Thunderbirds (2004)
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Thunderbirds (2004)

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In the early sixties Garry and Sylvia Anderson came up with an idea for childrenís television program, instead of cartoons use puppets for the action. The process was called "Supermarionation" and to say the least it was campy. Thunderbirds came along in 1964; personally, I was a Supercar fan myself, some four years prior. Thunderbirds depicted a group of all American, 21st century heroes that worked for a private emergency response team, the Thunderbirds. In this live action incarnation the Thunderbirds are pretty much a family affair, dad Jeff Tracey (Bill Paxton) and most of the clan are captured by the bad guys, headed by the nefarious Hood (Ben Kingsley) leaving only the younger son Alan (Brady Corbet) able to save the day. The reason the Hood captured the thunderbirds is simple and as old as story telling, like the Brain was constantly telling Pinky, world domination. Only the noble Thunderbirds stand in the way of the Hood ruling the world. As any arch villain will tell you inflation has hit the world of crime and world domination is now extremely expensive. To help finance this plot the Hood must rob the Bank of London. While the Thunderbirds are somewhat distracted in their family owned, orbiting space station, talk about your great second home, the coast is clear for the station to fall into the wrong hands. Only young Alan and his friends Fermat (Soren Fulton) and Tintin (Vanessa Anne Hudgens) have to use the spare rocket (doesnít every billionaire family own one) and save the day.

When you see a film like this you have to remember a few things. You will never hear the words "and the winner is" in reference to it. This was not intended to be classic cinema, forever taught in film schools around the world. The purpose of this film is something to take the kids to see, sit back, munch on some popcorn and drink your soda. Some of the parents will remember the jerky motion of the puppets on television, watching after school as mom prepared diner. For the kids they will compare this to other films of the genre like Spy Kids. Itís a chance to see another kid save the day and that will always appeal to young audience members. The original Thunderbirds relied on the inner fantasy every boy had to be an astronaut; all of the members of the Thunderbirds are named after men that served as the original Mercury group. Now, with space travel more routine some of this now lost. Still, the innate action children desire is present here. There is plenty of special effects are a notch below the first two Spy Kids but it holds together as Saturday morning family faire. There is a mixture of 1960 sixties looks with the sets and vehicles set against a modern world. In a way it was nice to be back in those simpler times for a brief moment.

One of the oddest things about this movie is the cast the producers managed to secure. Bill Paxton as the patriarch of the Tracy clan is one example. Paxton is the kind of actor that appears to be willing to pick and choose his parts. He has done dark thrillers and intense drama. Here he plays the role of Jeff Tracey as straight as he would a more mainstream part. To his credit he gives his all to anything he does. Even more of a surprise is Oscar winner Sir Ben Kingsley is the Hood. Here is a man that has had a long and illustrious career playing a camp, over the top classic comic book super villain. With his flowing robes and evil chuckle Kingsley manages to actually sell the role. I would think that these actors did this for fun, as a break from the normally emotionally draining roles they are accustomed to. Brady Corbet does well as the younger son. His character is considered too young to join the family hero business and Corbet plays this aspect of Alan well. Kids can identify with this person; caught at that age where he feels he can do things on his own yet his father tells him he has to wait. Us adults watching this film with our kids should remember back when we felt that way.

This film was directed by Jonathan Frakes, best known as Number One, Commander Will Riker from the Star Trek: The Next Generation franchise. Frakes is no stranger to the directorís chair. He has helmed two Star Trek flicks, Insurrection and First Contact, numerous episodes of Next Generation, Deep Space Nine as well as Roswell and even a Diagnosis Murder. He also gained some experience with kidís flicks with his Clockstoppers. Frakes knows how to handle science fiction and who to keep the younger set entertained. He paces the film well, the shots are set up with an eye for more details than you would expect and the generally does a good job in production. Like the actors in this film Frakes seems to have wanted to have a little fun. Considering his age, approximately that on my own, he most likely was a fan of they original show way back in the day.

Universal has done a good job in this DVD presentation. The video is offered as either pan and scan or anamorphic widescreen, bowing to a recent trend available on separate editions. The Dolby 5.1 audio will give a fairly good work out for your speakers providing a nice full sound field. Frakes has a commentary track where he really takes this project seriously albeit a bit tongue in cheek. The extras are there and targeted for the kids. You go behind the scenes for how the action sequences where filmed. There is design footage of Tracey Island and a look at FAB1, the special effects laden car used in the film. We get to learn more about the overly pink world of Lady Penelope, a stunts reel and a music video. The general the extras where interesting but overall pretty standard faire. Since my daughter is twenty I am not the target audience for this film but found it fun to watch. If you have some pre-teenagers around gather the family around and enjoy.

Posted 12/15/04

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