Neil Young’s Film Lounge – Thunderbirds

Published on: March 23rd, 2004

THUNDERBIRDS

5/10

UK (UK-US?) 2004 : Jonathan FRAKES : 105 mins

Lady Penelope and Parker no longer travel via pink Rolls-Royce. They now gad about in [and devotees of the original TV series are advised to skip this sentence] a pink Ford: product-placement at its most soul-crushingly insensitive. Of course, it says much for the power of the 40-year-old Thunderbirds ‘brand’ (as now must call it) that few adults will need informing who Penelope (here Sophia Myles) and Parker (Ron Cook) are. Or, indeed, the eponymous heroes themselves: American billionaire Jeff Tracy (Bill Paxton) and his family of clean-cut do-gooders, zooming around the world in their ‘Thunderbird’ rockets under the banner of International Rescue.

This big-screen, live-action version is a British production from Working Title, but made with at least one eye on US market: Star Trek veteran Frakes calls the shots, with no input from series-supremo Gerry Anderson who sold the movie rights many years ago. He’s reportedly not too happy with this update – and it’s easy to sympathise. Interviewed on Radio 5 (as part of the film’s ubiquitous UK hype-campaign) Frakes admitted he’d never heard of the programme before coming on board, and let the cat out of the bag when describing his movie as “a family-oriented action-adventure, which just happens to be about Thunderbirds.” Except Thunderbirds, bizarrely enough, isn’t really about the Thunderbirds. This “prequel” instead concentrates on how Jeff’s youngest son Alan (Brady Corbet) joins the team, rescuing the rescuers when they’re trapped in space by the villainous Hood (Ben Kingsley).

Though purists will be outraged by the script’s numerous “improvements” on the original, taken on its own terms this is an enjoyably frenetic, knowingly corny romp. Children who got a kick out of Spy Kids won’t mind that Frakes and his scriptwriters (whose previous credits include Thunderpants and the last two Austin Powers) so shamelessly ape that money-spinning franchise. And there’s a touch of Harry Potter in there as well, with the born-to-do-it teen-hero Alan aided by bumbling pal Fermat (Soren Fulton) and feisty young female Tin-Tin (Vanessa Anne Hudgens). Adults, meanwhile, will appreciate Cook’s eerily spot-on Parker, Kingsley’s deadpan slumming, and the cracking sight-gag involving the Tracys’ hands. Hardly F.A.B., then, but O.K. for K.I.D.S.

12th July, 2004
(seen 6th June : Vue, Leicester : press show – Cinema Days event)

by Neil Young