"Filmed in VIDECOLOR [explosions, drum roll, music builds to a climax] and SUPERMARIONATION"! The opening sequence of Thunderbirds
is itself a master class in Gerry Anderson's marionette hyperbole: who else would dare to make a virtue out of the fact that (a) the show is in color and (b) it's got puppets in it? But everything about this series really is epic: Thunderbirds
is action on the grandest scale, predating such high-concept Hollywood vehicles as Armageddon
by 30 years and more (the acting is better, too), and fetishizing gadgets in a way that even the most excessive Bond movies could never hope to rival. Unsurprisingly, it transpires that the visual effects are by Derek Meddings, whose later contributions to Bond movies like The Spy Who Loved Me
echo his pioneering model work here. As for the characters, the clean-cut Tracey boys take second place in the audiences' affections to their cool machines--the real stars of the show--while comic relief is to be found in the charming company of Lady Penelope and her pink Rolls (license plate FAB1), driven by lugubrious chauffeur Parker, whose "Yes, milady" catchphrase resonated around school playgrounds for decades. (Spare a thought for poor old John Tracey, stuck up in space on Thunderbird 5 with only the radio for company.) The puppet stunt work is breathtakingly audacious, and every week's death-defying escapade is nail-bitingly choreographed in the very best tradition of disaster movies. First shown in 1964 and now digitally remastered, Thunderbirds
is children's TV that still looks and sounds like big-budget Hollywood.
On this DVD: International Rescue's very first adventure provides a template for all the rest: in "Trapped in the Sky," an experimental new aircraft becomes the target of an evil Bond-style megalomaniac who wants to get his hands on all the neat gear operated by the Tracey siblings. The show introduces, in fetishistic detail, the recurring set-pieces: Thunderbird 1 taking off from the roll-back swimming pool, the question of which pod Thunderbird 2 will use this week--the mole, or the submarine, perhaps?--and so on. Nostalgia fans will be pleased to learn that despite digital remastering the puppet strings are still in evidence, and no amount of high-tech restoration could remove the clunky expository dialogue:
Stewardess: "It's the maiden flight of the new atomic-powered Fireflash."
Passenger: "Isn't that the new aircraft that flies six times the speed of sound?"
Stewardess: "That's right, but don't worry: it's perfectly safe."
[Cut to: interior, Fireflash landing gear, a device clearly labeled "Auto-Bomb Detonator Unit"]
Sinister bad guy (talking to himself for no readily apparent reason): "Perfect. Enough explosives to smash the Atomic Reactor."
In the second episode, "Pit of Peril," an absurdly impractical U.S. Army vehicle falls into the eponymous pit, necessitating use of pod 5, the mole. Joy! Four more episodes are included. --Mark Walker