The Film: Thunderbirds (2004)
The Principles: Jonathan Frakes (Director). Peter Hewitt, William Osborne, Michael McCullers (Screenwriters). Brad Corbet, Bill Paxton, Ben Kingsley, Anthony Edwards, Sophia Myles, Vanessa Hudgens, Philip Winchester, Lex Shrapnel, Deoba Operai, Dominic Colenso, Ben Torgerson, Ron Cook, Soren Fulton, Bhasker Patel, Rose Keegan, Harvey Virdi, etc.
The Premise: In the year 2020, the youngest boy of a famous family of heroes must rise to the challenge and save not only his family, but the world, from the villainous plans of an evil man known as “The Hood”.
Is It Good?: Fuck no, but it’s still fun. Also, let’s be honest here: When it comes to live action family films to watch with your children, you could do a LOT worse. First things first, this isn’t the old ’60s puppet TV show. The charm and creativity of Gerry & Sylvia Anderson’s classic science fiction actioner is not found within, but the film isn’t a total loss. We get above average performances from the child actors (including a young Vanessa Hudgens) and a few delightfully hammy turns from the adults (especially Sir Kingsley).
Also, ironically and appropriately enough, the wide shot CGI effects are dated to the point where they almost have a marionette feel to them. Whether this was intentional or not (unlikely), I’m going to go ahead and give director Jonathan Frakes the benefit of the doubt in this instance. Why the slack? Commander William motherfucking Riker, that’s why. So how does the Captain of the USS Titan fare outside of Star Trek? Fairly well. Thunderbirds’ problems lie not in the casting or the direction, but in an absolutely shitty screenplay. This truly is a wretched adaptation…but still one where Ben Kingsley’s eyes go reptilian when he makes shit fly across the room with his mind!
Is It Worth A Look?: Kingsley’s The Hood makes it worth a look. Ben will be gracing the silver screen later this week as “The Mandarin” in Iron Man 3. No matter how the character is portrayed within, I guarantee it won’t be as an over-the-top zany heel. After you see Shane Black’s superhero opus, if you find yourself wondering what a sillier take on Kingsley’s Mandarin would be like, then look no further than Thunderbirds. This film is goofy as shit, but that’s not always a negative. It IS a bad movie, but it’s an entertaining one. Sometimes glorious cheese is just what the doctor ordered and if you have exhausted the “recommended” films below with your kids, then add this one to the rotation. It’s no Pixar or classic Disney offering, but Thunderbirds is still leagues ahead of the likes of The Smurfs and Alvin & the Chipmunks.
Random Anecdotes: At one point in the late ’90s, Warner Brothers owned the rights and were going to do a CGI TV reboot with the Baldwin Brothers (Alec, William, Stephen, and Daniel) voicing most of the characters! It eventually changed hands a few times before Universal finally snagged the rights and assigned Jonathan Frakes to direct. The project was then rewritten to target a younger audience.
The three cops who escort The Hood and his goons away at the end are all Jonathan Frakes impersonators. A cop standing further back in the shot is played by Frakes himself.
Frakes brought the production in $3 million under budget. Universal was ecstatic about this, but their happiness was short-lived. The film completed production with a budget of $57 million, but pulled in a microscopic $6.9 million domestically ($28.2 million worldwide). Frakes hasn’t directed a theatrical film since, but continues to work regularly as a filmmaker (and actor) in television.
The newscaster that appears throughout the film is played by Frakes’ wife, Genie Francis.
Cinematic Soulmates: Clockstoppers, Jumanji, Spy Kids, Super Mario Bros.: The Movie, Thunderbird 6, Thunderbirds Are Go!, Zathura, etc.