I remember as a mid-teenager watching the THUNDERBIRDS series, some channel carrying it in our area. Puppetry was it’s chief feature, aupermarionation they called it. Although I enjoyed it, it wasn’t something I went out of my way to catch(remember this was long before VHS recording machines even). Gerry and Sylvia Anderson produced several series using their process beginning in 1957 and Thunderbirds may be the one they are most known for. They also, of course, did the live action Space: 1999.
The Thunderbirds were the Tracy family, ex-astronaut Jeff Tracy and his five sons, Scot, Virgil, Alan, Gordon, and John(each was named after one of the Mercury Seven astronauts. The puppets appearances, the main ones anyway, were modeled after real actors. The father Jeff was Lorne Greene, Scot Sean Connery, Alan Robert Reed, and John a combination of both Adam Faith and Charlton Heston. They run International Rescue, a secretive organization based on a remote and uncharted island in the Pacific, that perform rescue on damaged ships, whether by accident or, frequently sabotage.
They are often aided by their London agent, Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward who rides around in her futuristic Rolls-Royce with her cockney chauffeur/butler Aloysius “Nosey” Parker. The rolls is tricked out with a bunch of gadgets, ala James Bond, as well as being able to ride the waters of the ocean or the space lanes. Her designation is Fab 1, the same as the license plate on the Rolls.
The film THUNDERBIRDS ARE GO is set in 2066 and concerns man’s first manned mission to Mars. The Zero=X launches, not knowing a saboteur using the moniker The Hood is aboard to photograph some of the top secret mechanisms. A swarthy looking puppet dressed in black, he manages to get one foot caught in the mechanisms, it getting crushed, but fouling up the controls. He manages to pull loose and crawls toward an exit panel, dragging a bloodied foot behind to escape. The ship goes down in the ocean, the crew bailing out in an escape module.
Two years later, an investigation has ruled sabotage as the reason for the crash, a new mission is being planned, and the folks in charge are worried about security. The Thunderbirds are asked to handle that security and they plunge in with a will. Two Thunderbirds will accompany the launch, a third will be in orbit to make sure everything is fine, and Lady Penelope poses as a reporter at the press conference for the three man crew and the two scientist going along on the mission. She sends each a St Christopher’s medal broach with a transmitter inside.
That’s how they realize something is wrong when Scot checks each signal and gets one from a warehouse near the launch site just sheer minutes before launch. he goes in and confronts one of the civilian scientists, snatching off a mask to reveal our old friend The Hood. He pulls a gun and escapes, only to be followed by Lady Penelope in her Rolls. A fast chase that moves from car to boat to helicopter and a final battle that Fab 1 wins.
The Zero-X launches successfully and heads for Mars.
Here’s where it got a little weird. While Zero-X is on it’s way, we’re treated to a dream sequence of Alan, the youngest Tracy, involving Lady Penelope. As this was a kid’s movie, his fantasies never go further than a night out at a night club with the beautiful lady, Alan wearing the most ghastly looking glittery tux and top hat. Entertainment is provided by Cliff Richards, Jr. Odd in that in the year 2068, junior looks pretty young to be the son of a sixties British singing idol.
The Zero-X drops it’s nose module, lands on Mars, and they begin exploring, finding piles of coiled rock everywhere. Deciding to blow one up for samples, they learn they are Martians, rock snakes, that begin shooting balls of fire from their mouths. Heavily under attack, the module is on the run while waiting for the main ship to get back into position. They launch at the last moment, get hooked up, and head back to Earth.
Six weeks later, an accident happens, one of the lifting bodies loses it’s remote control, hits the ship, and crashes. The hook-ups are damaged, so another lifting body is out of the question. The accident also shorted out the escape module controls and the crash site is small town of four thousand people. International Rescue is called into action.
A tense sequence follows where Alan is raised by cable, a bolt shot from the hovering Thnderbird to anchor in the nose wheel section, and proceeds to reorganize the wiring so the escape pod can get away.
Hooray, the crew is saved.
Not so the small town. It had been quickly evacuated and we watch Zero-X crash into the town, tearing through and destroying the town.
In watching this film from an adult prospective, I’d never seen it before as a matter of fact, one could tell it was geared for the less sophisticated young. At the beginning is an interminably long sequence as each section of the Zero-X was assembled, five of them, slowly. I thought they were going to do it again with the second launch two years later, but fortunately it was cut short and interspersed with cuts of the Thunderbirds getting into position.
The film wasn’t a big hit. Neither was the sequel or the live action in 2004. Not seen either of them.
Not the worst film I’ve seen, but no desire to ever watch it again. It doesn’t fit in that criteria of so bad they’re good or so good they’re worth multiple viewings.
For probably better overlooked movies, see Todd Mason over at Sweet Freedom.