Thunderbirds (2004 film)

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Thunderbirds
Thunderbirds movie poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Jonathan Frakes
Screenplay by
Story by
Based on Thunderbirds
by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson
Produced by
Starring
CinematographyBrendan Galvin
Edited by Martin Walsh
Music by
Production
companies
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release dates
  • 20 July 2004 (2004-07-20)(United Kingdom)
  • 30 July 2004 (2004-07-30)(United States)
Running time
95 minutes
Countries
  • France [1]
  • United Kingdom [1]
  • United States [1]
LanguageEnglish
Budget$57 million
Box office$28.3 million

Thunderbirds is a 2004 British-American science fiction action-adventure film [2] directed by Jonathan Frakes, written by William Osborne and Michael McCullers, and based on the 1960s TV series Thunderbirds created by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson.

Contents

The film's plot concerns the Hood, who traps International Rescue (IR) leader Jeff Tracy and four of his sons on board the damaged Thunderbird 5 to steal the other Thunderbirds vehicles and commit heists that IR will be blamed for, prompting Jeff's youngest son Alan and his friends Tin-Tin and Fermat to stop him. Unlike the original TV series, which combined puppetry and scale-model visual effects in a filming style dubbed "Supermarionation", the film was made in live-action with CGI effects.

Released on 20 July 2004 in the United Kingdom and 30 July 2004 in the United States, the film received negative reviews from critics, who disparaged its wooden characters and thin plot, and was also a box-office bomb. Gerry Anderson also criticised the film, describing it as "the biggest load of crap I have ever seen in my entire life", [3] although Sylvia Anderson praised it as a "great tribute" to the series. [4] The film's soundtrack includes the songs "Thunderbirds Are Go" by pop-rock band Busted, which peaked at number one on the UK Singles Chart and later won the 2004 UK Record of the Year award and "Take Me Away" by Caleigh Peters which was used for other countries excluding the UK.

Plot

In 2010, [5] the Tracy family, led by widowed former astronaut Jeff Tracy, operate International Rescue (IR), a secret organization that aids those in need during disasters using technologically advanced machines called Thunderbirds, operating out of Tracy Island in the South Pacific. Youngest son Alan attends Wharton Academy, a boarding school in Massachusetts, with his best friend Fermat Hackenbacker, son of the Thunderbirds’ resident engineer Brains, and dreams of being a Thunderbird pilot like his older brothers Scott, John, Virgil, and Gordon.

Alan and Fermat are distracted by a news report following the Thunderbirds performing a rescue at a Russian oil rig. Unbeknownst to them, the Hood, a psychic criminal mastermind, has had one of his accomplices plant a tracking beacon on the hull of Thunderbird 1 . Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward, an IR agent, and her butler, Aloysius Parker, transport the pair home to Tracy Island in FAB 1 . The pair's unsuccessful attempt to fly Thunderbird 1 alarms Jeff, who grounds Alan for the rest of spring break.

The Hood's submarine locates Tracy Island and fires a missile at the orbiting Thunderbird 5 , sending Jeff, Scott, Virgil and Gordon in Thunderbird 3 to rescue John. The Hood and his team, led by Mullion and Transom, take over the island's command centre, imprisoning the Tracys in Thunderbird 5 as their oxygen runs out. The Hood reveals that during one of International Rescue's first operations, Jeff abandoned him in a collapsing illegal diamond mine, but rescued his half-brother Kyrano, another Tracy Island resident. As revenge, he plans to use the Thunderbirds to rob ten of the world's major banks, thus plunging the international monetary system into chaos, with International Rescue held responsible and disgraced.

Alan, Fermat and their friend Tin-Tin (Kyrano's daughter and Alan's crush), use a ventilation shaft to reach the Thunderbird silos. Fermat removes Thunderbird 2 's guidance chip, delaying the Hood's plan, and the trio flee into the island's jungle to find its remote transmitter. After Alan has a close encounter with a venomous scorpion, Tin-Tin displays psychic powers similar to her uncle's.

Contacting Jeff at the remote transmitter on one of the island's hills, Alan insists on confronting the Hood, but Jeff tells them to wait until Lady Penelope arrives; before they can resolve the disagreement, Transom jams the signal. The trio flees from Mullion and his men, and Alan insists on escaping via a hovercraft with an attached trailer. Fermat and Tin-Tin's doubts are verified when the trailer breaks off, and they are captured.

