I remember seeing the original Thunderbirds show on occasion as a kid – occasionally while visiting family in England, and occasionally in the States – and more recently on TechTV (now G4TechTV, but not the same channel any more 🙁 ), so I was looking forward to seeing the movie. Alas, I’m not too sure what to think.
The Thunderbirds are the machines of International Rescue, a somewhat secret and reclusive organization that swoops in with spacecraft/aircraft/etc. to avert major disasters and thwart megamaniacal villains from their secret island. It also refers to the members of IR, led by billionaire ex-astronaut Jeff Tracy and four of his sons. He also has a fifth son, Alan, who feels a bit left out, but has his friends Fermat (son of the resident technician “Brains”) and TinTin. When The Hood managed to trap the Thuderbirds aboard Thunderbird 5 in orbit and invades Tracy Island to use the craft to steal money from the world’s largest banks, it’s up to Alan and his friends to save the Thunderbirds and stop The Hood.
The original show was serious, at least within the confines of supermarionation. Certainly, it took itself seriously even if a bit far fetched.
The movie, however, seemed to want to inject a bit of camp – but fails to do so in a consistent manner. In general, everything is fairly serious, but the scenes with Lady Penelope and Parker tend to have a comic book/cartoon flavor – especially the fight sequence, which even includes sound effects like the original Batman series. There was also a conscious effort to aim this at a young audience – earlier plans for the movie apparently aimed for an older set, but this one seems squarely aimed at the Spy Kids audience, where I think it may have hit its mark. My 4-year-old, who loves the Spy Kids movies, enjoyed this. After all, this isn’t really about the Thunderbirds so much as the three kids, only one of which is a Tracy (and a Thunderbird wannabe with the requisite “let me grow up” issues) actually rescuing the Thunderbirds and stopping the bad guys. I wonder if the PG rating may have scared some parents away from bringing their kids.
The plot seemed rushed as well. I prefer a well thought-out plot that can take its time without boring the audience, but this seemed to move from scene to scene without much explanation. Attempts at giving the backstory were also rushed as well. Given that the feature clocks in at 1:35, I think they could have added a bit. And Lady P’s whole relationship to the Tracys seems to be ignored – almost as if she is simply a plot device.
The whole movie is in a sense a homage to the original, but there is one particular piece – when the kids and Lady P are about to take off in Thunderbird 1, you will see a wooden hand with strings come down on a control – in fact the reverse of what typically happened in the original – on closeups of hands, actual human hands were used where everything else was wooden.
On with the scores. The scores will be a hybrid to be part feature, part DVD, since this isn’t a “special edition” or anything like that.
Plot/Story: See comments above. I have a feeling there were too many rewrites along the way, and then still is a short, rushed movie. It’s also a reused plot with the youngest child rescuing everyone and proving himself. 2/5
Characters/Acting: Something was missing from Ben Kingsley’s performance. He certainly can play a sinister character but appears to have missed it here, perhaps lost between camp and seriousness. Brady Corbett does a decent job as Alan. Anthony Edwards was OK as the stuttering Brains, but it is a far cry from his better er performances. Sophia Myles probably turned in the best performance as Lady Penelope, but the competition wasn’t that great. 1/5
Effects/Visuals: Excellent effects most of the time – some are CGI where you would not even know it (and I only knew because of the commentary). Some shots based on Apollo 13. Low point I think was the bees. 4/5
DVD Extras: Packaging is fairly plain. Menus at times take a bit of time with the cut scenes. When my daughter accidentally hit the Eject button, it took a bit to gauge where we were via the Scene Selections as there was only 18 “scenes” covering the whole movie. Extras were not bad, not extensive. The lone commentary track was by Jonathan Frakes who directed. His voice can be a bit droning but was reasonably paced. The only issue was at times he seemed to think we could hear the dialog, but the dialog track was so low you couldn’t hear it. 3/5
Overall: This really could have, and should have, been a better feature given the legacy it needed to live up to. Slow down the pace, go for camp or seriousness but not half-and-half. Still, my daughter enjoyed it, and wanted to watch it again. Don’t know if four-year-olds were the target audience though. She gives a 3/5.
Total: 2.6 out of 5. About an average score. Old Thunderbirds fans will probably hate it, but the younger Spy Kids set will probably eat it up. Purist should just go for the Thunderbirds Mega Set or the individual disks available in the Sci-Fi TV Store.