Thunderbirds (film)

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This article is about the 2004 film. For for other uses, including the 1942 and 1952 films, see Thunderbird.
Thunderbirds
Thunderbirds movie poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Jonathan Frakes
Produced by Tim Bevan
Eric Fellner
Mark Huffam
Written by Peter Hewitt
Michael McCullers
William Osborne
Television series:
Gerry Anderson
Sylvia Anderson
(uncredited)
Starring Bill Paxton
Anthony Edwards
Sophia Myles
Ben Kingsley
Music by Ramin Djawadi
Hans Zimmer
Cinematography Brendan Galvin
Edited by Martin Walsh
Production
  company
StudioCanal
Universal Pictures
Working Title Films[1]
Distributed by Universal Studios
Release date(s)
  • 23 July 2004 (2004-07-23) (United Kingdom)
  • 30 July 2004 (2004-07-30) (United States)
Running time 95 minutes
Country United Kingdom
United States
France[2]
Language English
Budget $57 million
Box office $28,283,637

Thunderbirds is a 2004 science-fiction action-adventure film[3] based on the 1960s television series of the same name, directed by Jonathan Frakes.

The film, written by William Osborne and Michael McCullers, was released on 24 July 2004 in the United Kingdom and 30 July 2004 in the United States, with later opening dates in other countries. Whereas the original TV series used a form of puppetry termed "Supermarionation", the film's characters are portrayed by live-action actors.

Thunderbirds received mainly negative reviews, and was a Box office bomb. The film's soundtrack includes the song "Thunderbirds are Go" by pop rock band Busted, which peaked at number one in the UK charts and later won the 2004 UK Record of the Year award.

Plot[edit]

In 2010,[4] fourteen-year-old Alan Tracy (Brady Corbet), youngest son of widower Jeff Tracy (Bill Paxton), is home from boarding school. Home is Tracy Island, a secret island in the Pacific Ocean, where father Jeff operates International Rescue (IR) to act as a secret, volunteer organisation using technologically advanced Thunderbird machines to save lives worldwide. IR includes Tracy's four oldest sons (John, Virgil, Scott, and Gordon – all five Tracy brothers named after the Mercury Seven astronauts), Lady Penelope (Sophia Myles) and her butler/chauffeur Parker (Ron Cook), as well as genius scientist Ray "Brains" Hackenbacker (Anthony Edwards). Brains and his son, Alan's best friend, Fermat (Soren Fulton), also live on Tracy Island, along with caretaker Kyrano (Bhasker Patel), his wife and their adolescent daughter Tin-Tin (Vanessa Hudgens). Alan's brothers see him as a child, not yet ready to be part of IR.

The Hood (Ben Kingsley), the brother of Kyrano and Tin-Tin's uncle, is seeking revenge on the Thunderbirds, who missed him when rescuing hundreds of people from a mine collapse years ago. The Hood and his evil team, including female scientist Transom (Rose Keegan) and strongman Mullion (DeObia Oparei), hit Thunderbird 5, IR's orbiting communications station, with a missile. When Jeff and his Thunderbird sons go into space aboard Thunderbird 3 to rescue John, the Hood takes over the Tracy Island command centre. Using his mind powers to overcome Brains' resistance, he disables the control systems, stranding the rescuers aboard the disintegrating Thunderbird 5.

Alan, Tin-Tin and Fermat, hiding from the Hood, hear his plans and launch a resistance. Fermat disables Thunderbird 2 as they retreat from the base, then flee to a mountaintop radio transmitter, where they make contact with Jeff, who tells them to wait for Lady Penelope. Alan leads the other two into ill-planned action, resulting in Tin-Tin and Fermat being captured. Lady Penelope and Parker arrive on Tracy Island, launching into a fight with Mullion and Transom before being overpowered by the Hood's mental powers, though Alan notes that the Hood weakens each time he uses his power. The island's defenders are all locked in a walk-in freezer while the Hood, Transom and Mullion depart in a repaired Thunderbird 2 to rob the Bank of London.

Escaping the freezer, the crew rescue Thunderbird 5 and the Thunderbird Tracys. Reporting on Hood's scheme, Alan gets his chance to work as a Thunderbird when he convinces Jeff to let him, Fermat and Tin-Tin go after the Hood as the other Tracys will never make it in time. The kids launch for London in Thunderbird 1, chaperoned by Lady Penelope, while Parker heads for the Bank of London to meet up with them in FAB 1.

