Blu-ray Review: Thunderbirds Are Go/Thunderbird 6 - Twilight Time Limited Edition

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I’d heard of the marionette puppet show Thunderbirds but never saw it nor its two feature-length theatrical spin-offs. The reason I point this out upfront is to make it clear I have absolutely zilch in the way of nostalgic ties to this 1960s franchise. Those with overwhelmingly fond memories of Thunderbirds and/or those with an acute interest in the craft of puppeteering will likely be thrilled with Twilight Time’s new double-feature release. The limited edition (3,000 copies total) Blu-ray edition pairs the 1966 Thunderbirds Are Go with its 1968 sequel Thunderbird 6 (and a plethora of extras). Admittedly impressive in terms of its use of miniature sets, props, and the puppets themselves, these films may not end up captivating casual viewers.

In fact, director David Lane’s films are almost entirely visual experiences. The plot of the first one is almost too dull and uninvolving to be called “formulaic.” It’s the long-winded tale of a spaceship called Zero-X that is meant to transport the first astronauts to Mars. The sequel is considerably more convoluted, involving a 21st century airship that becomes hijacked during its maiden round-the-world voyage. The whole point in Thunderbirds, I guess, is to revel in the technical invention. Spaceships, Martian rock monsters, explosions, cars zipping along water—those are just a few of the inherently unrealistic, yet carefully crafted effects. It’s all clearly very ambitious, so far be it from me to dismiss the expertise obviously on display. But ultimately the value of these films as feature-length storytelling must be assessed. On that level, I have to deem both Thunderbirds films questionable at best.

Thunderbirds 1 (197x280).jpgThe movies, like the TV series, follow the Tracy family and its involvement in the International Rescue organization. Initially there are five Thunderbirds, the organization’s vehicles, in the IR fleet. A sixth is added in the second feature film, hence that film’s title. Each Thunderbird has a distinct function, be it reconnaissance, transport, and space or underwater travel.

I’ll go so far as to admit that perhaps there’s some level of appeal here that I simply don’t get at some visceral level. The voice acting is notable for being unflinchingly straight. This isn’t the satirical comedy of Team America: World Police (unless, of course, I’m missing something fundamental). In fact, if you aren’t looking at the screen, you’d be forgiven for assuming these were just dated, old B-movies from a bygone era. The surreal atmosphere, a defining and unsettling element of Thunderbirds, comes from the locked expressions of the puppets themselves. There’s a coldness that comes with cutting all emotion from the storytelling process, leaving mechanical proficiency and nothing more.

Thunderbirds are Go cover (216x280).jpgIn Thunderbird 6, when Brains first suggests designing a modern airship, the roundtable meeting erupts in near-maniacal laughter. The close-ups of the glee-stricken puppet characters are like something out of a nightmare. And Aloysius Parker, servant to femme secret agent Lady Penelope, is nerve-grating in the way he constantly says “mi’lady.” Perhaps Thunderbirds was the next step for graduates of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood’s “Neighborhood of Make-Believe,” with King Friday, et al. But even when looked at as experiments in filmmaking, Thunderbirds grows awfully wearying. Take the extended fantasy sequence in Are Go, in which Alan Tracy and Lady Penelope venture off to an outer-space club called The Swinging Star. They watch Cliff Richards and the Shadows perform. It’s weird, yeah, but it’s a humorless tangent.

For those who do love these movies, Twilight Time’s Blu-ray is bound to be embraced. Both Are Go and 6 have been given clean, detailed, high definition transfers. The level of fine grain is entirely appropriate for films of this vintage, demonstrating that noise reduction hasn’t been applied (at least not in anything approaching an aggressive manner). The level of clarity allows for full appreciation of the impressive miniature worlds that producers Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, along with director David Lane, created. Audio is spectacular as well, with lossless DTS-HD MA 1.0 mixes for each film as well as 5.1 surround. The simplicity of the mono will please purists, while the action sequences do sound pretty impressive in 5.1. Isolated scores for each are also presented in DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo.

Thunderbirds 2 (201x280).jpgExtras, extras, and more extras accompany the Thunderbirds feature films. Are Go has two audio commentaries, one from film historians Jeff Bond and Nick Redman, the other from producer Sylvia Anderson and director Lane (the latter two also do the commentary for 6). “Excitement is Go!” is a solid 22-minute “making of” featurette. “Unseen Test Footage” is cool for Cliff Richards fans as it offers 17 minutes of live-action reference footage of he and the Shadows. A variety of additional featurettes (ranging in length from under a minute to about ten minutes) accompanies both feature films. Julie Kirgo cops to having a mild case of pupaphobia (fear of puppets) in her booklet essay.

Thunderbirds fans will want to head over to Screen Archives to scoop up a copy of the limited edition Twilight Time Thunderbirds Are Go/Thunderbird 6 Blu-ray while supplies last. The pressing is strictly limited to 3,000 copies and a three-copy-per-customer limited has been imposed.

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Chaz Lipp is a Seattle-based freelance writer whose focus is music and film. As “The Other Chad,” he has written for the online magazine Blogcritics since 2008. When he’s not writing, Chaz can be found trolling jazz clubs, attempting to find somewhere to play his sax (whether anyone wants to hear…

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