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Thunderbirds (2004)
Director: Jonathan Frakes

review by John Percival

With his four elder sons, ex-astronaut Jeff Tracy (Bill Paxton) forms the team of International Rescue. Armed with five incredible machines IR is a secret organisation dedicated to saving lives and the world. However, they have their enemies, especially The Hood (Ben Kingsley) who has hatched a plan to trap the Thunderbirds' team in space, steal their vehicles and raid the world's banks. And as The Hood executes his plan and International Rescue face certain doom in orbit it looks like he has won, but he has not counted on the youngest Tracy brother and his ambition to become a Thunderbird hero.

As a firm childhood favourite Thunderbirds has achieved cult status over the years and as someone who used the watch the exciting puppet show as a kid, I was looking forward to this live-action update. I was also interested in Jonathon Frakes interpretation having previously done amazing work with some of the Star Trek: The Next Generation films. Actually he has done a pretty impressive job of bringing the huge Thunderbird vehicles to life with state of the art animation. Each have been appropriately updated to represent a more current version of the future and although the colours are often garish, technically I cannot see any fan of the original being disappointed.

The story, however, is not as inspired. Aimed primarily for kids and not the kids who watched the original, it is for me a mistake. Amongst the amazing machines all we have is a story which looks and feels like Spy Kids. With the focus almost totally on young Alan Tracy's (Brady Corbet) struggle to save his family, defeat The Hood and become a Thunderbird. In being the brave hero, Alan is assisted by Brain's son Fermat and the housekeeper's daughter Tin-Tin. Very little is actually seen of the other Tracy brothers, individually they have no more than handful of lines and resemble an annoying boy band. Similarly, both the dad Jeff Tracy, and Brains are sidelined for their prodigy's Technicolor rite of passage story.

In fact it is quite disheartening to see the ease with which the mighty International Rescue as disabled with their only hope being a trio of brats. This film could have been so good, but with all the money being thrown at it, it failed to realise its true potential. There are a whole raft of comicbook adaptations which have correctly recognised that the people who grew up with their icons will appreciate it more, it is a shame they could not have thought along same lines here. The silly comedy, bright colours and embarrassing acting reduce this movie to pure Hollywood pantomime. Bill Paxton does make a decent attempt to act but has little room to manoeuvre. Anthony Edwards should go into hiding after mutilating the memory of Brains, and Ben Kingsley camps it up as the perma-tanned Hood and is sadly an unconvincing baddie. Bizarrely the removing of the puppet strings has also left the Tracy brothers devoid of any personality, there is no character development for them and they are nothing like the originals. I did like enjoy update of Lady Penelope and her cool car but she is let down by Parker, but I never really liked him anyway.

Generally, Thunderbirds is a hit and miss affair. Yes it looks great, the Thunderbird vehicles are magnificent, the pace is fast and if you allow yourself to get caught up in the action then the possibility exists that you might enjoy the film. However placing the focus solely on the children and not on International Rescue as a whole, making this less about Thunderbirds and more about 'Thunderkids'.
Thunderbirds

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