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Thunderturds Are Go!

Early in the proceedings of the 2004 live-action Thunderbirds movie, a character scornfully calls the line-up of International Rescue “Thunderturds” – A description which unfortunately fits the movie perfectly.

Admittedly this movie was on a hiding to nothing from the beginning, because; a) It’s a live action movie based on a TV show which starred puppets, and b) It’s a movie from Universal based on a TV show, and considering Universal’s track record in such things the phrase “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here” must have sprung to mind at some point during filming.

Gerry Anderson was not involved with this movie (which he understandably didn’t take too kindly to). He was even less impressed when he saw what they did to his most successful and most fondly-remembered series, describing it as “the biggest load of crap I have ever seen in my life”.

The movie gets it wrong from the very beginning – as if the animated opening credits weren’t enough of a danger sign – by planting its focus firmly on the youngest member of the Tracy family, and making it clear that the story will be less about the Tracy’s doing what they do best, and more about how young Alan earns his right to be an official member of International Rescue – complete with his less-than-happy relationship with his father Jeff (Yes, the same mistake the Lost in Space movie made). Why do modern film-makers feel they have to make things “relevant” by throwing in family problems?

The real fun of the original series was always in watching the machines in action, but apart from an oil rig escapade at the beginning and the London-based climax, Thunderbirds 1 to 5 are almost incidental to watching Alan, Tin Tin (who has much more to do here than she did on TV) and Brain’s son, Fermat, running around on Tracy Island.

“WHAAAAAAAAT THE . . . ?!??!” Back up . . .

Yes, Brains actually has a little boy who is following in his dad’s footsteps. Now that beggars all kinds of questions, but let’s just move on. Quickly.

The makers of the new film seem unsure whether to play it straight (as per the opening rescue) or camp it up – so they decide to go for both. The attack on Thunderbird 5 and the ensuing plight of the Tracy family are dead serious. But Lady Penelope telling Alan they “have to be discreet” before taking her leave in a hideous pink monstrosity of a flying car, is pure camp.

At this point, it is worth noting that the new FAB1 is no longer a Rolls Royce. In fact, it’s just a Ford – Albeit a 23-foot long, 1.5 tonne Ford with a six-litre V8 engine, retractable wings, hydrofoils and “vortex-aquajet propulsion” for travel on water.

Lady P herself seems to have been transformed into a twisted cross between Emma Peel and Purdey – Avengers old meets Avengers new, and the result is Avengers dire . . .

And whoever decided to put in a joke about her not needing a bra deserves a smack. (Though perverts should watch out for Sophia Myles’s erect nipples in the freezer scene).

Alan Tracy, meanwhile, is irritating and nondescript, but still has an edge over his brothers, who come across more like frat boys than daring heroes. They’re so interchangeable that they’re less like the Tracy brothers of yore and more like the Bimbettes from the ‘reality’ TV show Beauty and the Beast.

Sadly, even the movie’s special effects are nothing to write home about, and matters are not helped by the sheer ugliness of the redesigned Thunderbirds. Things are certainly colourful, but many of the miniatures look so blatantly like miniatures.

Aficionados will be annoyed by the liberties the new film takes – such as Jeff Tracy being along on missions instead of supervising at home. You would think that the director would know a thing or two about this kind of thing after his years as Number One on Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Newcomers will fail to see why the source material was and is so well-loved, and EVERYONE will be put off by the lame attempts at humour, the stupidity (no matter where in the world the action is, it’s always covered by the same TV reporter), and the total lack of excitement and suspense. The acting is weak, and both Ben Kingsley and Anthony Edwards are wasted on this.

The couple sitting next to me walked out of the preview screening I attended, and when you walk out of something that’s FREE, there’s something seriously wrong. American kids will not have their hearts torn between this and Shrek 2. And British kids most certainly won’t.

And to cap it all off, Hans Zimmer”s music is not a patch on Barry Gray.

Worst bit: The Hood (Ben Kingsley) using his mental powers to make Brains (Anthony Edwards) move like a puppet.

Final insult: Busted sing over the credits. Bring back Fuzzbox‘s International Rescue.

Jeff Tracy
Bill Paxton
Alan Tracy
Brady Corbet
Scott Tracy
Philip Winchester
Virgil Tracy
Dominic Colenso
Gordon Tracy
Ben Torgersen
John Tracy
Lex Shrapnel
Engineer Brains
Anthony Edwards
Lady Penelope
Sophia Myles
Ron Cook
Bhasker Patel
Vanessa Anne Hudgens
The Hood
Ben Kingsley
Soren Fulton

Jonathan Frakes

Thanks to Victor Field (IMDB)