"My pictures, they are ruined! Someone will pay for this…"
The Hood – 'Trapped in the Sky', the very first Thunderbirds, 1965
The above quote may as well have come from Thunderbirds creator Gerry Anderson. Ever since a trusted industry source
told me that Anderson's series was going to be a kiddie picture,
I've not been expecting much. Anderson was offered a lot of
money just to endorse the film but he stuck to his guns and
is now widely quoted in the press as being a 'pain in the
arse' (an opinion from a 'representative of the company Working
Title'). I'd be a pain in the arse if there were nothing I
could do to ensure that a creation of mine (that continues
to touch millions) wasn't being demographed into homogenous
pap. Anderson did sell his rights to the series though. How
the man must regret that little transaction. If he'd been
in on the profit shares from Tracy Island's sales alone, he
could afford a paradise island of his own by now.
Did Star Trek's No. 1, Jonathan Frakes, have
a good time on the set of his version of Thunderbirds?
Press puffery would have you believe so. So why is Lady Penelope
reading the Financial Times (it’s pink, naturally) with
the headline "Directors Under Fire" – a nice detail
in a film with many nice details but an astonishingly, limb
achingly, trite plot.
the TV series, it was sometimes necessary for the directors
to make a plot point or tease suspense with a close up (button
pressing, switch clicking etc.). When your cast are 13"
wooden puppets, this is a mite inconvenient. So the directors
resorted to the easy option – live action hand doubles. It
always brought me up short as a child watching Thunderbirds.
Where did that real life hand come from? Are they trying to
tell me that we're supposed to believe the puppets are real?
So how does Jonathan Frakes nod to his film's television past?
In the prep for a launch, there is a close up of a lever being
activated – by a wooden hand complete with very obvious strings.
You have to be sharp to catch it. The shot is barely two seconds
long but it's an affectionate nod before the charm and attraction
of the series is bulldozed flat by Hollywood corporate expectation.
Can you imagine the pre-production meetings at the studio?
Demographics are go!
Newman in Sight and Sound said that Thun
derbirds was like Die Hard made
by the Children's Film Foundation. I wish I'd said that. It's
a perfect description if a little less than flattering to Die Hard. It's also a very odd movie, comparisons
to the original series notwithstanding (though those are bound
to come up). It does have its moments but the story is so
ill judged to transfer the appeal of the TV show to the big
screen that it feels like the Thunderbird craft are add-ons
when they really should be centre stage (but hell, CG's expensive
FX, RIP. We will miss you.
don't even get a 'how they get to the craft' sequence. In
fact, the Thunderbird craft are not even revealed. They are
already at a rescue site at night so you never get a good
look at them. The second chance at the first impression doesn't
do the business.
story is a coming of age tale where headstrong Alan (the youngest
Tracy brother, a teenager, demographics are go!) is determined
to become a Thunderbird pilot but feels his father is holding
him back. Alan, of course, saves the day. Yeah, same old,
same old. But we know all this. It's the journey taken to
the obvious conclusion that’s supposed to be the entertainment.
Well, Thunderbirds is a real oddity, set
in a mish-mash, colourful, retro-plastic future in which Hugh
Grant's hairstyle in About a Boy isn't so
much emulated as worshipped and built upon. The Tracy family
members are so clean cut, they are, en masse, entirely bloodless.
One brother stands out (the unpopular one, John, who lives
on the space station, Thunderbird 5) because he's the spittin’
image of Rik Mayall with a silver coiffure. But his siblings
are like one big white suited splodge headed by Bill Paxton.
Every time any one of them smiles I feel like I’m eating
chalk. The all-American dental sincerity really grates after
a nano-second (or two).
has the de rigeur backstory (Jeff's wife died in an accident
so he starts up International Rescue to save people – as you
do). The villain's brother was saved by International Rescue
but the villain was left to die so becomes the villain etc.
I mean the Hood wants to rob a bank… Oh dear. It's like
"Enough, where's Virgil going down the chute?" But
his erstwhile, gorgeous, giant, green pod carrier only ever
does the palm tree thing once and it's being piloted by the
bad guys! C'mon. The re-design of the craft is not cataclysmically
bad (1 and 3 are recognisably rockets), 2 gets a wings pushed
back makeover and 4 is re-jigged quite dramatically but as
we don't get to see a great deal of rescuing, the craft are
moot. Can the teenage Alan defeat the Hood with the help of
his pet scientist Fermat (s-s-stuttering son of Brains) and
the plucky Tin-Tin (daughter of Kyrano, the housekeeper)?
Well, whaddya think?
aside for the sake of accuracy.
one of the very best Star Treks, The
Corbomite Manouevre, a very powerful alien being talks
to the crew of the Enterprise. He identifies himself as 'Balok'
as in 'Bay Lock'. Later, McCoy comes to the bridge and announces
that Balok's message was heard all over the ship. But McCoy
says 'Baa Lik'. It's an annoying discrepancy that probably
led to pronunciation guides at the header page of each new Trek script. Well, Kyrano (Kii Rar No) is pronounced
at least three different ways in the film. And what is it
with the definite article? The term International Rescue (a
staple phrase in the TV series) is all but abandoned. It's
'The Thunderbirds, this' and 'The Thunderbirds, that' as if
the teenage audience was sitting there saying "I wish
I could remember the name of this movie…" Even
the pilots call themselves 'Thunderbirds' but then 'Thunderblokes'
probably sounds too hokey.
what about the token female? An absolute joy. Part of my brain
shut down in the sixties when any Thunderbird story depended
too heavily on Lady Penelope. But the movie incarnation is
so playfully and confidently owned by Sophia Myles that I
felt she may have walked away with the movie if anyone had
any sense. I mean this woman walks into an all-male school
and announces "Hullo boys!" with real predatory
glee and aside from that indirect reference to the Wonder
Bra poster, there is even a direct reference as she slips
out a small metal strip cup support from her own undergarments
cheerfully informing all that "I don’t really need
it," and you believe her. Her own Parker, Ron Cook, is
all dour and correct and delivers the literal punch-line of
the biggest laugh in the movie. That it's preceded by a kick
in the balls (a child's only real defence strategy) is a testament
to its effectiveness.
physically cast is Ben Kingsley. But alas… Give this
masterful actor a character of depth and import and he's rolling.
Give him a 13" piece of wood and guess what. His Hood
is half-dimensional. His cat-like hypnotic and force-like
powers seem out of place here. He's a refugee from a bad Star
Wars idea (take your pick). It’s so hard to
see my generation’s Gandhi, Issac Stern
from Schindler's List and the complete and
utter bastard from Sexy Beast as anything
other than a class act. The Hood is a cartoon villain requiring
cartoon acting. Kingsley is incapable of acting badly – which
is why he’s terribly cast as the Hood…
badly miscast is Anthony Edwards who is required at one point
to walk like a puppet under the Hood's control. Ha ha but
no. It just looks like bad acting. Edwards is a good actor
but as Brains, he is trying to emulate a performance 40 years
old and by an actor made of oak. The joke of the stuttered
word being replaced by another less obvious one wears thin
after the 2nd time (it's done about 15 times) so Brains is
little more than a cipher father figure to his more resourceful
in all, let nostalgia reign, feel sympathy for Gerry Anderson
and try not to be witness to too many of the new Tracy family