Thunderbirds is a 2004 science-fiction adventure film loosely based upon the 1960s television series of the same name, directed by Jonathan Frakes. The film, written by William Osborne and Michael McCullers, was released on July 24, 2004 in the United Kingdom and July 30, 2004 in the United States, with later dates for others. The film uses live-action actors playing the Tracy family and other characters rather than the Supermarionation marionettes used in the television series.
The film was popular with children but it mainly received negative reviews (controversial), notably from Gerry Anderson and other original series fans, and was a financial failure at the box office. The film's soundtrack features the song Thunderbirds Are Go! by pop-rock/pop-punk band Busted, which reached Number 1 in the UK Singles Charts and later won the 2004 Record of the Year award.
The film is set in spring 2010 (according to the official trailer). Fourteen-year-old Alan Tracy (Brady Corbet), who has been sent off to a distant boarding school, is the youngest of the sons of Jeff Tracy, a widower and a retired American astronaut (Bill Paxton). Jeff has formed International Rescue, and raised his sons to act as a secret, volunteer organisation which uses highly advanced technology to save lives worldwide. Jeff and his older sons (John, Virgil, Scott, and Gordon, who, like Alan, were named after the Mercury Seven astronauts) are joined in this effort by Lady Penelope and her butler/chauffeur Parker (a man whose "checkered past" comes in handy). Their futuristic hardware is largely developed by genius scientist "Brains" Hackenbacker (Anthony Edwards), who lives at the International Rescue base on Tracy Island, somewhere in the Pacific, along with his son, Alan's best friend, Fermat (Soren Fulton). There's also caretaker Kyrano (Bhasker Patel), cook Onaha, and their beautiful adolescent daughter, Tintin (Vanessa Hudgens), who appears edgy around Alan, which Lady Penelope observes is due to a budding romance between them. Alan is eager to join his family in their work, but his father and older brothers still see him as just their little kid brother; not ready for duty. During the movie, Alan is grounded for spring break after he and Fermat sneak into the Thunderbird 1 silo and start the engines nearly revealing International Rescue's location.
IR's arch-enemy the Hood (Sir Ben Kingsley) is seeking revenge. Bitter over having been abandoned and presumed dead by the Thunderbirds in an early rescue attempt, he has come to destroy them and take their machines to use in a daring raid on the Bank of England (renamed Bank of London, for the film) vaults. He launches a missile to wreck Thunderbird 5, the orbiting communications station. The Tracys - except, of course, for Alan - launch into space aboard Thunderbird 3 to rescue John, who is manning the station when it is hit, and The Hood takes over the secret island base.
Using his mental powers to overcome Brains' resistance, the Hood takes control of the Thunderbirds home base, aided by his confederates Transom (Rose Keegan) and strongman Mullion (Deobia Oparei). He also disables the control systems, stranding the rescuers aboard the disintegrating Thunderbird 5, briefly transmitting a message to reveal his connections to the organisation's history. Alan, Tintin and Fermat, having observed the invasion of The Hood and his minions, then hearing his plans, launch a hasty resistance. Fermat disables heavy-lifter Thunderbird 2 as they retreat from the base, then flee to the mountaintop radio transmitter site. They make contact with Jeff Tracy, who tells them to wait for Lady Penelope to come and take charge. However, the impulsive Alan leads the other two teenagers into ill-planned action, resulting in their capture. Lady Penelope and Parker arrive on the Island to help Alan, but they find the Hood has taken the Tracy Mansion, and a fight begins with Lady Penelope and Parker against Mullion and Transom whom they managed to defeat. However, they are still captured when they are overpowered by The Hood's mental powers, and Alan is forced to give Thunderbird 2's missing guidance processor to the Hood. The island's defenders all end up locked in the walk-in freezer while the Hood, Transom and Mullion head off to London.
Escaping the freezer, the first order of business is to rescue Thunderbird 5 and the Tracys. Reporting the Hood's scheme, Alan gets his chance to go to work as he manages to convince Jeff to let him, Fermat and Tintin go after the Hood as his father and brothers would never make it in time. John, Brains and Lady Penelope back Alan up and Jeff reluctantly accepts. The three launch for London in Thunderbird 1, chaperoned by Lady Penelope and piloted by Alan and Fermat while Parker heads for the Bank of London to meet up with them in FAB 1.
