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Thunderbirds Are Go / Thunderbird 6

Twilight Time // G // May 13, 2014 // Region 0
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Screenarchives]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted May 26, 2014 | E-mail the Author
Jeff Tracy was once an astronaut, and that's given him a perspective of our planet that precious few have had. He's seen firsthand how distant so many countries are from one another, and yet he's seen that we're all still part of a greater whole. Having spent so much time soaring through the heavens, he knows that any challenge can be overcome with enough determination and the right hardware. When he came back to Earth, the retired Tracy funneled his expertise, connections, and immense wealth into doing just that through International Rescue. No matter what the crisis -- over land, sea, air, or even in space -- International Rescue could race to the scene in bleeding-edge craft piloted by Tracy's five sons. That's right: Thunderbirds are go!

Thunderbirds Are Go

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Brought to life by Gerry Anderson and his brand of Supermarionation, the "Thunderbirds" TV series was a smash hit in the UK. With that sort of high-octane, cinematic action and some of the highest production values on British television, it didn't take long for the Tracy family to roar into movie theaters as well. Twilight Time has assembled both of the feature-length Thunderbirds adventures onto Blu-ray for this limited edition double feature.

Thunderbirds Are Go (1966)
We're talking about a movie that features a battle on the surface of Mars against colossal rock-snakes, a pink Rolls Royce on hydrofoils aiming its anti-aircraft guns at an attacking helicopter, and even a dream sequence with a twenty story acoustic guitar blasting off like a rocket. How can Thunderbirds Are Go be this boring?

Thunderbirds Are Go really doesn't know what it wants to be. The premise can very comfortably be summarized in a sentence or two: mankind's first voyage to Mars has been sabotaged, and International Rescue has been tasked with heading up security for the second launch. The Thunderbirds themselves might as well rate as supporting characters in their own movie; the never-before-seen astronauts are undeniably the leads this time around. There's no overarching villain as the backbone of the story; just one crisis after another. The attention to detail is at first dazzlingly meticulous, but Thunderbirds Are Go fetishizes hydraulics like Tarantino does with feet. Its first half hour is pretty much nothing but slllloooooowwwww launch sequences, and my wide-eyed awe at witnessing the maiden flight of the Zero X quickly made way for excruciating boredom. I'm enthralled by the skilled craftsmanship, lavish production design, and unparalleled imagination at play here, but it takes forever for anything to happen. Thunderbirds Are Go feels as if Anderson dusted off a script for an early half-hour episode of the show and decided to just pad it out to 93 minutes. It's not propelled by any sort of excitement or energy. Thunderbirds Are Go takes itself awfully seriously for so much of its runtime, and then there's the tonal whiplash of an interminable dream sequence with multiple musical numbers. Even if it does drone on for far too long and has borderline-nothing to do with anything else that's going on, that deliriously silly dream of Alan's easily makes for the most fun moments of the movie.

Thunderbirds Are Go

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It's incredibly frustrating because Thunderbirds Are Go does get so much right. The elaborate sets and puppets look tremendous splashed across the widescreen frame, the swooping camerawork and inspired angles make for a richly cinematic experience, and there's no shortage of action as Thunderbirds Are Go builds to its climax. It's mentioned a couple times throughout the disc's extras that financier Lew Grade, after being screened the pilot for the "Thunderbirds" TV series, immediately set out to produce a feature film. This isn't a story with such scale and scope that it could only be told on the big screen; it's a Thunderbirds movie for the sake of having a Thunderbirds movie, and the end result is pretty dreadful.

Thunderbird 6 (1968)
On the other hand, Thunderbird 6 captures everything I loved so much about the "Thunderbirds" TV series when I was younger. International Rescue needs a sixth Thunderbird craft, not that Jeff Tracy knows what it ought to be, exactly. It's Brains' job to figure all that out, even if it means he has to miss out on the maiden voyage of the airship he designed. Brains may be toiling away with one design after another on Tracy Island, but at least he's represented on Skyship One by a few of his closest pals. Alan, Tin-Tin, Lady Penelope, and Parker are all soaring across the globe on his airborne palace, with scenic stops spanning from Rio de Janeiro to the pyramids of Egypt. ...but wait! This isn't some kind of Supermarionation travelogue. The sinister Hood schemes to take over Skyship One and manipulate the Thunderbirds into giving up their fabled aircraft...and their very lives! Mwah-hah-ha-ha!

