‘Thunderbirds’ is a fun family film that respects its campy source

Bill Paxton is leader of the 'Thunderbirds'
Bill Paxton is leader of the ‘Thunderbirds’

I was not a Thunderbirds watcher. It was on a lot when I was a kid, but I just didn’t have any interest in watching a collection of goofy looking marionettes. The show was just silly.

My curiosity in seeing Thunderbirds, the movie, was because it was directed by Jonathan Frakes. As a Trek fan, I wanted to see how he faired in a non-Trek film. And I was glad to see that he does a rather good job.

Sophia Myles is the lovely Lady Penelope in 'Thunderbirds'
Sophia Myles is the lovely Lady Penelope in ‘Thunderbirds’

What I enjoyed about Thunderbirds was the decision to make this film an homage to the series it was based on. Personally, I’m tired of movies like Scooby-Doo or Charlie’s Angels, that do nothing but poke fun at its source material instead of try to do it any justice.

Thunderbirds is a little goofy, but overall a fun family film with good action and outstanding special effects. The performances are loose and relaxed, and it appeared that everyone involved in the project had a lot of fun doing it.

Basically, the story focuses on Allan Tracy, the youngest son of the Tracy family, and the only one who is not included in the Thunderbirds rescue team. He dreams of being a member of the team, but constantly butts heads with his father.

However, when the deadly Hood learns of the Thunderbirds secret hideout and takes it over, he’s thrust into the hero role and must help save his family.

What’s impressive about this film is that it moves rather quickly. With a brief action sequence within the first five minutes, it slows for only a short while before taking off again and never stopping until the very end. That constant movement helps make the film so entertaining, and the light peppering of interesting character development provided the necessary depth.

I wasn’t really expecting the characters to get much detail. In a family film, those are things that often fall away, or are done with such simplicity that it isn’t terribly interesting. But, I liked the brief moments where we learn that James Tracy’s wife was killed in an avalanche. This gives him a little more depth, and you actually feel for him when he explains that sometimes you can’t rescue everyone.

But what really stood out in this film for me were the amazing visual effects. They were all done with such detail, and blend with the surrounding environment with such realism that I was really impressed. Framestore, the England-based company that did the work, should really be proud of what they achieved here.

Vanessa Hudgens co-stars along with Brady Corbet (center) and Soren Fulton in 'Thunderbirds'
Vanessa Hudgens co-stars along with Brady Corbet (center) and Soren Fulton in ‘Thunderbirds’

The DVD has some nice features as well, including a terrific audio commentary by Jonathan Frakes. Sometimes a commentary featuring only one person is a little dry, but Frakes somehow made it interesting. He mixed in behind-the-scenes stories with some great technical details that were both informative and fun.

The docs are also pretty good, because they’re not the usual love-fests that you generally find. They provide you with interesting details, without gushing over the actors or director. The one detailing the creation of Lady Penelope’s car is great.

A lot of family films these days don’t hold much water for me, but Thunderbirds really does work. From the action to the characters to the visuals, it’s about as good as family action films get.

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