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Universal Studios Home Video presents
Thunderbirds (2004)

"Saving lives is dangerous business. But that's what we do."
- Jeff Tracy (Bill Paxton)

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: December 20, 2004

Stars: Brady Corbet, Soren Fulton, Vanessa Anne Hudgens
Other Stars: Sophia Myles, Bill Paxton, Ben Kingsley, Anthony Edwards, Rose Keegan, Ron Cook, Dhobi Oparei, Ben Torgersen, Dominic Colenso, Lex Shrapnel, Genie Francis
Director: Jonathan Frakes

Manufacturer: Deluxe Digital Studios
MPAA Rating: PG for intense action sequences and language
Run Time: 01h:34m:39s
Release Date: December 21, 2004
UPC: 025192384424
Genre: family

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- B-A-B+ B

DVD Review

With the live action release of Thunderbirds, younger viewers will likely make the inevitable comparisons to Robert Rodriguez's Spy Kids franchise. On the surface that's a reasonably fair generality, but more seasoned (aka "older") fans will recall the Thunderbirds from 1960s television, the "supermarionation" show featuring a full marionette cast, detailing the high-tech exploits of The International Rescue Team, made up of the super cool Tracy family. With specialized rocketships, a secret island lair and much evil to battle, Thunderbirds the series was an odd breath of fresh air even then, and over the subsequent decades it has retained a cachet of hip weirdness for those who remember it, and a strange "how did that ever air?" retro quirkiness for those who discovered it years and years later.

That brings us up to director Jonathan Frakes' (Commander William T. Riker from the Star Trek universe) live-action remake, and as he did with 2002's Clockstoppers, continues to show himself to be adept at creating kid-friendly action films that are rich with clever CG effects and bright colors, but that retain an overall innocence. For those concerned about such things, there are no character deaths here, but there is a lot of wild adventure and danger, and naturally the heroic leads are all kids, who have to not only stop the maniacal villain, but also rescue their parents.

Teenage Alan Tracy (Brady Corbet) longs to be a heroic Thunderbird, just like his brothers and his dad (Bill Paxton), but naturally he's perceived as being not quite ready for the responsibility. So while his family is off saving the world in their dazzling rocketships, or analyzing data in their high-tech island lair, young Alan laments his lot in life with nerdy young pal Fermat (Soren Fulton). Enter bald bad guy The Hood (Ben Kingsley), an almost Bond-worthy villain with plans of robbing the major banks of the world and framing the Thunderbirds in the process. After some Hood-related sabotage strands the Thunderbirds in deep space for most of the film, it's up to Alan, Fermat, and teenage love interest TinTin (Vanessa Anne Hudgens) to take care of things.

As the de facto heroes, Corbet, Fulton, and Hudgens have to carry the bulk of the tale, but Frakes has put together an interesting cast, most notably with the likes of Paxton and Kingsley. An accomplished screen presence like Kingsley, decked out here in a weird red kimono, seems to be having a jolly good time as the campy/threatening The Hood, even when he has to resort to some laughably bad "mind control" gyrations. There's also Anthony Edwards (E.R.) reverting back to his Revenge of the Nerd days as Brains, the stuttering scientist sidekick of the Thunderbirds, and Sophia Myles (Underworld) as the eternally pink sexy crime fighter Lady Penelope, who travels around in her flashy Fab1 roadster that turns into a flying car at the flip of a switch.

For an action film, there is a generous and equal mix of special effects, gadgetry and family-friendly set pieces. The CG effects are plentiful and imaginative here, and things such as Tracy island are like one big elaborate machine, full of rotating platforms, computer monitors that rise out of the floor and elaborate launching pads for the Thunderbird rocketships (my personal favorite being the swimming pool that slides open prior to lift-off). In what seems to be his new foray as a family filmmaker, Frakes keeps the action death-free, with any type of imminent danger fixable by flipping some switches, tapping on a keyboard or firing cannons of green-goo at the bad guys.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Thankfully, Universal has opted to issue Frakes' kid-friendly film in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, because there is trend to occasionally issue cropped versions of "kid flicks", and something like Thunderbirds really benefits from the widescreen treatment. This is a bright, primary-color-filled print, and the transfer consistently reflects that. Fleshtones may be a bit too golden at times, but even with that this is a beautiful-looking disc.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
English, French, Spanishyes

Audio Transfer Review: Audio is provided in 5.1 Dolby Digital surround, and it is properly active and aggressive, making good use of the rear and sub channels especially. Dialogue gets a little lost during some of the louder sequences, but the overall presentation is generally quite crisp, with a pleasing sense of depth across the front channels.

French and Spanish 5.1 tracks are also included.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring Two Brothers, Shark Tale, Balto, Land Before Time
6 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Jonathan Frakes
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. music video
Extras Review: There is a full-length commentary from director Jonathan Frakes, sounding very relaxed and likeable, who takes on the usual litany of topics like special effects, locations and set design. He points out strains of the original theme music for purists out there, and answers the burning question of how an actor like Ben Kingsley ended up in what Frakes refers to as a "kid-friendly action/fantasy movie". Without the commentary I would have missed recognizing Genie "Mrs. Jonathan Frakes" Francis, better known as Laura Spenser from General Hospital, as the television news reporter.

There's a gaggle of short behind-the-scenes pieces, each covering a distinct element of the production. Creating the Action (07m:46s) covers the development of one of the big set pieces in the film, while Tracy Island Revealed (09m:20s) takes a look at the gadgetry and effects needed to create the Thunderbirds' secret hideout. Lady P. and Parker: Fun and Stunts (02m:53s), Fab1: More Than a Car (03m:30s), and Lady Penelope's Pink World (04m:15s) all focus on the veddy British Thunderbird love interest Lady Penelope, whose high kicks, snazzy wardrobe, and flying car all get their due here. Lastly, there is a music video for the catchy theme song by Busted (03m:32s), who are a Good Charlotte-lite power trio who mug and cavort in between clips from the film.

The disc is cut into 18 chapters, with optional subtitles in English, French or Spanish.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

Kudos to Jonathan Frakes for making a kid-friendly action flick—one with no deaths, but plenty of CG peril and adventure—and while it probably will not come close to satisfying more hardened genre fans, it works as a big, noisy, and above all colorful family entertainment.


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