Case Number 05009

THUNDERBIRDS: INTERNATIONAL RESCUE EDITION

Thunderbirds
MGM // 1966 // 93 Minutes // Rated G
Thunderbird Six
MGM // 1968 // 89 Minutes // Rated G
Reviewed by Judge Paul Corupe (Retired) // August 19th, 2004

The Charge

Excitement is GO! Adventure is GO! Danger is GO!

Opening Statement

The most popular of Gerry Anderson's inventive "Supermarionation" TV series, Thunderbirds premiered in Britain in 1964. Combining a cast of marionettes, detailed miniature work, and outrageous special effects, Anderson brought to life the futuristic adventures of "International Rescue," a secret organization led by ex-astronaut Jeff Tracy. With their fleet of super-vehicles designed by engineer Brains and staffed by Tracy's five sons, every week International Rescue was called upon to troubleshoot emergency situations around the world with the help of British spy Lady Penelope.

After the Thunderbirds TV series ended its run in 1966, United Artists commissioned two movies to help ease a syndicated version of the show into the American market. Instead of simply pairing up a two-part TV episode and projecting it on the big screen as often happened with shows like The Saint and Mission Impossible, Gerry Anderson and his wife Sylvia created a brand new story and shot it in beautiful Techniscope. The resulting films, Thunderbirds are Go and Thunderbird Six, remain a little controversial among hardcore Supermarionation fans, but they make for some of the finest science fiction filmmaking of the 1960s.

MGM's Thunderbirds: International Rescue DVD set pairs both theatrical films together in a shiny box with gorgeous anamorphic transfers, remixed sound, and a satisfying smattering of extras. Although obviously released to coincide with Jonathan Frakes's live-action cinematic reinvention of the original show, MGM may have inadvertently put together the essential Thunderbirds package here -- this set is an absolute must for Gerry Anderson fans.

Facts of the Case

* Thunderbirds are Go

International Rescue is hired to protect the Zero-X, a new Mars-bound spacecraft. After the first mission is aborted by the sabotage efforts of the villainous Hood, a Thunderbird escort is established to ensure nothing goes wrong with the second launch. This time Zero-X makes it to Mars, but the return to Earth is fraught with technical problems. The Tracy boys are called upon again to save the worried astronauts aboard.

* Thunderbird Six

Brains unleashes his latest high-tech invention: a giant skyship for leisurely tours around the world. Just before the maiden voyage, Jeff Tracy asks a disappointed Brains to design a new rescue vehicle, "Thunderbird Six," meaning that Alan Tracy, his girlfriend Tintin, Lady Penelope, and her manservant Parker will make the trip in his place. The wheels of tragedy are set in motion when the crew is kidnapped and replaced by villains more experienced at hijacking airships than piloting them. While they try to pump Penelope for information on the Thunderbirds, International Rescue must prevent the airship from straying off course and running into a missile silo.

The Evidence

Adapting TV properties for the big screen is always a tricky matter. Because the film version should offer an audience something above and beyond what they see every week on their television, creators must take the show in a new direction without offending the core contingent of fans. When United Artists suggested putting together the two Thunderbirds films, the Andersons jumped at the chance, already recognizing that the special effects and techno-fetishes of the series were ideally suited to the silver screen. Although they chose to go in two very different directions -- Thunderbirds Are Go is an effects-heavy piece, while Thunderbird Six is a dialogue-driven spy thriller -- these films are a natural extension of the show, supercharged into 90-minute spectacles that use superior budgets and the 2.35:1 aspect ratio to full effect. If bigger and better was what Thunderbirds fans were looking for when the series made the jump to celluloid, these films certainly delivered it.

