Brady Corbet, Bill Paxton, Ben Kingsley, Sophia Myles, Anthony Edwards
84 Minutes, Directed by Jonathan Frakes
up in Canada, we had a unique mix of British and American television
programming. One of my favorite childhood shows was The Thunderbirds, a
British action/sci-fi adventure series that was unusual as all the characters
were marionette puppets.
Though the show launched in the 1960’s, it was in
perpetual re-run. Producer Gerry Anderson went on to create UFO and the
better known Space: 1999 with Martin Landau and Barbara Bain, but it was
The Thunderbirds which caught my imagination with James Bond-like gadgets
and great spaceships and vehicles.
If movies like Princess
Diaries tap every girl’s secret fantasy to be a princess, than flicks like
Spy Kids and Thunderbirds were for the boys’ inner astronaut/hero.
So it was with more than a bit of nostalgia that I caught the serviceable
Thunderbirds, directed by Star Trek’s Jonathan Frakes (he directed
Clockstoppers and Star Trek – First Contact).
Adapted for the big screen and
the Spy Kids audience, Thunderbirds’ premise has changed a little.
American billionaire Jeff Tracy (Bill Paxton) and his sons form the Thunderbird
Team of International Rescue. With a secret island base, logically called Tracy
Island, the Tracy’s conduct search and rescue missions around the world.
However, the youngest son, Alan
Tracy (Brady Corbet), is a teenager stuck in school and he aches to join his
famous family in adventure. When bad guy ‘The Hood’ (Ben Kingsley) seizes
control of Tracy Island and leaves the Thunderbird team stranded on the
Thunderbird space station, it’s up to Alan and his two friends Fermat (Soren
Fulton) and TinTin (Vanessa Anne Hudgens) to rescue his father and brothers.
"As this summer’s Spy Kids type of movie, Thunderbirds
is adequately entertaining."
of all, director Jonathan Frakes is no Robert Rodriguez. Thunderbirds
lacks the sparkle and delirious delight of any of Rodriguez’s movies. The
opening scenes – an oil rig rescue – are so murky that you couldn’t tell if you
were watching something new or an old Thunderbird re-run. It would have
been nice to have a more capable director bring the Thunderbirds to the
big screen, which has always had cult status in England.
And with even the Sci-Fi Channel showing off competent special effects on their
made-for-TV movies, there’s no excuse for the painfully obvious miniatures in
this movie – unless it was some sort of homage to the original 1960’s TV series.
(There is one fun homage to the series with a stringed marionette hand!)
Another odd choice in this
movie – while the good Starship Enterprise has been steadily updated for each
successive movie and series, each Thunderbird vehicle looks exactly like the
original 1960’s design. Why not a proper update? Though some designs have
weathered well – Thunderbird 2 comes to mind – the rocket ships look
There are the same mixed
choices with the cast of the movie. Bill Paxton leads his brood of sons with a
few well-barked lines, “Good going, son!” while the other Tracy brothers barely
get a line each. The star of the movie, newcomer Brady Corbett is cheerful
enough though he bears a disturbing resemblance to the recently deceased teen
idol, Jonathan Brandis.
But it’s Sophia Myles who
steals the movie as the very proper and dryly droll Lady Penelope, the upper
class secret agent in pink who monitors crisis situations from her bubble bath,
orders around her chauffeur – in a highly modified Thunderbird convertible, of
course – and can kick ass with the best of them. Ever seen the Orbit Gum
commercial where the Englishwoman does her “dirty mouth” pitch? That’s a spoof
of the Lady Penelope character.
As this summer’s Spy Kids
type of movie, Thunderbirds is an adequately entertaining flick.
Demographically calculating with the teen set – and some in-your-face Ford
product placement, Thunderbirds fulfils any teenager’s dream to be a
hero. But for more serious sci-fi fans who fondly remember the old series, there
could have been a better update. The Hans Zimmer technofication of the old
Thunderbirds theme music just isn’t enough.