Lady Penelope and Parker arrive, engaging the Hood's minions in combat, but the Hood defeats them with his powers. When Alan appears, the Hood forces him to give up the guidance chip and locks him and the others in the compound's walk-in freezer. The Hood, Mullion, and Transom pilot the now-repaired Thunderbird 2 to London and use the Mole to sink a monorail line into the Thames and drill into the Bank of England’s vaults. Alan and company escape and contact Jeff and his older sons, who regain control of Thunderbird 5. While the adults set out to stop the Hood, the teenagers and Lady Penelope fly to London in Thunderbird 1.

Arriving in London, Alan and Tin-Tin rescue the submerged monorail car using the aquatic Thunderbird 4 before pursuing the Hood. Together, Fermat, Tin-Tin, and Parker defeat the Hood's henchmen. The Hood locks Jeff and Lady Penelope in a vault and challenges Alan to defeat him. Alan dangles from a catwalk over the Mole, until Tin-Tin appears and defeats the Hood with her own powers. The Hood taunts Alan to let him die as his father did, but Alan rescues him, knowing that his father had actually tried unsuccessfully to save the Hood.

The Hood and his team are arrested, and International Rescue return to their island. Alan, Fermat, and Tin-Tin are inducted as official members of IR, and the film ends as Alan departs for his first mission alongside his brothers.

Cast

Additionally, director Jonathan Frakes has an uncredited role as a police officer during the sequence in which the Hood and his minions are arrested.

Production

Development

Thunderbirds was the third theatrical release based upon the series created by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson. It was preceded by Thunderbirds Are Go in 1966 and Thunderbird 6 in 1968, both films using the Supermarionation production techniques of the series.

Production of the film started in the mid-1990s when PolyGram Filmed Entertainment purchased the rights to the entire ITC Entertainment library, which included the original Thunderbirds series. Seeing the big-screen potential of the series, Peter Hewitt was signed on to direct, while Karey Kirkpatrick was signed on to write. While Hewitt was a lifelong fan of the series, Kirkpatrick was not, but watched all 32 episodes of the original series to immerse himself within the lore of the series. [6] Hewitt and Kirkpatrick wrote a draft of the screenplay which was faithful to the series, but which they hoped would not alienate audiences who were unfamiliar with the franchise. Their script featured The Hood trying to steal Tracy Island's power core to power a device controlled by arch villain Thaddeus Stone, which would transfer all of Earth's gravity to the moon. After four drafts, Kirkpatrick left the project due to Working Title's concerns that the film would not play well in the US market. (Working Title was the unit of PolyGram, and later Universal Studios when that company in 1999 bought out PolyGram's assets, that produced films in Britain.) Hewitt also left the production shortly afterwards due to his dislike for the new direction the film was taking. [6]

Hewitt was replaced by Jonathan Frakes, a big fan of the original series [7] whose credentials included another family science fiction film, Clockstoppers .

Mike Trim, who had worked on the original Thunderbirds show, was hired as a concept artist. [8] Ultimately, his work, which included a design for an original pod vehicle named the "Telehandler", went unused. [9]

Casting

The film was the first family film of Brady Corbet, who played protagonist Alan Tracy. [10]

Bill Paxton took on the role of Alan's father, billionaire ex-astronaut Jeff Tracy. He had memories of watching the show as a child in Texas; a year before he was asked to join the film, he had been watching the show with his jetlagged family as it was the only English video he'd been able to find in Amsterdam. [10] Paxton described his character as "a kind of teacher, this father figure who has to teach his sons, particularly his youngest son Alan, these basic lessons of ethics and integrity, about doing the right thing". One reason that he was attracted to the role was because it reminded him of 1960s non-profit vocationalism, and people "choosing life professions not for monetary gain but for something that would be good for their souls". [11] [12]

Ben Kingsley accepted the part of the Hood because his children were Thunderbirds fans and, having just finished House of Sand and Fog , he was ready for a more lighthearted role. [13] He described himself as feeling "totally at home" on set, but joked that he should have kept the original Hood's voice. [14]

Sophia Myles was cast as Lady Penelope, who would recall Frakes as "lovely", and having a "great, positive energy". Much of her dialogue (and Ron Cook's as Parker) was rewritten by Richard Curtis, as it wasn't thought to be funny enough. It was because of watching the film with his son that Steven Moffat offered Myles a role in Series 2 of Doctor Who. [15]

