At last, the live action THUNDERBRIDS hit the big screen in the UK this weekend,and myself and my wife Sarah were among the first to see it. We were surprised that it was way better than we thought, and indeed, captured the corniness(if that’s the right word) and tongue-in-cheek spirit of the TV series which we remember fondly from childhood. Though this film version owes more to SPY KIDS and CODY BANKS with the main Tracey family sons as teens, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The story involves evil genius The Hood(BEN KINGSLEY!) taking over Tracey Island – International Rescue and the Thunderbirds’ secret island base – in order to hijack the Thunderbird aircraft to rob the world’s banks. Unfortunately, astronaut father Jeff Tracey and his elder sons are trapped on Thunderbird 5, the space station that receives distress calls for IR to answer when The Hood fires a missile from his sub(!!). So it is up to younger son Alan Tracey, Tintin and others, including London agent Lady Penelope(Sophia Myles, watch out more for her in the future!) and trusty chauffeur PArker to save the day. The real stars here though are the action and SFX scenes, particularly when The Hood causes a bit of havoc in London by the Thames. Lots of fun for adults and great for the children to enjoy as well; and what a change it makes to see a family movie in which a family pulls together and solves their troubles as a team to get out of sticky situations instead of arguing dysfunctionally as is the case with most so-called family movies. Hey, just forget the negative reviews from certain websites and certain critics and enjoy the movie. A must see.
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Growing up in the UK I used to watch the show THUNDERBIRDS religiously, it was one of my must-watch TV shows for me in my pre-teen years.
So it was with a certain sense of equal trepidation mixed in with insatiable curiosity that I approached the big budget live action version of the Gerry Anderson original.
Director Jonathon Frakes (Riker on Star Trek) brings the same colorful look to THUNDERBIRDS as he brought to CLOCKSTOPPERS, he also brings some of the same qualities – chiefly a light and loosely structured narrative. Perhaps this is a right choice however given the light comic book-style subject matter
You may take from the above that I did not like THUNDERBIRDS. Not so. Apart from what I mention above the movie does have some bright moments of originality and conviction. Ben Kingsley is wonderfully over-the-top as the main villain The Hood and the film does sport some truly great special effects. Ron Cook also does a simply amazing impression of the original marionette Parker – I was very impressed.
For those unfamiliar with the television show, let me fill in some background. The Tracy family (all male) – with the help of Brains and secret agent Lady Penelope (who seems to be very much inspired by Emma Peel) – head an organization named International Rescue from a secret Island base in the Pacific. With several amazing aircraft, submarines, rockets and even a space station (called Thunderbirds) at their disposal they travel the globe rescuing people from harrowing situations.
As this movie opens International Rescue (IR) is at it again, rescuing the crew of a stricken oil rig as the youngest of the Tracy siblings Alan Tracy (played by Brady Corbet) watches on television from his schoolroom.
However all is not as it seems, one of the rescued oil workers manages to tag one of the ships with a tracking substance that (undetected by the International Rescue team) allows The Hood, a character capable of mind control, to discover the secret location of the IR base.
Before long The Hood is in control of Tracy Island, the older siblings and father Jeff Tracy are trapped on a severely damaged space station and Lady Penelope, Parker and Brains are prisoners of The Hood. Its up to the younger members of the Tracy household (Alan, Fermat and Tintin) to rescue their parents and stop The Hood’s plan to rob the world’s banks using IR equipment.
Herein lies my chief gripe with the movie, but luckily its not something the sinks the whole movie.
Sure the series was made with children in mind, but that’s no reason to make our chief protagonists children in the big-screen version. It’s not needed, the cast of characters was already good enough without hindering the production with this often used (and now clichéd) plot device. How many times have we now seen this Harry-Potter inspired formula of young kids taking on adult roles? We have already had SPY KIDS and CODY BANKS, with the adventures of teen spy Alex Rider to arrive at movie theaters soon, basically its been overdone and it always has the same effect of weakening the production. Just ask George Lucas about his misgivings over THE PHANTOM MENACE.
The action in the movie is primarily well handled and the acting suitably wooden (this was after all based on a marionette based television show). I enjoyed myself with this movie, but it certainly wasn’t what I had expected growing up with the classic Gerry Anderson television show.
Okay, yeah, the THUNDERBIRDS movie wasn’t perfect. They could have developed the characters of the established T-Bird brothers better, and the “Spy Kids” feel was a little annoying. Nevertheless, this old warrior found the movie to be a surprisingly emotional experience. You see, I grew up poor in a huge housing project in Los Angeles. There were many challenges in our neighborhood, including drugs, rowdy teens, violence, etc. Television and comic books were my only escape. In LA back in the late ’60s the Thunderbirds TV show was shown on Sunday afternoons. My brothers and I thrilled to the exploits of the Tracy family. Who cared that they were puppets? The stories drew us in and the dedication of the Tracys inspired us and lifted us out of our challenging environment.
Bottom line: I surprised myself by crying several times during the movie. The scene where the youngest Tracy and his buddy (the Brain’s son) were watching a T-Bird rescue on TV at their boarding school had me bawling. So did the scene where the brothers landed in London after a harrowing time in space, to watch their youngest brother successfully rescue the people in the sunken gondola.
Why was I so emotional with the T-Bird movie, in spite of its flaws? Because it brought me back to how the original show lifted me out of a difficult childhood. Yes, the movie wasn’t perfect, but the inspiring vision of selfless service remained intact. I am very grateful to the producers for this chance to revisit my childhood idealism.