Tag Archives: Thunderbirds

Frakey Friday: Thunderbirds

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.

Some Family Stuff

A couple of bugs seem to have hit our house at the same time: a couple of people (including my lovely wife) got hit with a stomach bug of some sort, and Oldest (and now me) seem to have a cold-y sort of thing going on.

So last night I was walking Youngest around, humming to him and trying to get him to sleep, then the internet cut out, and I decided it would be better to take him to bed, than to wait til he fell asleep then try to blog. So now I’ve missed my second day since I started this blog, but I don’t feel too bad about it.

The cold started hitting me last night, and it hit me more today. Not major, but I can feel it in my head.

As my wife was rather under the weather yesterday, and was still easily tired today, we’ve been less demanding of the kids, schoolwork-wise. This mainly affects Oldest, who has been pushing for more laxity even though I’ve been giving him some.

After lunch, and after the after-lunch-tidying, I took the kids down for shows.

Yesterday we watched a couple of classic episodes of Thunderbirds (which greatly pleased Youngest, though the one thing that he’ll settle in front of the most, seems to be the 2004 Thunderbirds movie).

Today we watched a My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, and a classic Doctor Who.

I gave Middlest the first season of Friendship Is Magic for her birthday recently. Today Youngest brought it to me and said (as best he could), “Strawberry Shortcake” (the current version of which Middlest really likes). I told him, “My Little Pony”. He’s only two, but a few minutes later he showed it to me again and said, “Your Little Pony”. “My little pony?” I replied. “Yes.” He often puts an “a” between words (or as substitute for part of them – he was introduced to the end of The Great Escape earlier, and “Mo-cycle Guy” is also known as “Teve a-Queen”). So next time he tried to say “Your Little Pony” there was an “a” in there. “I’m a little pony?” I ask.

Apparently I am.

A while ago I started watching Doctor Who through from the beginning with Oldest (and sometimes Middlest, too). We’ve been going pretty slowly, and we just skipped Marco Polo (the reconstruction-with-photos version on YouTube didn’t hold their attention at all), so we started on the first episode of The Keys Of Marinus.

I was struck with the similarities to the opening section of The Daleks (no-one around, environment more dangerous than they thought, Susan has to go back to the Tardis, there’s a mysterious city… seriously, Terry Nation was plagiarised. Wait, who wrote Marinus? Some guy called Terry Nation. Wow, even plagiarised his name).

In the meantime, the dark Voords creeping about with knives, and everyone disappearing separately into the revolving citadel walls, was entirely too much for Middlest (6), who wasn’t easily comforted, and when things started tensing up again towards the end, had to hide under a blanket. Just as well, too…

After that episode, we didn’t watch anything else. But for a while, Youngest was going round proclaiming, “Doc Oo cawy” (“Doctor Who scary”, with 2-yo pronunciation).

Middlest was wearing a white shirt today, with a gold star pattern on the front. A couple of times, I referred to it as being blue and black, after that dress meme from a few months ago (if you remember that). The second time, she heard it, not recalling the meme, saying “no, yours!” pointing at my black-and-purple shirt.

Close enough.

My kids are so funny.

And Middlest will be sitting out Hartnell-era Who for a while. Though, the rate we’re going, she might be good for Season 2.

And So To Bed

Not so much a review as a little look, there’s a video series that I became acquainted with, when my children were given the DVD. The show is called “And So To Bed…“, a children’s series that attempts to give you a bedtime routine to help get your kids to bed and to sleep.

Starting with the not-so-positive side, the DVD didn’t work, and the Contact Us button on their website didn’t work either, so I can’t get the issue corrected.

Fortunately, that’s not the end of the story. The videos are available to watch through their site (linked above). Well, that’s the intent at least, 3 of the 4 flash up an error from YouTube, and you have to click through and watch them on the YouTube site. As there didn’t seem to be much on the DVDs that’s not just in those 4 YouTube videos, so I watched some with the kids on YouTube, and downloaded them all just in case.

The present was for the most part intended for Youngest, with Oldest and Middlest getting a bit of overlap from watching him.

I think the shows are the biggest hit with Middlest, so far, though Oldest does like them, too (and sometimes asks if I know the songs, if I’m singing along).

