They may be puppets and models – in fact they may be clearly and unashamedly puppets and models – but somehow, even fifty years later, Lady Penelope, the Tracy boys and those machines are still chic enough to hold their own against Audrey Hepburn and Brigitte Bardot, exciting enough to compete with James Bond and epic enough to stand alongside Lawrence of Arabia and 2001 – A Space Odyssey. Well – at least if you’re ten… or not too old and jaded to slip into age-10 mode for an hour and a half.
Thunderbirds are Go came out in the cinemas in December 1966, just a year after the TV series. The opening few minutes are among my favourite sequences of what you might call ‘hardware-porn’ in films, as the mighty Zero-X spaceship is assembled on the launch pad – it’s right up there with 2001‘s space ballet, and Captain Kirk’s lingering renewal-of-acquaintance with the Enterprise in Star Trek – The Motion Picture. Barry Gray’s “Zero-X Theme”, which plays over the sequence, must be one of the most sublimely majestic pieces of music made for any film, and, as ever, gravely informs the audience that no-one involved in Thunderbirds is pulling any punches about taking their work seriously.
Plot-wise, though,the film stumbles a bit, and plays a little too much like an extended episode – the ‘swinging star nightclub’ dream sequence in particular, with its puppet versions of Cliff Richard and The Shadows. feels a bit too much like padding – or a transparent piece of music marketing. It’s never less than luxurious to look at, though, and picks up again towards the end, with a well-sustained rescue sequence and of course some satisfying explosions.
Thunderbird Six performs rather better story-wise. The first half of the film is lighter on action than the first one but sets up the narrative very well, with Penelope, Parker, Tintin and one of the Tracy brothers – I can never remember which is which or which vehicle they fly – taking a world tour on the maiden flight of a new airship designed by Brains. “Skyship 1” is kept aloft not by helium but by an arrangement of anti-gravity gyroscopes which provide an imaginative setting for a gunfight later on… because, of course, the crew have been replaced by imposters with cunning plans, and our heroes have to thwart them before the inevitable, and wonderfully executed, massive crash and explosion. This time though they have the unlikely help of a vintage Tiger moth biplane – which provides a brilliant excuse for Gerry Anderson’s team to shoot some genuine live action stunt scenes with the help of an accomplished and daring pilot and a conveniently not-yet-open motorway. There’s some fascinating background to all of this in the extras, which are packed with interviews with Gerry and Sylvia Anderson and other members of the team.
Review by Dennis Sisterson
[SRA value=”5″ type=”YN”]