The Hood and his accomplices, having arrived in London, use International Rescue's drilling machine the Mole to begin tunnelling toward the vaults at the Bank, in the process damaging the support pylons for a public-transit monorail, which falls into the River Thames. Alan, Tintin and Fermat land next to Thunderbird 2, then they begin their rescue of the submerged monorail and its passengers. Alan turns over piloting duties to Fermat, then launches in the Thunderbird 4 rescue submarine. When Alan and Fermat are unable to connect the lifting cable, Tintin dives into the water, swims down to the stricken monorail where she secures the cable, then joins Alan aboard Thunderbird 4. Jeff and his other sons arrive just in time to see the successful rescue, then Jeff, Alan, Tintin and Fermat rush to the bank, where they are joined by Parker.
Lady Penelope, helpless, is handcuffed tightly behind her back by Mullion and Jeff gets captured by the Hood. Fermat and Parker defeat Mullion by working together. As Alan and Jeff try to find the Hood, Alan asks his father if the Hood was telling the truth about Jeff abandoning him, Jeff admitting that he left the Hood behind during the rescue but also admitting that he only did it because he couldn't see any way to save the Hood that wouldn't have resulted in the deaths of both. Alan and Hood fight while Tintin traps Transom. With the Hood using his mental abilities, Alan starts to lose but Tintin arrives on the scene just in time. She then proves that she has mental powers similar to her uncle's and actually overpowers him in the resulting duel (presumably due to the Hood being weakened from fighting Alan as he grew weaker the longer he used his powers), which results in the evil Hood falling into mortal danger. Alan, who has to choose between saving the Hood and letting him die, saves him, saying, "I don't want to save your life, but it's what we do."
The Hood, Mullion and Transom are arrested by the police with the Hood promising to "see you soon, Jeff." With the evil-doers turned over to police custody, the Tracys return home, where the three young heroes are inducted into International Rescue, while Tintin begins making a move on Alan, receiving a knowing wink from Penelope. Moments later, a call from the President has the Thunderbirds (minus Jeff who stays behind, but including Alan and presumably Tintin and Fermat) off on another mission.
- Brady Corbet as Alan Tracy
- Bill Paxton as Jeff Tracy
- Vanessa Hudgens as Tintin
- Anthony Edwards as "Brains" Hackenbacker
- Ben Kingsley as the Hood
- Sophia Myles as Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward
- Philip Winchester as Scott Tracy
- Lex Shrapnel as John Tracy
- Dominic Colenso as Virgil Tracy
- Ben Torgersen as Gordon Tracy
- Ron Cook as Aloysius Parker
- Bhasker Patel as Kyrano Belagant
- Soren Fulton as Fermat Hackenbacker
- DeObia Oparei as Mullion
- Rose Keegan as Transom
- Harvey Virdi as Onaha
- Genie Francis as Lisa Lowe
By August 2004, the film had taken a relatively low worldwide total of about $28,000,000. It cost roughly $57,000,000 to produce. The film received mixed to negative reviews, but had a mixed fanbase. Those familiar with the series tended to be more negative in their views, accusing the filmmakers of abandoning the concepts of the original series in favour of the Spy Kids angle, with reviewers dubbing it "Thunderbirds Are No-Go!" (a riff on the catchphrase from the original series, "Thunderbirds are GO!"). Because of this, the addition of Brains' son, Fermat, also irritated many fans of the series, as he receives more screen time than Brains. Empire gave the film two out of five stars. Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a 20% "rotten" rating and a consensus calling the film a "Live-action cartoon for kids.". Yahoo! Movies and Entertainment Weekly gave the film a C+ rating. Metacritic gave the film 36 of 100.
Fans of the original series directed heavy criticism at the film through the Internet even before its release.
One of the few aspects of the film to receive positive acclaim (other than the special effects) was Sophia Myles' performance as iconic superspy Lady Penelope, a portrayal in a style identical to that of her television counterpart. Another positive view was Ron Cook as Lady Penelope's butler and chauffeur Parker. The Thunderbirds craft, as well as Tracy Island, were also seen to be very close to the style of the original designs. Purists disliked the fact that FAB 1, Lady Penelope's car, was a Ford rather than a Rolls-Royce. However, this was because the producers could not reach a suitable agreement with BMW, who own the Rolls-Royce marque; the car manufacturer insisted that only an actual production model could be used. Ford stepped in with special version of their Thunderbird model, duplicating the six-wheel system on the Supermarionation Rolls. FAB-1 steers with the four front tires.
