soulless CGI-generated effects it is quite a blast watching something as
hand-crafted as Thunderbirds Are Go, which makes extensive use of
models and old-fashioned special effects.
is of course that 1960s British TV show that is best known for featuring
puppets instead of real human actors. It was produced by the husband/wife
team of Gerry and Sylvia Andersen, who is perhaps best known for Space:
1999 (1975-1977). Thunderbirds however never got an American network deal
which meant that the show was cancelled after only 32 episodes that
originally ran from 1964 to 1966.
So it was rather weird that the recent
Thunderbirds (2004) big-screen
movie, using live human actors this time around, was ever made. Especially
when one considers that the show is virtually unknown in the States and
thus couldn’t tap into any collective pop cultural consciousness when it
came to this particular lucrative market. The show is however well known
amongst ageing Generation X-ers such as myself who grew up in the U.K.,
Canada or South Africa. (In South Africa the show was translated into
“Redding Internasionaal” since the direct Afrikaans translation is a bit,
Mixing elements of Swinging London, James Bond and
Thunderbirds may come across as Austin Powers-style camp for today’s
audiences, but it was made in a time when there was an implicit belief in
a glitzy technological future. (As a kid I seriously believed that one day
we would all go to the moon on regular holiday trips. How many kids still
The plot involves a
Bonanza-like family unit sequestered away on a remote
Pacific island flying the coolest spaceships and vehicles imaginable.
Calling themselves International Rescue, this rather patriarchal outfit
does things like rescuing returning missions from Mars (like in this
Anyway, Thunderbirds Are Go was made especially for the big screen during
the height of the show’s popularity and shouldn’t be confused with any of
the later “movies” which consisted of several episodes strung together.
Despite kicking off well the movie ended up being a financial flop, but
this didn’t stop the Andersens from making a sequel titled Thunderbird 6
with an even larger budget! Not surprisingly this movie also flopped . . .
Incidentally the re-edited TV movies I
mentioned are: Countdown to
Disaster (1981), Thunderbirds in Outer Space (1981) and Thunderbirds to
the Rescue (1981).
Not having watched any
Thunderbirds episodes since I was a kid it was
remarkable how well I remembered it.
Also remarkable is, well, the plot –
or lack of it. Thunderbirds Are Go picks up several subplots along the way
such as saboteurs intent on wrecking said manned mission to Mars and
hostile alien creatures on the red planet itself (actually the red planet
looks pretty grey in this movie). Absolutely nothing is done with any of
these subplots! There isn’t even any speculation as to what said saboteurs
has to gain from causing a mission to Mars to fail. Maybe they’re just
keen hobbyists? Who knows?
Also remarkable is an endless launch sequence with which the movie kicks
off. If you’re still awake after this glacially slow scene, then some fun
is to be had with a surreal dream sequence involving Cliff Richard and The
Shadows (yes!) as well as lots of meticulous model work and explosions,
courtesy of British special effects legend Derek Meddings. Perhaps
director Lane is too enamoured of Meddings’ handiwork because he tends to
spend too much time of them instead of presenting us with a more linear
and workable plot.
Still, small boys ought to love this stuff (I know I did) unless they’ve
been turned into media-saturated jaded cynics by the likes of modern
special effects epics such as Van Helsing and the like. This is one trip
down nostalgia lane I rather enjoyed and if I had a son instead of a
daughter I would now doubt have purchased some of the old episodes on DVD
(kids are handy as an excuse in that way).
THE DISC: This Region 2 disc has an audio commentary by the director and
co-producer Sylvia Anderson which is quite interesting. Image and stereo
sound is quite good for a movie of this age.
WORTH IT? Thunderbirds Are Go is a blast from the past – if you can stay
awake . . .
RECOMMENDATION: A rental.