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Is Thunderbirds FAB?

Recently I watched a rerun of The Simpsons first show, initially broadcast in 1989, and marvelled at how far it had developed since then.

I couldn’t help thinking about this at the end of the New Zealand premiere of Thunderbirds are Go. It wasn’t so much because of the changes that have been made since the original Thunderbirds was broadcast 50 years ago but because of what Thunderbirds are Go has the potential to become.

Thunderbird 4 has a run out on the ThamesPhoto:

Thunderbird 4 has a run out on the Thames
Photo: David Parry

Thunderbirds are Go is aimed at the 6-11 year old market. A quick check indicated that Gerry and Sylvia Anderson aimed the original Thunderbirds at the “kidult” market. TVNZ is certainly targeting the family market broadcasting it in prime time viewing.

In the UK ITV is pushing the show hard, screening a doco to celebrate the return of the show and running a publicity stunt on the Thames, outside the Houses of Parliament.

It’s action packed to a fault – more happening in each 30 minute programme than ever made it into the original 60 minutes. The new show has apparently been developed with the attention spans of today’s children in mind, and aided by advances in technology over the original Supermarionation – particularly CGI. But this means that each death defying rescue is over in super-quick time taking the suspension of belief to a whole new level. There is no time for old-fashioned notions like suspense, plot or dialogue.

The programme is surprisingly uneven in pace, acting, characterisation and in-film technology. The producers have prided themselves on strengthening the role of new female lead Kayo (think Tin Tin Kyrano) but Grandma is a distraction and Lady Penelope spends most of her time talking into her powder puff. Lady P is asked to do things and apparently does so, but you never see her actually doing them. Frankly there isn’t time. The technology that the Tracys have at their fingertips is astonishing, but to seal Thunderbird Two someone has to manually close an overhead sliding hatch.

The team from Pukeko in pulling together Thunderbirds are Go have created a form of puppetry without strings using CGI, miniatures and models. Possibly they had to do this to convince the Andersons that they would remain as true to the original as possible. What I would now like to see is the CGI and animation pushed to its full potential so Thunderbirds are Go can develop and grow, just like The Simpsons. And someone who can stand back from each programme and see the bigger picture, just like Kayo is supposed to do, and smooth out the bumps.

The Tracy boys (l-r): Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John

The Tracy boys (l-r): Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John

With or without a Kayo, Thunderbirds Are Go has helped grow Pukeko. The company has filled 100 new positions since January. The second series of the show was greenlit late last year, shortly after Thunderbirds Are Go had its world premiere screening at MipJunior, just ahead of MIPCOM.

My Mum, now aged 84, loved the original Thunderbirds because “it was different”. Thunderbirds are Go launches into a much more crowded market. It will be interesting to see how it will takes on that challenge, especially in territories where the original is not so well known.

Thunderbirds are Go premieres on TV2 on 12 April.

Three stars ***

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