Thunderbird 6

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Okay, okay, I can't say I like the way that Jeff Tracy repeatedly mistreats Brains, preventing him from seeing his baby launched into the heavens, refusing to give him any guidance about the sixth Thunderbird ship, and rejecting design after design after design. Other than that, though...? I love the holy heck out of Thunderbird 6. It feels like much more of a movie than Thunderbirds Are Go. The Thunderbirds do take center stage here, something I couldn't exactly say about Go, with immeasurably better introductions to its characters and a more clearly defined premise. This one's certainly friendlier to anyone who hasn't tuned into the show, and an increased emphasis on characterization makes it a treat for seasoned fans as well. It's faster, it's breezier, it's funnier, and...well, it's just a blast from start to finish. The international locales are gorgeously brought to life via Supermarionation. The pyrotechnics, especially throughout the final act, are endlessly spectacular. Thunderbird 6 can get genuinely intense as The Hood's trap is laid. The aerial acrobatics in the Tiger Moth bi-plane are nothing short of astonishing, especially the shootout at the end and the seamless way that miniature footage is integrated with the Real McCoy. Sure, the cover art for this double feature may make it look as if Thunderbirds Are Go is the marquee draw and that Thunderbird 6 is just along for the ride, but the best really has been saved for last.

Thunderbirds Are Go and Thunderbird 6 were shot a couple years apart using the same Techniscope photography, so it's not surprising that the two movies are very similar in appearance. It's greatly appreciated that MGM and Twilight Time haven't filtered away their gritty, filmic texture. As far as detail and clarity go, you know the expression about how many words a picture is worth, so marvel at the very fine patterns in Alan's jacket and top hat in this screengrab:

Thunderbirds Are Go

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I'm sure you can already tell how nicely saturated the colors are throughout these two movies as well. Both presentations are wonderfully clean, exhibiting very little in the way of speckling or damage. The double feature is provided on a single Blu-ray disc, but Twilight Time has seized hold of just about every spare byte on this BD-50 disc, giving the AVC encode the headroom it needs to tackle that persistent sheen of grain without any significant concerns. A solid effort all around.

No matter how much of a purist you may be, Thunderbirds Are Go and Thunderbird 6 deliver. Soundtracks are offered for both movies in their original mono as well as remixed to 5.1, and yes, it's 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio all around.

Thunderbirds Are Go

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Toggling back and forth between the monaural and remixed soundtracks on both movies, the fidelity is very comparable. These are respectful remixes, making nice use of all the channels at its disposal -- adding in slews of silky smooth pans and discrete, directional effects -- without ever coming across as gimmicky. The numerous aircraft launches make it very clear that these are multichannel remixes, and Thunderbird 6's gunplay in the gravity chamber is a definite standout.

Thunderbirds Are Go doesn't impress all that much. Its lossless remix does sound fairly thin. Dynamic range is cramped, even when it comes to Barry Gray's score and the disappointingly flat drums. Effects that should pack a wallop, even grading on a mid-'60s curve, are awfully meek, and that includes a barrage of anti-aircraft fire. When the LFE does lurch to life during the initial launch of Zero X, it just sounds kind of dull and rumbly. Dialogue tends to sound a little harsh and sibilant as well. Thunderbird 6 is a good bit cleaner and better balanced. It just has more of a bite to it too, such as the snarling boom when the Moroccan trap is unleashed and a particularly substantial explosion near the end. Basically, Thunderbird 6 sounds more like a movie, and Thunderbirds Are Go -- despite the orchestral score and inspired sound design -- doesn't so much.

Both halves of this double features are accompanied by audio commentaries, isolated scores, and optional English (SDH) subtitles.

The extras from MGM's DVD special editions from 2004 have been carried over here, along with some newer bells and whistles. This is definitely a labor of love by Twilight Time.
  • Isolated Scores: Thunderbirds fanatics surely know and love Barry Gray's musical contributions to the series, and they can take heart that Twilight Time has delivered lossless isolated scores for both movies!

  • Audio Commentaries: Producer/designer/voice actress Sylvia Anderson and director David Lane offer commentary for both Thunderbirds Are Go and Thunderbird 6. They're very charming conversations, and I especially enjoyed hearing about everything that went into transitioning Thunderbirds from tiny televisions to the big screen: hiring a 70 piece orchestra, embracing Techniscope, and even enlisting a false eye manufacturer named Shakespeare to make the marionettes look that much more lifelike. Everything from voice casting to merchandising to their invention of the Arriflex viewfinder to the decidedly gray surface of Mars is discussed here.

