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Our review of Thunderbirds: International Rescue Edition, published August 19th, 2004, is also available.
"Now, let's have a rundown on the International Rescue craft. So far, there are five. Thunderbird 1: sleek, first and fast. Thunderbird 2: giant transporter. Carries all the rescue gear to the danger zone. Thunderbird 3: designed for space rescue. Thunderbird 4: capable of withstanding the pressure of the depths. Thunderbird 5: space monitor. Capable of receiving or intercepting distress calls from any part of the world."
It's a shame that "Supermarionation" more or less lived and died with British TV icons Gerry and Sylvia Anderson. Sure, marionettes may be a little creepy and inflexible, but the Andersons produced some exceptionally distinctive-looking work over the course of their career, and one can only wonder what sort of nifty-looking cult classics we might have today if the technique had caught on to the degree that, say, stop-motion animation did.
The crowning achievement of the Andersons' career was almost certainly Thunderbirds, the action-adventure series which followed the futuristic exploits of multi-millionaire Jeff Tracy and his five fearless sons. Each of the Tracy boys was placed in charge of a different Thunderbird vehicle, and each vehicle had different abilities (detailed in the quote included above). After 32 hour-long episodes of the series had been produced in London, the Andersons began work on a feature film designed to introduce the series to international audiences. Alas, producer Lew Grade failed in his effort to find an American distributor for the show, and the solo film floundered at the box office. After one more unsuccessful theatrical feature, Thunderbirds faded away (though it was eventually revived in the form of a bland live-action big-screen reboot helmed by Jonathan Frakes, and a live-action television version is currently in the works).
Thankfully, this new Blu-ray release from the good folks at Twilight Time gives us a chance to go back and revisit the two cinematic Thunderbirds adventures. For better or worse, these essentially play like longer, more expensive versions of the TV show: Lots of fascinating special effects, a fair amount of action, a ridiculous plot, paper-thin characterization and a few moments of goofy humor. Neither represents great cinema, but it's bound to push nostalgia buttons for a whole lot of folks and the animation style is still capable of charming those who are completely unfamiliar with the franchise.
In some ways, Thunderbirds Are Go feels like the series equivalent of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. It's closer to the spirit of the series upon which it is based than that flick, but there's a very similar sense of slow-motion pageantry. Despite the fact that the film includes plenty of explosions and espionage scenes, a sizable portion of the running time is dominated by long, slow sequences showcasing the exquisitely-designed models built for the film. "Look at this ship dock! Look at this equipment move! Look at all of these hinges!" the filmmakers seem to be shouting. It's likely to bore modern kids raised on hyperactive children's shows, but just as likely to tickle the fancy of the middle-aged viewer who spent much of his/her childhood carefully piecing together model planes, trains, and automobiles. There isn't much of a plot (a criminal genius known as The Hood keeps sabotaging a planned mission to Mars, so the Tracys are tasked with figuring out who The Hood is and stopping him), but that hardly matters.
The film is most notable for containing the weirdest moment in Thunderbirds history: a ten-minute dream sequence featuring a musical appearance from a marionette version of British rocker Cliff Richards. It's completely at odds with the rest of the flick on a tonal level, and yet there's a certain inspired lunacy to the way the film cuts away from it and jumps right back into the no-nonsense adventure. Some devoted fans of the show dislike the sequence intensely, but more casual viewers (myself included) may find it an appealingly trippy change of pace.
Thunderbird 6 is a more light-hearted affair, less Star Trek: The Motion Picture and more Goldfinger. The plot moves at a faster pace and takes place over a wider variety of exotic locales. A handful of our beloved characters are given the chance to accompany the crew of the Skyship One on a round-the-world flight, but this pleasant journey is quickly complicated by The Hood's evil schemes. It seems that The Hood and his thugs murdered the original crew of the ship and have stolen their identities, and now they're making an effort to set a trap for the Tracy family. It's agreeably goofy stuff, and it has a certain energy its predecessor lacks even if it doesn't offer quite the same level of majesty.
Both films look excellent in hi-def, as they've been granted strong 1080p/2.35:1 transfers which do a terrific job of highlighting the detailed model work and special effects. There's a pleasant level of natural grain present in both cases, and colors look bright and vibrant throughout. Both flicks have also been given DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio mixes, and while Barry Gray's iconic music sounds a little more robust in Thunderbird 6, both tracks are crisp and clean. Supplements are vast and generous for both flicks. Thunderbirds Are Go receives two audio commentaries: one with historians Jeff Bond and Nick Redman, one with producer Sylvia Anderson and director David Lane. You also get a generous handful of featurettes ("Excitement is Go! Making Thunderbirds," "History and Appeal," "Factory of Dolls and Rockets," "Epics in Miniature," "Come With Me to the Rushes" and "What Does F.A.B. Mean?"), some test footage Cliff Richards and The Shadows shot for the film, an isolated score track, a photo montage and a trailer. Meanwhile, Thunderbird 6 receives a commentary with Anderson and Lane, more featurettes ("Lady Penelope," "Building Better Puppets," "Tiger Moth," "A Call From Stanley Kubrick" and "Television Tribute"), an isolated score track, a photo montage and a trailer.
They're hardly the sort of flicks I'm likely to return to over and over again, but both Thunderbirds Are Go and Thunderbird 6 remain charming reminders of a bygone era. Twilight Time's Thunderbirds Are Go / Thunderbird 6 (Blu-ray) release offers stellar transfers and packs in plenty of fine supplements, making this disc an easy recommendation for fans of the series.
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