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Thunderbirds (2004 film)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Thunderbirds movie poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJonathan Frakes
Screenplay by
Story by
Based onThunderbirds
by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson
Produced by
CinematographyBrendan Galvin
Edited byMartin Walsh
Music by
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • 20 July 2004 (2004-07-20) (United Kingdom)
  • 30 July 2004 (2004-07-30) (United States)
Running time
95 minutes
Budget$57 million
Box office$28.3 million

Thunderbirds is a 2004 science fiction action-adventure film[2] directed by Jonathan Frakes, based on the 1960s TV series Thunderbirds created by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson. The film, written by William Osborne and Michael McCullers, was released on 20 July 2004 in the United Kingdom and 30 July 2004 in the United States.

The film's plot concerns the Hood, who traps International Rescue (IR) leader Jeff Tracy and four of his sons on board the damaged Thunderbird 5 to steal the other Thunderbirds vehicles and commit heists that IR will be blamed for, prompting Jeff's youngest son Alan and his friends Tin-Tin and Fermat to stop him. In contrast with the original TV series, which used a combination of puppetry and scale-model special effects dubbed "Supermarionation", this film was made in live action with CGI effects.

The film received negative reviews from critics, who disparaged its wooden characters and thin plot, and was a box office bomb. Gerry Anderson was also negative about the film, describing it as "the biggest load of crap I have ever seen in my entire life",[3] although Sylvia Anderson praised it as a "great tribute" to the series.[4] The film's soundtrack includes the song "Thunderbirds Are Go" by pop-rock band Busted, which peaked at number one in the UK charts and later won the 2004 UK Record of the Year award.


The Tracy family, led by former astronaut Jeff Tracy, operate International Rescue (IR), a secret organization that aids those in need during disasters using technologically advanced machines called Thunderbirds, operating out of Tracy Island in the South Pacific. Youngest son Alan lives at a boarding school in Massachusetts and dreams of being a Thunderbird pilot. He and his friend Fermat Hackenbacker, son of the Thunderbirds’ engineer Brains, are extracted by Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward, an IR agent, and her butler Aloysius Parker, using her limo FAB 1, as the Thunderbirds return from an oil rig fire off the Russian coast. Unbeknownst to them, the Hood, a psychic criminal mastermind who has a vendetta against Jeff for abandoning him in a collapsing diamond mine when his brother Kyrano was rescued, has planted a tracking beacon on the hull of Thunderbird 1.

The Hood's submarine locates Tracy Island and fires a missile at the orbiting Thunderbird 5, sending the Tracys in Thunderbird 3 to rescue John Tracy. The Hood and his minions, Mullion and Transom, take over the island's command center, imprisoning the Tracys in Thunderbird 5 as their oxygen runs out. The Hood reveals that he plans to use the Thunderbirds to rob the major banks of the world, thus plunging the world's monetary system into chaos. The IR organization will be blamed and disgraced for it. Alan, Fermat and their friend Tin-Tin, Kyrano's daughter, use a ventilation shaft to reach the Thunderbird silos. Fermat removes Thunderbird 2's guidance chip, delaying their plan, and the teenagers flee into the island's jungle.

While traversing the jungle to find the island's remote transmitter, Tin-Tin displays psychic powers like her uncle. Alan insists on confronting the villains, but Jeff tells them to wait for Lady Penelope's arrival. The trio flees from Mullion, but Fermat and Tin-Tin are captured when Alan tries to tow them to safety on hovercraft. Lady Penelope and Parker arrive, engaging the Hood's minions in combat, but the Hood defeats them with his powers. When Alan appears, the Hood forces him to give up the guidance chip and locks him and the others in the compound's walk-in freezer. The Hood, Mullion, and Transom pilot Thunderbird 2 to London and use the Mole to sink a monorail line into the Thames and drill into the Bank of England’s vaults. Alan and company escape and contact the Tracys who regain Thunderbird 5. While the adults set out to stop the Hood, the teenagers, Lady Penelope, and Parker fly to London in Thunderbird 1.

Arriving in London, Alan and Tin-Tin rescue a submerged monorail car using the aquatic Thunderbird 4 before pursuing the Hood. Together, Fermat, Tin-Tin, and Parker defeat the Hood's henchmen. The Hood locks Jeff and Lady Penelope in a vault and challenges Alan to defeat him. Alan dangles from a catwalk over the Mole, but Tin-Tin appears, using her own powers to defeat the Hood. The Hood taunts Alan to let him die as his father did, but Alan, knowing that his father had in fact tried unsuccessfully to save the Hood, rescues him. The Hood and his minions are arrested and the Tracys return to their island. Alan, Fermat, and Tin-Tin are inducted as official members of IR, and depart for their first mission.



