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Just over 40 years ago, Gerry and Sylvia Anderson produced a brilliant television series in England entitled "Thunderbirds". A total of 32 60-minute episodes were created between 1964 and 1966. Following which, two big-screen motion pictures were also produced: "Thunderbirds Are Go" in 1966 and "Thunderbird 6" in 1968. What made watching the Thunderbirds unique was that the Andersons did not employ live actors to perform in front of the camera; instead, the characters were puppets in a technique that the Andersons dubbed "supermarionation". It was quite effective and, for the most part, the stories were highly creative and engaging. The basic plotline for the Thunderbirds was that a family living on a secretive island created a set of rocket-propelled ships which they used to rescue people from various disastrous situations. The family, known as the Tracy's, included several non-family members as part of their rescuing efforts: Brains (the genius who designed their rocket ships), Lady Penelope (a wealthy aristocrat) and her chauffeur Parker. The Thunderbirds were not only popular with children; they also earned a cult following of adults.
Hence, 36 years since any new material had been produced for the Thunderbirds franchise, a live-action version was filmed and released in theaters in 2004. Under the direction of Jonathan Frakes (who is best known for his role as Commander William Riker on the long-running sci-fi TV series "Star Trek: The Next Generation"), the 2004 film "Thunderbirds" was a very visually impressive reproduction of the original work that had been done with supermarionation. Unfortunately, the film's story, which was clearly directed towards the youngest possible audience members (probably for children not older than 8), fell far short of pleasing adults and older children, especially those who were all-too-familiar with the original Thunderbirds, both from TV syndication and DVD's. Having watched the original Thunderbirds long before the live-action film was produced, I, too, was quite disappointed with live-action reproduction.
"Thunderbirds" begins with a seemingly dangerous rescue effort being carried out by Jeff Tracy (Bill Paxton) and his sons Virgil Tracy (Dominic Colenso), Scott Tracy (Philip Winchester) and Gordon Tracy (Ben Torgersen) in Thunderbirds 1 and 2, while son John Tracy (Lex Shrapnel) is onboard the Earth-orbitting space-station Thunderbird 5. Jeff's youngest son, Alan Tracy (Brady Corbet) is instead at a boarding school with his stuttering friend Fermat (Soren Fulton), who is the young son of the stuttering Brains (Anthony Edwards). and is filled with teenaged angst and impatience as he feels that he, like his father and brothers, should be part of the rescue efforts instead of attending school. (Except for Fermat, none of his classmates or teachers knows that Alan is related to the real Thunderbirds.) Here, then, are several of the film's most serious deviations from the original Thunderbirds concept: in the original Thunderbirds, father Jeff Tracy never participated in the actual rescues (he managed them from home), Brains did not stutter and Brains never had a son. The two characters in the 2004 film who came closest to Gerry & Sylvia Andersons' original concepts were Lady Penelope (Sophia Myles) and Parker (Ron Cook). They arrive in Lady Penelope's trademark, high-tech pink limousine at Alan's school to pick up him and Fermat for their school holiday, which will be spent back at the secretive Tracy Island. However, unbeknownst to the Tracy's, their rescue efforts at the beginning of the film were planned by their arch-enemy, The Hood (Ben Kingsley), so that a tracer could be planted on Thunderbird 1 making it possible to locate Tracy Island. Arriving at Tracy Island in a submarine, The Hood and his companions attack the orbitting Thunderbird 5 so that the Tracy's will rush off to rescue John who is onboard. Thinking that they can now easily take the island, their efforts are then thwarted (pretty much the bulk of the film) by Alan, Ferman and the young Tintin (Vanessa Anne Hudgens).
What made the 2004 "Thunderbirds" so disappointing was twofold: the deviations from Gerry & Sylvia Anderson's original concepts and the fact that the film focused upon the three kids (Alan, Fermat & Tintin) and the Hood instead of the Tracy's and their rescuing efforts. It could be effectively argued that the Tracy family and entire Thunderbird concept was just a backdrop for the story revolving around teenaged angst. Hence, it is not at all surprising that after the film opened in theaters in August, 2004, it only earned approximately $15-million in both the U.S. and England; whereas the film's production budget was approximately $57-million. Visually, the 2004 "Thunderbirds" was a magnificent live-action reproduction, but the story left much to be desired. Consequently, I can only rate the 2004 "Thunderbirds" with 2 out of 5 stars. Had Gerry & Sylvia Anderson been more directly involved with the production of this film, it probably would have been much better.