J.D. Lafrance
Thunderbirds DVD Review


May 21, 2005

Director: Jonathan Frakes,
Starring: Brady Corbet, Debora Weston, Soren Fulton, Lou Hirsch, Alex Barringer, Demetri Goritsas, Genie Francis, Philip Winchester, Dhobi Oparei, Bill Paxton, Kyle Herbert, Dominic Colenso, Ben Torgersen, Sophia Myles, Ron Cook, ,

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DVD Review

J.D. Lafrance

Making a film based upon a successful television show from the sixties isn’t a new concept as we have already had ‘The Avengers’ ‘Lost in Space’ and ‘Charlie’s Angels’, but the most eagerly anticipated big screen update is that based upon the popular puppets of International Rescue, the ‘Thunderbirds’; and all that confident expectation is crushed within the first line of the film.

After a pop-punk massacre of the ‘Thunderbirds’ theme tune over some crude 60’s style animated opening credits, we open on a young 16 year old boy with a voiceover telling us ‘In a family of heroes, there’s one son left behind…’. We have been introduced to Alan Tracey and it becomes clear that this movie will be about Alan overcoming the ‘black sheep’ label and earning his spot as a member of International Rescue and less about the original Tracey brothers flying their rockets and saving the day.

For some reason the producers have decided to ignore the established fan base, and aim directly at a new target audience of early teens, as well as kill off some of the ‘thunderbirds’ mythology. Everyone is badly cast as no actor resembles any of their puppet counterparts in any fashion, most of all Bill Paxton’s Jeff Tracey; who now feels the need to be involved in all missions and completely shadow his sons who are barley seen or mentioned by name during the entire movie.

The story is not what we hoped for and generally weak, but is the stuff of teenage amusement and the collaborative writing team have managed to work some of the original fables from the series. Bad baldly ‘The Hood’ is the antagonist who manages to infiltrate Tracey Island and is played all too seriously by Ben Kingsley, against a script that can’t decide if it’s a sci-fi blockbuster or a campy British comedy. Joining Alan in his attempt to regain control of the island is Jeff’s manservant’s daughter Tintin (also happens to be The Hoods niece) and Fermat the offspring of resident egghead known as Brains. Also in this new team of adolescents is Lady Penelope. This character has had the biggest overhaul as now she is a beautiful British lass in her early twenties, capable of ridiculous kung-fu moves and changing her stylish pink outfits per scene, even if it means braking continuity.

The director is Jonathan Frakes, perhaps better known as ‘Riker’ from ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’. With ‘Thunderbirds’ he proves himself to be a more competent director than with his previous outings on the last few ‘Star Trek’ movies and ‘Clockstoppers’. The visual look of the film is outstanding, whether it’s the sunkist utopia of Tracey Island or the dark neon lit engine rooms of thunderbird crafts themselves. The pace is fast and there’s hardly a lull in the action, but the wondrous ride is spoilt by awful dialogue, the ‘loony toon-esque’ sounds put over fight scenes and crappy effects. The computer effects were always going to be ‘make or brake’ for the movie, and they are not the best. They look out of place and are easily spotted; definitely not on par with the effects company’s previous work on ‘James Bond’ or ‘Harry Potter’. Sophia Myles who plays Lady Penelope sums it up best in the extras when she says “It’s not The Matrix, but it’s great fun”.

‘Thunderbirds’ fans will be highly disappointed and perhaps upset, as this does not contain anything that resembles the much-loved series. Although they will be impressed by the updated images of the vehicles and Tracey Island looks amazing. The new younger generation will get much more from it, without being wowed by it, not against the likes of Harry Potter or Shrek.

Special Features:

The menu screens are impressive but tedious. We are placed in the driving seat of a thunderbird craft and use the controls to select the options. Each thunderbird craft represents a feature available and having to move to each craft to make a selection becomes very annoying.

There are six mini-featurettes, three not braking the 10 minute mark and the other three barley reaching 3 minutes, yet it’s the shorter ones that are give us a more informative look at the film. The highlight being about ‘FAB1’ Lady Penelope’s pink car, and showing us the evolutionary stages of turning it from the Rolls Royce in the series into something very different and a similar feature that focuses on the set and computer effects involved in creating Tracey Island.

The commentary from director Jonathan Frakes is so monotonous and mundane that it’s difficult to listen to. His single toned voice slowly drags through the film, and as he has no one to talk to his attempts at humour are embarrassing.

To flesh out the DVD, and of more interest to their fans is the video for musical tie-in ‘Thunderbirds are Go’ by Busted. There’s also an incredibly feeble excuse for a game where the gamer can play as both Thunderbirds and The Hood and make critical decisions at certain points of the gameplay.

J.D. is a freelance writer who is currently doing research for a book on the films of Michael Mann. He likes reading anything written by Jack Kerouac, James Ellroy, J.D. Salinger, Harlan Ellison or Thomas Pynchon. J.D. is currently addicted to the T.V. series 24 and enjoys drinking a lot of Sprite. This is not a blatant plug for the beverage but if they ever decided to give him a lifetime supply he certainly wouldn’t turn them down.
view all DVD reviews by JD Lafrance


Rating: 57%



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