By Shawn McKenzie 07/30/2004
Being only 29-years-old, I can’t say that I grew up watching the “Thunderbirds” TV show, which ran from 1964 to 1966. I know that they ran edited versions of the show on FOX in the early ‘90s and currently run the unedited episodes on G4TechTV, but the show, which used an animation technique known as “supermarionation,” didn’t really appeal to me. I can tell you that I think that this new theatrical version of Thunderbirds might turn off longtime fans.
Billionaire ex-astronaut Jeff Tracy (Bill Paxton) leads a rescue team called the Thunderbirds in an organization named International Rescue, located on Tracy Island in remote waters of the South Pacific. The Thunderbirds are comprised mainly of him and his sons, Scott (Philip Winchester), Virgil (Dominic Colenso), Gordon (Ben Torgersen), and John (Lex Shrapnel.) Jeff’s wife had died in a tragic accident ten years ago, and it prompted him to create and privately fund the organization to help those in need. They respond to emergencies around the world that the regular military or security forces can’t handle, and are internationally loved. The only Tracy son not on the team is Alan (Brady Corbet), because his father wants him to complete school at Wharton Academy with Headmaster Widdlesome (Lou Hirsch) back east first. He is going to school with his socially awkward friend Fermat (Soren Fulton) but really wants to be a Thunderbird. The team has just successfully rescued trapped workers from a collapsing oil super-rig in the Gulf of Alaska when Alan and Fermat arrive on Tracy Island for their Spring Break. The team is called away immediately by Thunderbird 5, a communications satellite in permanent geo-stationary orbit up in space. It seems that a meteor has hit the satellite, and John, who is monitoring it, is injured. The team races up to rescue him in Thunderbird 3, a space rocket that acts as space rescue vehicle and shuttlecraft. Unfortunately, this was just a trick masterminded by bad guy The Hood (Ben Kingsley) in order to locate Tracy Island and take over International Rescue while the Thunderbirds were away. He had planted a tracking device on Thunderbird 1, their reconnaissance aircraft that they had taken to the oil super-rig fire, and arranged the trouble on Thunderbird 5 so he could take over the island while they were up there and trap them all in space. The Hood has a personal grudge against Tracy, but he wants to use their gadgets to rob the ten biggest banks in the world, starting with the Bank of London. While the Thunderbirds are trapped up in space, Hood and his cronies, Transom (Rose Keegan), Hood’s chief scientist, and Mullion (Deobia Oparei), Hood’s muscular security chief, sneak onto the island and take over. They imprison Fermat’s dad, Professor Hiram “Brains” Hackenbacker (Anthony Edwards), the chief scientist and inventor for the Thunderbirds, and Jeff’s personal assistant and closest friend, Kyrano (Bhasker Patel), who is Hood’s half-brother, along with Kyrano’s wife Onaha (Harvey Virdi.) Alan, who is still on the island along with Fermat and Tin-Tin (Vanessa Anne Hudgens), Kyrano and Onaha’s daughter and a girl that Alan secretly likes, plan to thwart Hood’s plans by going to the satellite’s mountain top tracking station and hacking into the network to contact Jeff on Thunderbird 5. Meanwhile, secret spy and London ally of the Thunderbirds, Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward (Sophia Myles), along with her driver Parker (Ron Cook), are concerned by the team’s failure to respond anymore to rescues, so she hops into her flying/submerging pink Ford Thunderbird, the FAB 1, and heads to the island to find out what’s wrong. Despite a valiant effort to defend herself, she and Parker are defeated and imprisoned alongside Brains, Kyrano, and Onaha. Their defeat is partially due to Hood’s mind-control powers, something that he shares with Tin-Tin. Hood’s plan now is to use Thunderbird 2, a heavy-duty equipment transporter, and head for England to break into the Bank of London by tunneling under the River Thames. Alan and his friends must somehow retake the island so they can save their family and friends in space and on the island before The Hood achieves his goals.
TV producer Gerry Anderson created “Thunderbirds” in 1964. He invented the supermarionation technique that combined marionettes, models, and special effects to create the illusion of live-action actors. The way that the shows were edited made the strings less noticeable. Also, since the show took itself seriously, it didn’t seem comical that the characters were all marionettes. That seriousness also made it ripe for a live-action adaptation. The movie has been development for years, and they originally planned for it to be a big-budget action movie. After the success of the Spy Kids movies, they decided to make it more kid-friendly, which I guarantee will alienate longtime fans, almost in the same way that Garfield: The Movie recently did.
Another problem with the movie is that the title characters, Jeff and the four sons who currently make up the Thunderbirds, are mostly off-screen, since they are trapped in space. Having the plot become a coming-of-age tale for the youngest Tracy in order to appeal to kids ends up taking away any of the coolness that a big screen version of the TV show might have been.
I liked the Spy Kids movies, but they were an original creation that I don’t feel has yet been successfully copied (the Agent Cody Banks movies didn’t do it for me.) Why they decided to make Thunderbirds a Spy Kids rip-off instead of a faithful adaptation of the original TV show is a mystery to me. Director Jonathan Frakes, the “Star Trek: The Next Generation” vet who had already helmed the semi-decent kid flick Clockstoppers, took the reins on this one and made the best flick he could with the limitations of the movie’s course of direction. It looked good, and Myles was a standout of a character as the almost flawless Lady Penelope, but anyone who was a fan of the original show will be disappointed that it took forty years to come to this. Thunderbirds are Go…but you won’t want to go to this if you are over the age of twelve, because it just ain’t F.A.B. anymore.
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