BluRay/DVD Reviews

THUNDERBIRDS

By • Dec 21st, 2004 •

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I deliberately waited until this came onto DVD before I wrote a review. As you know, I’m a Brit and I specifically asked editor Roy Frumkes to leave this one to me as the original 60s series upon which it is based was a British product and one that I grew up with and I wanted to be able to study it in detail and give it a thorough examination. I had long imagined a live action version of the series and knew that the time, and the technology, was now right to achieve it. I deliberately avoided any pre-publicity as I wanted to review it on an ‘as seen’ basis.

So, with an open mind, I settled down to watch.

The opening PINK PANTHER/WHAT’S NEW PUSSYCAT style graphics are pretty good and give you a sense of the way the movie is going to be handled. Also a nice touch is the inclusion of the traditional countdown and a nifty arrangement of Barry Gray’s famous theme. One thing I didn’t like was that now the characters and not just the machines are called the Thunderbirds, but maybe this is a PC thing as there really is now an organisation called International Rescue (inspired by the original series of course) which helps out at various disaster areas around the globe. This brings me to another point – these disasters throughout the film are referred to as ‘the accident area’ or ‘disaster site’ or similar. What happened to the series catchphrase of ‘Danger Zone’? Not once is it used. Also didn’t like the way they kept pronouncing Jeff Tracey’s manservant’s name as K’eye’rano as opposed to K’ee’rano in the original. Even Parker says it (you know me and other people’s lack of attention to detail). Of course the major changes in format are that Alan Tracey and K’eye’rano’s daughter Tintin are now young teenagers and are joined by Brains’ son (?) Fermat. Alan (Brady Corbet), who longs to ‘be a Thunderbird’ i.e., part of the team and not a hulking great lump of flying metal, is not yet taken seriously by either his father Jeff or his brothers and is going through the sulky teen stage we all know so well.

Basically the plot is that an evil (yet not very imaginative) villain (Ben Kingsley), who has monikered himself as ‘The Hood’ (see what I mean?), plans to steal the International Rescue machines and rob the world’s major banks (I rest my case). To do this he lures Jeff and the older Tracey boys away from their secret island base by launching a missile attack on their orbiting space station Thunderbird 5. He has not counted however on the kids who remain on the island. SPY KIDS type slapstick ensues for a while but then the Thunderbird craft, which is after all what we really want to see, come back to the fore, but all too briefly. Finally the good guys win and Alan gets the recognition he craves.

It was OK. I did go through all the purist nitpicking (as you’ve probably gathered from my comments so far) like old farts like me are supposed to do when someone has the audacity to interfere with something held so dear, and ultimately I felt disappointed, as if I’d seen a missed opportunity to bring the old series literally to life.

And this is how my opinion would have remained if I’d seen it at the cinema. But this was a DVD. So – I watched it again.

This time I had now purged myself of the old Thunderbirds universe and embraced the new and it was actually a fun movie. I was no longer looking for errors or nitpicks and could concentrate on and enjoy the new format. Lady Penelope and Parker are great to watch in roles with wisecrack dialogue that hark back to another 60s series THE AVENGERS. The Tracey Island base, the Thunderbird craft and their launch sequences are lovingly visualised with suitable homage to the original designs and in fact reminded me greatly of Frank Bellamy’s stylised renditions of the craft in the 60s comic book versions of their adventures and which were my first glimpse of the Thunderbirds in colour (and incidentally the only other place the Hood’s name is mentioned – it never was in the series). There’s also a lot of humour in there, particularly a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ close up shot of a hand at the controls of one of the Thunderbird craft – it has strings attached – exactly the opposite of what you’d see in the series. There the close up would be of a real hand.

My only remaining gripes are that for an International Rescue organisation, they do very little in the way of rescuing anyone. There’s an initial oilrig fire where the rescue is shown on a TV monitor and then the rescue mission to Thunderbird 5, and these have both been staged by The Hood. Also the older Tracey brothers are given very little to do except have there names barked at them by father Jeff (Bill Paxton). Finally the Thunderbird craft, though they look terrific, convey very little power or weight and are a little too swift and feather light – more or less the same problem I found with THE HULK. Maybe these will all be addressed in future.

However, it’s a great kids movie with a few titbits thrown in for us old ‘uns – which is exactly how it should be, and if I, as a die-hard fan of the original, can accept it I see no reason why no one else should.

One more thing – Regarding the suspension of disbelief – I could accept the Thunderbirds flying up the Thames and under Tower Bridge, but all that clear blue sky and sunshine? In London? Come on….

F.A.B.


Cast:
JEFF TRACY – Bill Paxton
ARISTOTLE SPODE (THE HOOD) – Sir Ben Kingsley
ALAN TRACY – Brady Corbet
BRAINS – Anthony Edwards
LADY PENELOPE – Sophia Myles
PARKER – Ron Cook
TINTIN – Vanessa Anne Hudgens
FERMAT – Soren Fulton
VIRGIL TRACY – Dominic Colenso
JOHN TRACY – Lex Shrapnel
SCOTT TRACY – Philip Winchester
GORDON TRACY – Ben Torgersen
MULLION – Deobia Oparei

Credits:
Director: Jonathan Frakes
Screenplay: William Osbourne and Michael McCullers
Producers: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, and Mark Huffam
Executive Producers: Debra Hayward and Liza Chasin
Director of Photography: Brendan Galvin
Production Designer: John Beard
Costume Designer: Marit Allen
Editor: Martin Walsh
Music: Hans Zimmer

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