I have decided that if I review anything Jonathan Frakes, it will be on Friday. Because I like the Frakey Friday gag. As I have recently watched it with Youngest, I am going to kick off this series with the Thunderbirds movie he directed. And… I am going to try to say nice things about it. Wish me luck.
I grew up watching Gerry Anderson shows. I remember coming home after church on Sunday and watching Terrahawks. I remember watching Stingray, Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet while I was growing up, and Thunderbirds experience that incredible resurgence in popularity in the mid-’90s. My memories are a lot vaguer of Fireball XL5, Joe 90 and The Secret Service, though I do know I watched some of each.
It can be perilous to mess too much with a fondly-remembered classic.
In the other corner, we have Jonathan Frakes. I’ve kinda grown up with him, as well, watching Star Trek: The Next Generation from the beginning. And, through that, I’ve watched his excursions into directing, as well. Star Trek: First Contact being a particular defining moment.
So I don’t particularly want to drag Frakes’s name through the mud as I talk about this film. That said, the film didn’t quite manage to be a good one.
A big problem with the movie was one of tone. Anderson was stuck making puppet shows for kids, when he wanted to make live-action dramas for grown-ups. So he tried to make the puppet series as close to grown-up drama as he could, even while the shows were theoretically for kids. This is a plausible reason for the enduring popularity of the shows in general, and Thunderbirds in particular: dads are still happy to sit down and watch it with their kids. Fails of science and continuity get forgiven, because overall it’s still a quality show that people enjoy watching.
The movie is aimed at kids. There are nods to the original show, but it seems there wasn’t enough of the heart of what Thunderbirds was, to win people over.
I recently watched the episode Cry Wolf with the kids. Some kids are playing at being International Rescue, and accidentally summon Thunderbird 1. Scott, instead of punishing them, takes them back to the island and gives them a tour. After they’re brought home, for reasons you should go and watch the show for, they end up in trouble and actually needing rescued. Initially, the Tracy family doesn’t believe them, but in the end they show up and rescue the kids. At the very end, the kids invite Scott to try out their play Thunderbird 2 (go-cart) and pilot delivery mechanism. In a moment of levity, Scott turns out to be too heavy, and the momentum of the launch carries Scott through the barn and the chickens, and he comes out looking the worse for wear. Jokey ending contrasting with the more serious tone of the episode as a whole.
The movie is a bit more schizophrenic about jokey vs serious. A scene in the Thunderbird 2 bay has the kids using the TB2 equipment, Firefly’s fire suppression gunge against some minions, and the “Thunderizer” against a door they’re trying to escape through. (“Time to thunderize” – worst. line. ever.) Other than that line, the scene works pretty well, using the resources at hand to solve the problem.
Conversely, a bit later, there’s a big fight for control of the island, that’s full of cartoon slapstick sound effects: whees for slipping, honks for hits or pokes, so suddenly we’re not supposed to take this seriously?
Ben Kingsley puts in a good performance, but his character seems badly written. He wants Jeff Tracy’s downfall, but doesn’t seem to know for sure that IR is Jeff Tracy’s outfit until he’s on the island. He obviously has some idea of what Tracy Island’s like, referring to it as Mount Olympus, but has to find it at the beginning. And so on.
The Ford logos all over the place get a bit much.
The Hood’s talks about his motivations are fine, but his ultimate goal is to rob banks? Just doesn’t work.
Any redesign of Thunderbird 2 is blasphemy. Even in the new Thunderbirds Are Go! show.
Not enough rescuing and using the equipment for good.
The brothers are assholes, and we don’t care about them suffocating to death on TB5. In fact, we see so little of them, that we don’t really get a good sense of which brother is which.
The list of complaints can go on for a long time, and many have attempted it, but few have attempted to say good things about it. I’m going to give it a go.
First and foremost, in a lot of late kid/early teen movies, disobeying the authority figure turns out to be the Right Thing To Do. In Thunderbirds, Alan disobeying turns out to be the wrong choice (at least twice). When he and the other two kids go off to save the day, it’s with their parents’ permissions.
John on TB5 chatting with Jeff on the island. Nice moment, worked well.
I liked the redesign of TB4. The original could shine a light and shoot a missile. The grappling arms really add functionality, and was a good decision.
The original show’s “no photographs” policy would be really difficult to maintain in this day and age. Allowing photos and news crews to capture the events kind of had to be done, but balancing that with the secrecy measures they tell us about, was pretty smart.
I liked Fermat. Brains retains his stutter from the show, and Fermat inherits it, too, but I liked when either of them gets stuck on a word, they think their way around to another way of saying it.
Tin-Tin inheriting The Hood’s mental powers seemed like a good idea. Not really fleshed out in this story, and apparently intended to be developed further in the sequel, the concept was a good idea. Not sure it entirely worked in practice, but it was a nice idea.
The Hood’s powers tiring him.
Alan and Fermat making up in the freezer.
The redesigned Firefly was cool, especially as a live-action vehicle.
The redesigned Thunderbird cockpits were nice designs.
Hey, I made it to 10 things. I was wondering if I would, somewhere in the middle.
One thing that bugged me for a while, was that The Hood looked nothing like his brother Kyrano. Thinking about it, the same issue is in the original puppet show.
The idea of Alan being not-old-enough-yet to be a significant member of the organisation, doesn’t seem to be a terrible starting point, and his working his way in doesn’t seem like a terrible idea for the first story. Having bad guys take over the island isn’t a terrible idea for a story, but it doesn’t work well as the first story.
to suggest an alternative approach: start with flashback to the disaster where Jeff lost his wife (even set up the Hood). sure have alan work his way in, but introduce all the brothers well. Bad guys could be the cause of disasters, but stay true to the show: International Rescue isn’t really a police organisation, many episodes get by with no “bad guy” as such (and sometimes don’t even pose a problem to IR, see Vault Of Death).
Have The Hood be more of a presence in the second movie, show what he knows, show motives, show him trying to weasel out information about IR.
Then, the third movie you can have the showdown on “Mount Olympus”.
The Frakes movie just missed some steps in getting us to care about the organisation and characters. Still, it keeps Youngest distracted more than anything else will.
And it’s no longer Friday. But i started on Friday. It’ll do.