Making the Grades
The Thunderbirds first debuted about the time I was figuring out how to turn the TV on by myself. In their original incarnation, this rescue team of a father and five sons were marionettes. Somehow these wooden dolls, that couldn't even walk, managed to effectively convince youngsters they could save the world. Unfortunately, the same can't be said about today's kid audiences who have been reared on CGI effects and action violence... and that alone may cause a crash landing at the box office for this flying family.
Jeff Tracy (Bill Paxton) is a former astronaut with a billion bucks burning a hole in his back pocket. Widowed and raising five boys, he decides to create a massive rescue operation utilizing five space/air/aquatic vehicles, all of which are dispatched from an intelligence center headquartered on a remote island. To assist in more difficult situations, he also relies on the eccentric Lady Penelope (Sophia Myles) and her manservant Parker (Ron Cook), who reside in London and travel in a monstrous pink limousine.
For the most part, the gang relaxes on the tropical island waiting for a distress signal. But youngest team member, Alan (Brady Corbet), is feeling excluded because he is the only one who isn't an official Thunderbird. However, when the group's historical bad guy, known as The Hood (Ben Kingsley), launches an attack on their orbiting space station-dubbed Thunderbird 5-the 'birds take flight, leaving behind Alan and his friends (Soren Fulton and Vanessa Anne Hudgens).
As it turns out, The Hood's real plan is to lure the rescuers off the island so he can take over the command center and start robbing banks around the world. Suddenly Alan is in the perfect position to demonstrate his capabilities to the rest of the family.
While the Thunderbirds are great at hitting their goal and saving desperate people, the movie, unfortunately, misses its artistic mark. To begin with, few children are familiar with the puppet version that inspired this production, yet the story hasn't got the sophistication required to appeal to the boomers who grew up watching the British TV series.
Then there's the strange combination of writers. All I could ask is: What do you get when you cross the creators of Garfield: The Movie, The Scorpion King, and Austin Powers? The answer: A silly sort of kid's movie with bloodless action and an odd close-up of a woman's posterior (who later pulls the under wire from her bra to short an electronic circuit). Add a couple of "fill in the blank" near-profanity moments, including a stuttering character almost exclaiming the infamous sexual expletive, and you will likely be wondering what age group this film was built for.
Another reason for disappointment is this effort doesn't compare to some of the past work of director Jonathan Frakes (best known in his role of Commander Riker in the Star Trek franchise). Besides helming the Trek movies Insurrection and First Contact, he also put together one of my favorite teen sci-fi outings, Clockstoppers.
But perhaps I'm being too picky. Most of the young audience I screened the film with seemed engaged in the ample CGI effects and plot action-even though they are undoubtedly unaware of the Thunderbirds' past lives.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Thunderbirds.
A couple of characters in this film suffer from a stuttering problem. How does their speech and image affect the way these characters are stereotyped? Do you think this makes fun of people with speech impediments, or does it create a greater understanding and awareness?