The Hood and his accomplices, having arrived in London, use IR's drilling machine (the Mole) to begin tunnelling toward the vaults at the Bank, in the process damaging the support towers for a public-transit monorail, which falls into the River Thames. Alan, Tin-Tin and Fermat land and transfer to Thunderbird 2 to begin a rescue of the submerged monorail and its passengers. Alan turns over piloting duties to Fermat and launches in the Thunderbird 4 rescue submarine. When Alan and Fermat are unable to connect the lifting cable, Tin-Tin dives into the Thames, swims down to the stricken monorail where she secures the cable, then joins Alan aboard Thunderbird 4. Jeff and his other sons arrive just in time to see the successful rescue, then Jeff, Lady Penelope, Alan, Tintin and Fermat rush to the bank, where they are joined by Parker.

Lady Penelope and Jeff get captured while Fermat and Parker defeat Mullion and Tin-Tin defeats Transom. Alan fights the Hood, who repeatedly uses his mental abilities. When the Hood has Alan at his mercy Tin-Tin arrives, revealing that she has mental powers similar to her uncle's, using her mind to overpower him in his weakened state, which results in the Hood falling into mortal danger. Alan, who has to choose between saving the Hood and letting him die, saves him, saying, "I don't want to save your life, but it's what we do."

The Hood, Mullion and Transom are arrested by the police. The Tracys return home, where the three young heroes are inducted into International Rescue, while Tin-Tin begins making a move on Alan, receiving a knowing wink from Penelope. Moments later, a call from the President has the Thunderbirds – with Alan assuming Jeff's position in active duty – taking off for another mission.

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

This was in fact the third theatrical release based upon the series created by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson. It was preceded by Thunderbirds Are Go in 1966 and Thunderbird 6 in 1968, both films using the Supermarionation production techniques of the series.

Thunderbirds is dedicated to the memory of Stephen Lowen, a rigger on the film, who died in a fall whilst dismantling one of the sets.[5]

Reception[edit]

By August 2004, the film had taken a relatively low worldwide total of about $28,000,000. It cost roughly $57,000,000 to produce. The film received negative reviews, but had a mixed fanbase.[who?] Those familiar with the series tended to be more negative in their views, accusing the filmmakers of abandoning the concepts of the original series in favour of the Spy Kids angle, with reviewers dubbing it "Thunderbirds Are No-Go!"[6] (a riff on the catchphrase from the original series, "Thunderbirds are GO!"). Because of this, the addition of Brains' son, Fermat, also irritated many fans of the series, as he receives more screen time than Brains. Empire gave the film two out of five stars. Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a 20% "rotten" rating and a consensus calling the film a "Live-action cartoon for kids." Yahoo! Movies and Entertainment Weekly gave the film a C+ rating. Metacritic gave the film 36 of 100.

One of the few aspects of the film to receive positive acclaim (other than the special effects) was Sophia Myles' performance as iconic superspy Lady Penelope, a portrayal in a style identical to that of her television counterpart. Another positive view was Ron Cook as Lady Penelope's butler and chauffeur Parker. The Thunderbirds craft, as well as Tracy Island, were also seen to be very close to the style of the original designs. Purists disliked the fact that FAB-1, Lady Penelope's car, was a Ford rather than a Rolls-Royce. However, this was because the producers could not reach a suitable agreement with BMW, who own the Rolls-Royce marque; the car manufacturer insisted that only an actual production model could be used. Ford stepped in with special version of their Thunderbird model, duplicating the six-wheel system on the Supermarionation Rolls. FAB-1 steers with the four front tyres.

The Ford Motor Company supplied a number of vehicles to the production, including an advanced off-road vehicle which prominently sported the Ford logo, a Ford Windstar, a Ford Ka and Ford Thunderbird which are owned by Lady Penelope, as well as many Ford C-MAX and Ford F-150s in various locations, leading to jeers over the too-obvious level of product placement by the car manufacturers - a sentiment actually shared by director Jonathan Frakes, as revealed in the DVD audio commentary.

