It’s been some months now since the debut of Thunderbirds Are Go!, ITV and Weta Digital’s 21st century reimagining of Gerry Anderson’s 1965 classic Thunderbirds. You may have noticed that, after a large amount of leadup on this blog, I’ve become silent about it. Luckily for you, dear reader, I’ve been under stress lately and so that has led me to revisit the thoroughly enjoyable creations of Gerry Anderson, and to have another look at this new entry in the Thunderbirds universe.
Unfortunately, the early episodes were not much to write home about, and we aren’t far enough on from the broadcast for every episode to be considered an immortal classic (a la the original Thunderbirds). However, reassuringly, by episode 7 or 8, the series finds its feet and begins to be more reminiscent of the show we know and love. Snappy dialogue, cinematic musical scoring, and clever ambitious plots have begun to arise, and so once the second half of the series is shown later this year, I think we can expect even more development. Certainly we are already seeing more of the original series’ characterisation shine through in the later scripts of this new series. Really, I think the only other improvement that could be made in this regard would be to give the stories more room to breath and expand each episode to half an hour at least – at 20 minutes per episode there’s barely enough time for disasters to occur before International Rescue has saved the day.
The technical aspects are generally pretty sound, though the characters tend to suffer from poor lip synching at times. However, the effects are brilliant and well executed, and the miniature sets are, as predicted, utterly beautiful. The Thunderbird machines are intelligent and appropriate updates, though the change in concept for Pod vehicles (that they are some sort of mish-mash of bits and pieces around a central “pod”) irks me. I preferred thinking Brains had invented some sort of Macguffin machine for every situation!
Other random thoughts I’ve had which don’t justify entire paragraphs include:
- The ‘extras’ chorus (characters not part of the usual International Rescue lineup) are based on older-style Supermarionation puppets, in a subtle and surprising nod to the original era.
- Some of the references back to the old series and other Anderson productions are hilariously obscure (if you’re me) – for example, there’s an allusion to the two different fonts used for the “3” on Thunderbird 3 in different bits of stock footage in the original series. There are plenty of cheeky references to classic sci-fi more broadly, too – a villainous computer, for example, tells John Tracy, “I’m afraid I can’t let you do that, John.”
- Speaking of John, brilliant and topical idea, giving him a space elevator to travel between earth and the orbital Thunderbird 5!
- The characters either have really bad skin or the creators are deliberately emulating the texture of the wooden 1964 Thunderbirds puppets before their fibreglass replacements took over in the 1965 filming blocks.
- The cinematographers have made the curious choice to opt for tilt-shift style photography that only serves to emphasise that they are filming miniatures. The actual Supermarionation productions never did this and many model shots are indistinguishable from real life.
- The crew does tend to be a little in-your-face when reminding us they aren’t using puppets. Former cat-burglar turned butler and cool grandad, Parker, now acrobats his way through a vault to the central switch for all the power grids in London. Similarly, Virgil travels down his slide head first towards Thunderbird Two, before somersaulting into the cockpit.
- All credit to the new voice cast, who do a sterling job, but there really is no substitute for the original cast. And also, “Totally awesome!” just does not belong in Thunderbirds.
- Unfiltered digital filming curses this program the same way it did the last physical-model series of Thomas The Tank Engine – everything looks lovely and colourful, but it is just a little bit too shiny and too close to looking real.
- The Thunderbird machine toys released to tie in with the series are cool, but made of cheap, poorly moulded matte plastic with few details. It’s certainly the low end of Thunderbirds merch from the same company previously responsible for some really good Gerry Anderson gear, and for the price you are paying, quite disappointing.
- The music, however, is excellent. In many places it recalls the bombastic brassiness of the original series, while also adding a level of James Bond coolness.
On the whole, and after some initial doubts, I’m pleased to report that Thunderbirds Are Go! is a worthy successor to Thunderbirds, and is definitely an excellent leaping off point to discovering the exciting worlds of Gerry Anderson.
There’s still time to become a financier of new Thunderbirds episodes! To find out more, click here.
To relive my expectant lead up the release of Thunderbirds Are Go!, start here with Part 1.
For other things I’ve written about Thunderbirds and Gerry Anderson, click here.