Produced between 1964 and 1966, ‘Thunderbirds’ the series was a TV sensation. Created by Gerry Anderson (‘Space 1999’, ‘Stingray’), it still enjoys a huge cult following and regular television re-runs. ‘Thunderbirds are Go!’, Anderson’s first Thunderbird’s feature film, and the debut of ‘supermarionation’ on the big screen, was made at the height of the series’ popularity.
If you have never seen the series, here is the quickest of quick introductions. From a small island in the middle of an unknown ocean, the millionaire ex-astronaut Geoff Tracy and his family operate the secret organisation ‘International Rescue’. Employing technologically advanced gadgets and racing around the globe in their jet powered ‘Thunderbird’ rescue vehicles, they come to the world’s aid in times of crisis; times when standard rescue techniques are totally inadequate.
|"now, m’lady? … now Parker."|
The year is 2056 and the USA prepares to launch Zero-X - the first manned mission to mars, and the most expensive endeavour in human history. Meanwhile, ‘The Hood’, International Rescue’s arch-nemesis, has stowed aboard to take pictures with his miniature camera. When his boot is caught in a vital mechanism, The Hood has just enough time to drag himself and his bloodied foot to an open hatch - escaping moments before the sabotaged craft plunges into the ocean.
Two years later, the Martian Exploration Centre invites International Rescue to oversee the next Zero-X launch, lest sabotage (all be it accidental) be attempted again. With the help of Thunderbirds 1 through 3, Lady Penelope and her faithful manservant Parker, a second sabotage attempt by The Hood is foiled and the new Zero-X finally escapes Earth’s atmosphere and speeds away towards the red planet.
Ultimately, the crew reach Mars and begin their exploration. Suddenly they are attacked by bizarre Martian rock-snakes, and are forced to beat a speedy retreat to Earth. Their escape is a very near thing. Upon re-entering our atmosphere, the Zero-X unexpectedly malfunctions and begins a plunging descent into the earth. Worse, the escape unit circuits are dead, and Alan, winched aboard from Thunderbird 2, has to make the necessary modifications in just 4 minutes...
There is no denying it - the Thunderbirds are cool. And ‘Thunderbirds are Go!’ has everything you could possibly require in a cinematic experience – big machines, big explosions, sexy female agents, and rock-snake alien things that spit fireballs. There’s more gadgets than Bond, and more stiff upper lips than you can poke a stick at.
The writers have made sure that all the regular Thunderbirds characters are on hand for their big screen debut: Lady Penelope (the female Bond), Parker (who is not only a top-notch chauffeur, but also quite handy with a hood-mounted machine gun), Tin-Tin (who Sylvia Anderson confesses is just a bit of eye candy), and of course the full Tracy family. Let us not forget the Thunderbirds vehicles, including Penelope's six-wheeled pink Rolls Royce, complete with radar detector, anti-aircraft guns, and an amphibious hydrofoil mode. There are also Dick Tracy-style communicator wrist-watches, flying planet rovers, and radio signal lapel pins.
The production values on the movie do not disappoint and even exceed the high standard set by the series. The models and set design are intricate and look authentic, providing an amazing level of detail. The model animation is superb, extracting surprisingly realistic movement from all the vehicles. Planes take off and land with fiery thrust. Rockets lurch into the sky with a roar. Cars, belching exhaust, scream, slide and swerve along mountain roads.
For Gerry Anderson and Co. the film was expected to be far more popular than Bond, leading to a whole series of movies. However, despite opening to good reviews and extremely good box-office takings, the movie rapidly died away and became a financial disaster. The movie is as good as any of the Thunderbirds episodes. But really, that is all it is. ‘Thunderbirds are Go!’ doesn’t have the sense of scope that a movie adaptation should have; it just doesn’t take the original TV concepts that one step further. The shots, the exposition, the editing, the drama; it all feels like an episode of the TV show.
But at the end of the day, who cares? What we have here is yet more exciting Thunderbirds action for the entire family. And what’s more, having never seen the film before, this is new Thunderbirds action (at least for me) - a gift from the gods after watching and re-watching endless series re-runs.
MGM have provided an anamorphic transfer of ‘Thunderbirds are Go’ in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The image displays vivid colours are deep blacks, and the movie itself is a real feast for the eyes. When on duty, the uniforms of International Rescue are bright and colourful. When off duty, their cool 60’s threads are equally colourful. As you might expect, the 60’s décor and furnishings are, well, colourful.
The image is always very sharp, with many of the exterior model shots exhibiting slight aliasing.
Produced in 1966, the print used in the transfer of ‘Thunderbirds are Go’ is definitely feeling its age. Not having receiving the loving care lavished on other films of its era (eg. ‘Goldfinger’), it displays an almost constant level of low-level film artefacts. Having said this, these are largely unnoticeable being but the smallest of flecks and discernible really only in the lighter outdoor shots. The only distracting artefacts are vertical scratches appearing momentarily on two separate occasions. Thankfully, the scratches are to the side of the image.
The image does suffer from a small amount of grain, especially in the skies of exterior shots. Despite this, the image still seems to exhibit an impressive amount of detail - showcasing the elaborate models and sets. The grain does not seem to be a product of MPEG compression. Rather, to me it appears to be a product of the speed of the film stock.
The disc is dual layered but the layer change was imperceptible through my player.
Overall, for a film that is older than I am, this transfer of ‘Thunderbirds are Go’ is pretty damn good. This is easily the best I’ve ever seen The Thunderbirds look. OK, so the print does have its limitations, but these are minor in the most part, and in no way spoil the enjoyment of this richly coloured, detailed and highly visual film.
Only one soundtrack is provided, English Stereo - the soundtrack not receiving the Dolby Digital 5.1 remastering lavished on the DVD releases of the TV episodes. The dialogue is always very clear and nicely integrated, and lip sync is not an issue. Of course, the stereo soundstage is confined to the forward speakers.
When played through my pro-logic decoder, all dialogue and music was routed through the centre speaker – not a great mix at all. Although the dialogue is always clear and nicely integrated, the soundstage produced by the decoder was very, very narrow (seeming almost centre-mono), and the surrounds were not utilised. Despite there being many explosions throughout, the decoder routed nothing to the subwoofer. My advice – stick with stereo.
One of the characteristic features of the Thunderbirds series was the dramatic score and ‘Thunderbirds are Go!’ is no exception with composer Barry Gray providing great accompaniment to the many dramatic scenes in the film.