Film

Thunderbirds (2004)

Todd R. Ramlow

The only possible reason I can see for this screen version is the marketing opportunities embodied by the Thunderbirds themselves and their 'super-advanced technology' ships and gadgets.


Thunderbirds

Director: Jonathan Frakes
Cast: Brady Corbet, Soren Fulton, Vanessa Anne Hudgens, Philip Winchester, Bill Paxton, Dominic Colenso, Ben Torgersen, Sophia Myles, Anthony Edwards, Ben Kingsley
MPAA rating: PG
Studio: Universal Pictures
First date: 2004
US Release Date: 2004-07-30

In the 1960s, Gerry Anderson pioneered "supermarionation," and honed it to perfection with the marionettes used in his children's television series, Thunderbirds. Originally airing in the U.K. from 1964-1966, the series also spawned two successful feature films, Thunderbirds Are Go (1966) and Thunderbird 6 (1967). Although the series was short-lived, it has since become something of a cult phenomenon.

Jonathan Frakes' live action feature film of Thunderbirds follows in the footsteps of the many recent dismal film translations of favorite tv shows, like Lost in Space (1998) and Scooby-Doo (2002). Here the problem is compounded by the fact that few members of the target audience (kids) are even aware of the original series. In fact, the preview screening was far from filled, and those children present seemed bored by the whole affair. Most of the audible response was from adults like me, snickering at corny dialogue like, "Saving lives is dangerous business, but it's what we do."

The only possible reason I can see for this screen version is the marketing opportunities embodied by the Thunderbirds themselves (the Tracy boys, who make up the "International Rescue" squad) and their "super-advanced technology" ships and gadgets. In what appears to be a post-9/11 bubble, "rescue hero" action figures have become all the rage among the pre-and elementary school set. This is especially true for young boys, like my nephew, who has quite an array of Fisher-Price's "Rescue Heroes" line, and insists I play with them every time I visit.

While Thunderbirds is marginally successful, visually, in appealing to little boys' (and perhaps, girls') altruistic fantasies, there is precious little in the story to keep them interested for very long. The film details the lives of the fabulous Tracys, who, under the direction of their "billionaire ex-astronaut" father, Jeff (Bill Paxton), jet around the world helping people in distress. All except the youngest Tracy, Allan (Brady Corbet), who can only dream, while stuck in school, of the day he too will be a member of the team.

The problem is that Allan's grades are failing, due to his moony-eyed inability to concentrate on anything but his future life as a Thunderbird. And even though he assures dad when on spring break at the family's "secret island in the South Pacific" that he's ready to join up, Jeff tells him that for the team members there are "no shortcuts," so he'd better start focusing on his education. You can see where this is going from a mile off. Allan must establish his independence from his stern daddy, and demonstrate in the process that he is mature and smart enough to handle the pressures of Thunderbird-hood. To facilitate this family drama, the film introduces "The Hood" (played by Ghandi, I mean Ben Kingsley, in a creepy, vaguely racist, Ming the Merciless mode).

Just so, The Hood lures the Thunderbirds away from their island base in order to steal their toys, use them to rob the world's banks, thus destabilizing the world economy, and blame it all on the good guys. This leaves, conveniently Allan and his two friends, Fermat (Soren Fulton), the son of the team's tech-guy Brains (Anthony Edwards, recycling his Revenge of the Nerds [1984] shtick), and Tintin (Vanessa Anne Hudgens), daughter of the family's groundskeeper (Bhasker Patel) alone on the island to save the day. What follows is a series of by-the-book action sequences that move Allan and company closer to saving the day, while learning the value of teamwork, to boot. It's giving absolutely nothing away to add that Allan does triumph over The Hood, prove himself to daddy, and become a full-fledged member of the Thunderbirds.

The film is a terribly laddish affair, though Thunderbirds does include precisely three female characters (unless you count the Tracys' repeatedly referenced dead wife and mother). The Hood's counterpart for Brains is Transom (Rose Keegan), as peripheral to the story as the Tracys' Brains, and predictably roped into a "romance" with him. An ally of the Thunderbirds, Lady Penelope Creighton Ward (Sophia Myles), is a British Secret Agent; the problem with Lady P, despite the fact that she can kick ass (and gets exactly one chance to do so), is that her life is entirely pink, from her every outfit, to every detail of her manor, to her jet-powered, flying roadster.

