Release Date: July 30, 2004

He's de-evolving before our very eyes!

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Position Staff In Brief
27/92 David Mumpower I admit it. I laughed. I laughed regularly and uproariously. I want to see it again so that I might laugh more.
45/126 Kim Hollis Unexpectedly fun. Unabashedly strange.

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The British marionette series comes to the big screen as a live-action film helmed by NextGen’s Jonathan Frakes. The series originally aired for two years in Britain, spawning two features films, an American knock-off, and a cult audience that keeps reruns going to this day on both sides of the Atlantic. The series was shot in something called Supermarionation, which was a sort of hybrid of marionettes, models and special effects that was intended to create the illusion that it was a live-action show; it never quite succeeded in this ruse, of course, but that was also part of its charm.

And now the tale of the Tracy family comes to the silver screen with real, live actors. The film is set in the year 2065, and follows the exploits of ex-astronaut and USAF Colonel Jeff Tracy and his five sons (yes, the Tracys are and always have been Americans, for all that the show is identified with the UK), who form the rescue team titled, cleverly enough, International Rescue, but who are known colloquially as the Thunderbirds. They utilize a fleet of super-cool vehicles, such as rockets, souped-up cars and boats, to get to wherever their unique services are required. The Tracys are assisted by Brains, who as one would deduce from the name is the genius behind their specialized vehicles and various other gadgets; Jeff’s assistant Kyrano and his daughter Tin-Tin; Lady Penelope, who has a few cool vehicles and moves of her own; and Penelope’s driver, Parker. They all live on Tracy Island in between missions, and this is where the action of the film begins.

The island is attacked by evil mastermind - cause you knew there had to be one - Aristotle Spode, who uses fine china as his super-secret weapon with which he plans to take over the world. No, wait; sorry. Wrong Spode. This one’s Evil Villain Name is The Hood, and he wants to use the Tracys’ cool transportation to commit crimes and do other not-at-all-nice things. It falls to the youngest of the Tracy clan, Alan, to rescue his father and brothers - and probably Brains and Lady Penelope, too - from the maniacal clutches of The Hood. But Alan doesn’t have to go it all alone; he has a couple of friends to help, and together they will doubtless use some of the aforementioned snazzy vehicles and ingenuous gadgets to foil Spode/The Hood and bring the whole gang back to Tracy Island just in time for the sequel.

For you can bet Universal very much wants this to begat sequels. Many, many sequels, creating perhaps as long-lived a franchise as MGM’s Bond series. Of course, the film’s success or failure in that regard will depend a great deal on how cool all the gadgets and effects are, and how well the scenario translates to live action. Certainly Ben Kingsley is an excellent choice as the megalomaniacal bad guy, and Jeff Bridges seems a wise selection as the square-jawed paterfamilias bringing truth, justice and the American Way to the rest of humanity. The but clause in this one is whether a premise that plays adequately with puppets on television, and which is to no small extent based on camp value (except, apparently, for the Brits) will make a smooth transition to human actors on the big screen and being played at least semi-seriously. A lot will depend on the tone of the script and how it is conveyed by the actors. Any mismatch in tenor between writing, acting and/or directing can easily spell disaster, just as absolute harmony of vision between all parts that doesn’t strike the right chord with the audience also signals a doomed endeavor. Marketing will help, too, as it will alert the audience to the intended take on the material; a moviegoer who has a fair idea what he’ll be getting from the movie he’s chosen to attend is much happier than one who is blindsided by what appears on his screen.

Handled properly, both in terms of what appears onscreen and via the ad campaign, The Thunderbirds might just provide Universal with that longed-for franchise. (Stephanie Star Smith/BOP)

Vital statistics for Thunderbirds
Main Cast Bill Paxton, Ben Kingsley
Supporting Cast Brady Corbet, Anthony Edwards, Sophia Myles, Dominic Colenso, Ron Cook, Naomie Harris, Lex Shrapnel, Ben Torgeson, Philip Winchester
Director Jonathan Frakes
Screenwriter William Osbourne
Distributor Universal
Trailer Click Here for Trailer
Official Site
Rating PG
Running Time 95 minutes
Screen Count 2,000 (Estimated)
Talent in red has entry in The Big Picture

Comparison films for Thunderbirds
Adjusted Opening
Total BO
Adjusted Total
Scooby-Doo 6/14/0254.16 56.31 3447 15712.00 15712.0 153.29 159.37 2.83
Star Trek: First Contact 11/22/9630.72 41.91 2812 10925.00 14336.0 91.98 125.48 2.99
Star Trek 7: Generations 11/18/9423.12 34.16 2659 8695.00 12360.5 75.61 111.74 3.14
Star Trek:Insurrection 12/11/9822.05 28.34 2620 8416.00 10407.8 70.12 90.15 3.18
Lost In Space 4/3/9820.15 25.90 3306 6095.00 7537.5 69.12 88.86 3.43
Star Trek: Nemesis 12/13/0218.51 19.24 2711 6828.00 6828.0 43.12 44.83 2.33
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country 12/6/9118.16 26.01 1804 10067.00 13869.0 74.74 107.05 4.12
Star Trek V:The Final Frontier 6/9/8917.38 26.26 2202 7893.00 11473.5 52.21 78.90 3.00
Brady Bunch Movie, The * 2/17/9514.83 20.55 1822 8139.00 10852.0 46.55 64.52 3.14
Avengers, The 8/14/9810.31 13.25 2466 4181.00 5170.5 608.48 30.23 2.28
Very Brady Sequel, A 8/23/967.05 9.61 2147 3284.00 4309.3 21.42 29.22 3.04



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