in an a darkened theater checking out this new live-action Thunderbirds (2004) flick with Bill Paxton (of whom I'm a big fan) and what seems to be a number of rejects from failed Noggin network teen comedy pilots. About twenty minutes into the flick, it hits me.....I really liked this movie. When it used to be called Spy Kids , that is.
It seems that the folks behind this current incarnation of the 1960s childrens adventure show favorite completely missed the boat, not realizing that the majority of the charm of the original series was that kooky "Supermarionation" process employed by Gerry Anderson (the man behind such cult kid programming as Supercar,Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet, Stingray, and Joe 90, who would later develop such sci-fi TV greats as Space: 1999 and Space Precinct) and his Century 21 Productions team. Sure, their performances were slow, jerky and wooden... because they were puppets. What excuse does the cast featured in the 2004 Universal live action deal have for similiar portrayals? Bill Paxton.... why hast thou forsaken me?
I mean...can you imagine a live-action Supercar? It wouldn't nearly be half as entertaining (and probably about three times as dumb).
Thunderbirds Are GO! was the first of two feature film releases ( the second, Thunderbird 6, would follow two years later in 1968) made as a result of a deal struck between creator Gerry Anderson and United Artists after the original television series had stopped production. Its plot follows International Rescue, a family of brothers in the far off future of 2065 (Gordon, Scott, Virgil, John, and Alan) led by patriarch Jeff Tracy (surprisingly, according to the documentaries include on this disc, the Tracy clan was modeled after the family from BONANZA). Jeff, a former astronaut, has trained and educated his brood to be the basis of a world-wide disaster recon/tactical crew, each brother manning a huge hi-tech rescue vehicle, said vehicles being themed to either air, land, sea, or space rescue.
When experimental spacecraft Zero X is targeted by a nefarious sabotage plot which grounds it's first flight to explore Mars, the International Rescue team is called in to investigate and insure the safety of the next scheduled mission. After an odd dream sequence involving youngest of the family, Alan Tracy, and 1960s British pop stars Cliff Richards Jr. and the Shadows (incredibly goofy to watch, fun stuff), the crew finally make it to Mars...only to encounter deadly Martain fireball breathing rock snakes (I don't make 'em up, folks, I just report 'em). Zero X is damaged and it's up to the Tracy family to keep the astronauts alive and and in one piece while trying to figure out how to get them off the doomed star ship as it hurtles towards Earth....
2:35.1 Widescreen, nice crisp picture that has aged slightly, but little deterioration is evident. The Dolby Digital 5.1 remastered track suits the film well, especially during the long, but classic "ship preparation" sequences, with their trumpeting score pounding along.
Audio Commentary by producer Sylvia Anderson and director David Lane : Fun audio track, which at times becomes repetitive especially when Anderson, wife of creator Gerry Anderson, starts speaking of the lack of sense of style that the men of Century 21 had concerning Lady Penelope's wardrobe, and Lane constantly chiming in about the certain limitations one has when filming puppets. But, every once and a while, one of them will throw out an odd, yet incredibly interesting tidbit of trivia, like how director Stanley (2001, Clockwork Orange, Full Metal Jacket) Kubrick was a huge fan of Thunderbirds. Anderson tells of a call she and her husband received during the production of 2001: A Space Odyssey giving compliments on the Anderson's work and stating his hopes that the model work on his film would turn out like those of the Tracy family's television exploits.
Documentaries- "History and Appeal", "Factory of Dolls and Rockets", and "Epics in Miniature": Informative mini-docs concerning the pre-production of the two Thunderbirds films, though sadly lacking much in-depth info on the television series that spawned them.
"Who Said That?" Quiz- Not too tough game in which you match the soundbite to the specific member of the Tracy family, which leads to a nice little easter egg, a video clip that seems to be cut from the documentary footage with Sylvia Anderson revealing the origin of the exclamation, "F-A-B!"
Original Theatrical Trailer.
Anthony Conn, aka The Hong Kong Cavalier, 9/8/2004