On the D/L – Thunderbirds Are Go
Season 1 Episodes 01 & 02 – “Ring of Fire Parts 1 & 2”
Thunderbirds Are Go is a CGI reboot of the iconic Gerry and Sylvia Anderson puppet show Thunderbirds. The pilot was broadcast in a primetime slot this weekend with subsequent episodes airing at 8am. Who’s going to be up to watch that?
Oh that’s right, young kids and that’s exactly who this show is aimed at. Apparently it’s aimed at the age bracket 6-11 so why is someone in his 20s watching it and reviewing it? I suppose the answer is that I used to love this stuff when I was a kid so I’m interested to see how it gets updated and whether it’s watchable or not.
On the whole I’d say that this double length pilot does a good job of updating it as well as having it accessible for a new audience. I think that it’s maybe a little too geared towards a younger audience but in general it’s fairly enjoyable.
With effects handled by Lord of the Rings geniuses Weta using a combination of CGI and live action elements everything looks fantastic. The setup is pretty much the same as the original. Tracy Island looks not so far removed from the original incarnation and the designs of the Thunderbirds are pretty faithful with the only major departures coming from Thunderbirds 2 and 5. I didn’t really have a problem with either of them as they looked great and made sense to look at them.
Scott (Rasmus Hardiker), Virgil (David Menkin), Alan (Rasmus Hardiker), Gordon (David Menkin) and John (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) man the controls of the machines they always did and they do so with supreme confidence. They know how good they are and are never shy about showing off their considerable piloting skills.
It was actually something that sort of annoyed me about the whole thing. There was a complete lack of humility to any of the characters who assume they are the best at everything and then perform daring rescues flawlessly. I just found their arrogance to be a little grating after a while. It wasn’t really helped by the heavily dodgy voice acting throughout the whole thing. As performances go it’s not the finest example of voice acting ever seen.
Another issue is that the Tracy brothers don’t seem all that distinct in their characterisation. Other than the uniforms they wear than the machines they pilot I never really get a sense of who any of them are. It probably doesn’t help that 2 voice actors cover 2 brothers each. The only measurable characteristic is that Alan is young and inexperienced compared to his older brothers, an angle that the ill fated Jonathan Frakes directed Thunderbirds movie tried to go with.
Ultimately does any of that really matter? Well, not for a pilot episode as the job of a pilot is to set everything up so that the series can develop as it goes. I can’t fault this for how well it set everything up. There is plenty of action involving the machines performing some really incredible rescue stunts and there’s plenty of dynamic action to keep the plot moving forward. I definitely had a blast throughout.
This episode was a little thin on plot but actually managed to establish a few background elements that will inform the storytelling as we go. The front facing plot was that something is causing a bunch of undersea quakes that are putting people in danger and International Rescue have to jump in and help. In the background we find that this is all masterminded by familiar Thunderbirds villain the Hood (Andres Williams) who seems like more of a Bond villain and is apparently responsible for the death of Jeff Tracy.
One major deviation from the source material is that Jeff Tracy is believed to be dead which means that his kids have to shoulder the burden of saving people on their own. They have their grandmother who looks after the island but the rescuing is all down to them. This allows John to take on the role of organiser and leader of the group. He sits up in space and sorts out their missions for them. It’s a change that really works and creates a semi-intriguing mystery to follow throughout the series. Whether it’ll amount to anything remains to be seen but it gives the show a little bit of depth.
Another major change comes in the inclusion of new character Kayo (Angel Coulby) who replaces Tin-Tin from the original. She shares much of the same back story in her familial connection to the Hood which is something she keeps hidden from the people she works with -except the grandmother who knows her secret- for some as yet unknown reason. She is far more capable than Tin-Tin and should provide an interesting dynamic within the show once it gets going.
The rest of the cast are rounded out by the familiar faces of Lady Penelope (Rosamund Pike) and her Chauffeur Parker (David Graham reprising his role from the original). I was disappointed that Rosamund Pike went for more an over the top cartoonish voice rather than a more refined aristocracy style but at least Parker is as good as he ever was. The cast is afforded some diversity with Brains (Kayvan Novak) being race switched to Asian with no other characteristics changed other than having a robot sidekick to talk to.
Attempts at nostalgia are few and far between but definitely present. There were some clever nods such as a brief display of Stingray that if you blink at the wrong time you will miss it and Peter Dyneley’s distinctive countdown from 5 to 1 when the Thunderbirds launch. It could be said that the whole thing is nostalgic with such attention paid to having the show resemble the old one as much as possible. I do appreciate that it doesn’t beat the audience over the head with it and aims to get a new generation hooked on Thunderbirds all over again.