Gerry Anderson’s 1960s Supermarionation series action series about a private rescue organization with really cool vehicles was an inspired mix of Japanese monster movie mayhem and British stiff upper lip cool. It brought new meaning to the term “wooden performance”; its stars were literally puppets, a rather bland and interchangeable marionette family of clean living Hardy Boys, or in this case the Tracy boys. But those high tech toys were like big kid fantasies come alive, magnificently designed vehicles rolled out as lovingly detailed miniatures with a sense of awe and wonder, and the success of the spawned a feature film that upped the ante on the spectacle.
Thunderbirds Are Go (1966) opens on the trademark majesty that marked the special effects of the series: a jet-shaped rocket to Mars is reverentially rolled out of its hanger and fired to life, then the launch is sabotaged in a bout of James Bond cold war shenanigans. The Tracy boys don’t even make an appearance for the first 20 minutes, which is a telling admission about the real stars of the show: those fabulous vehicles and the awe of the miniature effects execution (which was a major influence on the work done on 2001: A Space Odyssey). This film, however, has another inspired highlight: a dream sequence that takes Alan Tracy to a nightclub in space where a marionette version of Cliff Richards performs in a crazy music video with a rocket-powered guitar. Almost makes up for a listless story and an abstract conflict of stalwart American good guys versus vaguely Eastern European bad guys.
A second feature, Thunderbird 6 (1967), followed and there was a misfire of a live-action film in 2004 that completely missed the appeal of the series, but if you like the show you should check out the 2015 British revival that Amazon Prime picked up to stream in the U.S. It features CGI animation in place of Supermarination but all the vehicles are old fashioned, lovingly crafted miniatures just like that sixties incarnation. FAB!
Also on disc and SVOD through Amazon Video and other services. Availability may vary by service.
Thunderbirds Are Go [DVD]
It was also released on double-feature Blu-ray through Twilight Time but it is long sold out and now fetching collector prices.
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