By Thomas Griffiths (Cardiff)
The Thunderbirds was released in 2004, directed by Johnathan Frakes, starring Brady Corbet, Bill Paxton, Ben Kingsley, Vanessa Hughens and Sophia Myles. It’s based primarily on the TV series of the same name from the 1960s, which is also kind of cool. The first thing I want to discuss about this movie is its reception once it came out: the reception was dreadful. Critics hated this movie, and it was even a box-office bomb, which I find surprising. I find it surprising because I went to see this movie when I was a kid, in the cinema, and I thought it was awesome, as a kid. And that’s the important thing about this movie, it wasn’t meant to be a universally acclaimed movie, it wasn’t meant to be the Empire Strikes Back of the Thunderbirds canon, it was just innocent fun, but the story and actors were still great.
This movie opens with a narration that describes the purpose of the Thunderbirds, and where they are, and who they are. Then we get this surprisingly exciting title sequence with a variation of the main theme playing in the background. Throughout this sequence, an outlined eye will flash on the screen and cause a blackout, a flood, an earthquake, and the Thunderbirds, one by one, will soar in and put a stop to it. That’s really clever, a nice nitpick to the original series and the purpose of the Thunderbirds. I was actually on the edge of my seat by the end of the title sequence, to be completely honest. Then the narrator says ‘In this family of heroes, there is one son left behind’, and we are introduced to Alan Tracy, the youngest of the Tracy family, at school, at his desk, staring into space. That is one rather clever introduction, because which kid in their entire life, in the middle of a final period or lesson at school, hasn’t stared at the sky, wishing they could fly away, out of the window, away from boring, miserable lessons.
Brady Corbet as Alan is very good, I liked his character, even now I sympathise completely with his character. He does the whole ‘I’m sick of being left out’ type of thing really well, and it’s something to think about: his brothers and his father, who are all older, spend their lives in exciting, dangerous situations that are televised around the world. His brothers are seen as heroes…but he isn’t, cos he’s too young to be a Thunderbird. That bites, see, that really bites. He’s got his friend, Fermat, who is okay in this movie, I suppose. I don’t even remember that character from the old TV series, I don’t think his character was anything more but a variation of the Brains character, who is strangely enough his father. The first scenes in the movie include an exciting rescue by Thunderbird One and Two on an oil rig, and it’s really interesting that Fermat and Alan can actually mimic what is being done on the Thunderbirds at the time, cos they’ve watched them being used all their lives. And then we’re introduced to Lady Penelope, who is also good in this movie, she and Ron Cook as Parker. The one thing I can’t get out of my head is that the Penelope/Parker relationship is similar to that between Bruce Wayne and Alfred Pennyworth. They even have their own Batmobile – the FAB1 is so cool, it can fly, turn into a boat, it’s so awesome!
The cinematography in this movie, especially around Tracy Island, is just…beautiful! It makes the whole place look like paradise, the perfect place to live. And the score surrounding the island is heartwarming as hell. There’s this clip where Alan looks at Thunderbirds One and Two and says ‘I wish that was me….’ and we can’t blame him because, so far, being a Thunderbird looks freaking awesome. One of the best scenes in the first act of this movie is between Alan and his father Jeff, by Bill Paxton, and they are arguing like fathers and sons do all the time. This is probably Brady Cooper’s glowing moment as Alan, because he is so emotional in this scene that you feel for him, he’s got this delusion of inferiority compared to his brothers and wants to be like them, but cannot understand how protective his father is of him. We get this final piece of dialogue where Jeff says ‘You need to grow up’, to which he snaps ‘Then let me’. Within the first thirty minutes of this movie, Alan has already introduced so much character that you can’t help but love him. Bill Paxton, in this entire movie, gives a great performance as the conflicted father/heroic leader trying to save the world but also keep his own family safe. Most of the main characters in this movie are portrayed very well.
Now, I want to talk about what is probably the best part of this movie: the villain. Ben Kingsley as the Hood is sensational. He plays this sociopathic genius so well that it is a crime against nature that he didn’t receive any Oscar nominations for his performance in this movie. I was always looking forward to his parts in the movie because they are just incredible. There’s this beautiful scene in the Thunderbird One silo, where the Hood and Alan Tracy meet for the very first time, and Ben Kingsley absolutely rocks in this movie. He just gets this character to a tee. Now, the Hood is planning to take over Tracy Island so that he can use the Thunderbirds to rob the world’s wealthiest banks, ripping up the world’s economy and labelling the Thunderbirds responsible – he is doing this because he was left for dead by Jeff Tracy at the same time as Jeff rescued Kyrano, Tintin’s father – Tintin is played by the angelic Vanessa Hughens, who doesn’t do a bad performance in this movie. The Hood is also a powerful telekinetic and able to do things with his mind, like bypass computers, levitate objects and torture the minds of his victims – this is different, but cool, from the original character, who is simply a hypnotist.
