Thunderbirds

  • Title:  Thunderbirds
  • Director:  Jonathan Frakes
  • Date:  2004
  • Studio:  Working Title, Universal
  • Genre:  SF, Adventure, Action, Children
  • Cast:  Brady Corbet, Bill Paxton, Sophia Myles, Ron Cook, Ben Kingsley, Anthony Edwards, Genie Francis
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“Alan, This equipment’s only to be used in an emergency! [Tin Tin and Alan look at each other] I guess this qualifies.” – Fermat

“It’s the children. They have it.” – The Hood
“No way. They’re dead. No one could live through something like that.” – Mullion
“I did.” – The Hood

“Alan? He’s just a kid.” – Gordon Tracy
“He’s a Tracy.” – Jeff Tracy

Thunderbirds is a live-action children’s adventure film based on the ITV Gerry Anderson Supermarionation series of the same name. For more information on the original television series see this post. The film is an origin story of sorts, set early in the career of International Rescue and the Thunderbirds. Jeff is very much an active part of the organization, and Alan – the youngest Tracy, is still at school, attending Wharton Academy, an all-boys boarding school, with Fermat, Brains’ young son.

Alan dreams of the day he can leave school behind and join his brothers in International Rescue as a full Thunderbird.  In this film, the Thunderbirds are the pilots of the machines as well as the machines themselves. Alan’s at school when he’s caught daydreaming by a teacher – and is given an extra report to write during Spring Break. However, soon all the students are watching a news cast – the Thunderbirds respond to an fire at an oil rig in Russia and rescue the trapped men, despite heavy rain and other problems. Alan and Fermat watch with the other students, but Alan, far from being worried about his older brothers and father – mimes their actions and wishes to be with them.

Lady Penelope, the family’s London agent, arrives at Wharton and picks-up Alan to bring him home to Tracy Island, because the rest of the family is obviously busy. Not only does she arrive in her 6-wheeled pink Rolls Royce – but Lady Penelope’s entire wardrobe is pink. Once she, Alan, Fermat, and Parker have driven away from any traffic the car turns into a flying car – and Parker pilots it to the Island.

Unbeknowest to Scott Tracy, however, when he and Virgil drop off the rescuees at a local hospital, one of them shoots a tracking compound onto Thunderbird 1. Scott doesn’t notice. At dinner, Alan asks his father when he can become a Thunderbird, and Jeff rebukes him saying he’s too young.

Alan and Fermat sneak into Thunderbird 1 where they accidentally start the launch sequence. The sequence is stopped without incident, but Jeff is so mad at Alan’s behavior he doesn’t give Alan a chance to tell him about the tracking goo he and Fermat found. (At this point the children don’t realize what the goo is for.)

John’s on Thunderbird 5, a manned satellite and communications station. He reports to Jeff on a couple of minor problems but his report is it’s basically a quiet night. Then, suddenly, and without warning, The Hood (Ben Kingsley) fires a rocket into Thunderbird 5. The satellite is crippled and John is in trouble.  Jeff, Scott, Virgil, and Gordon take Thunderbird Three, the giant, red rocket ship into orbit to rescue John/fix the satellite.

Meanwhile, The Hood invades Tracy Island.  Alan, Fermat, and Tin Tin see his sub – but are unable to stop the attack on Thunderbird 5.

The Hood bursts into the house on the island, looking around he recognizes Jeff’s picture. The Hood’s vendetta seems personal. The Hood forces Brains to activate command and control. Jeff and his boys enter Thunderbird 5, but The Hood locks the door so they can’t get out.  Jeff handles the emergency on Thunderbird 5 well, and finds and cares for his injured son, John.  However, the five men are unable to escape the satellite because The Hood’s locked and jammed the door from Command and Control.

Alan, Fermat, and Tin Tin (Kyrano’s daughter) go the Thunderbird Silos – they use the Firefly and the Thunderizer to escape The Hood’s henchpeople, Mullion and Transom.  They slide down an exhaust pipe into the Ocean surrounding the Island, then get to shore. The three need to come up with a plan. They decide to cross the Island on foot, through the jungle to the Island’s satellite dish to try to contact Jeff on Thunderbird 5. After a few adventures, they make it.  They have some difficulty with the transmitter, but eventually get it working.  Alan asks what to do – but Jeff tells him to follow protocol and get to Lady Penelope.

