STUDIO: Universal
MSRP: $29.99 RATED: PG
RUNNING TIME: 95 Minutes
Music Video

I have only a hazy recollection of the apparently beloved 60s TV show Thunderbirds, which involved a family of puppets (and their puppet friends) who used their futuristic vehicles to save people in danger all over the globe.

I get the sense that a knowledge and affection for the TV series wouldn’t really make the live-action adaptation seem any better, though.

"And if elected president of the Mr. Joshua Fanclub, I promise more knowledge of dispensing pain… and granola brownies!"

The Flick

As the franchise is yanked from “Supermarionation” into the realms of the living (or a facsimile of such), we find teenage student Alan Tracy (Brady Corbet, who disturbingly looks like he’s wearing heavy makeup – perhaps his character is preparing for a high school production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch) waiting for school to finish. Alan is miserable because he has to watch the academy’s massive plasma screen TV along with everyone else as his dad Jeff (Bill Paxton) and older brothers (played by several mannequins with overstyled hair) perform a rescue operation at an oil rig in the Bering Strait (and then inexplicably deposit the survivors at a San Francisco hospital), when he’d much rather be out there piloting one of the Thunderbird vehicles himself.

Like most of us, Alan has a brainy, stuttering best friend named Fermat (Soren Fulton), and the two get whisked away for spring break in a pink flying car by prim Lady Penelope (considerably dishy Sophia Myles) and her chauffer. At the family’s high-tech island fortress, Fermat hangs out with his also-stuttering gadget-genius father Brains (poor Anthony Edwards) while Alan ineffectually tries to convince his Papa Tracy that, despite not having a complete high school education, he’s ready to grab the yoke of a Thunderbird craft and be a fulltime member of the International Rescue team.

"Wow… those lips, those eyebrows… And I thought that kid in Peter Pan was pretty!"

Pops won’t hear of it, but Alan naturally gets his chance when the family’s satellite station comes under assault. The elder Tracys all head into space to mount a rescue operation but find themselves stranded in orbit, where they remain for the majority of the movie. Left alone on the island, Alan, Fermat and Tintin (illegally hot Vanessa Anne Hudgens), the daughter of the Tracys’ manservant, encounter the family’s arch-nemesis The Hood (former actor Ben Kingsley) and his henchpeople. An insidious man with limited telekinetic and telepathic abilities (but only when he’s wearing his red contacts), The Hood is seeking some vague revenge on the Tracy clan, and infiltrates the secret island for payback via stealing one of the Thunderbird vessels and robbing the Bank of England in some sketchy scheme to ruin International Rescue’s reputation. This leaves the three youngsters in a Die Hard situation (complete with vents) as the only hope of both saving the drifting relatives and thwarting the Hood’s dastardly plan.


www.hot-tweens-on-construction-equipment.com has been bookmarked.

Stripping the kitsch factor of marionette performers (and leaving that task in the more capable hands of the creators of South Park) seems to have robbed this intellectual property of its peculiar appeal, and Thunderbirds ends up playing out like a moronic Spy Kids variant (interpret that as you will). Director Jonathan Frakes has previously blended flying ships and humans to varying success (First Contact supported the “even numbered theory” of Star Trek sequels, as did the odd-numbered Insurrection), but the groovy rockets of Thunderbirds barely see any action during the movie, almost reduced to an afterthought in favor of yet another transparent “resourceful kids save grownups from peril” plot.

In his Fu Manchu garb, Kingsley seems to moderately savor his part as ridiculous villain, but one can’t help but wonder if such a regal thespian agrees to high-concept, questionably executed projects like this and Bloodrayne and A Sound of Thunder simply because he’s bored with awards and oppressively gloomy work like House of Sand and Fog. Or maybe he just wanted to reunite with his Slipstream co-star Bill Paxton, who’s decided it’s hip to be square as astronaut dad Jeff, and largely gets away with it. Certainly more than his indistinguishable boy-band brood, who display an emotional range and laminated sheen similar to their original marionette counterparts. The flick could also use an engaging protagonist, because young Alan is, frankly, kind of an impetuous little douchebag. Fortunately, the saucy Lady Penelope picks up a little of the slack in the hero department.

In Street Fighter vs. NBC, Dhalsim’s special move only allowed him to launch former ER stars from his palms.
Copies sold: 2,041.

When I think about it, the lack of vehicular activity or team focus sort of renders the tie-in utterly superfluous outside whatever hypothetical brand appeal it may hold, despite the retro style and nostalgic references (the characters respond to each other with a hearty and dated “F.A.B.!” approximately 3,418 times during the course of the film). Admittedly the film looks pretty swell, but its colorful imagery, simplistic messages, juvenile humor and cartoonish characters (grotesque teeth and speech impediments are funny!) will probably only hold the interest of the very young, the mentally challenged and/or those easily distracted by shiny metal objects. My cat was fascinated by it, for what it’s worth.

4.5 out of 10

There are few things worse than going away on vacation and discovering the hotel only gets the Paxton Channel.

The Look

The movie does have some phenomenal production design and the entire film is bathed in primary colors, which results in fleshtones that seem a little oversaturated. And though the FX work won’t be cause for alarm over at ILM or WETA, the anamorphic widescreen image is extremely sharp.

8.5 out of 10

The Noise

Roaring booster jets and a rousing Hans Zimmer score help make the audio one of the best aspects of the DVD.

9.0 out of 10

When you go to a gentleman’s club called Split Pink, you don’t expect the talent to be quite so… literal.

The Goodies

Jonathan Frakes is extremely energetic on the commentary track, offering detailed explanations as to his intentions, which somehow then turned into the movie included on the disc. The brief featurettes are quite obviously aimed at the same younger viewers as the film: “FAB 1: More Than Just a Car”, “Lady Penelope’s Pink World” and “Lady P and Parker” all give the flick’s finest femme the focus, “Secrets of Tracy Island” gives a slightly more detailed look at the main set, and the hyperbolically titled “The Ultimate Action Sequence” looks at the (anti)climactic arrival in London. There’s also a trailer and music video by boy-band Busted (hear me groaning?).

5.5 out of 10

The Artwork

As they do in the film, the three kiddies take center stage (Sir Nick was nice enough to scrawl the words “Wants Dave” on the wrapper above the head of provocatively posed teen cupcake Vanessa Anne Hudgens), while the phallic aircraft flank floating heads of Paxton, Penelope and their follicly challenged foe.
Not terribly dynamic or original, but I suppose the colors and contents are indicative of what you’ll find in the package.

7.0 out of 10

Overall: 5.0 out of 10