By far the best thing about the film is the third girl, Tintin. She's the most well developed character, and is helped in this by Hudgens' fine performance. The fact that both she and Allan are just past puberty adds some erotic tension, providing the film's few charming and funny moments. Early on, Fermat observes, awkwardly, that Tintin seems to be "blossoming," to which Allan assents. When Allan later flirtatiously repeats this to Tintin, she stops him short, incredulously: "Did you just say 'blossoming'?" Right on, sister.

Tintin's own special powers seem conjured out of a straight adolescent boy's perspective -- she can manipulate material objects with her mind. She's all feminine super-nature to Allan's masculine super-technology. Yet despite Tintin's obvious power and talents this is the boys' story in the end, and especially Allan's. While the Tracy boys are certainly pretty enough to watch for 90 minutes, you can't help but wish Tintin had more to do, or that the Thunderbirds would go back to their island paradise home and let her handle the rough stuff.

Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

Run the Jewels - "Ooh LA LA" (Singles Going Steady)

Run the Jewels' "Ooh LA LA" may hit with old-school hip-hop swagger, but it also frustratingly affirms misogynistic bro-culture.

Books

New Translation of Balzac's 'Lost Illusions' Captivates

More than just a tale of one man's fall, Balzac's Lost Illusions charts how literature becomes another commodity in a system that demands backroom deals, moral compromise, and connections.

Music

Protomartyr - "Processed by the Boys" (Singles Going Steady)

Protomartyr's "Processed By the Boys" is a gripping spin on reality as we know it, and here, the revolution is being televised.

Music

Go-Go's Bassist Kathy Valentine Is on the "Write" Track After a Rock-Hard Life

The '80s were a wild and crazy time also filled with troubles, heartbreak and disappointment for Go-Go's bass player-guitarist Kathy Valentine, who covers many of those moments in her intriguing dual project that she discusses in this freewheeling interview.

Music

New Brain Trajectory: An Interview With Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree

Two guitarists, Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree make an album largely absent of guitar playing and enter into a bold new phase of their careers. "We want to take this wherever we can and be free of genre restraints," says Lee Ranaldo.

Books

'Trans Power' Is a Celebration of Radical Power and Beauty

Juno Roche's Trans Power discusses trans identity not as a passageway between one of two linear destinations, but as a destination of its own.

Music

Yves Tumor Soars With 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind'

On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor relishes his shift to microphone caressing rock star. Here he steps out of his sonic chrysalis, dons some shiny black wings and soars.

Music

Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras' tētēma Don't Hit the Mark on 'Necroscape'

tētēma's Necroscape has some highlights and some interesting ambiance, but ultimately it's a catalog of misses for Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras.

Music

M. Ward Offers Comforting Escapism on 'Migration Stories'

Although M. Ward didn't plan the songs on Migration Stories for this pandemic, they're still capable of acting as a balm in these dark hours.

Music

Parsonsfield Add Indie Pop to Their Folk on 'Happy Hour on the Floor'

Happy Hour on the Floor is a considerable departure from Parsonsfield's acclaimed rustic folk sound signaling their indie-pop orientation. Parsonsfield remind their audience to bestow gratitude and practice happiness: a truly welcomed exaltation.

Music

JARV IS... - "House Music All Night Long" (Singles Going Steady)

"House Music All Night Long" is a song our inner, self-isolated freaks can jive to. JARV IS... cleverly captures how dazed and confused some of us may feel over the current pandemic, trapped in our homes.

Music

All Kinds of Time: Adam Schlesinger's Pursuit of Pure, Peerless Pop

Adam Schlesinger was a poet laureate of pure pop music. There was never a melody too bright, a lyrical conceit too playfully dumb, or a vibe full of radiation that he would shy away from. His sudden passing from COVID-19 means one of the brightest stars in the power-pop universe has suddenly dimmed.

Music

Folkie Eliza Gilkyson Turns Up the Heat on '2020'

Eliza Gilkyson aims to inspire the troops of resistance on her superb new album, 2020. The ten songs serve as a rallying cry for the long haul.

Music

Human Impact Hit Home with a Seismic First Album From a Veteran Lineup

On their self-titled debut, Human Impact provide a soundtrack for this dislocated moment where both humanity and nature are crying out for relief.

Music

Monophonics Are an Ardent Blast of True Rock 'n' Soul on 'It's Only Us'

The third time's the charm as Bay Area soul sextet Monophonics release their shiniest record yet in It's Only Us.

Film

'Slay the Dragon' Is a Road Map of the GOP's Methods for Dividing and Conquering American Democracy

If a time traveler from the past wanted to learn how to subvert democracy for a few million bucks, gerrymandering documentary Slay the Dragon would be a superb guide.

Music

Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.

Books

Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews
Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.