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STUDIO: A&E HOME VIDEO
MSRP: $64.99
RATED: UNRATED
RUNNING TIME: 1664 minutes!
SPECIAL FEATURES:
• Production Stills Photo Galleries
• Behind the scenes featurettes
• Short Subject:  The Brains Behind Thunderbirds
Short Subject:  The Making of Thunderbirds
• “Pop Up” Episode- “Pit of Peril”
Gerry Speaks:  An Inside Look at Anderson’s 7 Favorite Series



 

The Pitch

It’s what George Lucas would have done with marionettes.



BEFORE THEY WERE STARS QUIZ:
In the days before his contract with PBS, he was simply
known as Oscar the Creepy Wino.  Who is he now?

                                                a) Oscar De La Renta
                                                b) Oskar Schindler
                                                c) Oscar Wilde
                                                d) Other


   
The Humans

Voice:  Ray Barrett, Peter Dyneley, Christine Finn, David Graham, David Holliday, Shane Rimmer, Jeremy Wilkin, Matt Zimmerman, John Tate, Charles Tingwell, Paul Maxwell

The Nutshell

In the 21st century, the billionaire astronaut Tracy family forms the secretive, heroic International Rescue group, which patrols the skies, seas, and even outer space to protect mankind from disaster.  Armed with a fleet of high-tech vehicles (the eponymous “Thunderbirds”), and assisted by a bespectacled genius named Brains, the Tracy family finds themselves in a perpetual race against time to disarm various things. 

Working against them is the sinister agent Hood, who looks a lot like a tiny Yul Brenner.  Unbeknownst to the Tracys, Hood’s brother Kyrano is the Tracy family’s manservant. 


Unlike many other robots of its era, Chester the Chessbot did have the ability
to love and feel, although he was really terrible at chess. 
F.Y.I.:  Chester eventually killed himself.

The Lowdown

I’m sure there are a lot of Thunderbirds fans out there, and I can understand why, so let me preface this review by saying the following: I was unfamiliar with Gerry Anderson’s work before this review, and I was only tangentially familiar with the Thunderbirds series thanks to the late ’90’s SNL parodies, the terrible 2004 film adaptation, as well as the Team America film.  I’m not a fan of “Supermarionation”, so if you have a pre-existing love for this stuff or feel nostalgic about Anderson’s work (Captain Scarlet, Space 1999), you might not like what I have to say about Thunderbirds.

Thunderbirds are NOT go.  They are very, very far from go.

Before I launch into why I didn’t have a very good experience with Gerry Anderson’s cult-favorite series, I’ll start out by pointing out what works.  Thunderbirds is a technical marvel. The attention to detail is astounding. The marionette work is brilliant, and it must have taken a master craftsman to put it all together.  The puppets cry, talk, dance, push buttons, disarm bombs, and, best of all, nearly all of them smoke. Figuring out how to get a marionette to smoke a lit cigar must have taken several weeks of puppet analysis and design, and I doff my hat to the Supermarionation wizards who made that happen.

The ship and set designs are also a must-see, as they’re finely detailed and fun to watch. The Tracy mansion has a pool that doubles as a rocket silo; when the rocket is needed, the pool retracts to the side and the rocket launches form beneath it. I would have done so much with that as a child. 


`
RonCo’s “disco kitchen!” series of light fixtures never really caught on.


It seems, however, that creator Gerry Anderson was so completely consumed with the technical aspects of the series that the pacing, story, and dialogue all take a backseat. The worst fallout from this? Anderson’s Lucasian obsession with showing various crafts taking off, flying and landing. When I watched my first episode, I actually enjoyed watching Thunderbird 1 take off, as I’d never really seen a puppetcraft deploy so beautifully. At around the 30 minute mark, and after watching three other ships take off and land, it became kind of a chore.  At this point, I playfully mused that half of each Thunderbirds episode might comprise ships taking off, flying and landing.  

After watching several more episodes, my fears were fully confirmed. Even worse: each episode is A FUCKING HOUR-LONG disaster. Thunderbirds is consumed with its own craft to the point that it isn’t much fun to watch. The paper-thin plots about sun probes, arab cults, jewel thieves, and Chinese terrorists are merely setups for vehicular puppetslaughter, as well as sequence upon dreadful sequence of ships taking off. And it’s not like the ships take off all that differently from episode to episode. Anderson could have trimmed these babies in half had he simply cut out the flying scenes.   Making things worse is the fact that most of the stories culminate in a nearly identical climax involving a race against time to disarm a bomb or trap. 

Although I can’t fault Thunderbirds too much for being a product of its era, it was strange that the heroes are all white, while the villains are almost uniformly Asian. And by Asian, I mean “Fu Manchu” Asian, with long, twirly moustaches and “Ah So!” dialogue. It’s disorienting.


Invading Earth is a tough job, so it helps when I have a cigarette with
full body and flavor.  That’s why I’m a Marlboro Martian.

Added to the list of sins above, Thunderbirds gets the credit for inspiring the lifeless Jonathan Frakes film adaptation.  Apparently, Frakes is just as useless behind the camera as he was on the bridge of the Enterprise. (Note to readers:  CHUD DVD reviewers get paid by the potshot, so that Frakes burn just earned me a car payment).

That said, fans of the series will be pleased with the set.  It’s filled to the brim with extras, and looks great for a product of the 60’s.


The Package

It’s
a very well populated release, with a behind
the scenes featurette, and legions of production stills.  You could make an hour-long flip book of the  production stills from this set.

The pop-up episode is actually pretty fun, as it lets the show’s creators give on the spot details about the “Pit of Peril” production. 

“This is the 40th time we’ve seen Thunderbird 2 take off.”

Awesome!

Fans of Anderson’s work will be enthralled by the one-on-one interview, as well as the making-of and “Brains behind” Thunderbirds featurettes.

While I found it to be a mostly tedious affair, I know the fans of these tech-obsessed, anti-Asian puppets will be happy with this release. 



4.0 out of 10