It's impossible not to be impressed with some aspects of Thunderbirds Are Go. Because this film was meant to introduce International Rescue to the American market, this entry is really the Thunderbirds show distilled down to its most basic elements, and then amplified to extraordinary levels. At its heart, the film is a typical white-knuckle rescue that can be seen in so many episodes, but the audience was no doubt excited to see the Zero-X, one of the most intricate vehicles ever designed for the series, and to get a glimpse of the far-off world of Mars. One of the things that made the Thunderbirds notable was the amazing miniatures, or more accurately, the Andersons' love of blowing them up. True to form, Thunderbirds Are Go has some of the best explosions and all-around destruction of miniature sets committed to film since Toho let a man in a green rubber suit jump around a cardboard-rendered Tokyo.

The strangest element of the film -- and probably the main source of disappointment for some fans -- is a weird musical number that stalls the action in the middle. After a small victory ensuring the temporary safety of the skyship, Lady Penelope suggests a celebration at a local nightclub. As his brothers leave, Thunderbird 3 pilot Alan Tracy is asked to stay behind to monitor for developing emergencies, and he handles this news like any screen hero -- by throwing a hissy fit until he falls into a deep sleep and has secret revenge dreams. Dressed in a sequin-laden tuxedo, Alan imagines traveling to a nightclub in outer space with Penelope all to himself. In the club, they are treated to a live performance of "Shooting Star" by popular UK crooner Cliff Richard backed by instrumental kings The Shadows, who all appear as stunningly accurate marionettes. It's a terribly cheesy moment, yes, but cheese of the highest order as Alan fantasizes about acoustic guitars blasting into space and The Shadows playing on the FAB 1 as it slides through the stratosphere. Now, I'm willing to admit that watching a whiny puppet have subconsciously sexual science-fiction dreams scored by passé British musicians isn't for everybody, but this segment, which lasts a good ten minutes, is one of my favorite surreal moments in the whole history of the series.

Musical interludes debatably aside, Thunderbirds Are Go may be a fine addition to the Thunderbirds canon, but Thunderbird Six has always been something of a personal favorite. It's more of a character-driven piece, an espionage-tinged adventure that has Penelope leading a mission against the hijackers as she tries to discern the reason her room is bugged. With an opportunity for more suspense and intrigue, it just feels a little less formulaic than the strictly technology and gadget-based plot of the first film.

The real surprise in Thunderbird Six is the inclusion of the Tiger Moth, a WWII biplane that Alan and Tintin use to fly to Lady Penelope's mansion. Extended sequences of real stunt flying take the place of the expected miniature work, although there are enough exploding miniatures and airship close-ups to satisfy Thunderbirds technophiles. Again, this aspect divided Thunderbirds fans upon release; however, I have to appreciate the change of pace and the Andersons' willingness to try something different.

What makes this entry really stand out from both the series and the first feature film is the fantastic set design. WhileThunderbirds are Go had only the musical dream centerpiece to indulge the set designers, Thunderbird Six has some of the wildest locations ever seen on the TV show or off of it. The various rooms of the airship are ridiculously fanciful -- the "gravity" control room is a giant grid of revolving steel hoops that seems designed for a suspenseful shoot-out, while the bar is a marvel of bizarre 1960s pop design, with thousands of balls and spheres stuck to the walls and pillars. The airship passengers even make a stopover at a Swiss restaurant in the Alps, a rustic lodge where tables are serviced by model trains.

Although the divergent styles will result in fans having a clear favorite between the two films, both are solid, well-made movies. There's a reason that Stanley Kubrick wanted the Anderson house of puppetry to do the special effects for 2001, and you can see it by picking up this highly enjoyable set.

MGM's technical presentation of Thunderbirds: International Rescue is absolutely F.A.B. Both transfers look stunning, with clear bright colors, deep blacks, and minimal source artifacts-these DVDs are just an absolute pleasure to look at. The soundtrack, offered in both DTS and Dolby surround, has been remixed from the original mono and offers nice surround effects on the rumblings of engines, generous explosions, and Barry Gray's gently militaristic, but always brilliant, soundtrack. This quality of this set easily puts the Thunderbirds TV episodes released by A&E to shame. MGM is to be commended for their restoration work on these DVDs.

