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Thunderbirds are Go (July 23/04)

With little puppets in place of people, Thunderbirds is certainly one of the more bizarre products to emerge from the '60s. The show lasted only two seasons, and spawned two feature films. Thunderbirds are Go is the first, and seems designed purely for fans of the series. While it's never confusing, character development is left to an utter minimum - leading to the logical conclusion that the film is meant to serve as an extension to the television show.

The premise behind Thunderbirds involves International Rescue, a worldwide peace outfit headed by billionaire ex-astronaut Jeff Tracy. Tracy's five sons - Scott, John, Virgil, Gordon, and Alan - pilot the various International Rescue ships, while sexy secret agent Lady Penelope provides additional assistance. Thunderbirds are Go opens with a manned mission to Mars sabotaged by International Rescue's arch-nemesis, The Hood. Tracy and his sons are dispatched to provide security for the second attempt, which goes off without a hitch. But the spaceship heading to Mars, the Zero X, soon discovers that the planet isn't quite as barren as they might've suspected.

Though Thunderbirds are Go has a lot of positive things going for it, it's just not enough to disguise the fact that the film is painfully overlong. For a movie that's meant to appeal primarily to kids, there are a number of superfluous moments that seem to exist solely to pad out the running time (it's as though screenwriters Gerry and Sylvia Anderson simply expanded an unused script from the TV show). This is particularly true of the countless instances in which Lane dwells on ships coming and going, Star Trek: The Motion Picture style. There's even a dream sequence that features an entire musical number!

Such problems are exacerbated by the fact that the various characters aren't really developed beyond basic stereotypes, something that's true of even central figures like Jeff Tracy and Lady Penelope. It probably doesn't help that the puppets are devoid of human expression - they're only able to move their mouths - which fans would argue is part of the charm, but also makes it impossible to genuinely care about any of their respective fates. The film does provide a fairly interesting story arc for one of the Tracy kids, who feels like he's being neglected and taken advantage of - though the other four sons are basically interchangeable.

What prevents the film from becoming an all-out bore, then, is the visual flair with which it's been imbued. Thunderbirds are Go director David Lane isn't deterred by the fact that he's working with puppets, fashioning shots and sequences that have an unexpectedly cinematic quality to them. The movie is packed with enough gadgets to satisfy Bond fans, while Barry Gray's marvelous score is probably the highlight of the film.

Thunderbirds are Go isn't a bad movie, exactly; fans of the show will undoubtedly thrill to the antics of the Tracy clan. But there's no denying that the film could've benefited from an introduction to the saga, as it's almost impossible for neophytes to penetrate (resulting in a movie that's meant to appeal to newcomers on a strictly visceral level).

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About the DVD: MGM Home Entertainment has gone all out with Thunderbirds are Go, packaging the film alongside Thunderbird 6 (both films are also available separately). The film has been remastered with a stunning widescreen transfer, and comes equipped with several intriguing bonus features. There's a commentary track with Lane and Sylvia Anderson that's full of interesting tidbits, along with three featurettes which essentially cover all the major facets of the film's production. The disc also includes a trivia game, a photo gallery, trailers, and sneak peeks at other MGM DVDs.