Monday, February 9, 2009

Movie Monday No. 6 - Thunderbirds Are Go

Well folks, it's been about a month since Movie Monday was updated, and I apologize sincerely for that. I had some personal business to take care of that ran long and the blog suffered as a result of it. But, I have returned, and with an "absolutely smashing" review of Thunderbirds Are Go, the first feature film that showcased the amazing Technicolor wonder known as Supermarionation. Let's jump right in.


--Sylvia Anderson as Lady Penelope, Thunderbirds Are Go

Ladies and gentlemen, it is time for a guilty confession. I am an Andersonphile, the term given to those who enjoy the Gerry Anderson Supermarionation puppet series such as Thunderbirds, Stingray, Captain Scarlet (my personal favorite), and even Terrahawks. These shows, which were a staple of British television for many years, have become treasured classics, and today I’m reviewing one of the most prized of the bunch -- Thunderbirds Are Go, the first of two Thunderbirds feature films from 1966, which I picked up at a bargain outlet chain store called Christmas Tree Shops (has nothing to do with Christmas or trees, however) here in York for about ten dollars.

The setup for Thunderbirds, in case you’ve been living under a rock for the past forty years or so, is known to most: Jeff Tracy, an ex-astronaut, lives on a remote island in the South Pacific with his five sons (well, four, if you don’t count John, since he’s up in space in Thunderbird 5, but more on that later). From here they operate International Rescue, which receives distress calls and deploys the mighty Thunderbird vehicles, able to traverse land, sea, and air and rescue anyone and practically anything. Lady Penelope and her butler Parker, who operate a tricked-out, hot pink Rolls Royce, assist them in their adventures.

In this film, the adventure centers around a manned expedition to Mars called the Zero-X (which has the typical lengthy assembly sequence that, somehow, remains arresting to this day). In the opening minutes of the film, the Zero-X crash-lands in the ocean, suggesting sabotage. The brass of the space force come to the conclusion that International Rescue should be called in to oversee the next launch. Seems simple enough, unless you count that there’s the ever-present threat of The Hood, a puppet who looks like James Cagney on a bad hair day and is always causing problems for Jeff Tracy and his sons.

This film is a real treasure, mostly due to all the period design pieces and miniature models that were used for the production. Alternatively, there is also the wonderful music of Barry Gray, who scored pretty much all of the Supermarionation shows (his launching sequence music for the Zero-X is particularly memorable). What also makes this a stand-out piece of film history is Alan’s dream sequence with Lady Penelope at the Swinging Star, which featured puppets based on a real 1960’s pop band. While the dream goes way off the radar, it’s fun to see where the Andersons’ imagination would take them sometimes.

Another stand-out piece of filmmaking, even if it is just miniatures, is the Andersons’ view of Mars in 1966 as an ashen, barren rock world with -- GASP -- Martian Rock Snakes that spew fireballs at will at the unsuspecting humans of Zero-X! Sorry, I got carried away there, but you know, that’s easy to do when you’re watching one of these...even after forty-plus years of being in circulation, these movies still haven’t gotten old.

On the other hand, certain questions do arise when watching this, such as -- where did Jeff Tracy and Lady Penelope get their money? Are they having an affair? What kind of a name is Tin-Tin, anyway? Wasn’t that the name of a K-9 dog drama on the Family Channel in the mid-90’s? And about Tin-Tin -- was she having some sort of relationship with Alan? And just what did John ever do to land himself the job of being in Thunderbird 5, the space station, all by his lonesome? What did he do to dear old Dad Tracy to land that crappy assignment? Makes you wonder, you know? ;-)

All kidding aside, both kids and adults alike should really enjoy Thunderbirds Are Go, even those kids like myself who refuse to grow up. It has all the elements that make a good film into a great film--adventure, action, and the quirky little mysteries about the characters that I mentioned above. And, per the usual Movie Monday quota, you can pick it up for $10 or less, which makes Thunderbirds Are Go not just a great movie, but a terrific movie.

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