Monday, August 19, 2013

Review: "Thunderbirds" is a Good Family Film (Happy B'day, Jonathan Frakes)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 13 (of 2005) by Leroy Douresseaux

Thunderbirds (2004)
Running time:  95 minutes (1 hour, 35 minutes)
MPAA – PG for intense action sequences and language
DIRECTOR:  Jonathan Frakes
WRITERS:  William Osborne and Michael McCullers; from a story by Peter Hewitt and William Osborne (based upon the television series by Gerry Anderson and Sylvia Anderson)
PRODUCERS:  Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, and Mark Huffman
EDITOR:  Martin Walsh
COMPOSERS: Ramin Djawadi and Hans Zimmer

ACTION/ADVENTURE/FAMILY and FANTASY/SCI-FI with elements of comedy

Starring:  Brady Corbet, Soren Fulton, Bill Paxton, Ben Kingsley, Vanessa Anne Hudgens, Anthony Edwards, Sophia Myles, Ron Cook, Deobia (Dhobi) Oparei, Rose Keegan, Phillip Winchester, Dominic Colenso, Ben Torgersen, Lex Shrapnel, Harvey Virdi, Bhasker Patel, Demetri Goritsas, Genie Francis, and Andy Smart

The subject of this movie review is Thunderbirds, a 2004 science fiction and action-adventure film from director Jonathan Frakes (best known as “Commander William T. Riker” of “Star Trek: The Next Generation”).  This film is loosely based on the 1960s British science fiction television series, “Thunderbirds” (1965-66), created by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson.  This Thunderbirds movie features live-action, human actors portraying the characters, while the television series used “Supermarionation” marionettes (a kind of puppet) as the characters.

Thunderbirds 2004 finds the Thunderbirds’ trapped and their secret base invaded by their arch-nemesis, and only the youngest Thunderbird is free to save the day.  I like this film’s story, but I would have preferred marionettes playing the characters.  However, I was shocked to find that I really enjoyed this movie, which owes as much to the Spy Kids franchise as it does to the Thunderbirds TV series.

After narrowly averting an oil rig disaster and rescuing a small group of rig workers, the Thunderbirds, led by papa Jeff Tracy (Bill Paxton), return home to their secret headquarters, Tracy Island, a lush patch of land that hides a giant secret base, the home of the Thunderbirds’ organization, International Rescue.  What the Thunderbirds don’t know is that a tracking device was placed on their rescue vehicle by a henchman of long-time Thunderbird adversary, The Hood (Ben Kingsley).

The Hood launches an attack on Thunderbird 5, IR’s secret space station.  Jeff Tracy and three of the older boys rush off to TB5 to rescue eldest son John (Lex Shrapnel), who operates the station.  The Hood invades Tracy Island and takes over Thunderbird headquarters from where he launches another attack that traps Jeff and his fours sons on TB5.  Now, it’s up to youngest son and headstrong troublemaker, Alan Tracy (Brady Corbet), to gain maturity beyond his years if he’s going to rescue his father and brothers and stop The Hood’s diabolical plan to rob the biggest banks in the world.  Luckily he has his friends Fermat (Soren Fulton) and Tin Tin (Vanessa Anne Hudgens) to help him, and here comes Lady Penelope (Sophia Myles) and her driver/butler Parker (Ron Cook) on the way.

Of course, Thunderbirds is the live-action update of the hit 1960’s British TV series and cult favorite, “Thunderbirds,” created by Gerry Anderson and his wife, Sylvia.  Obviously some people are going to have a difficult time accepting human actors in place of the series original “actors,” marionettes.  However, this is a fun family movie in the vein of the Spy Kids and Agent Cody Banks franchises.  The focus is not on the Thunderbirds as a team, but more on Alan Tracy and his friends Fermat and Tin Tin as a sort of makeshift young Thunderbirds.

That aside, Thunderbirds is a great kids action movie, superbly directed by Jonathan Frakes, best known as Commander William T. Riker of “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” but Frakes has also directed several episodes of various TV series and a few feature films.  Frakes and the screenwriters deftly keep the action exciting without being intense, and they flirt with bawdy humor via verbal gags, taking advantage of Fermat and his father, Brains’ (Anthony Edwards) stuttering.

Bill Paxton seems to need half the film to warm up to playing Jeff Tracy, and Ben Kingsley is simply having fun, although he’s always a regal presence.  Nevertheless, the stars are the young trio of Alan Tracy, Fermat, and Tin Tin, and the young actors, who give striking performances, gamely carry this nice family thrill ride.

7 of 10

Updated:  Monday, August 19, 2013


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