Tuesday, April 14, 2015

First Impressions: Thunderbirds Are Go!

When I was a kid, Thunderbirds was already a "thing, because old as I am, I'm not that old. Airing originally in 1965 and 1966, it saw revivals every couple of years, it seemed, and I loved it. There was - is - something about the miniature work that transcends it's slightly twitchy effects, something deep in the design of the vehicles and the secret Bond-Villian-esque Tracy Island, and roaming missions that International Rescue get sent on. I can't now, but that was a time I could tell you which vehicle was in which one of Thunderbird 2's pods, and countless more pointless facts that I stored in the space of my brain I now use for Star Wars trivia. I've never seen the 2004 Hollywood adaption, because I'd heard so many bad things I didn't want to spoil those memories, but I had to have a look at the new sort-of-puppet, sort-of-CGI series that just premiered. 

First thing to say is that kudos to ITV for showing the first two episodes as a double-header at 5pm on a Saturday night, where everyone could sit down with their kids and watch it. Wow, I thought, thats the spirit, a family-friendly lead in to the evening. That's cool, and smart, just as they relaunch their Saturday Night slate. And then, of course, they announced that the rest of the series is on 8am, down on CITV, a channel I didn't even knew existed. Whatever goodwill and interest that the has produced on it's return certainly won't make much difference, if they're using ratings as a metric of success; certainly it's now series-linked on my Sky box, but is that really what they wanted? 

But onto the show itself. Thunderbirds Are Go! is done with a mix of model work for the vehicles, and CGI for the characters, which takes a little bit of getting used to. The characters especially just look a little bit weird; better in motion than in stills, but something about the design is actually more unnatural than the puppets, even if they allow for a lot more dynamism in the big set-pieces. We've got a very traditional line-up in the 5 Tracy brothers, Brains, Lady Penelope and Parker, but Dad Jeff is missing and they've added in Kayo as the teams Security Chief who even gets her own Thunderbird, and a somewhat left-field choice of Granny Tracy, who doesn't. The opening episodes are very focused on establishing the team as a whole, rather than individual characters, so it's hard to judge too much, although an authoritative and active female addition to the cast is welcome.  

The vehicles are another matter entirely. They're both extraordinarily faithful to the originals yet also greatly updated, and far more detailed. Thunderbird 3, for example, has arms that fold forward from it's three-fold boosters, which made fans of Outlaw Star very happy, I'm sure. Thunderbird 1 has gained a canopy, and Thunderbird 4 has airlocks and flotation tanks and all sorts of other nifty toys. The launch sequences remain intact to the joys of small boys everywhere, which in our house included me, at 42, and Robert, at 5, watching it for the first time. It's through the vehicles and sets that the love for the show from the current production team shines through, including shout-outs to Space 1999 and Stingray

In a lot of ways Thunderbirds Are Go! doesn't change an established, successful formula so much as give it a shiny new coat of paint and a healthy oil-change. The formula remains intact; the dynamics remain intact, and if I'm being honest, the flaws probably do too. It's really ideal "Boys Own Adventure" material, complete with fraternal bickering, explosions and the roar of jet engines. Its a lot of fun, and if anything can bring International Rescue to a new generation, it's this, assuming anyone can find it that far down the dial...