Thunderbirds was the third theatrical release based upon the series created by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson. It was preceded by Thunderbirds Are Go in 1966 and Thunderbird 6 in 1968, both films using the Supermarionation production techniques of the series.

Production of the film started in the mid-1990s when PolyGram Filmed Entertainment purchased the rights to the entire ITC Entertainment library, which included the original Thunderbirds series. Seeing the big-screen potential of the series, Peter Hewitt was signed on to direct, while Karey Kirkpatrick was signed on to write. While Hewitt was a lifelong fan of the series, Kirkpatrick was not, but watched all 32 episodes of the original series to immerse himself within the lore of the series.[5] Hewitt and Kirkpatrick wrote a draft of the screenplay which was faithful to the series, but which they hoped would not alienate audiences who were unfamiliar with the franchise. Their script featured The Hood trying to steal Tracy Island's power core to power a device controlled by arch villain Thaddeus Stone, which would transfer all of Earth's gravity to the moon. After four drafts, Kirkpatrick left the project due to Working Title's concerns that the film would not play well in the US market. (Working Title was the unit of PolyGram, and later Universal Studios when that company in 1999 bought out PolyGram’s assets, that produced films in Britain.) Hewitt also left the production shortly afterwards due to his dislike for the new direction the film was taking.[5]

Hewitt was replaced by Jonathan Frakes, whose credentials included another film in the science fiction family film genres, Clockstoppers. Ben Kingsley accepted the part of the Hood because his children were Thunderbirds fans and, having just finished with House of Sand and Fog, he was ready for a more lighthearted role.[6]

Filming began in March 2003 in Seychelles, before moving to Pinewood Studios and on-location shooting in London.

Thunderbirds is dedicated to the memory of Stephen Lowen, a rigger on the film, who died in a fall whilst dismantling one of the sets.[7]

Theatrical Release and Home Media

Thunderbirds was theatrically released on 24 July 2004 in the United Kingdom and 30 July 2004 in the United States by Universal Studios, and was released on VHS & DVD on 21 December 2004 by Universal Studios Home Entertainment.

Thunderbirds was re-released on Blu-Ray in the United Kingdom by Universal Studios, and by Universal Studios Home Entertainment on the 7th October 2019.


The FAB 1 car designed by Ford of Europe for the film.
The FAB 1 car designed by Ford of Europe for the film.

Box office

Thunderbirds grossed $28,283,637 worldwide, and with an estimated $57 million budget,[8] the film was a box office bomb. Frakes attributed the film's box office failure to a combination of stiff competition from its contemporaries Shrek 2 and Spider-Man 2 and its poor critical reception.[9]

Critical response

The movie received negative reviews. Those familiar with the series tended to be more negative. Sukhdev Sandhu of The Daily Telegraph called it "a quite cretinous travesty of the original series", saying that the film lacks the TV series's romantic approach to technology (particularly mentioning its rushed version of the countdown to the Thunderbirds takeoff) and suffers from thin plotting and dialogue. He also regarded the entire trend of making films based on decades-old TV series as good-intentioned but misguided, arguing, "Those programmes can be seen on terrestrial and cable TV. They're available on DVD. They don't need reviving and updating."[10] The Houston Chronicle's Amy Biancolli similarly called the film a "rather breathtakingly misconceived attempt to revisit a vintage TV show that did not under any circumstances need to be revisited." She found the central character Alan "whiny and uninteresting", the script poor, the plot contrived and unsatisfying, and the acting wooden, though she noted that her three children enjoyed it much more than she did. She gave it a C-.[11] Ian Freer, writing for Empire, assessed that the film fails to either evoke nostalgia in the generation which watched Thunderbirds as children or provide snappy entertainment for the current generation of children. Like Sandhu, he felt the countdown sequence was so rushed that there is no sense of occasion to a Thunderbird taking to the sky. He also said that the child leads lack spirit and chemistry, and the adult characters suffer from excessive exposition and flat characterization. While he did praise Sophia Myles's performance and the vehicle designs, he considered the film an overall failure and gave it two out of five stars.[12] On the review aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a 19% "rotten" rating based on 106 reviews. The site's consensus states: "Live-action cartoon for kids."[13] Critics widely described the film as a second-rate Spy Kids imitator.[10][11][12]

During development, creator Gerry Anderson was invited to act as creative consultant, but was left out when the studio felt there were enough employees on the payroll acting as part of the creative team. The studio offered him $750,000 (£432,000) to attend the premiere but Anderson could not accept money from people he had not worked for. He eventually saw the film on DVD and was disappointed, declaring "It was disgraceful that such a huge amount of money was spent with people who had no idea what Thunderbirds was about and what made it tick."[14] He also said that it was "the biggest load of crap I have ever seen in my entire life."[3]