During development, creator Gerry Anderson was invited to act as creative consultant, but was left out when the studio felt there were enough employees on the payroll acting as part of the creative team. The studio offered him $750,000 (£432,000) to attend the premiere but Anderson could not accept money from people he had not worked for. He eventually saw the film on DVD and was disappointed, declaring "It was disgraceful that such a huge amount of money was spent with people who had no idea what Thunderbirds was about and what made it tick."[7] He also said that it was "the biggest load of crap I have ever seen in my entire life."[8]

Co-creator Sylvia Anderson, and the one responsible for character development, was given a private screening of the film and attended the London premiere. She had a far different opinion. "I felt that I'd been on a wonderful Thunderbirds adventure. You, the fans, will I'm sure, appreciate the sensitive adaptation and I'm personally thrilled that the production team have paid us the great compliment of bringing to life our original concept for the big screen. If we had made it ourselves (and we have had over 30 years to do it!) we could not have improved on this new version. It is a great tribute to the original creative team who inspired the movie all those years ago. It was a personal thrill for me to see my characters come to life on the big screen."[9]

Timed to coincide with the theatrical release of Thunderbirds, the two prior films were released on DVD. The DVD versions of all three films include a number of extra features, including historical and production information.

Differences from the original[edit]

There are notable changes from the original series. The most obvious difference is the updated effects and new designs of the Thunderbird craft. The majority were given a sleeker and modern look; however, they were still based on their original designs, with Thunderbirds 4 & 5 deviating the most from their original look. The layout of Tracy Island, as well as the inside of the house, had also been overhauled. The way in which the Tracy Brothers make their descent to the hangars changed, with them now all standing in front of their pictures on the wall, instead of there being a specific place for them to stand in the lounge to get to a specific craft. Additionally the couch loading mechanism is now used in Thunderbird 2 as well, rather than just being for Thunderbird 3, but uses a robotic arm instead of the system of rails. Lady Penelope's FAB 1 vehicle is was changed to being a Ford Thunderbird instead of a Rolls-Royce and can now only seat two people as well as being able to turn into a jet plane. Thunderbird 3 was also shown to dock with Thunderbird 5 differently; in the film it docks side on instead of the rocket head going into the space station.

The organisation is also referred to more commonly as "Thunderbirds" rather than "International Rescue"; although on their induction at the end of the film Alan, Tin-Tin, and Fermat receive badges that are designed with the "IR" logo on them as per the original TV series, intimating that the team are still officially called this (it even says in the trailer and in the intro to the film that the organization is called International Rescue and that Thunderbirds is a nickname that comes from the names of their machines). Though it seems the media's common parlance of "Thunderbirds" has become the norm, and been adopted amongst the family members themselves for everyday use.

Also, the plot was changed dramatically by making the younger Tin-Tin, Alan Tracy, and Fermat Hackenbacker, who is depicted as being Brains' son, the main characters. In the original, however, Alan Tracy does sometimes tend to have a larger role than the others and certainly a more emotional storyline (especially in the Thunderbirds Are Go! movie),[e 1] but he has never been the main character. In the original series, Alan and Tin-Tin were much closer to the age of the rest of the Tracy brothers; with Alan being captain of Thunderbird 3 which can be seen from the opening title sequence of the very first episode. [e 2] Fermat Hackenbacker was only seen in this movie, because there is no mention of Brains ever being married, least of all having had a son. In the original series, Brains' name was never officially revealed, with "Hiram Hackenbacker" merely an alias (as seen in the episode "Alias Mr. Hackenbacker");[e 3] in the film it appears to be his actual name. Also Jeff Tracy never flew any of the Thunderbirds craft, and there has never been an instance where he went off to the danger zone (with the exception of the episode "Brink of Disaster", [e 4] as he was caught in the accident).

Like Fermat, the character of Onaha is not from the original TV series, where Kyrano was a single parent and presumably, like Jeff Tracy, a widower. In addition, the TV series has "Kyrano" as the family name, with Kyrano's first name never being revealed. Jeff's mother (known simply as Grandma in the TV series) does not feature or get mentioned during the film. Tin-Tin and Kyrano change nationality in the film as well; they had been Malaysian throughout the TV series but were depicted as being from India in the film.