The Hood starts his plan by tracking Thunderbird Two to Tracy Island, then using its satellite systems to damage Thunderbird Five, drawing all of the Tracy family into space to help him out, where the Hood will cut them off and leave them to die while he takes Tracy Island. This is actually a really intelligent, clever plan and it makes so much sense. Unfortunately for the Hood, Alan, Tintin and Fermat are still on the island, and immediately try to stop him – this is kind of similar to Die Hard, begging the question why people hate this movie so much. The second act of this movie, which focuses on them trying to survive on the island whilst the Hood’s stupid henchmen hunt after them, and I actually think it was quite thrilling. This game of cat and mouse between the Hood and Alan is really exciting. We also discover that Tintin, being a niece of the Hood, also has telekinetic powers that are only just developing, a bit like X-Men mutants. The second part of this movie peaks when Lady Penelope and Parker arrive and they fight off the Hood’s henchmen, and the Hood forces Alan to give him the guidance processor for Thunderbird 2 – which enables it to fly in the first place – or he will kill them both, and that’s how he is able to get Thunderbird 2 to fly to the Bank of London.
I can’t believe I haven’t talked about the actual Thunderbirds yet: they are magnificent. They look just so fantastic, so realistic, and the musical score that surrounds their every moment is enthralling. Since I was a kid, I’ve always wanted something like Thunderbird One, Two, or even Four. That’s how much I loved this movie. The funny thing is that there are so many cool costumes and vehicles in this movie, people’d assume that the film existed to sell toys – the same way Transformers and Batman and Robin were made, and look how that turned out. But, seriously, this is one of the few examples where such a thing turns out magnificently when you really think about it. The scene with t Thunderbird One coming out of that pool, which I have always wanted to see in film, was breathtaking. The scene with them flying it to London after the Hood was as thrilling as the parkour chase in Casino Royale. When the Hood uses the Mole to enter the Bank of England was as scary as hell, and when it upturned the monorail, I remember a teenage member of the audience screaming at what happened, as if she was on that monorail.
Alan and the others take over Thunderbird Two to try and rescue those people, and to do so Alan has to enter Thunderbird Four in order to do this without risking any of their lives, and this part of the movie could have been really scary were it not a movie for kids with such great film-making and such great suspense. This is where Thunderbird Five is repaired enough for the other members of the Tracy Family to leave and return to Earth in Thunderbird Three, where they arrive just in time to see the monorail saved by Alan and Tintin in Thunderbird Four. After Alan and Jeff reunite, they have this really emotional moment where Alan learns that his mother died because Jeff couldn’t find a way to save her without risking all of their lives – this is why Jeff was so hard on him for being reckless, because he sees so much of himself in Alan. This is one of the most tragic moments in the film, and the best part about it is that it reconciles father and son and prepares them both for the upcoming showdown.
Now, the Thunderbirds are bringing out the big guns as they rush to the Bank of London to stop the Hood and they get caught up in this really epic fight. Lady Penelope and Jeff are overpowered by the Hood, and this is the best scene of all with Ben Kingsley in this movie – he comes up to Jeff in the fight and says ‘Did you save them all this time, Jeff…or did you leave someone behind?’. Then Alan comes along, and the Hood tries to persuade him to the Hood’s side, to which Alan says ‘Well, we’re not. I’m Jeff Tracy’s son.’, ‘Yes, you certainly are.’, and the big fight comes up and, despite being slightly over-the-top, it’s really exciting, I still enjoy the big finale of Thunderbirds, it’s really great filmmaking. The fight is interrupted when the Hood apparently kills Alan, only to be faced with Tintin, and the two of them now battle with their mental powers – The Hood has been weakening throughout the movie, the more he uses his powers, so Tintin easily beats him. Then Alan suddenly bursts into view and the Hood is nearly killed by falling into the screaming blades of the mole, but Alan stops him. The Hood says ‘Leave me Alan – leave me to die, like your father did.’, and Alan just says ‘I don’t want to save your life…but it’s what we do’. This is the most heated part of the climax because Alan finally understands how to be a Thunderbird, by saving life as opposed to following his own desires.
The final scenes of this movie are great, I have to say. There’s a big pool party down on Tracy Island, and Alan, Tintin and Fermat become Thunderbirds at last. I have to say, my heart cracked during this scene, I found it so uplifting. Then the President calls for help and Jeff summons his sons all to their Thunderbirds, and we finally get to hear Jeff Tracy call out ‘Thunderbirds are go!’ – I very nearly cheer at this point, whenever I watch this movie. The Thunderbirds leaving Tracy Island to save the world was fantastic as the ending of this movie, and we are finally treated to the Thunderbirds song by Busted for the end-credits, which was also really awesome.
I know that people have problems with this movie, and one of the problems that I have with this movie actually is that they don’t give enough screen time for the other Tracy brothers as the TV series did, but one must consider that this would have been difficult in a movie that focuses on Alan’s journey to becoming a Thunderbird. Also, the two henchmen of the Hood, they were really annoying and really generic – throughout the whole story, they were just stupid, impractically confident and melodramatic the whole time. They could have been done a lot better.
Otherwise, I love this movie, it was my absolute favourite when I saw it first, and it still is one of my old favourites now. I think I’ll take the opportunity to ask the people who hate this movie this: If you hate this movie for being so dumb in your opinion, even though it was intended as a little innocent fun, then why the hell do you go to movies? Cos Thunderbirds is, in a way, pure gold.