Thunderbirds Are Go
Thunderbirds Are Go is a 1966 British science fiction action-adventure film directed by David Lane, based on the 1960s TV series of the same name created by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson. Written by the Andersons and directed by David Lane, Thunderbirds Are Go concerns spacecraft Zero-X and its human mission to Mars. When Zero-X suffers a malfunction during re-entry, it is up to life-saving organisation International Rescue, supported by its technologically-advanced Thunderbird machines, to activate the trapped crew's escape pod before the spacecraft hits the ground.
In 2025, the first human mission to Mars is launched from Glenn Field in the form of the spacecraft Zero-X. Unknown to Captain Travers and his four-man crew, master criminal the Hood has stowed away on board to photograph Zero-Xs wing mechanism. Shortly after lift-off, the Hood inadvertently traps his foot in the craft's hydraulics, jamming them and causing Zero-X to go out of control. As the astronauts eject in the escape pod, the Hood extracts his crushed foot and parachutes to safety from the undercarriage. Zero-X crashes into the ocean and explodes.
In 2027, the Inquiry Board of the Space Exploration Center concludes that Zero-X was sabotaged. Meanwhile, a second Zero-X has been built and another mission to Mars planned. International Rescue agrees to provide security at the launch given the possibility of further sabotage. Jeff Tracy dispatches Scott to Glenn Field in Thunderbird 1 to monitor the situation from the ground, while Virgil and Alan are assigned to escort Zero-X through the atmosphere in Thunderbirds 2 and 3. Posing as a reporter at the pre-launch press conference, Lady Penelope arranges for each member of the crew to wear a St Christopher brooch with a concealed homing device. On launch day, Dr Grant's device is no longer registering, even though Grant is on board Zero-X awaiting lift-off. Scott unmasks "Grant" as the Hood in disguise. The Hood flees Glenn Field in a car, pursued by Penelope and Parker in FAB 1. Reaching the coast, he transfers to a speedboat and then a helicopter. Parker shoots down the helicopter with FAB 1's machine gun. Meanwhile, the kidnapped Grant is found and returned to Zero-X and the spacecraft is launched without further incident.
Mission complete, Penelope invites Scott and Virgil to join her at popular nightclub The Swinging Star. Returning to Tracy Island, Alan feels unappreciated when Jeff insists that he stay at base while the others spend the night partying. Asleep in bed, Alan has a surreal dream in which he and Penelope travel to another Swinging Star located in space. Appearing at the nightclub are Cliff Richard Jr and The Shadows, who perform a song called "Shooting Star" and an instrumental called "Lady Penelope". The dream ends when Alan falls out of The Swinging Star and back to Earth, waking to discover that he has merely fallen out of bed.
After a six-week flight, Zero-X reaches Mars on 22 July and all of the astronauts except Space Navigator Newman touch down on the planet in their lander, the Martian Excursion Vehicle (MEV). Investigating the surface, the men are puzzled to find strange, coil-like rock formations. Space Captain Martin destroys one of the structures with the MEV's gun and Dr Pierce prepares to go outside to collect samples. The other structures come to life, revealing themselves to be one-eyed rock snakes. The aliens bombard the MEV with fireballs from their mouths, forcing the astronauts to take off prematurely. Docking with Newman in orbit, they start back to Earth.
As Zero-X re-enters Earth's atmosphere on 2 September, a lifting body fails to connect with the spacecraft and damages various systems, including flight control and the escape pod circuit. With the astronauts unable to eject and Zero-X set to impact Craigsville, Florida, Jeff launches Scott and Brains in Thunderbird 1 and Virgil, Alan and Gordon in Thunderbird 2. Craigsville is evacuated. Lifted into Zero-Xs undercarriage, Alan repairs the escape circuit under Brains' guidance. Seconds before impact, Alan completes his task and jumps out as the astronauts eject. The empty Zero-X crashes into Craigsville. Picked up by Penelope and Parker in FAB1, Alan is driven to the real Swinging Star where Penelope, joined by the Tracy family, Brains and Tin-Tin, toast Alan as a hero.
