REVIEW: Thunderbirds are Go
I should explain.
Gerry Anderson’s Thunderbirds is as major a lynchpin of my childhood as M&Ms, my Big Jim collection, and faking sick to stay home from school…usually to watch Thunderbirds. The Tracy brothers, launching rescue missions from their secret island, was filled with edge of the seat action, staggering special effects and miniatures, and engaging character work. This is made more impressive that the characters were played by marionettes. Electronically keyed to the dialogue and incredibly detailed, but marionettes nevertheless. The show is as well-loved and respected worldwide, but most so in England, where it’s as beloved as other Sci-Fi touchstone Doctor Who. So it was rather a given that they’d go for a remake of the series eventually, and the 50th anniversary is just too tempting for anyone to pass up.
With a hybrid of practical miniatures and physical sets, overlaid with CGI special effects and computer animated characters, Thunderbirds Are Go accomplishes the mission of bringing the adventures of International Rescue to a new generation of viewers, while hewing closely to the look and feel of the original to please old-time fans (raises hand).
From moment one, the plan was to keep the designs of the ships and the world of the show as close to the original as possible, and they pulled it off in spades. Designed, directed and filmed by the crew at Pukeko Pictures with design from Weta Workshop, the ships are immediately recognizable, updated just enough to look even more realistic.
The cast has been updated slightly to make it more diverse. Brains, the team’s resident technical genius, is now of Indian descent, and voiced by Kayvan Novak, best known to Doctor Who fans as the voice of Handles in The Time of The Doctor. Tintin, formerly the meek and polite daughter of the family’s majordomo, has been promoted to head of security for Tracy Island, given her own ship, Thunderbird Shadow, and a new name, Kayo, to avoid confusion with a certain Belgian journalist.
The team’s nemesis, The Hood, has also received a modern upgrade. No longer the kimono-clad mystic who seeks the secrets of the team’s technology for the same nebulous reasons that Team Rocket want Pikachu, he’s now a nattily dressed global terrorist with access to tech and resources to bring the world to its knees. And yes, he’s still Kayo’s uncle.
Two characters are missing from the show – Kyrano, Kayo’s father (who was barely more than a elderly houseboy), and patriarch of the Tracy clan, Jeff. It’s revealed early in the premiere that Jeff was lost in a mysterious crash, an accident manufactured by The Hood. While he will not appear in the first series (a second has already been commissioned) his absence is a major part of the plot arc. Also, the iconic countdown from “5…4…3…” remains, provided (via sample) by the original actor, Peter Dyneley.
If the original series had a weakness, it’s that its early episodes plod a bit. This is because during production, it was demanded by Executive Producer Lew Grade that the show be extended from a half hour to a full hour, requiring a great deal of padding. To say that the new show does not suffer this issue is an understatement. The action is breakneck, with seamless merging of the CGI elements among the practical effects of the ships and sets. The CGI characters allow for freedom of movement and emotion that puppetry could never match, and they take advantage at every opportunity.
While the show’s US broadcast information has yet to be revealed, Your Humble Correspondent thought it important to let reticent fans of the original know that the soul and core of the show shines through, and there be no worry that they’d lost it in the desire to be modern and “hip”. The show is well worth your time, whenever that time is eventually requested.
(An observant individual will notice that this review features no mention of the 2004 film directed by Jonathan Frakes. This is deliberate. Let us never speak of it again.)