Ex-Star Trek: The Next Generation actor-turned-director Jonathan Frakes had a difficult task translating the much-loved British institution that was Gerry Anderson’s series to the big screen – especially as the Thunderbirds we all know and love was made with ‘Supermarionation’ (or, in layman’s terms, puppets) and this version – shock, horror – features real people.
Of course, it’s not really aimed at anyone who remembers the original series, so it’s almost mean to complain that it lacks the nostalgic fun and creaky adventure we associate with Thunderbirds on TV. This is an only-for-kids film, so Frakes doesn’t even allow more than one or two knowing winks about the movie’s origins (watch out for a brief glimpse of a string emerging from one of the actor’s hands in one scene, and Brains moving like a puppet under the manipulation of the bad guy), instead filling the movie with flimsy adventures that may entertain boys under the age of ten but will leave everyone else feeling almost as wooden as Anderson’s discarded puppets.
Beloved characters such as chauffeur Parker (Ron Cook), Lady Penelope (Sophia Myles), Brains (Edwards), Jeff Tracy (Paxton) and his international rescue team do make an appearance. But Paxton and his older kids are soon stuck up in space, leaving his youngest son Alan and two other nondescript pubescents down on Tracy Island to outwit the nefarious The Hood (Ben Kingsley) in what is effectively a rip-off of Spy Kids.
The sets are impressive, the sixties design suitably funky, and there is a certain thrill in watching the various craft launch flashily into the sky. But in all other respects, this unexciting Thunderbird never quite gets off the ground.
Is Thunderbirds suitable for kids? Here are our parents’ notes...
The Hood’s eyes glow red when he is controlling someone, which may scare small viewers.
The kids are often in peril, but it is more exciting than scary.