The Ford Motor Company supplied a number of vehicles to the production, including an advanced off-road vehicle which prominently sported the Ford logo, a Ford Windstar, a Ford Ka and Ford Thunderbird which are owned by Lady Penelope, as well as many Ford C-MAX and Ford F-150s in various locations, leading to jeers over the too-obvious level of product placement by the car manufacturers - a sentiment actually shared by director Jonathan Frakes, as revealed in the DVD audio commentary.
During development, creator Gerry Anderson was invited to act as creative consultant, but was left out when the studio felt there were enough employees on the payroll acting as part of the creative team. The studio offered him $750,000 (£432,000) to attend the premiere but Anderson could not accept money from people he had not worked for. He eventually saw the film on DVD and was disappointed, declaring "It was disgraceful that such a huge amount of money was spent with people who had no idea what Thunderbirds was about and what made it tick". He also said that it was "the biggest load of crap I have ever seen in my entire life".
Co-creator Sylvia Anderson, and the one responsible for character development, was given a private screening of the film and attended the London première. She had a far different opinion. "I felt that I'd been on a wonderful Thunderbirds adventure. You, the fans, will I'm sure, appreciate the sensitive adaptation and I'm personally thrilled that the production team have paid us the great compliment of bringing to life our original concept for the big screen. If we had made it ourselves (and we have had over 30 years to do it!) we could not have improved on this new version. It is a great tribute to the original creative team who inspired the movie all those years ago. It was a personal thrill for me to see my characters come to life on the big screen."
Differences from the Original
There are notable changes from the original series. The most obvious difference is the updated effects and new designs of the Thunderbird craft. The majority were given a sleeker and modern look; however, they were still based on their original designs, with Thunderbirds 2 & 4 deviating the most from their original look. The layout of Tracy Island, as well as the inside of the house, had also been overhauled. The way in which the Tracy Brothers make their descent to the hangars has changed, with them now all standing in front of their pictures on the wall, instead of there being a specific place for them stand in the lounge to get to a specific craft. Additionally the couch loading mechanism is now used in Thunderbird 2 as well, rather than just being for Thunderbird 3, but uses a robotic arm instead of the system of rails. Lady Penelope's FAB 1 vehicle was changed from a Rolls-Royce to a Ford Thunderbird, and is now capable of turning into a jet airplane. Thunderbird 3 was also shown to dock with Thunderbird 5 differently; in the film it docks side on instead of the rocket head going into the space station.
The organisation is also referred to more commonly as "Thunderbirds" rather than "International Rescue"; although on their induction at the end of the film Alan, Tintin, and Fermat receive badges that are designed with the "IR" logo on them as per the original TV series, intimating that the team are still officially called this. Though it seems the media's common parlance of "Thunderbirds" has become the norm, and been adopted amongst the family members themselves for everyday use.
Also, the plot was changed dramatically by making the younger Tintin, Alan Tracy, and Fermat Hackenbacker, who is depicted as being Brains’ son, the main characters. In the original, however, Alan Tracy does sometimes tend to have a larger role than the others and certainly a more emotional storyline (especially in the Thunderbirds Are Go! movie), but he has never been the main character. In the original series, Alan and Tintin were much closer to the age of the rest of the Tracy brothers; with Alan being captain of Thunderbird 3 which can be seen from the opening title sequence of the very first episode. Fermat Hackenbacker was only seen in this movie, because there is no mention of Brains ever being married, least of all having had a son. In the original series, Brains' name was never officially revealed, with "Hiram Hackenbacker" merely an alias (as seen in the episode Alias Mr. Hackenbacker); in the film it appears to be his actual name. Also Jeff Tracy never flew any of the Thunderbirds craft, and there has never been an instance where he went off to the danger zone (with the exception of the episode "Brink of Disaster", as he was caught in the accident).
Like Fermat, the character of Onaha is not from the original TV series, where Kyrano was a single parent and presumably, like Jeff Tracy, a widower. In addition, the TV series has "Kyrano" as the family name, with Kyrano's first name never being revealed. Jeff's mother (known simply as Grandma in the TV series) does not feature or get mentioned during the film. Tintin and Kyrano change nationality in the film as well; they had been Malaysian throughout the TV series but were depicted as being from India in the film.
Another difference is that the age order of the Tracy Brothers changes. In the TV series, the order of age was Scott, Virgil, John, Gordon and finally Alan, but in the film, John is older than Virgil. Although, the opening title sequence of the TV series shows John appearing before Virgil. There has been some debate that the title sequence of the series displays the Tracy Brothers in age order.
