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Jonathan Frakes
Bill Paxton, Ben Kingsley, Brady Corbet, Dominic Colenso, Ben Torgerson, Philip Winchester, Lex Shrapnel, Sophia Myles, Soren Fulton, Anthony Edwards, Bhasker Patel, Vanessa Anne Hudgens
Writing Credits:
Gerry Anderson (television series), Sylvia Anderson (television series), Peter Hewitt (story), William Osborne, Michael McCullers

Coming to the rescue ...

Take off with the Thunderbirds! Armed with the latest high-tech vehicles and gadgets, the Tracy family tackles global rescue operations on a daily basis. But when their archenemy, “The Hood” (Ben Kingsley), sabotages the Thunderbirds as part of his master plan to rob the world’s richest banks, it’s up to Alan, the youngest Tracy, to spring into action before disaster strikes. Loaded with non-stop thrills, you’ll love the full-throttle family adventure that has fans cheering … Thunderbirds are GO!

Box Office:
$57 million.
Opening Weekend
$2.766 million on 2057 screens.
Domestic Gross
$6.768 million.

Rated PG

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1

Runtime: 95 min.
Price: $29.98
Release Date: 12/21/2004

• Audio Commentary with Director Jonathan Frakes
• “Creating the Ultimate Action Sequence” Featurette
• “The Secrets of Tracy Island Revealed” Featurette
• Lady P. and Parker: Fun and Stunts” Featurette
• “Fab1: More Than a Car” Featurette
• “Lady Penelope’s Pink World” Featurette
• Music Video
• Trailers


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Thunderbirds (2004)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 16, 2004)

Take a moderately obscure British puppet show from the Sixties, update it with live actors and a $57 million budget, and what do you get? Thunderbirds, arguably the summer of 2004’s biggest dud. Sure, Catwoman got all the headlines, but at least it attracted a minor audience. That flick took in $40 million, which makes it look like a smash compared to the insignificant $6 million earned by Thunderbirds. I didn’t think it was possible for a major studio movie with reasonable promotion behind it to snag so little money, but Thunderbirds proved me wrong.

Not that I feel Thunderbirds deserved a better fate. I like enough of the folks involved with it to have rooted for its success - at least on a creative level - but the end result shows that it landed with the thud it deserved.

Via some clunky narration, we learn about International Rescue, a group run by the Tracy family from a secret island in the South Pacific. Named after their fab flying machines, they call themselves the Thunderbirds and devote their time to rescues around the world.

Teenage Alan Tracy (Brady Corbet) feels left behind as he attends Wharton Academy in Massachusetts. He’ll eventually become a Thunderbird along with the rest of his family, but he needs a few years to ripen. He can’t wait for that day to arrive, and his obsession with becoming a Thunderbird distracts him and gets him in trouble at school.

In the meantime, we meet the full-fledged Thunderbirds. Run by patriarch Jeff (Bill Paxton), the group also includes his sons Virgil (Dominic Colenso), Gordon (Ben Torgerson), and Scott (Philip Winchester). Another son named John (Lex Shrapnel) mans their space station.

Special agent Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward (Sophia Myles) picks up Alan for Spring Break. He brings pal Fermat (Soren Fulton) with him, and we soon find out that Fermat’s the son of the Thunderbirds genius inventor Professor “Brains” Hackenbacker (Anthony Edwards). Also part of the island retreat are handyman Kyrano (Bhasker Patel) and his teen daughter Tintin (Vanessa Anne Hudgens), a blossoming beauty who has a crush on Alan.

We soon learn that the Thunderbirds’ last rescue was a set-up, and one of the “victims” involved shoots some weird goop onto their ship. This works as a tracking device that allows the Hood (Ben Kingsley) to follow the craft to Tracy Island. We later learn his scheme and his desire to wreak revenge on the Thunderbirds. This results in catastrophe for the Thunderbirds and forces the kids to take control and attempt to save the day.

If you were to take Spy Kids and strip it of all vestiges of cleverness, charm and quirkiness, you’d end up with Thunderbirds. This flick clearly takes Robert Rodriguez’s hit as its inspiration, and that’s potentially its biggest downfall.

At the heart of Thunderbirds, there’s a cool movie trying to emerge. A flick that concentrates on the Thunderbirds themselves could entertain all sorts of interesting scenarios; with their gadgets and abilities, many potential situations arise. In addition, the Lady Penelope character presents a lively personality, or at least she would if portrayed by someone less stiff than Myles. A story about her might prosper.

Unfortunately, Thunderbirds chooses to take a banal “coming of age” bent, and its focus on the kids renders it tame and tepid. The three child characters present nothing more than the usual stereotypes. Tintin is the spunky, resourceful girl, while Fermat is the nerdy brains of the crew. Alan comes as the hero in training who has to live up to his heritage. We’ve seen these characters many times in the past, and done in more effective ways.

I didn’t have many problems with Fulton and Hudgens, but as Alan, Corbet is little more than whiny. I think he got the role because he looks a bit like Prince William, but that’s about the extent of his talent. He brings no spark to the role.

Thunderbirds wastes talent like Kingsley and Paxton, and it also acts as a poor use of the viewer’s time. Overblown and flashy without any real personality or excitement, this is a kiddie flick that fails to present anything to involve adults. Actually, I find it tough to believe the youngsters will get much from this bland and cheesy adventure.

