Thunderbirds [2004]

Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy
Thunderbirds Are Go followed the remarkable success of the Thunderbirds television series, bringing the three-dimensional puppet animation adventures of International Rescue to the big screen. Set in the 21st century, there is no attempt to explain the background story: as in the TV show International Rescue is a private family organization who uses high-tech craft to rescue anyone in peril. Here it's the first manned flight to Mars that's in danger, as International Rescue foils a sabotage attempt at the launch, then race to avert disaster when the spaceship returns to earth. What could have made a 50-minute TV episode is expanded to feature length with Martian "rock monsters" and a surreal dream-sequence involving Alan Tracy, Lady Penelope, and "Cliff Richard Jnr" & the Shadows, with a new song performed by the real Cliff and the Shadows. In the theaters, Thunderbirds Are Go was competing against another British children's TV sci-fi spin-off, the equally colorful Daleks' Invasion Earth 2150AD, and would be followed by Thunderbird 6 (1968). Yet apart from more complex model work, a bigger orchestra, and even bigger explosions, on TV this plays like a widescreen double-length episode. Thunderbird 6 revolved around a new addition to the lineup of International Rescue's five emergency craft. The plot sees Lady Penelope, Alan, Tin-Tin, and Parker as the only passengers on the maiden, round-the-world flight of a futuristic airship, which is hijacked in a bid to capture Thunderbirds 1 and 2. From the moment Alan arrives on a Bond-style jetpack, the film veers away from the TV show into espionage adventure territory, and while the only people International Rescue rescues are their own members, they kill a fair number of bad guys. The global tour means there are more locations than ever, and though the story takes a long time developing, the Die Hard-on-an-airship finale delivers the most explosive set piece of Gerry Anderson's career. As for Thunderbird 6, opinion remains divided as to whether it's an ingenious twist or a disappointing gimmick, but the movie's blend of model and live-action footage results in two superbly staged stunt sequences. The Andersons would make one further feature film, Journey to the Far Side of the Sun (1969). --Gary S. Dalkin

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