This package is rounded out with a nice batch of extras. Each disc features a light but agreeable commentary by Sylvia Anderson and director David Lane, a still gallery, an original theatrical trailer, an Easter egg, and a match-up quiz, with an extra interview clip as incentive to play. Six interview-driven featurettes are also found here: a brief history of the series for newcomers, an explanation of the puppetry, and a look at the challenges bringing the series to the silver screen can be seen on Thunderbirds Are Go, while Thunderbird Six gets into specifics with segments on Lady Penelope's role in the series, more behind-the-scenes puppeteer work, and the trials of filming the biplane sequences. There are even two special features not found on the discs -- a sheet of cardboard punch-out International Rescue vehicles and some cool magnets. My Frigidaire is GO!

The Rebuttal Witnesses

One common complaint leveled against the Thunderbirds shows and films is that they can often be a little slow. Loving miniature photography of rockets and futuristic vehicles (or more often, doors opening so we can see the vehicle in the first place) may look better here in Techniscope widescreen than they ever did on TV, but they still put a bit of a crimp in the action. Just when things get going an exciting pace, it can be frustrating to watch Thunderbird 2 slowly creep its way on to the tarmac and prepare for launching.

Although Gerry Anderson liked the flexibility that marionettes offered over actors, his characters are often criticized over their lack of expression and/or opposable thumbs. Some scenes do come off as somewhat awkward, including one in Thunderbird Six's Swiss restaurant where Alan and Lady Penelope are unable to remove their dinner plates from the train cars, but it's the puppets that really set this show apart from others, and make it worth watching in the first place. In fact, it's amazing that the Andersons and their talented puppeteers infuse as much personality into their marionettes as they do.

Closing Statement

Not only are these two first-rate films, but MGM has graced this set with all you could really ask for in a Thunderbirds DVD release -- sparkling transfers, excellent sound, and informative extras. Even those fans that don't particularly like these films are going to be impressed with the look and sound of the Thunderbirds: International Rescue Edition. As one of the best looking restorations I've seen so far this year, this set is highly recommended.

The Verdict

International Rescue is cleared of all charges. Thunderbirds are (free to) GO!

Review content copyright © 2004 Paul Corupe; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice, Thunderbirds
Video: 92
Audio: 90
Extras: 87
Acting: 90
Story: 84
Judgment: 90

Perp Profile, Thunderbirds
Video Formats:
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* DTS 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (Spanish)

Subtitles:
* English
* French
* Spanish

Running Time: 93 Minutes
Release Year: 1966
MPAA Rating: Rated G

Distinguishing Marks, Thunderbirds
* Commentary by Producer Sylvia Anderson and Director David Lane
* "History and Appeal" Featurette
* "Factory of Dolls and Rockets" Featurette
* "Epics in Miniature" Featurette
* Animated Photo Gallery
* "Who Said That?" Quiz
* Theatrical Trailer

Scales of Justice, Thunderbird Six
Video: 92
Audio: 90
Extras: 87
Acting: 90
Story: 89
Judgment: 91

Perp Profile, Thunderbird Six
Video Formats:
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* DTS 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (Spanish)

Subtitles:
* English
* French
* Spanish

Running Time: 89 Minutes
Release Year: 1968
MPAA Rating: Rated G

Distinguishing Marks, Thunderbird Six
* Commentary by Producer Sylvia Anderson and Director David Lane
* "Lady Penelope" Featurette
* "Building Better Puppets" Featurette
* "Tiger Moth" Featurette
* Animated Photo Gallery
* Craft Mission Match-Up Quiz
* Theatrical Trailer
* Punch-Out Spaceships
* Collectible Magnets

Accomplices
* IMDb: Thunderbirds Are Go
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0061094/combined

* IMDb: Thunderbird Six
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0063694/combined