Co-creator Sylvia Anderson, and the one responsible for character development, was given a private screening of the film and attended the London premiere. She expressed a far different opinion to that of her former husband, stating "I felt that I'd been on a wonderful Thunderbirds adventure. You, the fans, will I'm sure, appreciate the sensitive adaptation and I'm personally thrilled that the production team have paid us the great compliment of bringing to life our original concept for the big screen. If we had made it ourselves (and we have had over 30 years to do it!) we could not have improved on this new version. It is a great tribute to the original creative team who inspired the movie all those years ago. It was a personal thrill for me to see my characters come to life on the big screen."[4]

Timed to coincide with the theatrical release of Thunderbirds, the two prior films were released on DVD. The DVD versions of all three films include a number of extra features, including historical and production information.[citation needed]

Differences from the original

Changes from the original series include new designs for the Thunderbird craft, a new layout of Tracy Island, redesigned International Rescue uniforms, and the Hood and Tracy Island being referred to by name in dialogue (rather than just on merchandise). The organisation is also referred to as "Thunderbirds" in everyday use, although the official name is still International Rescue.

In the original series, Alan and Tin-Tin are much closer to the age of the rest of the Tracy brothers. Fermat Hackenbacker and Onaha are new characters not from the TV series, while Grandma Tracy has been omitted from the film.

The TV series has "Kyrano" as the family name, with Kyrano's first name never being revealed. Tin-Tin and Kyrano change nationality in the film; they are Malaysian in the TV series but are depicted as being from India in the film.

In the feature film, the Hood said that he was left for dead in one of International Rescue's earlier missions, but in "Trapped in the Sky"—which was stated as International Rescue's first mission—he was already trying to get their technology, the existence of which he knew via Kyrano.[e 1]

International Rescue now allows itself to be filmed and photographed on missions. One of the recurring "rules" in the original TV series was that under no circumstances was anything related to International Rescue—be it the pilots or the craft themselves—permitted to be photographed. For example, in the episode "Terror in New York City", Scott Tracy electromagnetically wipes a recording of Thunderbird 1 when the news crew starts filming.[e 2]



Primary sources

  1. ^ Written by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson. Directed by Alan Pattillo (30 September 1965). "Trapped in the Sky". Thunderbirds.Episode 01.
  2. ^ Written by Alan Fennell. Directed by David Elliott and David Lane (21 October 1965). "Terror of New York City". Thunderbirds. Episode 13.

Secondary sources

  1. ^ a b c d "Thunderbirds (2004)". British Film Institute. Retrieved 24 June 2021.
  2. ^ Puig, Claudia (29 July 2004). "Fantasy propels Thunderbirds". USA Today. Gannett Company. Archived from the original on 7 November 2012. Retrieved 6 December 2013.
  3. ^ a b Fitzsimmons, Caitlin (7 February 2009). "Gerry Anderson auctions Thunderbirds treasures". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 25 May 2010.
  4. ^ a b "Thunderbirds 'The Movie'". Sylvia Anderson Official Website. Archived from the original on 22 July 2011. Retrieved 24 February 2011.
  5. ^ a b "Thunderbirds Aren't Go!". Retrieved 29 March 2015.
  6. ^ Morales, Wilson (July 2004). "Thunderbirds Press Conference: An Interview with Jonathan Frakes, Brady Corbet, Vanessa Anne Hudgens, and Soren Fulton". Black Retrieved 28 May 2021.
  7. ^ McPhilemy, Agnes (18 June 2003). "Ex-Para Dies After 16ft Fall". Borehamwood Times. Retrieved 5 October 2014.
  8. ^ "Thunderbirds (2004)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 26 May 2021.
  9. ^ Marsh, Calum (24 January 2019). "Star Trek Legend Jonathan Frakes on Discovery, Movie Jail, and Life as an Actor's Director". Vulture. Retrieved 26 May 2021.
  10. ^ a b Sandhu, Sukhdev (23 July 2004). "Thunderbirds are no-go". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 25 May 2010.
  11. ^ a b Biancolli, Amy (30 July 2004). "Thunderbirds". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved 25 May 2021.
  12. ^ a b Freer, Ian. "Thunderbirds Review". Empire. Retrieved 25 May 2021.
  13. ^ "Thunderbirds (2004)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 25 May 2021.
  14. ^ "Talking Shop: Gerry Anderson". BBC News Online. 7 October 2008. Retrieved 7 October 2008.

Further reading

External links

This page was last edited on 20 October 2021, at 04:46
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