Anthony Edwards was cast as Brains; he joined the production imagining it was a "silly little kids' movie", but was impressed by Frakes', and production designer John Beard's, "reverence" for the original series. [16] [17] He also recalled the producers hoping Gerry Anderson would be a part of the production; [16] conversely, Jamie Anderson claims that Gerry was "kept at an arm's length" from the project, and that only in the final stages of post-production was he offered a large sum of money to promote the film, which he declined. [15]

Filming and post-production

Filming began on March 3, 2003, at North Island in the Seychelles. [18] An initial 7-day schedule became 10 days after unexpected rain interfered with the shoot, [19] and Fulton, who played Fermat, had to try and avoid developing a tan. [20] Throughout production Corbet was vocal about what he saw as flaws in the script; Corbet would go on to write and direct films of his own. [7]

I left these cryptic messages on their cell phones. 'This is your father speaking. Come and join me for a meal.' [We] met at the hotel and walked across Hyde Park on to Oxford Street. And just for a moment I pretended that these were my five sons. I'm in London; I'm [Jeff]; it was a very empowering feeling ... the idea of having five sons walking around, all of them smart and sensible ... It really gave me the part. I felt like I knew [Jeff].

— Bill Paxton (2004), speaking about his preparation for the role.

Filming later moved to Pinewood Studios and on-location shooting in London. Upon arriving in London, Paxton, in order to immerse himself in the role, invited Winchester, Colenso, Torgersen, Corbet and Shrapnel for a meal. [11] [12] Shrapnel would later recall the experience positively, calling Paxton a "great role model and a very dear friend". [21]

Other filming locations included Wellington College, Berkshire for Alan's school ("Wharton Academy"), University College London for the exterior of the fictional Bank of London, and Cliveden House, Buckinghamshire for Lady Penelope's mansion; this latter location had speed bumps removed from the drive to avoid damage to the FAB 1 vehicle. [22]

A number of scenes were excised from the final cut of the film. A different opening was filmed, with Alan partaking in some kind of motorcycle race; footage was included in trailers for the film. FAB-1 was also intended to be fired at by missiles when approaching Tracy Island for the second time, upon which a pedalo life raft would deploy; footage of this is utilised for a comedic scene at the end of the film. [19] Versions of both scenes are present in novelizations and tie-in books. [23] [24]

Thunderbirds is dedicated to the memory of Stephen Lowen, a rigger on the film, who died in a fall whilst dismantling one of the sets. [25]

Differences from the original

There are numerous changes from the original series. The Thunderbirds fleet, Tracy Island, and the International Rescue uniforms have all been redesigned; Tracy Island is now referred to by name in dialogue, as is the Hood. International Rescue is also referred to as "Thunderbirds" by the general public. [19]

In the original series, Alan and Tin-Tin are much closer to the age of the rest of the Tracy brothers. Fermat Hackenbacker and Onaha are new characters conceived for the film, with the latter taking the position of Grandma Tracy, who has been omitted from the film. Tin-Tin and Kyrano change nationality in the film; they are Malaysian in the TV series but are depicted as being from India in the film.

Although the exact identities of the Thunderbirds remain secret, International Rescue now allows itself to be filmed and photographed on missions, [19] which was forbidden in the original series. [e 1]

Debate over setting

Promotional materials unanimously described this version of Jeff Tracy as having set up International Rescue in the year 2010. Some went on to describe the events of the film as taking place then, including StudioCanal's own website. [26] [23] This change from the original series' setting (itself a source of controversy) was repeated enough to impact merchandise. [24] Conversely, other promotional materials, including working trailers suggest that the actual events of the film take place in March 2020; if the setting of the original series is taken as 2026, then the ages of the Tracy brothers indeed line up. This is an opinion shared by Frakes, who argued that the setting was deliberately chosen "it meant we didn’t mess with the continuity of the original show or the fondness that everyone has for it in terms of the timeline". [27]

Reception

The FAB 1 car designed by Ford of Europe for the film FAB 1 Thunderbirds car 2004.jpg
The FAB 1 car designed by Ford of Europe for the film