It can be tricky to analyse when Youngest likes something for himself, and when he’s more into it because the other kids are enjoying it. For example, I’ve been watching the old Thunderbirds TV show with all the kids, and Youngest sits through that. It could be because Oldest really likes it. While Oldest and Middlest were occupied the other day, I watched 3 episodes of the new Thunderbirds Are Go! show with Youngest, and he was less interested, needing distracted with toys, or wanting to go upstairs, or to the laundry room, or to have his nappy changed… He was running tired, though, so slept through most of the third episode.

So I watched about one-and-a-half episodes of And So To Bed with Youngest this evening, he seemed to be getting into the relaxing, but the Story Time segment wasn’t his thing, so even when I offered to skip it in the second episode, i got there a bit too late, and he ran away to play with his cars.

One thing I noticed, the theme tune introduces you to a few puppet characters, so far (I guess we’ve watched three of the four episodes, now) only one of them seems to be of any significance. . Moo Cow is in most of the segments, and is talked to, and the others show up from time to time, but not mentioned, or talked to, just present. That seemed curious, but not really a black mark against it or anything.

So, it seems to have a thumbs-up from the kids, and overall a thumbs-up from me, too (and I like Story Time with Grandpa Simon, even if Youngest isn’t into it yet). Also, I got Middlest to sleep with it, one night. Look forward to seeing more output from this outfit.

If your kids need a gradually-calming distraction to help them settle, it’s worth checking out.

Link to first episode on YouTube

Some Reflections on Thunderbirds

The adventures of the Tracy brothers have captured the imagination of kids, since the show burst onto the scene in 1965. There was a huge resurgence in popularity of the original show in the mid-’90s.

There were two big-screen outings before the decade was out (I’m sure we shall get to these in due course). There was an anime kinda-spinoff in the ’80s, which I’m sure I’ve seen some of, but I don’t remember any of it.

There was a somewhat misguided and inadequate attempt at a live-action reboot, that hit the cinemas in 2004.

Most recently, a new series, Thunderbirds Are Go, has started, mixing miniatures (made by WETA) with CGI. I’ve just picked up the first 13 episodes on DVD.

I’ve been watching the original show through with my kids (Oldest sits through it all, Middlest can but doesn’t always, Youngest sometimes joins us, and can do a pretty good job at sitting still and watching, though of course he doesn’t always. I think all the Booms help).

I plan to watch through it all with them, then the original movies, then (sacrilege) the 2004 movie (when we get there I’ll write about it, and while I know it has many many problems, I will try to find nice things to say about it, too), and then the new series (which, fingers crossed, will be quite a relief after the movies).

Much as it is easy to praise the original show to high heavens (with good reason, go out and see it, if you haven’t), there are sometimes some plot points which (it’s so hard to say) just… don’t… work… as… well… as… they… should.

Phew, I said it. And now I’ll give two examples.

Trapped In the Sky, the first episode. The new airplane, Fireflash, is a luxury jet, which flies faster than Concorde. It has been sabotaged and can’t use its landing gear, else a bomb will go off. Virgil has some equipment, two remote-controlled cars plus the one he’s driving, that the plane can land on. It’s a pretty iconic rescue.

So what’s the problem?

Fireflash is powered by nuclear fuel. No problems with that: it’s the ’50s, the future is nuclear (I’m still waiting for the episode where Grandma uses her nuclear oven…).

The problem is, that the protection will break down and the entirety of the crew and passengers will die, if the plane’s just a few minutes later than scheduled.

This is entirely unrelated to the sabotage: it’s a design feature.


Today I watched City Of Fire with the kids.

There’s a new skyscraper, that’s like a self-contained city: two miles high, there’s shopping galore, restaurants and so on.

The car park is four miles away from the tower, and is connected by monorail.

A car crashes in the car park, starting a fire. the vent-closing mechanism doesn’t work, the fire destroys the entire tower.

A family lost between the car park and the tower, while looking for the monorail, gets sealed off and needs rescuing. Indeed, gets rescued (SPOILERS).

The fire destroys an entire skyscraper FOUR MILES AWAY, and a family in a corridor just off the car park gets away with just a bit of smoke inhalation.

That’s some really badly-designed facility.

The Mole and the Firefly totally rock, though.

All right, let me know in the comments: favourite episode of Thunderbirds, favourite Thunderbird craft (and which version), and favourite other piece of equipment.


(there’s only one right answer to question 2)