Alan would rather have an more active role. He finds one of the family’s old hover-sleds, and builds a sidecar-like device so he can carry Tin Tin and Fermat as well behind them. They are chased by the Hood’s Henchpeople, Mullion and Transom.  Fermat and Tin Tin are caught, and put in a freezer with their fathers, Brains and Kyrano.

Meanwhile, Alan is still free, and he sees Lady Penelope and Parker arrive. He follows and sees them challenge and fight the henchpeople in the Tracys’ living room.  Although the British agents fight extremely well, they are no match for The Hood’s mind control – the are caught and put into the freezer with everyone else.

The Hood, Transom, and Mullion head off to the Bank of England in Thunderbird 2 – having gotten the guidance computer chip Fermat had taken out of the machine.

In the freezer, Parker remarks that he can open the lock if he had a small piece of wire. Lady Penelope offers him the underwire from her bra. Everyone had discretely turned away as she retrieved it.

The group manages to rescue Jeff and the boys on Thunderbird 5 just before the satellite burns up in a decaying orbit, as well as reversing the sabotage to the satellite airlock door to Thunderbird 3. Then, the group, including Lady Penelope take Thunderbird 1 to London.

The Hood lands Thunderbird 2 in Jubilee Gardens, near the London Eye.  They take the Mole and dig a route under the Thames towards the Bank of England, their route cuts the supports of the monorail – causing a disaster.

Meanwhile, Jeff and his boys head directly to London in Thunderbird 3.

Alan arrives in Thunderbird 1 – he lands and uses Thunderbird 4 (the yellow sub) to rescue the monorail car, with help from Tin Tin who secures the line around the monorail, which is then lifted by Thunderbird 1.

Jeff watches his youngest son in action, and is proud of how his handles himself. He lands Thunderbird 3 in Jubilee Gardens next to the other Thunderbirds.

Once the people from the monorail are safe, the Thunderbirds and Lady Penelope go to the Bank of England to stop The Hood.  Lady Penelope, thanks to The Hood’s special powers, and Jeff end-up locked in a vault.  Alan, with the help of Tin Tin’s use of her own special powers, defeats The Hood.

At a celebratory beach party, Jeff gives International Rescue pins to Fermat, Tin Tin, and Alan – and welcomes Alan officially into the family business.

Thunderbirds is a fun family movie. It always makes me smile whenever I watch it, from the opening animated sequence, to the ending credits theme tune by Busted, “No strings to hold them down,” indeed.  Yes, it’s a kids movie, and Jeff and the older Tracy sons are basically stuck in Thunderbird 5, completely helpless for the majority of the movie. The movie emphasizes Alan – and shows us his journey from teenager, to full-fledged International Rescue member. Jeff Tracy does come off as an, excuse the expression, bit of an hard-ass, but explanations are given. The Hood hates him because when International Rescue responded to the collapse of his illegal diamond mine – he wasn’t rescued, but stranded. Being trapped led him to develop his mental powers. When Alan asks if The Hood’s story is true – Jeff tells Alan, yes, it is, and that sometimes you can’t save everyone, even though International Rescue saved 600 people that day. Alan then asks, “What was Mom like?” To which Jeff replies, “She was like you.” Jeff had been inspired to start International Rescue after his wife was killed in an avalanche.

There are some notable differences from the TV show the movie is based on – one of the most notable is that the International Rescue members, that is, the Tracy boys who pilot the Thunderbird machines call themselves Thunderbirds as well. In the series, their organization was always International Rescue, the machines were Thunderbirds, and the pilots were the Tracys. Though, as it was a secret who IR was – I could easily see the public also calling the pilots Thunderbirds rather than members of International Rescue as they do in the TV show. Also, in the series, Alan is an adult – an astronaut who is also famous as a race car driver (which was almost a hobby for him). And Alan’s a competent member of International Rescue, and the pilot of Thunderbird 3 – who splits space monitor duty with John, aboard Thunderbird 5.  Jeff leads his boys from the ground as base commander. And Lady Penelope doesn’t wear so much pink. Though I must admit her wardrobe in the film, is fantastic.

Still, even with the shift of focus to Alan, Fermat (a new character for the film), and Tin Tin, the film is fun. It’s an excellent family film. And I always enjoy it every time I watch it.

Recommendation:  See It! Especially appropriate for families and pre-teens.
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Thunderbirds Are Go

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