THE NEW THUNDERBIRDS MOVIE
In Summer 2004, the long-awaited new Thunderbirds movie made its debut on cinema screens, complete with live-action cast, directed by Jonathan Frakes. Teenage Alan Tracy and his friends are the only ones to stand between the Hood and the secrets of International Rescue when the entire Tracy family are stranded on Thunderbird 5. So, was it worth all the fuss? Opinion seems to be divided. Here, at last, is the long-awaited Thunderbirds Online feature...
Teenage Alan Tracy longs to be a member of International Rescue but must first endure the tedium of American boarding school. One day he and his fellow students watch as Thunderbirds 1 and 2 rescue some men from a sinking oil rig, little suspecting the significance of what they are seeing…
Lady Penelope arrives to take Alan and Brains’ son Fermat back to Tracy Island in FAB 1 for the vacation. Unfortunately, the two boys sneak into Thunderbird 1 without permission and accidentally set off the alarm systems, causing a furious Jeff to ground Alan. Meanwhile, it transpires that the Hood, operating from his submarine base, arranged the oil rig disaster to lure the Thunderbirds from their base and, during the rescue, attached a homing device to Thunderbird 1. Now that he knows where Tracy Island is, he fires a missile at Thunderbird 5 to create a diversion. Unaware that they are falling into the Hood’s trap, Jeff, Scott, Virgil and Gordon set off to rescue John in Thunderbird 3. The Hood’s private army then proceed to take over Tracy Island, capturing the adults, forcing Brains to allow them access to the computer systems and remotely deactivating Thunderbird 5, leaving Jeff and his sons to their fate.
Alan, Tin-Tin and Fermat, having escaped the Hood’s attention, observe this from a ventilation shaft. Fermat gives them away by sneezing but the children escape to the Thunderbird launch bays. Alan steals a vital component from Thunderbird 2 before encountering the Hood who tries to persuade Alan to join his side. Alan refuses and they escape through Thunderbird 1’s blast tubes onto the island. Pursued by the Hood’s henchmen, they try to make their way to a signal relay point on the other side of the island. They are not quick enough, however, and Tin-Tin and Fermat are captured.
Having heard nothing from the island for a long time, Lady Penelope and Parker follow emergency procedures and fly out to investigate. They fight off the Hood’s henchmen but are captured by the arch villain himself along with Alan and imprisoned in a refrigeration room. The Hood and his accomplices steal Thunderbird 2 and depart Tracy Island with the intention of using International Rescue technology to rob the Bank of England; the world’s economy with be reduced to chaos and IR will be blamed. Penelope and Parker, however, are able to break out of the room and Brains restores operation to Thunderbird 5. Soon Alan, Fermat, Tin-Tin and Penelope are giving chase to the Hood in Thunderbird 1.
Thunderbird 2 arrives at Westminster beside the London Eye. The Hood’s group take the Mole and drill underneath the River Thames, towards the bank of England. Their route causes them to damage the foundations of an overground monorail system and one of the trains falls into the river and sinks to the bottom. Fortunately, Thunderbird 1 arrives in time and Alan and Tin-Tin are able to save the passengers using Thunderbird 4, which was inside Thunderbird 2 all along.
Having escaped Thunderbird 5, Jeff and the remaining Tracy brothers land at Westminster in Thunderbird 3. Jeff, Alan, Parker, Tin-Tin and Fermat head for the Bank of England in order to stop the Hood. Unfortunately, Lady Penelope has gone on ahead and been captured by the Hood who uses her to trap Jeff. A final battle ensues between the Hood and Alan in the vault and the Hood appears to be winning by using his psychic powers. Tin-Tin, however, uses powers of her own to damage the platform on which the Hood is standing, leaving him hanging over the whirling blades of the Mole. Alan reluctantly saves the Hood who is taken away by the Police.
Later, on Tracy Island, Jeff promotes Alan, Tin-Tin and Fermat to full members of International Rescue. Soon, however, another rescue beckons and so the Tracys head off into action, leaving Lady Penelope to enjoy the island’s watersports.
All of the regular cast from the TV series appear in some capacity with the exception of Grandma Tracy. There are, however, two new additions. One is Fermat, Brains’ teenage son and Alan’s best friend. Kyrano’s wife and Tin-Tin’s mother also appears to be living on the island although she remains unnamed.
Brains is referred to several times as Professor Hackenbacker, presumably a nod to the episode Alias Mr Hackenbacker in which he goes by the name of Hiram K Hackenbacker. However, whilst previously just a false identity, here it appears to be his real name.
The Hood now works from a submarine and has acquired a private army of useless henchmen (well, at least he doesn’t have to talk to himself anymore). His psychic powers are better developed than on TV: here he can perform such feats as levitation and telekinesis as well as hypnotism. Whilst the previous Hood was only after wealth, this one has a vendetta against International Rescue as it is revealed that on the occasion Jeff saved Kyrano, he was powerless to help the Hood and so apparently left him to die.
All five Thunderbirds appear, subtlety redesigned yet still surprisingly faithful to the originals, along with the Mole, Firefly (now equipped with a canon that fires gunge; handy for splatting comic relief bad guys with but I imagine pretty useless in rescues) and the Thunderizer from the episode 30 Minutes After Noon.
FAB 1 appears but (due to behind-the-scenes rights issues) is no longer a Rolls Royce but some kind of futuristic Ford. As in the TV episode Lord Parker’s ‘Oliday it can travel on water using jet skis but it has now gained the additional ability to fly, even halfway around the world at one time. Two other pink cars, more conventional Fords, are seen around the Creighton-Ward Mansion, apparently intended to be FAB 2 and FAB 3. On TV Penelope had only one car; FAB 2 was a luxury yacht featured in The Man From MI5 and, in the TV21 comics, we saw FAB 3 was a prize racehorse.
The set pieces of an oil rig rescue, a monorail train rescue and the vault of the Bank of England recall the episodes Atlantic Inferno, Brink Of Disaster and Vault Of Death respectively, although whether these were intended as deliberate references is unknown.
The makers of this film have indicated that this film is intended as a prequel to the TV series. It is quite clear, however, the two versions are completely incompatible. This is the beginning of an entirely new Thunderbirds universe.
I haven’t noticed it myself but I’ve been reliably informed that as Alan operates the controls to launch Thunderbird 1 you can just see a string attached to his hand, in a nod to the puppet series. The irony is that in the series, such a shot would very likely have been performed by a human hand…
There is much to like about the Thunderbirds movie. I think that the design is wonderful, perfectly capturing the essence of the gadgets and machines of the old series whilst giving them a modern twist. I also approve of a lot of the casting, particularly the actors playing the Hood, Lady Penelope and Parker who seems to be having a great time in their roles. Unfortunately, the overall thing seems to have been horribly misjudged. Giving the lead role to a 13-year-old Alan only serves to diminish everything that made the original cool and makes you wonder why they didn’t just buy the rights to Joe 90 instead. It’s very much a wasted opportunity. The chance was there to make the best disaster movie ever (the TV series is hardly short of potential ideas to adapt) but instead we get some bizarre cheesy crime caper with a bunch of inconsequential rescues thrown in as an afterthought. So overall, a stylish and enjoyable flick you can have a bit of fun with but, as an addition to the Thunderbirds legend, you can’t help but feel that someone somewhere was missing the point.