Why It’s Not F.A.B.
- International Rescue don't even appear for the first 20 minutes and are not even needed until the final act.
- The film tries way too hard to be serious at times.
- Alan's dream sequence is just unnecessary and disturbing.
- Scenes drag on way too long, the opening scene for example.
- The scene where the Hood get's his foot crushed in the Zero-X machinery is WAY too disturbing and violent for a family movie.
- When Zero-X hits Craigsville, the houses are obviously made of LEGO.
- Awesome music by Barry Gray.
- Zero-X looks awesome.
- For some, it and it's sequel are slightly better than the 2004 film adaptation.
The film's December 1966 release came amid what commentators dubbed the "Thunderbirds Christmas" – a rush among retailers to sell Thunderbirds toys, games, books and other tie-ins. An early review of the film in Kine Weekly described it as a "colourful extension" of the TV series, while the News of the World praised it for providing "breathtaking entertainment". The Sunday Express was also positive, calling the concept of a Mars mission "awesome" and commending the film's visuals: "Of course, the cast are all puppets, the sets, models, and the story unabashed nonsense. But it's great all the same." Elsewhere, the Daily Mail praised the puppets' big-screen transition: "So who needs people? These handsome, stiff-necked, shiny-faced Thunderbirds puppets have broken spectacularly out of black-and-white TV and on to the cinema screen."
The Andersons began a tour of the country to promote the film. Around this time, it became apparent that public interest was lukewarm and the box office revenue mediocre. According to Gerry Anderson: "When we got off the plane at the first destination we were told that the film was in trouble. Cinemas were apparently half-full. When we got to the next big city we got more news that made us even more depressed – box office figures were inexplicably low wherever we went." He believed that Thunderbirds origins as a TV series weakened the film's chances of success: "The only thing we could think was that at that time the audience was not used to seeing a feature film version of a television show. So people would see Thunderbirds and think, 'We've seen it on television.'" Sylvia Anderson had a similar explanation: "Although we still had our loyal television fans, they remained just that – firmly seated in front of their television screens and not in the cinema."
Supermarionation historian Stephen La Rivière suggests that the film was also facing strong competition from an influx of family films including Batman and Born Free, as well as re-issues of The Wizard Of Oz (1939), Mary Poppins (1964) and The Sound of Music (1965). Later reviews were less positive: while the Slough Observer described the film as "basically a Technicolor large-screen extension" of the TV series, The Times was critical, arguing that the TV-style storytelling and characterisation were too thin to sustain a feature film and that the frequent launch sequences were more for padding than visual appeal.
Alan's subplot lends the film psychedelic colour and a welcome dose of human drama, but mostly, Thunderbirds Are Go is about the hardware... Anderson and SFX designer Derek Meddings make the most of this cinema version's extra scope, filling the screen with bigger, shinier craft, while director David Lane has more time to linger on the intricate detailing of the phallic models before they're blown to smithereens in the film's explosive action sequences. For the techno-fetishist, it's positively hardcore.
Writer John Peel comments that Thunderbirds Are Go is "well-made" and fulfils its promise to deliver visual spectacle. He considers it superior to its sequel, Thunderbird 6, but suggests that the plot is partly recycled from the TV episodes and describes the dream sequence as "painfully silly". Both La Rivière and Peel believe that the Thunderbird machines are underused. La Rivière also suggests that the lengthy model shots and reduced role of the Tracy family may have disappointed the film's young target audience.
Jeff Stafford of Turner Classic Movies regards the film in its entirety as a "pop culture novelty as fascinating and endearing as a toy from one's childhood." He agrees that the effects sequences are protracted: "You'll feel yourself growing older as cranes and hydraulic lifts slowly – very slowly – prepare for a missile launch." William Gallagher of BBC Online gives a positive review, calling Thunderbirds Are Go "every bit as good" as the TV series. However, he also suggests that Thunderbirds worked better on the small screen, writing of the film's content: "Certainly there's no greater profundity or universal theme to the film, it is just an extended episode." He rates Thunderbirds Are Go three stars out of five, as does the Film4 website.