TV Preview: Thunderbirds Are Go

Thunderbirds Are Go: TV2, 7.00 Sunday


By Doug Coutts

5, 4, 3, 2 … 1 and a half …

Thunderbirds are back! It’s a tongue-in-cheek remake of the original, or you’d hope it is – the same wooden dialogue, clunky storylines and awkward movements that we all loved back in the ’50s, or whenever it first aired, return but in high definition.

Hi-def makes it easier to see the holes in the plot, but then plot was never the high point of Thunderbirds – it was all about the toys, the gadgets and the gizmos. Not to mention the five handsome Tracys.

The new Thunderbirds pays tribute to that formula.The strings have gone but the animated characters walk, talk and wave as if they’re still attached to a real person hanging from the lighting grid, and the scenery may be all CGI but it captures the essence of those early wide shots – the “sea” could be coloured water in a roasting dish and Tracy Island might actually be cut from the back of a cornflakes packet.

At least when Thunderbird 5 takes off these days, it doesn’t appear to be powered by a packet of sparklers rammed up the rear end.

That’s not taking anything away from the animators and designers – this is an homage after all. Why else would Scott (or it might be Virgil – the one in permanent orbit) be relieved when satellite TV is restored so he can watch his favourite programme, Stingray? (One does wonder why they didn’t pick Supercar, or even Four Feather Falls, but who is one to think he’s cleverer than the team at Weta?)

So sit down with your kids and show them what honest television from the good old days looks like. And if they want to know how a Rolls-Royce can steer round corners with four front wheels, if Lady Penelope was the original poster girl for Botox or what FAB actually means, tell them to google it in the ad break.

Just hope they don’t discover that the first Brains didn’t speak with an accent out of that other great British series It Ain’t Half Hot, Mum – because that could be hard to explain.

What other critics said:

“Sensibly, the new Thunderbirds treads softly, for it treads on its older viewers’ memories. Many of the old devices – the avenues of palm trees parting as Thunderbird 2 proceeds down the runway; the narrative requirement that every Thunderbird, even the orbiting Thunderbird 5, be involved during each rescue mission; the superbly urgent speeches (‘We’d better think of something fast!’ shouted someone at this premiere’s climax. ‘Taipei is about to get cooked!’) – remain, happily, intact.” — The Guardian.

“Despite the use of computer generated imagery in the main, the introduction of one or two new characters, and a lot of entirely necessary updating, Thunderbirds Are Go remains remarkably true to both the spirit and the look of the original. This was a recreation achieved with as much affection as respect, and a great deal of wit, too.” — The Telegraph.

‘The action might be computer generated but the programme makers have clearly decided to keep a slightly retro feel to proceedings. The spaceships occasionally hover and jerk as if on strings, the ‘sets’ still have a ‘make your own at home with a loo roll and mop head’ feel and the faces bear an uncanny resemblance to Gerry Anderson’s originals, complete with those big oval eyes. It’s as if the ghosts of puppets have got stuck inside a computer. It’s Tron for ventriloquist’s dummies.” — The Independent.

Thunderbirds Are Go is different from the original, it has to be. For one thing, we have less patience for chain-smoking puppets. Also the original was slow, very slow. Tremendously slow. I still believe children enjoy watching intricate machines easing across the screen for an hour, but TaG only has 22 minutes per episode. Faced with this, the team behind the remake have produced a genuinely thrilling programme that stays true to the spirit of the original.” — Radio Times.

Doug Coutts has had a career in and around television for close to 40 years.  He spent 13 years as a floor manager at Avalon Studios before going freelance and never earning as much again. His writing has spanned TV genres — from Shortland Street dialoguery and quiz shows to documentaries and comedy — while a lengthy stint as TV reviewer in the Auckland Star earned him two mentions in Metro magazine’s Hot List and an angry letter from Jon Gadsby. You can read more of Doug (the satirist) at: Weakly Whirled News.

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One Response to “TV Preview: Thunderbirds Are Go”

  1. Sorry to say it but this is so bad it makes the 2004 live action film look good. You’re better off going down to your local video shop (if you still have one) and hiring the DVDs of the original series.

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