Other changes are more canonical. The feature film is set in 2020, while the original is set in 2065 (i.e. the date now accepted by many fans in Thunderbirds canon as the year of International Rescue's first mission). In the feature film, the Hood said that he was left for dead in one of International Rescue's earlier missions, but in "Trapped in the Sky" — which was stated as International Rescue's first mission—he was already trying to get their technology, of whose existence he knew via Kyrano.
A huge difference in the movie is the Tracy Brother's uniforms. The movie had dropped the original and recognisable concept of the Blue uniform with coloured sashes and hat. In the movie they were now wearing white modern astronaut uniforms having absolutely no similarities to the original design.
Another notable difference between the 2004 film and the original TV series is that International Rescue now allows itself to be filmed and photographed on missions. One of the recurring "rules" in the original TV series was that under no circumstances was anything related to International Rescue—be it the pilots or the craft themselves—permitted to be photographed. For example, in Terror in New York City, Scott Tracy electromagnetically wipes a recording of Thunderbird 1 when a news crew starts filming.
Another difference is that the Hood's powers seem to make him weaker when he uses them and his eyes are red, whereas in the original series they were always a bright yellow. Also contrasting the TV series, Tintin actually shares the same powers as her uncle, the Hood, as seen in the movie's finale.
In the TV series, Gordon Tracy was the pilot of Thunderbird 4 and Alan was the pilot of Thunderbird 3, with John Tracy subbing on occasion. In the film, the roles are reversed. However, as Alan only uses Thunderbird 4 during the climax when Gordon is unavailable, it may be that Gordon is trained to pilot both craft in the film's continuity, since they are unlikely to be required for the same mission.
Unlike the TV series, the island is actually referred to as Tracy Island in the dialogue, whereas the TV version was only called Tracy Island on Thunderbirds merchandise. Also, in the film, when John calls the island just seconds before Thunderbird 5 is struck by a missile, he calls out "Thunderbird 5 to Tracy Island". In the series, the Tracy boys would normally radio something like "Base from Thunderbird 1, 2, 5" etc. to the island.
- The footage of Tracy Island was filmed on North Island, a boutique island resort in the Seychelles.
- The exterior shots for the Los Angeles City Hospital were filmed at the European Headquarters offices of CA Technologies Inc, in Slough, England.
This was in fact the third theatrical release based upon the series created by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson. It was preceded by Thunderbirds Are Go in 1966 and Thunderbird 6 in 1968, both films using the Supermarionation production techniques of the series.
Thunderbirds was dedicated to the memory of Stephen Lowen, a film crew member who died in an accident on the set. Stephen Lowen is credited as a rigger on the film.
Timed to coincide with the theatrical release of Thunderbirds, the two prior films were released on DVD. The DVD versions of all three films include a number of extra features, including historical and production information.
Coincidentally, 2004 was also the year Team America was released. Team America borrowed heavily from Thunderbirds and Supermarionation.
- This is the only Thunderbirds film to include the Pod machines.
- The staged "accident" to the monorail across the Thames was originally supposed to happen to the London Eye, but the Eye management wouldn't allow this, so the monorail was added to the script instead.
- The Bank of England was erroneously called the "London Bank".
- This led to an amusing double error on Wikimedia Commons; an uploaded picture, titled "London Bank", was actually of London's Royal Exchange. (The Bank of England is the unimpressive building to the north of the Royal Exchange.)
- In the DVD extras, Thunderbird 3 was described as having a top speed of 5,000 MPH. In fact, to be able to escape Earth's gravity, its top speed would need to be over double this. (The extras for the TV series give Thunderbird 3 a top speed of "over 25,000 MPH".)
- The oil rig fire, at the very start of the film, pays homage to the classic series episode Atlantic Inferno.
- When leaving school, Alan calls Parker as "Nosey", a reference to Parker's 'chequered' history, which was prominent in the classic series episode Vault Of Death. Likewise, whilst trapped inside the freezer, Lady Penelope quotes, "I love it when your 'chequered' history comes in handy, Parker".
- Lady Penelope's suggestion to Jeff that Tintin loves Alan is a reference to Alan and Tin-Tin's relationship in the classic series.
- When the Hood controls Brains, he says "Like a puppet on a string", which is an obvious reference to the classic series.
- After filming Lady Penelope's bathtub scene, Sophia Myles came out in a rash due to cheap bubble bath being used. She reportedly had a 'no bathtub scenes' clause entered into her contract not long afterwards.
- For some reason, Mullion tells the Hood what their ETA to London is with an American accent.
- Main article: Thunderbirds (2004 Movie)/Transcript