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THUNDERBIRDS (PG) (2004)

Universal Pictures

Official Site

Director: Jonathan Frakes

Producers: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Mark Huffman

Written by: William Osborne, Michael McCullers

Cast: Bill Paxton, Sir Ben Kingsley, Anthony Edwards, Brady Corbet, Vanessa Anne Hudgens, Soren Fulton, Sophia Myles, Ron Cook

 Rating:


I know why you’re here. You’ve come to allow your eyes to tear into my evisceration of Thunderbirds, like lean, hungry dogs that have just been granted a flank of mutton. And truly, I hate to disappoint, as gleefully savage reviews of films that would make the blind weep blood (see New York Minute, Highwaymen, White Chicks) have become something of my disdainful hallmark as a contributor for this modest web magazine, but, shockingly, Thunderbirds is not the worst thing I’ve seen. Not ever, not even this year. Not by the wingspan of a large and futuristic rescue ship. Thunderbirds may indeed be a remake (or reimagining, or whatever “they” call them these days) of a beloved 1960s British television series starring puppets, which automatically deigns that any rabid (and probably overweight and probably excessively sweaty) fan who enjoyed the show during its original run must sling a certain amount of ire at the property’s new, big-budget conception, as must any faux-hipster purist who wishes to retain membership to the geek-chic club. But really guys, Thunderbirds isn’t all that bad for a kids’ film based on a cult show in which Bill Paxton is a superhero patriarch and Sir Ben Kingsley is once again cast as an East Indian, wears a burgundy robe emblazoned with a dragon, and comically spins around like a bald cyclone. In fact, it’s probably the best film in that genre to date.

Jeff Tracy (Paxton) is the father of five frosted-blonde, Abercrombie-styled sons, each more aesthetically stomach-churning than the last. But, instead of scoring pussy, smoking dope, and stuffing geeks into lockers, as most good-looking young Caucasian males do, the Tracy males devote their lives to saving innocent people from burning oil refineries, natural disasters, collapsing monorails, etc. Jeff Tracy, you see, is an ex-astronaut and billionaire, and instead of erecting a 900-foot golden colossus of himself (as I would do if I were a billionaire), he manufactures a small fleet of technologically magnificent rescue ships called “Thunderbirds” and purchases a tropical island upon which he builds the somehow-undetectable headquarters/living quarters of his comrades/family. The youngest member of the Tracy family, Alan (Corbet), is frustrated because Jeff will not yet allow him to become a member of the Thunderbirds, and along with his friends Fermat (Fulton) the geek, and Tintin (Hudgens), his underage love interest, is consigned to watching the Thunderbirds do their rescuin’ on TV with the rest of the world. Enter The Hood (Kingsley, whose costume bears an uncanny resemblance to Raul Julia’s circa the lovably unholy Street Fighter: The Movie), who quite easily discovers the location of Tracy Island, strands the active Thunderbirds in space on a satellite which is quickly running out of air, and aims to take control of Thunderbird 2 (the big green ship for those in the know) to nefariously use as a bank-robbing vehicle, while the entire world watches in horror, thinking that their heroes, the Thunderbirds, are to blame! Gasp!!! Also, The Hood was born with the magical ability of making his pupils turn into vertical slits (no vagina jokes, please), allowing him to control people’s minds, as well as spinning like the aforementioned bald cyclone. And only Alan, Fermat, and Tintin, along with Fermat’s stuttering, dorky dad (Edwards), super-sexy British secret agent, Lady Penelope (Myles, whom every adult audience member, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, will wish was granted a nude scene) and her manservant, Parker (Cook), can save the world from having a couple of its banks robbed (oh, and save the other Thunderbirds, too, although they’re all so ugly I wish they’d just die). Along the way, the kids learn harsh and valuable lessons about friendship, responsibility, and awkward-but-necessary sexual tension.

Like a veteran of many pornographic films, Thunderbirds manages to successfully straddle and miraculously envelop the daunting load of an entertainment experience that can be appreciated by both children and adults alike. In other words, I did not wish to slit my own wrists while drinking bleach to wash down about a hundred cyanide tablets at any point during the movie. Children will enjoy the flashy special effects (I kid you not, this is the best example of CGI smoke I’ve ever seen), the gooftacular humor, and the bloodless cartoon action, while adults will ponder with disturbed curiosity just what Sir Ben Kingsley is doing in this movie, how they got Sir Ben Kingsley to play The Hood, and is that really Sir Ben Kingsley? Although the plot is inane indeed, and the film does seem to drag on far longer than it should, the adult cast enthusiastically hams it up with infectious passion. The younger players, who monopolize the film, manage to avoid disheartening and faith-shattering levels of Xtreme-ness. The three leads share an animated chemistry and it is nigh-impossible not to root for them. Of course, a large part of me also wished that The Hood would control their wills and force them to cannibalize each other slowly, but the simple fact that I was rooting for the protagonists at all is no small wonder, and a testament to Thunderbirds’ unexpected competence.

This film is, ultimately, aimed exclusively at the pre-teen demographic, to which I have not belonged for (sigh) more than a decade. Although I acknowledge that yes, this is a better-than-average film, and in many respects, one of the most mindlessly enjoyable films I’ve seen all summer, I cannot simply stride past the fact that the talent (Sir Ben Kingsley, I’m a-looking at you) and the resources spent on this film could have been better used. That, however, is a generic disagreement, and sadly, is the best that I can come up with. If you happen to be a youngster, and you’ve slogged past all of the foul language and sexual references (no need to thank me—I know you secretly loved them) to get to this point in the review, I urge you to see this film. You’ll love it. Add one and a half stars to my score. If you’re an adult, well, this isn’t really something you’ll want to see, but if you have kids and they want something to do for a couple hours on a sweatier-than-thou summer afternoon, you could do a lot worse. As a bonus, you will observe as Sir Ben Kingsley delivers the line “I’ll see you soon… Jeff!” with the icy conviction that only the Sexy Beast himself can muster.

—Nathan Baran

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

Itís worth a full-price ticket.

Itís worth a matinee ticket.

Wait for video rental.

Check out the video from the library, if you must.

While we would never encourage anyone to destroy a video...


Mike Doughty



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