Gerry Anderson's "Thunderbirds" series may not have a bulky catalog of offerings compared to other series', but over the span of its 50-year existence, it has had an influence on a number of projects and for fans of the series, remains a steadfast entry in the 60s sci-fi genre. For myself personally, I like many non-Thunderbirds fans came to know of the series during the leadup to Trey Parker and Matt Stone's "Team America: World Police" a cutting political/action satire that employed puppets in the same style as Anderson's much more family friendly yet still technically impressive work. Over the decades, "Thunderbirds" have existed as a TV series, spawned two major follow-up films "Thunderbirds are Go" and "Thunderbird 6" which is the focal point of this review, a mid-2000s live-action film, and a remake/re-imagining that began its run in 2015.
Despite having still never watched the original series, "Thunderbirds are Go", the 1966 feature film debut of the Tracy family and their exploits across the globe and in the space above, is a competently plotted, straightforward sci-fi adventure offering. While light on character work and plot intricacies, "Thunderbirds are Go" uses the benefits of a higher budget and the camera work of feature film setting to highlight Anderson's "supermarionation" work which boils down to traditional marionettes supplemented by cleverly designed electronically controlled puppet heads. The result is an exaggerated humanlike look that to this day impresses on a technical sense. Where "Thunderbirds" stands out, is the voice acting; while much like the rather thin stories driving both feature films, the voice acting is often at best serviceable, the straightforward performances don't feature the hallmarks of exaggerated voice acting for traditional animation; line reads are deadpan and wouldn't feel out of place in a live-action adaptation of the same material.
Both "Thunderbirds are Go" and "Thunderbird 6" follow very similar story arcs: a catastrophe necessitates their help, global stability is under threat from their longtime rival The Hood (more on this character in a second), and the action takes place on land, air, and space! For all the ways Anderson goes to reinvent the idea of puppetry, when it comes to cementing the legacy of Thunderbirds with a truly iconic and memorable story he misses the mark time and again. While both films are a scant 90-odd minutes, one must question storytelling that feels almost verbatim in tone from what one might expect in a TV episode 30-60% shorter in length; while I've never watched an episode of the predecessor series, I do get the feeling that the writing of the Thunderbirds never progressed past this medium in terms of length and quality.
"Thunderbirds are Go" ends up being the more memorable of the two films for at least two major reasons: one and I may be in the minority here, but the ethereal dream sequence set in space leaves an indelible impression for its absurdity and welcome placement midway through the film, breaking up the more traditional action-adventure tone and secondly, the use of a biplane as a standout vehicle in ‘Thunderbird 6" just feels like a letdown after being treated to a cadre of fanciful vehicles in the previous film. Still, "Thunderbird 6" does adopt a very comfortable adventure tone and doesn't suffer from the pacing issues which are very apparent in the opening act of "Thunderbirds are Go."
If there is one element of both film that has aged poorly, it's not the weak scripting or effects (in fact, I'd argue many of the effects are still stellar and awe-inspiring to this day); no, it's the racially insensitivity that exists in the character of The Hood. A definite product of its time, both films draw on the series villain, who while effective in providing tension and a worthy adversary to the team, is a tired caricature that preys on the fears of its era, most often birthed from ignorance and misinformation. At the end of the day, like it's somewhat cringe worthy villain, "Thunderbirds Are Go" and "Thunderbird 6" are products of their time that don't age well in the grand scheme of cinema. For a newcomer to the series, the effects work of Anderson still leaves me in awe and is solid enough for me to revisit the two films, but both still fail to satisfy in providing a well-rounded and fully formed adventure.
THUNDERBIRDS ARE GO: 3.0/5.0
THUNDERBIRD 6: 2.5/5.0THE VIDEO
Both "Thunderbirds Are Go" and "Thunderbird 6" are presented in a 1080p 2.35:1 widescreen transfer. While the stories themselves may have suffered at the hands of time, the visual presentations are top-notch throughout. Both films feature rich and clear color palettes reproduced admirably with solid black levels and sharp contrast. The miniature work fits in flawlessly at times with the real-world backdrops and Anderson's revolutionary work doesn't suffer at all from a high-resolution presentation. Detail is sharp with a natural level of healthy grain and not a sign of obtrusive digital tinkering.
Both films are presented with a newly remixed English DTS-HD 5.1 track as well as an original DTS-HD mono track. The surround mix is rich and as vibrant as the visuals with crystal clear sound reproduction. The pointed voicework comes through well-balanced amidst the kitschy 60s effects work and brassy, bombastic underlying score. There's a good use of surround in the films hallmark action sequences as well as elevating the score to a more rich and dynamic experience. English subtitles are also included.
Both discs come loaded with some bonus features that are bound to delight fans and newcomers. "Thunderbirds Are Go" features two feature-length commentaries: one with producer Sylvia Anderson and director David Lane, the other with historians Jeff Bond and Nick Redman. Rounding out the disc are several featurettes focus on the history of the series as well as the iconic puppets themselves. "Thunderbird 6" also features a commentary track from Sylvia Anderson and Lane again, while Greg Ford and William Hohauser cover the historical aspects. It also includes a handful of featurettes focusing on the production.
The KL Studio Classics release of "Thunderbirds Are Go" and "Thunderbird 6" are nearly identical to the now out-of-print Twilight Time limited edition Blu-Ray release. In fact, from comparing the bonuses featurettes, it appears the second commentary track on ‘Thunderbird 6" may be a new addition. Either way, despite the merely above average quality of each feature, this double Blu-Ray release is a visual and audio treat; the bevy of bonus featurettes provide some fantastic insight into the trademark iconic effects and should be of interest to anyone with a passing fancy for the series. While I won't say the films made me a fan of the Thunderbirds as a whole, it did serve a nice introduction into an iconic series that I'll likely seek out more thoroughly at a later date. Recommended.