    To my surprise, my favorite of the double feature's three commentaries is the newly-produced one with Geek Magazine's Jeff Bond and Twilight Time co-founder Nick Redman. The other two tracks have a more relaxed, chatty feel. Bond and Redman's, meanwhile, strikes that perfect balance between being extremely informative, infectiously fun to listen to, and very professional. These are two enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and deeply passionate fanatics of Anderson's work, and the historical context, technical details, and artistic notes somehow feel fuller and more complete than the other commentaries. Of particular note to fans: Redman touches on how he had MGM dig up the original UK credits that have been unseen on home video for ages, including in the DVD special editions from a decade back. Definite kudos for going to those lengths.

  • Thunderbird 6

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  • Excitement Is Go!: Making Thunderbirds (22 min.; HD): Perhaps my single favorite extra on this lavish special edition is "Excitement Is Go!", charting the evolution of Supermarionation as well as "Thunderbirds"' soaring into cinemas across the globe. The emphasis is largely placed on the television series, including the all-too-real tragedy that inspired its premise, how its staggeringly high budget may not have been obvious by a passing glance at its less-than-glamorous workshop in Slough, and several explanations why the Tracy family is all-American in a British show. The two feature-length adventures under Gerry Anderson's stewardship also get a bit of attention, particularly the deal that was lined up for Thunderbirds Are Go and the stratospheric box office expectations that weren't exactly delivered.

    It's wonderful to see the Anderson family drive this retrospective. The interview footage with the since-departed Gerry Anderson appears to have been shot in standard definition, while the remainder of "Excitement Is Go!" is straightahead 1080p.

  • Featurettes from the MGM DVDs (51 min.; SD): Six featurettes have been carried over from MGM's earlier DVD special editions. "History and Appeal" (10 min.) tackles the enduring allure of Thunderbirds to audiences young and old as well as the franchise's transition to the silver screen. That cinematic shift is explored at greater depth in "Epics in Miniature" (8 min.), including the increased scale and scope, lavishing the Thunderbirds with a full widescreen frame, and the beefed-up puppets and pyrotechnics. "Factory of Dolls and Rockets" (9 min.) is an in-depth look into the Supermarionation process from the puppeteers' perspectives, while "Building Better Puppets" (8 min.) approaches the technique from a more technical and mechanical angle. Another featurette aims the spotlight at Lady Penelope (10 min.), from her stylish duds to her iconic pink Rolls Royce all the way to how long it took for the male writing staff to become comfortable with the character. Finally, "Tiger Moth" (6 min.) celebrates the dazzling blend of real-life aerial acrobatics with miniatures of Thunderbird 6's de Havilland Tiger Moth bi-plane.

  • Additional Bits and Bobs with Sylvia Anderson (3 min.; SD): There are also a slew of extremely short interview clips with Sylvia Anderson, each clocking in anywhere from 30 seconds to a minute. These include discussing a phone conversation with Stanley Kubrick during the pre-production of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore's hysterical skewering of "Thunderbirds", a not-really-an-explanation about what "F.A.B." stands for, and how not everyone is savvy about such showbiz lingo as "come with me to the rushes".

  • Cliff Richards and the Shadows: Unseen Test Footage (17 min.; SD): Footage of the band performing their original song for Thunderbirds Are Go has been unearthed. The camera captures "Shooting Star" from a variety of different angles, each performed in the song's entirety, presumably to give animators solid reference footage of every member of the band. Very cool to have this in place.

  • Thunderbird 6

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  • Photo Montages (5 min.; SD): Both movies get their own photo montages. They're a mix of production stills and behind-the-scenes photos, with Thunderbird 6 offering more of an even split while Thunderbirds Are Go concentrates more heavily on promotional/production images.

  • Trailers (3 min.; HD): Trailers for both Thunderbirds Are Go and Thunderbird 6 are offered here in 1080p. The trailer for Thunderbirds Are Go has a definite multi-generation look to it, but Thunderbird 6 is unmistakeably high-def.

As ever, this Twilight Time release features a set of liner notes penned by Julie Kirgo, and they're especially fun and enthusiastic this time around.

The Final Word
Between their continued support of bringing Ray Harryhausen's stop-motion animation to Blu-ray and this Supermarionation double feature, Twilight Time clearly has a passion for the artful, innovative, and very distinctive techniques behind these fantastic adventures. For my money, this Thunderbirds feature film collection is perhaps the most exciting release that Twilight Time has assembled to date, even if I'm not all that enthusiastic about the first movie on the bill. It's such a thrill to be able to experience Gerry Anderson's work in high definition, and the sheer volume of extras make the limited edition sticker price even easier to swallow. Very Highly Recommended.






Highly Recommended

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