Wookiee Hut Movie Reviews presents:
Thunderbirds
Review by Rosie

Starring: Bill Paxton, Ben Kingsley, Anthony Edwards, et al.

Director: Jonathan Frakes

Rating: Interceptor (shoots, scores!)

Okay, so I am really going to date myself here, but I watched this show when I was a kid. Initially produced in 1964 by Gerry Anderson, Sylvia Anderson, and Reg Hill (whom together later produced that other sci fi cult classic Space: 1999), this series took a short leap into the future projecting such technological advances as supersonic commercial aircraft in regular service (anticipating the now retired Concorde) and vertical cities in gigantic towers (similar to the World Trade Center Twin Towers — even collapsing them in flames). Thunderbirds the series told the story of International Rescue (a.k.a. IR), an organization founded by billionaire former astronaut Jeff Tracy and dedicated to carrying out rescue operations deemed otherwise hopeless for normal governments and military.

Jeff Tracy, his five sons (John, Virgil, Scott, Gordon, and Alan), Brains (the genius behind IR's incredible technology), and the Tracys' majordomo Kyrano and his daughter Tintin live on a lush private island in the south Pacific. Their secret contact and special agent Lady Penelope lives in England, ready to assist IR in their efforts with the aid of her butler / chauffeur Parker (a former safe-cracker) and her unusally equipped pink Rolls Royce.

The technique used to create the television cult classic was dubbed SuperMarionation — full-body puppets operated with a combination of wires and remote controls — which carried out the action on miniature sets. Scenes requiring close-ups of actions, such as a hand pressing controls, were done with tight shots of a real person's hand pressing the appropriate keys and buttons. (You've seen this treatment on the Orbitz televisions ads, complete with "campy-fab" attitude and music.) Other wide shots were filmed normally (i.e., without using actual human body parts) and all of these elements were intercut to tell the story. A number of the stories involved characters who were supposed to be Americans, but being filmed in England, the American accents of the British actors were quite funny. Seen today the show might seem to some to be lame or cheesy, especially considering how far special effects have come, but kids and adults loved it ... it was even kind of cool!

Seen occasionally the past years on television, and released a couple of years ago for home media, the show attracted so many viewers that eventually it generated enough interest to make a live-action version of the old Thunderbirds. Director Jonathan Frakes, who is himself part of another cult phenomenon as an actor and director for several episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation and two films, knew he needed to stay true to the classic series while updating it for today's audiences.

Bill Paxton (Apollo 13, Twister) ably and believably portrayed Jeff Tracy. During the filming, Paxton treated the young actors as if they were his own kids even more than one would expect from an actor — teaching, teasing, and admonishing in turn. Anthony Edwards, known best for playing the highly skilled, but angst-ridden Dr. Mark Green on ER, said that he accepted the role of Brains, a.k.a. Hiram Hackenbacker, because it was "going to be fun." Brains even has a brainy nerdy son named Fermat, who is young Alan Tracy's best friend. Providing the peril in the film is the evil plot of The Hood, campily played by Sir Ben Kingsley.

The Hood harbors a serious grudge against astronaut Jeff Tracy. Years ago, Tracy rescued Kyrano — The Hood's brother and now Tracy family majordomo — but left The Hood behind. Now The Hood wants to exact his revenge. He plans first to incapacitate the Thunderbirds. Then using their own equipment, to rob the largest banks in the world so that IR would shoulder the blame in the frame-up. He doesn't count on the resourcefulness of young Alan Tracy, the ingenuity of Brains' son Fermat, or the unexpected psychic talent of his own niece Tintin, nor the graceful determination of Lady Penelope and the devoted and devious Parker.

The designers would have worked from tapes of the television program. The idea of using lifesize portraits of the boys to conceal entrances to the different vehicle accessess was taken straight out of the series. The basic shapes of the ships were almost identical, although more sleek and powerful looking. The layout of Tracy Island was also quite similar to the series layout with the living quarters built into the mountainside, the launch bay for Thunderbird 1 underneath a sliding swimming pool, the palm trees tilting out of the way of Thunderbird 2. On the other hand new technology was incorporated to update the set, especially in the control room. For example, The Hood must use his mental powers to force Brains to activate the palm scanner security override — something that was never mentioned in the original series.

The rousing Thunderbirds theme music was also retained. The opening credit sequence was not nearly as strong as the original, however. Animated sequences of the ships flying across the screen, pulling the various credits with behind them — these were reminiscent of the original show, but perhaps following the original show more closely and showing the characters would have been more effective.

Thunderbirds is not a dramatic tour de force, but it is a great piece of nostalgia updated for today's audiences and a great summer movie. Take it as it is intended and see it for the fun of it. Thunderbirds Are Go!

And remember the callsign, F.A.B. — which stands for "fabulous," of course!

Movie images from www.imdb.com; "marionette" image from "Thunderbirds Are Go" 1966



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