The DVD Grades: Picture B+/ Audio A-/ Bonus B-

Thunderbirds appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Much of the film looked stellar, but a few issues knocked down the picture from “A”-level.

Never did sharpness become one of those problems, however. I noticed virtually no signs of softness during the movie. The flick always came across as crisp and detailed. Some minor instances of jagged edges and shimmering occurred, but I noticed no signs of edge enhancement. Print flaws also appeared absent, as I saw no specks, grit or other concerns.

As one might expect from a cartoony flick like this, Thunderbirds boasted a broad and lively palette. The colors were consistently bright and dynamic, and the DVD depicted them with solid clarity. Even the colored lighting came across as tight and well-defined. Blacks also seemed tight and firm, but low-light shots became less positive. They tended to be a bit thick and lacked the visibility I expected. Despite some minor miscues, Thunderbirds usually presented a fine image.

An ever stronger impression resulted from the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Thunderbirds. From start to finish, the movie boasted an active soundfield. The mix used the five speakers to good advantage with a lot of information from all realms. Music demonstrated concise stereo imaging, and the effects provided clean, smooth placement and localization. Ships zoomed across the speakers neatly, and all the action elements boasted strong delineation.

The package meshed well and created a fine sense of the action. My only small quibble related to balance, which occasionally seemed iffy. At times, the effects drowned out dialogue, and a few other sequences favored some elements too heavily and illogically over others. The movie usually combined the parts accurately, but a few scenes caused distractions.

Audio quality was also positive. Speech was natural and distinctive, with no edginess or issues connected to intelligibility. Music sounded lively and bright. The score boasted concise highs and warm lows. Effects followed suit, as those elements were accurate and dynamic. Bass response seemed quite impressive, as the louder sequences used the subwoofer well. Overall, this was a strong mix that almost made the feeble movie entertaining.

Despite the flick’s failure at the box office, Thunderbirds comes with a decent set of supplements. We open with an audio commentary from director Jonathan Frakes. He offers a running, screen-specific track. Frakes chats about casting, shooting on location in London and the Seychelles, visual effects and audio, stunts, the movie’s tone, and cut sequences. Unusually, he acknowledges shots he stole from other films, and he also mentions when Ford made him reshoot a scene to satisfy the product placement contract!

All of this makes Frakes’ commentary sound good on paper, but the end result is less than scintillating. I can’t complain about the subjects the director chooses. Nonetheless, the commentary just sort of sits there and never becomes particularly involving. It’s a decent track but not one that left me with the feeling I’d learned a lot.

By the way, I figure Frakes recorded his commentary before the movie hit the screens. He discusses the possibility of a sequel too often for me to believe he taped this after the movie bombed at the box office.

Most of the other extras come in the form of short featurettes. Creating the Ultimate Action Sequence runs seven minutes, 45 seconds as it presents movie clips, behind the scenes clips, and comments. We hear from Frakes, lead technical director Ben White, CGI supervisor Craig Lyn, FX supervisor Justin Martin, digital compositor Corina Wilson, and location manager Emma Pill. They let us know how they created the movie’s climactic flying sequence in London. Kept simple for the younger viewers, this program offers a decent overview of the visual processes used to bring the sequence to life.

In The Secrets of Tracy Island Revealed, we get a nine-minute and 19-second program. It includes statements from Frakes, Lyn, production designer John Beard, and actors Soren Fulton, Brady Corbet, and Sophia Myles. The show covers the locations and the sets, their predecessors on the original Thunderbirds series, and the ways visual effects married the different elements. Expect another piece along the lines of “Action”. “Secrets” proves basic but well-paced and informative. There’s not much flash here, as the program stays with simple and concise notes.

When we look at Lady P. and Parker: Fun and Stunts, we see a two-minute and 52-second clip. Here we find remarks from Frakes, Myles, and actors Deobia Oparei and Ron Cook. They detail the shooting of one big fight scene. This one’s similar to its predecessors, though its brevity causes problems. It’s just too short to be much more than a tease.

After this comes Fab1: More Than a Car. In the three-minute and 29-second featurette, we get comments from Frakes, Myles, Beard, design coordinator Steve Lamonby, and Ford Europe design chief Chris Svensson. This piece covers the design of the car in question. It’s another entertaining and moderately informative exploration of its subject.

For the final featurette, we discover Lady Penelope’s Pink World. It runs four minutes and 14 seconds as it presents statements from Frakes, Myles, Cook and costume designer Marit Allen. As implied by the title, it goes into Lady P’s sense of style as it presents details of her clothes and other accoutrements. Short but efficient, the piece is reasonably useful.

Next we get a music video for “Thunderbirds Are Go” by Busted. The song’s little more than the standard fizzy teen rock, and the video mostly intercuts movie clips with shots of the band. Don’t bother with it.

The package includes the trailer for Thunderbirds, and a few ads pop up at the start of the disc. We get promos for Two Brothers, Balto II: Wings of Change, Shark Tale and The Land Before Time series.

Thunderbirds barely made a tenth of its budget, and for good reason – it’s a thoroughly terrible movie. It wastes some solid talent and never becomes anything more than a cheesy lowest common denominator kiddie flick. The DVD presents very positive picture and audio with a decent but unspectacular set of extras. I can’t complain about the DVD, but the movie is too crummy for me to recommend it.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.6571 Stars Number of Votes: 35
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