Saturday 1 October 2016

Chill out old-school Thunderbirds fans, the new version is FAB

Pat Stacey

Published 01/04/2015 | 11:45

Thunderbirds are Go!
Thunderbirds are Go!
Lady Penelope's chauffeur Parker will still be played by David Graham

FIVE . . . four . . . three . . . two . . . one . . . Thunderbirds are GO! That famous countdown and the stirring martial theme music to Gerry Anderson’s classic 1960s puppet SF adventure show it led into are part of the soundtrack to a lot of middle-aged men’s childhood television memories.

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Not mine, though. I was just a shade too young, at three years of age, to fully appreciate Thunderbirds when it first appeared on ITV in 1965, and probably a shade too old to care when it was repeated in later years.

If anything, Anderson’s subsequent Supermarionation productions, the somewhat darker Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons and the slightly crazy but entertaining junior spy-fi series Joe 90 (a secret agent kid with a real, working gun!), took up a more prominent place on my TV-watching radar.

But a lot of men my age do care. They care so much, in fact, that when ITV announced it was making a new Thunderbirds series called Thunderbirds Are Go!, which combines CGI animation with old-school modelwork, they took to the internet to vent their outrage at anyone daring to mess with their precious childhood favourite. This was hardly an unexpected development.

The last time someone tried to revive Thunderbirds the result was an atrocious 2003 live-action movie, directed by Star Trek’s Jonathan Frakes. It was a mess of a thing with no feeling for what made the original work and deservedly bombed at the box-office.

Gerry Anderson, who had no creative involvement in the movie, turned down the studio’s offer of $750,000 to promote it. Having eventually watched it on DVD, he pronounced it “the biggest load of crap I have ever seen in my entire life”.

Anderson, who died in 2012, could by all accounts be an irascible man and was fiercely protective of Thunderbirds. But then he had the right to be, he created it. But even Anderson might be taken aback by the sheer stupidity of some of the comments posted on various websites by people who hadn’t yet seen a single frame of Thunderbirds Are Go!.

“I can safely say that this will be f***ing terrible” was one of the milder ones. Well, having already watched the double-length episode that kicks the series off on ITV on Saturday, I can safely say it’s NOT terrible.

If I were judging it from the viewpoint of its young target audience but using the terminology familiar to fans of the original, I’d say it’s F.A.B. The blending of CGI by the Weta Workshop, which created the digital effects for the Lord of the Rings movies, with miniature models is seamless and breathtaking, especially in the big, action-packed set-pieces involving the Thunderbirds craft, which look exactly like the originals.

The appearance of the characters has been updated, yet the essence of their old selves remains – you can still tell which Tracy brother is which – and the premise hasn’t changed one bit.

Posh, jet-setting secret agent Lady Penelope (voiced by Rosamund Pike) no longer smokes a cigarette from a long holder, but she’s still driven around in her hi-tech pink Rolls-Royce by faithful manservant Parker (voiced by the same actor, David Graham, as in the original).

Nonsensical over-sensitivity hasn’t been allowed to run riot, either. Engineering genius Brains (Kayvan Novak) still has his stammer – and why shouldn’t he? He’s a role model.

Short of digitally inserting visible puppet-strings, Thunderbirds Are Go! couldn’t be more respectful of the original, although that probably still won’t be enough for a few sad, middle-aged bores.

But it’s not made for sad, middle-aged bores; it’s made for a new, young audience. I suspect that they, the only ones who really matter, are going to absolutely love it.

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