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BEST OF THUNDERBIRDS

Review by Michael Jacobson

Creator:  Gerry Anderson
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  A&E
Features:  See Review
Length:  312 Minutes
Release Date:  June 29, 2004

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THUNDERBIRDS ARE GO!!

Film ****

Hard to believe, but Gerry Anderson抯 Thunderbirds have been flying high for 40 years now.  Those Supermarionation action figures of International Rescue started saving the day back in the 60s, and their reputations as heroes have only grown in correlation with their continually expanding cult status. 

A&E Home Video has been on the forefront of bringing these classic slices of sci-fi and action into our homes for the past several years with their double disc releases and their definitive Thunderbirds Megaset collection.  But now, they抳e offered a treat for International Rescue fans who may not have the budget for the big box set:  a Best of Thunderbirds two disc set that brings together the top 6 favorite episodes of Thunderbirds as voted on by the fans themselves.

Looking over the six chosen, I抎 have to say the fans were correct:  if you were going to introduce someone to this show, these would be the right ones to use.  These are not only some of the team抯 most exciting rescue operations, but combined, they give you all the overview you need of the characters, the spectacular equipment, and the complete ins and outs of how International Rescue operates.

That team is, of course, the Tracy family, led by former astronaut Jeff Tracy in the year 2065, who turned a small uncharted island into the home base for he and his sons to run a sophisticated and anonymous operation to save the world from peril.  These guys aren抰 the ones who抣l show up to get your cat out of a tree, but if a space probe falls out of orbit and hurtles toward the sun, these are your men.

揟rapped in the Sky is the perfect set-up, as the Tracy boys race to the rescue of an experimental atomic plane unable to land because of a bomb attached to its landing gear.  How do you get a plane safely on the ground when it can抰 lower its wheels?  The answer is a stroke of genius, and remains one of the show抯 most heart-stopping entries!

揝un Probe features the aforementioned spacecraft heading for an untimely rendezvous with the star (pun intended) of our solar system.  Racing through space to avert a disaster seems like an impossibility, but it抯 just a day in the life of International Rescue.

One episode that still stands strong but is a little eerie with modern hindsight is 揟error in New York City, in which the Empire State Building meets with an untimely disaster.  I remember first seeing this episode on DVD not long after 9/11 and thinking that even for a puppet-driven sci-fi adventure, the image of the building taking a tumble was quite unnerving.

Our favorite debonair lady agent Penelope earned a few starring roles in Thunderbirds episodes over the course of the show, and 揟he Perils of Penelope earned a spot on this disc as a fan fave.  Finally, two exotic adventures close out the collection:  揟he Uninvited traps the International Rescue team inside a zombie pyramid, while 揂ttack of the Alligators has our boys fighting厃ou guessed it卆lligators; albeit ones that have grown into huge monsters thanks to a freak chemical in their swamp!

In our day of computer generated imagery, I find it comforting to see that young kids still take to these shows the way I did when I was younger.  The cult status is proof that generation after generation is discovering Gerry Anderson抯 landmark show and embracing it, and passing the word along.  These six fan favorite episodes are evidence of why the show remains enough of a hit to inspire a future live action movie.  One can only guess if that production will be peopled with actors as wooden as the Tracy boys, but that抯 a discussion for another time

Video ***

A&E has done a good job in keeping these 40 year old programs looking crisp, clean and colorful.  Only an occasional bit of grain or flicker here and there belie the shows ages; for the most part, the bright tones leap off the screen and make for a fan-pleasing viewing experience.

Audio ***1/2

The 5.1 remixes of these shows were always an added benefit, and if you haven抰 had a chance to experience them before, Best of Thunderbirds will show how a TV show from the 60s can sound better than ever.  With the subwoofer kicking in plenty of bottom end for the action sequences, and tasteful use of the surrounds to keep you in the middle of it all, A&E have done fans right with these efforts.  

Features ***

This double disc set contains a few extras guaranteed to please Thunderbirds fans, starting with a featurette on Gerry Anderson titled 揃efore Thunderbirds Were Go, along with a new interview with the creator.  There is a 損op-up episode of 損it of Peril, a 揝tory of Thunderbirds, and autobiographies of the Tracy family members.

Summary:

For the die-hard fan, the Megaset is still the best way to go卐very episode is included for your collection抯 pleasure.  But for the more casual admirer or for the budget-conscious, Best of Thunderbirds is a true greatest hits collection that will give you the most bang for your home video buck.