Thunderbirds: International Rescue Edition
December 24, 2003
MGM has wisely capitalized on the release of a brand new live-action movie of Thunderbirds by releasing the two classic Thunderbirds movies, Thunderbirds Are Go (1966) and Thunderbird 6 (1968) in an attractive two-DVD set. The prints of both films have been gloriously restored and remastered with a decent collection of extras that fans of this memorable series will enjoy for hours.
Thunderbirds is one of the best examples of what is known as Supermarionation (a.k.a. super marionette animation), a fancy way of describing puppetry using marionettes that are controlled by thin wires.
Thunderbirds began as a popular TV series in England. Every week featured the adventures of the Tracy family, a high-tech international rescue unit known as the Thunderbirds. Their top secret base was located on a remote island in the Pacific. They are led by an ex-astronaut millionaire Jeff Tracy and made up of five different ships: one that is very fast, a transporter with rescue gear, a spacecraft, an underwater craft and a space monitor that can receive distress calls from anywhere on Earth.
In Thunderbirds Are Go, the Zero-X spacecraft is poised to blast off for the first ever manned flight to Mars. Unfortunately, it falls victim to sabotage before it can even escape the Earth’s atmosphere. The crew manage to eject in time but the craft is destroyed. Two years later, another attempt is made and to prevent further incident, the Thunderbirds are called in to chaperone. The launch is a success but once the ship lands on Mars it accidentally disturbs a mysterious alien race that attacks them. It’s up to the Thunderbirds to save the day.
This is a movie in love with hi-tech gadgets and vehicles. The attention to detail on these things, from the blinking lights on the console of the Zero-X to the detailed rocky landscape of Mars, is very impressive, even by today’s standards. The camera lingers lovingly on the spacecraft and the elaborate sets that are the epitome of ‘60s retro-futuristic cool.
There is even an elaborate sequence with a star-shaped space station, complete with a nightclub and a house band (The Shadows) led by lounge singer Cliff Richard, Jr. It is a surreal musical number that features a guitar sitting on a launch pad instead of a rocket.
Thunderbird 6 shifts gears to a lighter tone with more humour and a story driven more by character than a showcase for fancy vehicles and explosive action sequences.
A new, state-of-the-art passenger aircraft, named the Skyship One, is ready for its maiden voyage with some of the International Rescue Team, including Lady Penelope, along for the ride. Unbeknownst to them, the crew has been killed and replaced by terrorists who kidnap Penelope in an effort to get her to reveal the secrets about the Thunderbird team.
There is a wonderful sequence with Alan Tracy and Tin Tin flying in a vintage bi-plane. It does all kinds of graceful maneuvers that are a joy to behold. The impeccable production values are just as impressive as they were in the previous film. The Skyship’s interior is a marvel of groovy ‘60s décor, complete with a large table that doubles as an aquarium.
The first thing that will be apparent to fans of the series is the glaring omission of series co-creator Gerry Anderson. Not surprising considering the acrimonious break-up between him and Sylvia Anderson many years ago. Not only that but he also sold the rights to Thunderbirds and this resulted in his exclusion from participating on these DVDs.
Thunderbirds Are Go starts off with an engaging audio commentary by producer Sylvia Anderson and director David Lane. They point out that the music by Barry Gray gives the puppets emotion, something that they couldn’t do on their own. They also talk about the challenges of achieving the various ambitious sequences on this very informative track.
“History and Appeal” is a ten-minute featurette that examines the origins of the Thunderbirds. Sylvia had always pushed for a movie and saw it as an attempt to bring the show to an American audience.
“The Factory of Dolls and Rockets” is a featurette on the origins of Supermarionation, a term coined by Gerry Anderson that was a fancy way of describing the marionettes that were used. How the puppeteering was achieved is briefly examined.
“Epics in Miniature” takes a look at the epic scale that using the widescreen format gave the Thunderbirds. It wasn’t possible to achieve this feel on the TV show and it gave the movie a much more cinematic vibe.
There is a fun, “’Who Said That?’ Quiz” where you have to match an audio clip with the right character and are rewarded with a bonus interview clip.
There is also an “Animated Photo Gallery” that runs three minutes with groovy music by Barry Gray.
Finally, there is a theatrical trailer.
Thunderbird 6 features another commentary by Sylvia Anderson and David Lane. She mentions that this was a tougher shoot because she was also working on Captain Scarlet at the same time this movie was being made. Surprisingly, the movie didn’t do well because fans thought that it wouldn’t be any different than the show but Lane points out that they had more time and money to put Thunderbirds on a much large scope and scale.
“Lade Penelope” is a ten-minute featurette that examines the evolution of this character. Sylvia Anderson says that the male writers on the show didn’t know how to write for her (she only appeared in half of the episodes) and she decided to give Penelope more of a presence in the movie.
“Building Better Puppets” is an eight-minute featurette that explores the improvements that were made for the marionettes from the show. They were given more realistic facial expressions and body movements. There is also a nice demonstration showing how they operated and the challenge inherit in making a movie with an entire cast of puppets.
“Tiger Moth” is a look at the bi-plane from the movie. The footage of it flying was a clever mix of an actual plane with a model. The live-action stuff got the crew in trouble when the pilot flew a dangerous stunt under a by-pass on a newly constructed stretch of freeway.
In the “Craft Mission Match Up Quiz” you have to match up the character with their corresponding vehicle and are rewarded with a bonus interview clip.
Like on the first DVD, there is an animated photo gallery and a theatrical trailer.
As a bonus, included with the packaging are cardboard cut-outs that let you assemble your own Thunderbirds team and fridge magnets of the team as well.
For Thunderbirds fans, this 2-DVD set is a treasure trove of goodies. Not only do you get both feature films in pristine shape but also a decent collection of supplemental material. MGM has done a fantastic job with these movies.