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THUNDERBIRDS  (2004)

Region 2 (UK) Edition

Director: Jonathan Frakes

Featuring:  Bill Paxton, Ben Kingsley, Anthony Edwards, Sophia Myles

Jeff Tracy (Bill Paxton)

The Tracy Boys

Thunderbird 3 soars above Tracy Island

THE FILM

It would probably be fair comment to suggest that the Thunderbirds movie comes to DVD amidst a wave of indifference. This live-action remake of the classic 1960s puppet series arrived at cinemas on both sides of the Atlantic to disappointing box-office takings and generally poor reviews.

Thunderbirds is a curious beast - at an early stage of development, the decision was taken to sideline the bulk of the Tracy family, focusing instead on a teenage Alan Tracy (the youngest of the Tracy brothers), his friend Fermat (son of Brains, a character specially created for the film), and Tin Tin (daughter of Jeff Tracy's manservant, Kyrano).

The film is successful on some levels, though. The design and look of the film is generally excellent, with the Thunderbird vehicles looking suitably updated for the new millennium whilst still being easily recognised as the classic vehicles many know and love from the TV series. They don't look as realistic as they could - they are realised through CGI - but then again, they fit in perfectly with the film's almost cartoon-like look and style. The rocket-style Thunderbird 3 looks particularly good, and its launch sequence is one of the movie's highpoints.

Similarly, the actors are generally very good. In many cases, they're limited by the material they've been given, but there are some stand-out performances. Sophia Myles and Ron Cook are a joy as Lady Penelope and Parker, whilst E.R.ís Anthony Edwards provides a fine comic turn as Brains, the boffin behind International Rescue's amazing technology. Meanwhile, Ben Kingsley gives a fun performance as the dastardly Hood, in true pantomime villain style - clearly loving the opportunity to do some prime scenery-chewing. The juvenile leads - Brady Corbet as Alan, Soren Fulton as Fermat and Vanessa Ann Hudgens as Tin Tin - aren't too bad either, and are certainly the least annoying kids I've seen in a film for a long time.

But sadly, none of these strengths can counteract the fact that the film is laden with a terrible script. As an adaptation of Thunderbirds the TV Series, it falls flat on its face by largely ignoring the very elements which made it such a success in the first place. As a fun family movie in its own right, it often suffers by pandering too much to the under-tens, and leaving little for anyone older. Indeed, adults will cringe at some of the woeful dialogue ("Jeff Tracy, the billionaire ex-astronaut? Of course! Isn't he the one who lost his wife in an accident? Avalanche, wasn't it?") Tampering so much with an established formula is a risky business, especially when the format is so familiar (at least to UK audiences, and other territories where the show is still fondly-remembered even today). It doesn't pay off, and the weak script and change in direction from the series cripples what could have been a very enjoyable film for all the family.

Another review of the Thunderbirds film can be found here.

Thunderbird 2 trundles out

Thunderbird 2 - Lift off!

Alan Tracy (Brady Corbet)

THE DVD

This is a film which was made for the DVD format - vibrant primary colours abound throughout, and the anamorphic 1.85:1 DVD transfer of the film looks excellent, with a bit rate of approximately 6.5Mb/sec. The picture is incredibly sharp, even in the darker sequences. If there is a problem with the DVD, it's that the CGI effects which looked perfectly acceptable in cinemas seem a good deal more cheap and artificial on the small screen. Still, this is a relatively minor quibble, and not really the fault of those responsible for the DVD presentation.

Sound-wise, there's a good 5.1 Dolby Digital mix here. The opening rescue scene, where Thunderbirds 1 and 2 come to the aid of workers on a blazing oil-rig, is particularly impressive - although on the whole, it's fairly run-of-the-mill stuff for a film of this kind.

The Hood (Ben Kinsley)

Parker (Ron Cook) and Lady Penelope (Sophia Myles)

Lady Penelope's FAB 1

THE BONUS MATERIAL

The disc's menus are animated to resemble a space-age cockpit, with the option to cycle through five different screens (each representing a Thunderbird craft). Each screen offers a different option (Play Movie, Chapter Selection, Bonus Material etc.), plus the option to watch an short sequence of the craft in action (the launch in the cases of Thunderbirds 1-4, and, for TB5, a scene of it under attack), as well as a summary of facts about the vehicle, introduced in character by one of the film's cast. The menus are needlessly complicated for what is presumably intended to be a child-friendly disc, but it's nice to see something a little more imaginative than usual in the menu department.

The special features are a bit of a mixed bag. Whilst hardly comprehensive, they do offer an intriguing glimpse behind-the-scenes of the movie - this should keep older fans and the curious busy, but not for long. They're far better suited to keeping younger viewers happy when they've exhausted the viewing potential of the main feature.

Jonathan Frakes provides a director's commentary for the film, which is nice to have though nothing special. To his credit, he never manages to be boring, and always seems to be able to chip in with some thoughts and observations. Frakes has come in for a great deal of criticism for his involvement with Thunderbirds, though this commentary helps to highlight some of the problems involved in making a movie like this - for instance, the difficulties in working with sponsors, and the many challenges of trying to bring a much-loved show like this to the screen. It may be a sign of the frustration he seems to have experienced at times (not to mention the very hands-on approach of producers and executives in shaping the movie) that he introduces himself as the ďalleged director of ThunderbirdsĒ as the film starts...

Otherwise, there are several featurettes, but they only run to between approximately three and eight minutes apiece. These are Creating the Action (a look at the special effects sequence as the Thunderbirds arrive in London), Tracy Island Revealed (which does exactly what it says on the tin), Lady Penelope & Parker : Fun & Stunts (looking at Penelope and Parker's fight with the Hood's sidekicks Mullion and Transom), FAB 1: More Than A Car (the realisation of Lady Penelope's iconic vehicle), and Lady Penelope's Pink World (which focuses on the character and costumes of Lady P).

In addition, you can find the music video for the film's tie-in single, Thunderbirds Are Go by Busted. Whether you appreciate this or not depends upon your liking of the band (and the single), but it's nice to have on here. There's also a game, Hood Vs. Thunderbirds, a combination of action and puzzle-solving challenges which should keep youngsters happy for a little while - disappointingly, though, you have nothing to show for your efforts at the end of the game, save for a congratulatory "FAB!"

There are a handful of trailers on the disc, but none of these are actually for the film itself. This is a shame, as there were several trailers produced for the film, including a memorable teaser trailer with nods to Universal's 2003 summer blockbuster Hulk. For the record, the trailers here are advertising Shrek 2, Billy Elliot: The Musical, The Land Before Time 10 (ten?!?!?) and Balto: The Wings of Change.

Tracy Island

Lady Penelope (Sophia Myles)

Thunderbirds Two and One

SUMMARY

The Region 1 version is due at the end of 2004. Initial reports of the US discís contents donít indicate that it will be significantly different to the Region 2 (UK) version.

Ultimately, what we're left with is a reasonably good DVD of a rather mediocre movie. To its credit, it looks and sounds very nice, and there's a concise yet reasonable collection of extras to sway those wavering over whether to purchase or not. If you're buying it for children under the age of ten, or you have an insatiable curiosity about the movie (or even if you've seen it, and are very forgiving), then this disc is well worth a look. If not, you're likely to come away disappointed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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