Expanded to feature-length format from the popular TV family show that ran between 1964-1966, the filmmakers were very careful in upgrading the production aspects from 1.33:1 to anamorphic Techniscope, which director David Lane found to be more accepting of explosive special effects than the era's Panavision lenses. The result are two films - "Thunderbirds Are GO" and "Thunderbird 6" - that really make exceptional use of the 2.35:1 ratio, with Derek Meddings' effects and ship designs looking just plain gorgeous.
Filmed in SuperMarionation (Gerry Anderson's fun play on big-screen exhibition, and self-aggrandizement), both "Thunderbirds" films are excellent showpieces for a widescreen home theatre system, with surviving dialogue and music stems used to create a discreet pseudo-5.1 mix. Dialogue is isolated to the center mono channel, with some depth added to Barry Gray's militaristic score and some panned sound effects for the front surrounds, and the rear surrounds are most ambient music and subtle sound effects.
Sylvia Anderson's active participation in this release certainly reaffirms her vital role in the original TV series and feature films as co-writer, producer, and voice of the pivotal character, Miss. Penelope. Alongside director Lane in the disc's commentary track, one can't help but admire Sylvia's rather feisty and indefatigable stature as a major creative and governing force in an otherwise male-dominated industry; theirs was a unique partnership that left the actual production to Sylvia, while Gerry was 'off setting up' the next TV series.
Both Lane and Anderson give a good mix of anecdotes and fine production minutia, but fans totally unfamiliar with the series may want to watch the featurettes first, as they don't contain major spoilers, and make a point in explaining the show's lore and characters very concisely. Historian Richard Holliss also adds some perspective to the show's appeal, which was deliberately designed to attract the entire family; and there's an affectionate nod to loyal composer Barry Gray, who utilized a 70-piece orchestra to beef up the film's already glossy production values.
The commentary track also makes note of the Anderson's relationship with toy manufacturers, including Matchbox, who helped realize functional metal vehicles that, even today, are among the coolest ever built for kids (and nostalgic adults). Lane also describes some of the film's unique sequences, including a musical dream sequence with Cliff Richards & his mates, patterned after old-style Hollywood musicals; Cliff dances & sings, and the movements remain quite remarkable. Anderson also offers an amusing Stanley Kubrick anecdote, demonstrating the respect colleagues felt towards the fine effects crew assembled for each of the Anderson television shows during the Sixties.
The recent big-screen attempt to revisit the format arguably blundered by using real people in place of puppets, and much like the cinematic attempt with "The Avengers," the original series productions shine even brighter today, 40 years after the show's international run.
This DVD is available separately, or in a 2-disc set with the film "Thunderbird 6," and a custom box featuring cardboard models & magnet sheet.
© 2004 Mark R. Hasan