Box office

Thunderbirds grossed $28,283,637 worldwide, and with an estimated $57 million budget, [28] the film was a box office bomb. Frakes attributed the film's commercial failure to a combination of stiff competition from its contemporaries Shrek 2 and Spider-Man 2 and its poor critical reception. [29] Stuart Kemp of The Hollywood Reporter suggested that it may have been due to lack of appeal for older audiences who remembered the TV original. [30]

Critical response

Thunderbirds received negative reviews. Those familiar with the series tended to be more negative. Sukhdev Sandhu of The Daily Telegraph called it "a quite cretinous travesty of the original series", saying that the film lacks the TV series' romantic approach to technology (particularly mentioning its rushed version of the countdown to the Thunderbirds takeoff) and suffers from thin plotting and dialogue. He also regarded the entire trend of making films based on decades-old TV series as good-intentioned but misguided, arguing, "Those programmes can be seen on terrestrial and cable TV. They're available on DVD. They don't need reviving and updating." [31] The Houston Chronicle 's Amy Biancolli similarly called the film a "rather breathtakingly misconceived attempt to revisit a vintage TV show that did not under any circumstances need to be revisited". She found the central character Alan "whiny and uninteresting", the script poor, the plot contrived and unsatisfying, and the acting wooden, though she noted that her three children enjoyed it much more than she did. She gave it a C−. [32] Ian Freer, writing for Empire , assessed that the film fails to either evoke nostalgia in the generation which watched Thunderbirds as children or provide snappy entertainment for the current generation of children. Like Sandhu, he felt the countdown sequence was so rushed that there is no sense of occasion to a Thunderbird taking to the sky. He also said that the child leads lack spirit and chemistry, and the adult characters suffer from excessive exposition and flat characterization. While he did praise Sophia Myles' performance and the vehicle designs, he considered the film an overall failure and gave it two out of five stars. [33] On the review aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a 19% "rotten" rating based on 106 reviews. The site's consensus states: "Live-action cartoon for kids." [34] Critics widely described the film as a second-rate Spy Kids imitator. [31] [32] [33]

During development, creator Gerry Anderson was invited to act as creative consultant, but was left out when the studio felt there were enough employees on the payroll acting as part of the creative team. The studio offered him $750,000 (£432,000) to attend the premiere but Anderson could not accept money from people he had not worked for. He eventually saw the film on DVD and was disappointed, declaring "It was disgraceful that such a huge amount of money was spent with people who had no idea what Thunderbirds was about and what made it tick." [35] He also said that it was "the biggest load of crap I have ever seen in my entire life". [3]

Co-creator Sylvia Anderson, and the one responsible for character development, was given a private screening of the film and attended the London premiere. She expressed a far different opinion to that of her former husband, stating "I felt that I'd been on a wonderful Thunderbirds adventure. You, the fans, will I'm sure, appreciate the sensitive adaptation and I'm personally thrilled that the production team have paid us the great compliment of bringing to life our original concept for the big screen. If we had made it ourselves (and we have had over 30 years to do it!) we could not have improved on this new version. It is a great tribute to the original creative team who inspired the movie all those years ago. It was a personal thrill for me to see my characters come to life on the big screen." [4]

Timed to coincide with the theatrical release of Thunderbirds, the two prior films were released on DVD. The DVD versions of all three films include a number of extra features, including historical and production information.[ citation needed ]

Legacy

Though Thunderbirds has had a negative reputation with many fans of the original franchise, cast members frequently speak about the film having devoted fans, especially those who were children when the film was released. [15] [21] The film is occasionally critically reassessed, [36] [37] and cast members frequently praise their time working on the film; Sophia Myles has said "It was amazing... I only have the fondest of memories of making that film, [and] quite frankly I don't really care what anyone else thought... for me it was one of the best times of my life." [15] Dominic Colenso, who moved to a career as a communications expert, often describes himself as a "Former Thunderbird". [38]

A 60-foot model of Thunderbird 3, based on Dominic Lavery's design for the film, was created by ZenithOptimedia to market the film, [39] and stood in Trafalgar Square close to the film's release. [40] It was subsequently displayed in Blackpool (at one point being decorated with images from Pablo Picasso's Guernica ) [41] until early 2008, [42] [43] when it was purchased by Eastern Airways; at present it remains on display at Humberside Airport. [44]

Soundtrack

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  44. "Thunderbird 3 - AirTeamImages.com". www.airteamimages.com. Retrieved 21 November 2022.

Further reading