‘Thunderbirds: The Complete Series’
(Blu-ray, $69.97, Shout! Factory)
Review by Mark Voger, author, “Monster Mash: The Creepy, Kooky Monster Craze in America 1957-1972″
The Tracy family lives on a lush private island in an ultra-chic abode with curved floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking a shimmering ocean vista. There’s a pool with a high diving board and an inviting patio. The home is staffed by an attentive Japanese butler in traditional garb who is a terrific cook, though Grandma likes to dabble in the kitchen. The spread is a marvel of modern architecture, a veritable vacation home for jet-setters.
So, what’s the catch?
The Tracys can never really relax. They’re a family, yes, but they’re also a highly skilled, well-funded, secretive agency known as International Rescue. When disaster strikes anywhere in the world, this family must answer the call. The house itself transforms into their vehicle for dispatch. Chairs sink into the floor, swiftly delivering occupants into emergency vehicles. A wall poster flips around to deposit agents into a chute for quick deployment. Beneath the home is a vast, multi-level, underground depot with monolithic emergency vehicles in several types, including planes, an aquacar and rockets. One vehicle launches through from the circular courtyard of the house. The rocket ship blasts off from beneath the swimming pool. (The pool slides aside, chlorinated water and all, to make room.)
The father, Jeff — a fit, silver-haired former astronaut — stays home and monitors the missions of his five adult sons. Scott, John, Virgil, Gordon and Alan each have a specialty. (I don’t want to cast aspersions on Jeff’s late wife, but his sons look like they all have different fathers.) There’s a hanging portrait of each son; when one of the boys reports in from the field, the eyes light up on the portrait, which turns into a video screen.
Welcome to 2065, and the world of “Thunderbirds.”
Like other series from British puppeteers Gerry and Sylvia Anderson (such as “Fireball XL5,” “Supercar” and “Stingray”), the 1965-66 color series “Thunderbirds” is better styled, written and “cast” than most bona fide movies starring actual human beings.
The puppets may seem a bit silly at first, but the stories are so superbly crafted and “acted” that before long, you get caught up in the action and drama – and forget that you’re watching puppets.
“Thunderbirds” supporting cast
Also in the International Rescue operation, if not at the Tracy homestead, is Lady Penelope, a London-based operative with a day job as an aristocrat. Lady Penelope’s wingman is her butler, ex-con “Nosey” Parker, who speaks with a Cockney accent and knows criminals when he sees them. (After all, Nosey was probably former cellmates with them.)
Two more members of the crew are Brains, a soft-spoken engineer with a stutter and a knack for problem-solving, and Tin-Tin, beautiful daughter of the Tracys’ loyal butler Kyrano. (She has a little thing goin’ with Alan.) Grandma, who Jeff calls “Mother” when they’re alone, is a font of sage advice who can be resourceful in a pinch.
A recurring adversary – the Moriarty to the Thunderbirds – is the Hood, the half-brother of Kyrano. The Hood could easily be a James Bond villian. A master of disguise, the Hood handily infiltrates his opponents’ strongholds, even sometimes fooling we viewers — until his eyes begin to glow.
There’s a whole lotta vehicles, machinery and pyrotechnics – something that will delight 8-year-olds of all ages. Composer Barry Gray’s movie-ready score is, again, worthy of 007. “Thunderbirds” is a trip.
In “Terror in New York City,” TV reporters covering the relocation of the Empire State Building become trapped underground when the iconic building collapses. (Don’t worry – this being 2015, it won’t happen for another 50 years.)
The first 20 minutes of “The Mighty Atom” anticipates “The China Syndrome.” Reporters touring a nuclear power plant in Australia are assured that nothing can go wrong. Then everything goes wrong (courtesy of the Hood). There’s a meltdown, followed by a mushroom cloud. Officials are stymied as fallout approaches Sydney.
“Attack of the Alligators!” combines small, live alligators and miniature sets to create a passable monster movie. The episode is more convincing than a lot of real movies that used the same effect, such as “The Giant Gila Monster” and “Beginning of the End.” It’s also a cautionary tale about … Frankenfood!
“Give or Take a Million” is the “Thunderbirds’” heartwarming Christmas episode. (It’s also the series finale.) Scenes of the Tracys and visitors decorating, gift-wrapping and baking for the holiday are silly and sweet.
Shout! Factory has done its usual thorough, conscientious job with this release; the prints pop in groovy ’60s colors on Blu-ray. Extras include the featurette “Launching Thunderbirds” (presenting interviews with Mr. and Mrs. Anderson, voice actors and puppeteers) and a vintage publicity brochure in printable pdf format.