Friday, May 1, 2015

Thunderbirds are GO

Tomorrow mornign at 8:00 AM, TCM is running the interesting and unique movie Thunderbirds are GO. What makes it unique is what makes it worth a watch: it's one of the few feature movies told with puppets.

British husband and wife Gerry and Sylvia Anderson in the early 1960s came up with a process that they coined "Supermarionation"; "marion" as in "marionette" and of course having nothing to do with the "Super Mario" video game character. The Andersons used this process to create a family of plastic-looking human puppets that weren't hand-operated, or at least not in the way a normal hand/sock puppet would; nor is the stringing as obvious as it is with marionettes. Once they had these puppets, they started producing a ceries for British television called Thunderbirds which eventually gave rise to this movie.

The TV series Thunderbirds centered around the Tracy family, a father and his five sons. Together the family worked as a sort of superhero or Mission: Impossible team, operating International Rescue from their own private island to solve problems that the government can't solve by themselves. The Tracys have access to some fancy high-tech gadgetry to help them on their missions. As for this particular movie, the action involves a manned mission to Mars that goes wrong. Upon investigating what heppened, it's determined that somebody sabotaged the mission! It's up to the Tracys to figure out who's committing the sabotage, and prevent it from happening on the next mission. They'll be helped along the way by lovely agent Lady Penelope.

International Rescue do save the day, as the second mission does get to Mars even though it faces unexpected non-sabotage problems when it gets there, all of which require the use of the various International Rescue vehicles. There's also a running comic relief subplot about the youngest of the sons feeling as though he's not getting enough opportunity to help his older brothers, even though he's got important work to do down on Earth.

In some ways, there's not as much going on as it seems on the surface, and that's one of the problems with the movies. The TV episodes were 50 minutes each, while the movie is almost twice as long. You'd think that would give the Andersons more opportunity to open things up; that, and the use of color and a wider screen. Instead, there are stretches where it seems the action movies at a glacial pace. There's a dream sequence to cover this up, and the presence of popular British singer Cliff Richard performing a musical number, all of which seems incongruous.

That's not to say the movie is bad, however. It winds up being more than entertaining enough, but a little rough around the edges. It's something that should entertain children fairly easily, but also something that grown-ups can enjoy on a number of levels. In addition to the relatively thin story, the adults can look to see how the Andersons tried to get around the various technical difficulties involved in supermarionation, chief among them being that the figures couldn't walk very well. The movie is also surprisingly lovely to look at, just from the aspect of the visuals.

Thunderbirds Are GO and a follow-up, Thunderbird 6 (airing next Saturday morning on TCM) did get a DVD release at some point, but seem to be out of print as they're not available from the TCM Shop while Amazon lists a limited number of copies at a high price.

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