Other changes are more canonical. The feature film is set in 2010, while the original is set in 2065 (i.e. the date now accepted by many fans in Thunderbirds canon as the year of International Rescue's first mission, although it says on the back of the DVD that the film in set in 2065).[10] In the feature film, the Hood said that he was left for dead in one of International Rescue's earlier missions, but in "Trapped in the Sky"—which was stated as International Rescue's first mission—he was already trying to get their technology, of whose existence he knew via Kyrano. [e 2]

A huge difference in the movie is the International Rescue uniforms. The movie had dropped the original and recognisable concept of the blue uniform with coloured sashes and hat. In the movie, they wear grey modern astronaut uniforms with coloured piping - the colour depends on which Thunderbird machine they handle. They have absolutely no similarities to the original design. Lady Penelope also wears an International Rescue uniform in the movie, which she never wore at all throughout the series.

Another notable difference between the 2004 film and the original TV series is that International Rescue now allows itself to be filmed and photographed on missions. One of the recurring "rules" in the original TV series was that under no circumstances was anything related to International Rescue—be it the pilots or the craft themselves—permitted to be photographed. For example, in the episode "Terror in New York City", Scott Tracy electromagnetically wipes a recording of Thunderbird 1 when news crew starts filming. [e 5]

Another difference is that The Hood's powers seem to make him weaker when he uses them and his eyes are red, whereas in the original series they were always a bright yellow. Also contrasting the TV series, Tin-Tin actually shares the same powers as her uncle, the Hood, as seen in the movie's finale.

In the TV series, Gordon Tracy was the pilot of Thunderbird 4 and Alan was the pilot of Thunderbird 3, with John Tracy subbing on occasion. In the film, the roles are reversed. However, as Alan only uses Thunderbird 4 during the climax when Gordon is unavailable, it may be that Gordon is trained to pilot both craft in the film's continuity, since they are unlikely to be required for the same mission.

The smoking content featured in the original series has been dramatically reduced; no character is seen with cigar or cigarette in hand. In the original series, Lady Penelope was never without her cigarette holder, and Jeff Tracy smoked a cigar after the completion of a successful mission.

Unlike the TV series, the island is actually referred to as Tracy Island in the dialogue, whereas the TV version was only called Tracy Island on Thunderbirds merchandise. Also, in the film, when John calls the island just seconds before Thunderbird 5 is struck by a missile, he calls out "Thunderbird 5 to Tracy Island". In the series, the Tracy boys would normally radio something like "Base from Thunderbird 1, 2, 5" etc. to the island.

In the TV series, Scott was the eldest Tracy brother, but in the film, John is.

References[edit]

Primary sources
  1. ^ Written by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson. Directed by David Lane (UK Premiere 12 December 1966). Thunderbirds Are Go (movie).  .
  2. ^ a b Written by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson. Directed by Alan Pattillo (First broadcast 30 September 1965). "Trapped in the Sky". Thunderbirds.Episode 01.
  3. ^ Written by Alan Pattillo. Directed by Desmond Saunders (First broadcast 16 October 1966). "Alias Mr. Hackenbacker". Thunderbirds. Episode 29.
  4. ^ Written by Alan Fennell. Directed by David Lane (First broadcast 24 February 1966). "Brink Of Disaster". Thunderbirds. Episode 11.
  5. ^ Written by Alan Fennell. Directed by David Elliott and David Lane (First broadcast 21 October 1965). "Terror of New York City". Thunderbirds. Episode 13.
Secondary sources
  1. ^ "Credits". BFI Film & TV Database. London: British Film Institute. Retrieved 20 January 2013. 
  2. ^ "Thunderbirds". BFI Film & TV Database. London: British Film Institute. Retrieved 20 January 2013. 
  3. ^ Puig, Claudia (29 July 2004). "Fantasy propels Thunderbirds". USA Today (Gannett Company). Archived from the original on 7 November 2012. Retrieved 6 December 2013. 
  4. ^ Thunderbirds plot summary at Rotten Tomatoes
  5. ^ Stephen Lowen death
  6. ^ Sandhu, Sukhdev (23 July 2004). "Thunderbirds are no-go". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 25 May 2010. 
  7. ^ "Talking Shop: Gerry Anderson". BBC News Online. 2008-10-07. Retrieved 2008-10-07. 
  8. ^ Fitzsimmons, Caitlin (7 February 2009). "Gerry Anderson auctions Thunderbirds treasures". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 25 May 2010. 
  9. ^ "Thunderbirds 'The Movie'". Sylvia Anderson Official Website. Retrieved 2011-02-24. 
  10. ^ The Complete Gerry Anderson: The Authorised Episode Guide, p. 95.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]