Box office expectations were understandably high for the first feature film spin-off from the legendary Thunderbirds TV series when it was released in a blaze of publicity in 1966. Producer/writer Gerry Anderson was left to ponder whether the film would simply gross as much as a typical Bond movie or possibly even more. In the end, audiences stayed away in droves - it’s suggested that 1960s TV audiences couldn’t see the point in paying good money to see a film version of something they could see on the television (the fools!) and the film played to largely-empty cinemas.
Yet over the years, Thunderbirds Are Go (the name’s so good they ‘borrowed’ it for the new CGI TV reboot) has been largely rehabilitated and warmly welcomed into the Anderson fold, albeit accepted as a curious misstep in the then ever-upward trajectory of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson and Century 21 Productions. The film looks stunning on Blu-ray; the colour palette is beyond vivid and whilst the crystal clarity of the picture does the big-headed marionettes few favours, the gorgeously-detailed model work of Anderson regular Derek Meddings is still breath-taking and a reminder that, however big and clever CGI may be, it really ain’t as good as practical miniature effects and probably never will be.
But as a film, Thunderbirds Are Go is a little… well, dull. Of course, it ticks all the boxes that made the TV show’s fifty-minute episodes so thrilling and a bigger budget allows for bigger set-pieces - but the story moves at what can only generously be described as a snail’s pace and there are outrageous moments of padding - that’s you, Cliff Richard Junior (ahem) and the Shadows performing live at the ‘Shooting Star’ nightclub in a tortuous dream sequence - which must have utterly bored and bewildered 1960’s nippers. The story itself is suitably epic; the Zero X manned space mission to Mars is sabotaged by International Rescue’s old enemy The Hood (for reasons which are never explained). Two years later, a second mission is launched and another sabotage attempt is foiled by International Rescue who have pitched up to supervise the launch. After an encounter with spark-belching rock snakes on the surface of Mars (the film’s most exciting sequence), the exploration mission is aborted and Zero X heads for home. But disaster strikes as the massive craft prepares for landing; can International Rescue save the day, the astronauts and the hastily-evacuated town of Craigsville which lies directly in the plummeting craft’s path? What do you think? (Actually, Craigsville gets trashed…)
Fans of the new incarnation of Thunderbirds will find this desperately slow and humourless. The initial Zero X launch sequence, with the rocket being assembled, rolling out across the airfield, the astronauts moving into position, takes up the entire running time of one helter-skelter episode of the new TV series. The pace never really picks up across the film’s ninety minutes and the story is so linear you could use it as a runway. Yet despite its faults, Thunderbirds Are Go is still a charming period piece best appreciated by those who enjoyed the Thunderbirds phenomenon the first time around and who can forgive its thunderingly-lumbering story and naïve characterisation. Certainly, it’s never looked better than on this new Blu-ray and there’s a decent grab-bag of new and vintage special features (some ported over from earlier DVD releases) to guarantee a fully-superannuated supermarionation experience.
Special features: Sylvia Anderson/David Lane commentary, UK and US trailers, Countdown to Thunderbirds (new), Entertainment Is Go (new), Cliff Richard Jr. and the Shadows unseen test footage, History and Appeal, Factory of Dolls and Rockets, Epics in Miniature, Come With me To The Rushes, What Does FAB mean, gallery, isolated music track.
INFO: THUNDERBIRDS ARE GO / CERT U / DIRECTOR: DAVID LANE / SCREENPLAY: GERRY ANDERSON, SYLVIA ANDERSON / STARRING: SHANE RIMMER, PETER DYNELEY, MATT ZIMMERMAN, SYLVIA ANDERSON, JEREMY WILKIN, DAVID GRAHAM, CHARLES TINGWELL, BOB MONKHOUSE / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW