3 out of 10


Trashing of A TV Icon By A Trekkie Philistine

As a child in the 1960`s, I used to be baffled by one thing above all else. Whenever I was allowed to stay up and see "grown-ups" programmes, the women always used to be just plot devices, people to be spoken at and would invariably twist their ankles in the chase scenes. This made no sense to me at all as Lady Penelope Crighton-Ward, the London Agent for Thunderbirds was always in the thick of the action with a charming, yet do-or-die approach to danger. And, as part of the fictional International Rescue, an organization with fantastic machines, run by the fabulously wealthy, philanthropic Tracy family from a secret island in the South Pacific, there was always plenty of this.

It is hard to underestimate the power in social changes that this simple puppet show was to bring in the UK, in the same way that Star Trek was to do for the USA. Ahead of it`s day, it portrayed often complex problems in a way a young viewer could understand. I often think it was no coincidence that at the first General Election that the Thunderbirds generation could vote in, was the one that put Mrs. Thatcher in office for the first time: I was just 18 years and a few weeks old at the time, and to many of us, it was as if she were the very personification of Crighton-Ward herself. Indeed, it`s interesting to note that when BBC2 reran Thunderbirds 20 years later, it was 30 year olds who constituted most of the viewing public.

Sadly, the series that always had to play "Second Violin" to Thunderbirds` virtuoso performance has had the last laugh and taken its revenge. Jonathan Frakes, Commander Riker from Star Trek, which was always playing under the shadow of the more brilliant Thunderbirds, has stepped forward to make a pigs ear of this icon of British TV. Totally failing to understand the raison d`etre of Thunderbirds, he has managed to blow $60million on special effects that don`t look half a spot on Gerry Anderson`s originals made out of cardboard and backed it up with actors who are but a mere shadow of the original one-foot tall puppets. Instead, we have a lousy remake of "Spy Kids" (if two such movies weren`t already enough!)

It is ironic that the plot should be so poor when it was not the amazing technology that dazzled the original TV viewers, but the ingenuity of the plots. Here, brillinace is shoved crudely aside from a convoluted plot designed only to show off the computer generated recreation of the Thunderbirds machines to give it some credibility. It seems to scream out from the screen, "This is some much junk, we`ve no chance for a sequel so we`re going to have to pack it all in this first time around."

Although Ben Kingsley is superb as the villainous Hood, the rest must have left poor Gerry Anderson spinning in his grave like the drill shaft on International Rescue`s "The Mole". The input from Sylvia Anderson, his widow and voice of the original Lady Penelope shows with a spirited effort by Sophie Myles, yet even here she is handed the final insult. The ultimate symbol of vast wealth and power, and yet painted in a pale femainine pink, Lady Penelope`s FAB ONE Rolls Royce of the original TV series, remains the ultimate dream machine for many of us. With a full compliment of four Bren guns at the front, four harpoons at the rear and a bulletproofed glass top, it was fast, fierce and breathtakingly beautiful. Instead, Frakes has sent this to the scrapyard and replaced it with something that looks like the reject from a Hyundai design shop. Like the rest of the film, it`s cheap, it`s trashy and it`s there just to get the dollars out of your wallet.

If you want to see a great picture, watch "Thunderbids Are Go" or "Thunderbird 6"...if you can get ahold of them.

Calling International us from the Philistines

Film Critic: Robert L Thompsett