50 years since the original series, Thunderbirds has been revived with a move away from the marionettes and models of the classic to a mix of computer generated characters and ships with miniature sets.
It can be difficult rebooting a franchise for a modern audience and Thunderbirds has already seen the failure that was the 2004 Hollywood inspired movie that ultimately spat in the face of established fans and series creator, Gerry Anderson.
With Gerry's recent passing, the rights for the show have been freed up allowing this new series, Thunderbirds Are Go to come to light and launch this year.
The pilot episode, Ring of Fire is a two-parter at approx 50 mins in length and introduces familiar and new characters while omitting one in particular. Both episodes deal with emergencies that call on the help of our favourite International Rescue pilots. I say our favourite because everyone is involved in each unfolding disaster. While this is good no matter which Thunderbird pilot and craft is you love to see, it is a bit overkill for a 20 minute timeslot! Remember that in the original series it took 11 episodes before we got to see Thunderbird 3 in action.
The charm of the marionettes is gone but the characters are reproduced well in CG. For me, Virgil looks the most different from his puppet counterpart. The problem with CG is that on screen the characters can sometimes appear to be a bit lighter in their environment than they should be, but the team have put a lot of attention into the details which can be appreciated by the fans.
One thing the original series did well was the launch sequences of each craft. Each Thunderbird had it's own theme and own elaborate launch including how the pilot got into them. For the most part, the sequences have been retained and re-imagined for the new series, but the thematic music is gone and with it the appreciation for each craft in their own right. While I love the detail of TB1 descending to her launchpad and blowing away the swimming pool deck chairs (does Grandma put them all back again?) I feel that TB2's launch is rushed and that takes away from how grand this beast of a machine really is. TB2 is probably the favourite of all the Thunderbirds but the whole sequence feels sped up. Originally the palm trees folded down due to TB2's wingspan but the new TB2's wings are retracted as she enters the runway, so the trees don't really need to fold down anymore! TB3's launch sequence retains the moving lounge chair and launch through the round-house. With each launch sequence though, do we really need to hear the familiar 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 countdown every time?
Thunderbirds 1 and 3 are true enough to their original series counterparts although TB3 has been equipped with extending 'arms' which change the look of the ship and we see used to assist an orbital satellite. TB3 was my favourite of the original craft but the new feature has put me off the new one quite a bit. Thunderbird 2 looks similar enough but more like a cargo carrier than the curvacious original version - maybe a little more aerodynamic as a result.
We are introduced to Kayo, a female member of International Rescue who appears to be a replacement for the original's Tintin. As the episode unfolds, it appears that she is the new Tintin. It will be interesting to see where they take this character, particularly with her own ship. Thunderbird S? Really? Shouldn't they have named it TB6?
Notably missing is Jeff Tracy. Scott appears to have taken the reigns on Tracy Island in his absence while John coordinates missions from TB5. There are mentions to an 'incident' that Jeff was involved in but I noticed they deliberately didn't mention he is actually dead... I wonder if this is a thread that will continue through the show to a resolution at some point?
Lady Penelope and Parker are back with their pink Rolls Royce but gone is Lady P's famous upper class accent. Parker retains his as voice actor David Graham returns to the new series. Both are thoroughly featured in the pilot episodes just like everyone else. Lady P even has a little dog for a companion now. Some of the graphics don't quite stand up when FAB1 is involved unfortunately - and they've made it capable of flying (again).
Brains and Grandma make appearances too. Brains has a more distinctly Indian sounding accent than his original series version and Grandma is an incredibly bad cook it seems. Added in with all the rescue mayhem and getting everyone involved, including that bald-headed villain (The Hood), just adds more to the limited time slot and why the pilot episodes continue to feel so hurried.
I'm hoping future episodes will slow down a bit and be a bit less cluttered with emergencies and mayhem. The new show looks like it wants to fit more in with half the time slot of the original. There's no chance to appreciate the depth of the emergency that's presented, or appreciate the awesomeness of the Thunderbird machines in all their revitalised, remote controllable (from a wrist-watch!) glory. However, perhaps the mayhem was a result of starting off with a bang and showing off everything to get audiences interested.
There's potential in this new show and with 50 episodes to come, there's plenty of time to see how this develops. I'm interested enough to want to watch more and that's better than the 2004 movie did!
Thunderbirds Are Go!