By: Witney Seibold
I gotta be honest, I was really looking forward to this film. Gerry and Sylvia Anderson had created, back in the ‘60s and ‘70s some of the oddest and most fun television series to come out of England. Their Supermarionation puppet programs like “Fireball XL-5,” “Joe 90,” and “The Secret Service” always tickled me. “Thunderbirds,” however, is now a live-action film directed by Jonathan Frakes (yes, from “Star Trek: The Next Generation”) and stars no less than Bill Paxton and Ben Kingsley, and, boy, is it ever a junky and clunky film, full of really cool-looking, brightly-colored vehicles, and some characters that are about as warm and human as said vehicles. Needless to say, I was disappointed.
The story follows Alan Tracy (the unlikely named Brady Corbet) wanting desperately to join his father (Paxton) and older brothers on International Rescue, a cadre of clean-cut vehicle fetishists who freelance rescure jobs all over the planet. They are nicknamed the Thunderbirds. Never mind that Alan is only a teenager, he will not be denied the highly dangerous job. When a fey bad guy nicknamed The Hood (Kingsley in eye makeup) is able to strand the Thundercats, I mean the Thunderbirds, in space, it’s up to Alan and his two buddies (Soren Fulton and Vanessa Ann Hudgens) to foil the bad guys’ plans. In the process we get a lot of chases, a few fight scenes, some mind control (!), a helluvalotta glowing computer panels, a big mean guy, an ugly
nerd woman, and a lot of really, really goofy acting (did I mention that Anthony Edwards is in it? And Sophia Myles, too? Sophia Myles is pretty).
The film did one thing well: the vehicles. They were complex and colorful and functional. A lot of time and energy went into the design, animation, and utilization of these fantastic crafts. The problem is, the film has humans in it, and the humans, when they’re not straining for laughs with their broad comic types, are giving half-hearted speeches about bigheartedness and the importance of teamwork. The acting style in this film is odd. It’s like they were trying to reach a middle ground between ‘60s camp and modern-day earnestness. It’s also difficult to imagine a kid in the 8-15 target audience understanding the subtle references to a ‘60s British cult TV series. The younger ones may still enjoy it, but, all in all, it was a miscalculation.