Thunderbirds (2004)

Genres - Children's/Family, Science Fiction  |   Sub-Genres - Family-Oriented Adventure, Master Criminal Films, Sci-Fi Action  |   Release Date - Jul 30, 2004 (USA)  |   Run Time - 91 min.  |   Countries - France , United Kingdom , United States   |   MPAA Rating - PG
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This live-action, big-screen version of Thunderbirds loosely remains true to its campy source material, but falls miserably flat when it tries to do anything new with the material. Any film featuring actors playing roles originally made famous by wooden puppets that fly wooden spaceships is not likely to be met with open arms by critics or audiences. The makers of Thunderbirds only exacerbate the situation with a weak script, shaky CGI effects, and irritating performances all around. Director Jonathan Frakes has plenty of experience with franchises featuring outrageous villains and ships zipping through skies, having spent years acting and directing on Star Trek, but he seems lost within the material he has been given. All the mod furniture, '60s set design, and super sci-fi costumes are in place to give the film the same feel the series had, but none of it amounts to much. After a fun animated title sequence featuring the old show's marching Barry Gray theme music and an impressive opening action scene, the film falls apart. The dull main character, Alan Tracy, played by Brady Corbet, races through the jungle with his young character-less Thunderbird buddies to save their father (Bill Paxton), who is trapped in space. A villain named The Hood (Ben Kingsley) stinks up the film as he shuffles around in a red robe using some bootleg mind control on everyone he sees. All this adds up to a disastrous second act that turns what could have been a kid-friendly, stylish action picture into just another third-rate rip-off of the vastly superior Spy Kids films. Lost on the filmmakers is that part of the reason the original television series has lasted as a cult favorite as long as it has is that, despite its restricting puppet cast, it took itself and its sometimes ridiculous stories extremely seriously. This version of Thunderbirds moves along with its tongue firmly planted in its cheek -- even going so far as to add strange and inappropriate cartoon sound effects during the action scenes. While die-hard Thunderbirds fans may be pleased with the film's production design, all others will likely find a disposable film that aspires to mass-appeal blockbuster family entertainment.