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THUNDERBIRDS (article first published : 2004-11-2)

There's something most odd and really quite unforgiveable about this big-screen variation of the popular 60s marionette series, Thunderbirds, seen on television here in the 70s as the dubbed Redding Internasionaal.

And that odd thing is that most of the characters which fans came to know and love barely feature in the film, which has been directed by Jonathan Frakes, of Star Trek: The Next Generation fame.

The characters in question are benevolent billionaire and astronaut-turned-superhero Jeff Tracy (a wooden Bill Paxton) and his handsome lookalike sons. They comprise a crack rescue team known globally as International Rescue - the Thunderbirds being the impressive spacecraft they pilot and store in a silo under the pool at their trendy, secret island hideway.

Frakes's film, which opens well with a breezy credits sequence, a 60s-inspired cartoon pastiche, places the focus on another Tracy son, 15-year-old Alan (Brady Corbet), who is forced to hop to the rescue when his dad and siblings are tricked into being stranded in space by a villain called The Hood (a surprisingly unmemorable Ben Kingsley).

The Hood, we discover, has reason to seek revenge against the Tracys and plots to steal their spacecraft to use them to tarnish the family's good name. To try to stop the chaos, Alan enlists the aid of a nerdy school pal and a pretty neighbour. And additional aid comes from posh family friend Lady Penelope (Sophia Myles), a pretty-in-everything-pink English aristocrat with a mean kick. Also lending a well-timed punch or two is red-nosed Parker (Ron Cook), chauffeur of Lady Penelope's flying Ford (yep, folks, the Rolls of the telly show has bitten the dust).

The movie also features ER star Anthony Edwards as Brains, the ground control mastermind behind the Tracy travels. The poor actor looks embarrassed throughout, wearing a silly wig and forced to speak with a silly stutter.

Aimed squarely at the youth, Thunderbirds treads Scooby Doo and Spy Kids territory more than it does pay homage to a cult series, which is a great pity. But under-12s should find some fun in it. My 10-year-old was certainly satisified. Rating: 5/10. - Billy Suter




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