A&E // 1964 // 312 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Gutierrez (Retired) // July 28th, 2004
Ever see Magic, that movie with Anthony Hopkins as a ventriloquist and his scary-ass dummy? That was my first exposure to marionettes. Since then, I've had a deathly fear of wooden manipulated beings with soulless eyes and a 360-degree head turning ratio.
Thanks to Gerry Anderson and his Supermarionation, my fear has been removed. Granted, the puppets in Supercar are the scariest thing this side of John Wayne Gacy in full make-up and pair of handcuffs, but Anderson did something special in 1964 when he introduced the world to the patriarch and brothers Tracy of International Rescue.
Jeff Tracy, sons Alan, Gordon, John, Scott, Virgil, British operatives Lady Penelope and Parker, manservant Kyrano, and Tin-Tin are International Rescue. In the future, International Rescue steps up in times of dire need and emergency. Based mainly in a remote island in the South Pacific, the team uses the latest technological advancements when crisis arises.
Recently, A&E sponsored a poll wherein fans of Thunderbirds could vote online for their favorite episodes. The Best of Thunderbirds: The Favorite Episodes features the top six fan selected stories, plus a few added features as a bonus.
The set contains the following: (Beware! Spoilers follow)
* "Trapped in the Sky"
Recurring enemy, The Hood, plants a bomb on the state-of-the-art airliner Fireflash. To top it off, International Rescue manservant Kyrano's daughter Tin-Tin is on the plane. The Hood also attempts to photograph International Rescue technology during the crisis. I don't know about the rest of you, but it seems like poor judgment to name a jet "Fireflash." I liken it to when Dodge Automotive named one of their cars "The Dodge Impact." Watch this debut episode for an amazing assisted forced landing. The episode also features my personal favorite vehicle, Thunderbird 2. (Grade: 95)
* "Sun Probe"
A plan to collect a piece of the sun goes awry, sending the solarnauts on a collision course with the solar giant. International Rescue launches a double effort to remotely activate the solarnaut rocket's engines. Will either make it in time? Originally the fourth episode produced, this installment showcases resident whiz, Brain, and his robot helper. The IR team also brings Audrey Hepburn look-alike Tin-Tin along for the rescue. (Grade: 85)
* "The Uninvited"
In the fifth episode of the series, a mysterious cadre of robed villains, based within a pyramid, captures two explorers. Are these the same people that previously shot down Thunderbird 1? Lots of exciting puppet-to-puppet action, as International Rescue steps out of the vehicles for some Indiana Jones-like adventuring. (Grade: 95)
* "The Perils of Penelope"
A scientist that contributed to the creation of International Rescue's vehicles has developed a formula that converts water into fuel. The hottest puppet ever, Lady Penelope, must protect herself and the scientist from those determined to make the formula their own. The twelfth episode highlights the super-cool Lady Penelope and her driver, Parker.
* "Terror In New York City"
Guess what happens when New York City attempts to move the Empire State Building? International Rescue does its thing, when it must save a reporter bent on photographing their vehicles (they really hate that) and figure out what caused the disaster. Watch the opening when Thunderbird 2 is actually shot down by the Navy! Episode thirteen showcases some aquatic action -- something rare in the world of International Rescue.
* "Attack of the Alligators"
Saving the best for last, episode twenty-four shows us what happens when a scientist dumps an enlargement drug down the drain. The title says it all. Watch this one for the show's best production values. It's like a beautifully directed short film, with crocodiles playing their alligator cousins. (Grade: 100)
Special features include "Before Thunderbirds Were Go: A Profile of Gerry Anderson," an interview with Thunderbirds creator Gerry Anderson, a Pop-Up version of the "Pit and the Peril" episode, Tracy Family bios, and the story of the Thunderbirds.
I love this series. Anyone who's a technophile will suffer through eyestrain trying to absorb every intricate detail. The series spares no expense and takes great effort to make every episode feel "real." The show has a love affair with vehicles, sets, and explosions. Luckily for us, it all works. "Attack of the Alligators" serves as a terrific example of how strong Thunderbirds can look. It's not Howdy Doody sporting a jetpack -- it's an hour-long program that feels like a motion picture. Television rarely has moments as exciting as the Fireflash attempting a forced landing, or seeing the Empire State Building move a few yards. And really, isn't Thunderbird 2 one of the greatest vehicle designs in television history? And it doesn't even talk.
The folks behind the Thunderbirds series pull off the impossible, by actually making me care for these wooden actors. Subtle nuances, such as the way Penelope flirts, or the way Tin Tin looks at Alan Tracy make the viewer actually believe there might be something going on. The expressions on the puppets don't change, but relationships are assembled and built in the viewer's head. It's a really odd thing to do, but the show executes this subtle mind trick with ease.
Additionally, every story is easily accessible and doesn't mire itself in backstory. Fans of character development, take note that none of these characters grow or evolve to any great degree. However, the little reveals here and there add a lot to what make the Tracy Boys and company tick.
The absolute best thing these puppets do is act like humans. They smoke, they drink, they get shot at, and they die. It's a show for children, but people still act like people and not like puppets. They don't burst into song, but they may burst into flame. How many people have the guts to show their lead character puppets taking a drag off a lit ciggie whilst downing a vodka tonic?
A&E acted wisely by including autobiographies and the Story of the Thunderbirds. For those unfamiliar with what the International Rescue team is about, it's a good Cliff's Notes introduction to the Fab world of the Tracy Family, their friends, and toys. Those wondering why International Rescue is composed mainly of Americans ought not miss the Gerry Anderson interview.
In terms of production values, the picture can occasionally look a little grainy. However this is the exception, not the rule. The majority of the time, this four decades old series looks fantastic. Thanks to the 5.1 Dolby mix, it sounds just as good as it looks. Explosions, booster rockets, and the vehicle's whir all sound amazing.
Sometimes the shots of technology drag on. Much like in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, one can find the loving shots of airplanes and cranes tedious.
What, no commentary? Some of the other Thunderbirds sets feature some form of it, why not this one? While I enjoyed the Pop-Up feature on "Pit of Peril," it's really too light a substitute. Couldn't A&E get Gerry Anderson to add his own commentary and not just and interview?
Finally, what about that episode that focused on Parker? C'mon, now, that should be on here, too.
Give this DVD set a try. It's a great primer into the world of what I consider to be one of the finest televisions shows ever produced for children and adults alike. It's bloodless violence, Cool Britannia, and doesn't insult my intelligence. And it's damn impressive to boot.
The Best of Thunderbirds: The Favorite Episodes is cleared of all charges and is free to go.
Review content copyright © 2004 David Gutierrez; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 312 Minutes
Release Year: 1964
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* "Before Thunderbirds Were Go: A Profile of Gerry Anderson" featurette
* Gerry Anderson Interview
* Pop-Up Episode "Pit of Peril"
* "The Story of the Thunderbirds"
* Tracy Family Autobiographies
* Official Thunderbirds Site