Review by Michael Jacobson

Creator:  Gerry Anderson
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Standard 1.33:1
Studio:  A&E
Features:  Photo Galleries, Behind-the-Scenes short
Length:  Approx. 156 Minutes per disc
Release Date:  February 27, 2001

Film ***1/2

𚱰321匱hunderbirds are GO!

In the mid 60抯 a puppet show was all the rage on British television, but not just any puppet show匞erry Anderson抯 cult classic Thunderbirds coined the phrase 搒upermarionation, which took traditional marionettes, made them more lifelike and gave them electronically controlled eyes that moved and blinked and mouths that could operate in sync with voiceovers.  He then populated their futuristic world with some of the coolest crafts ever conceived.  I always thought Anderson had the world抯 best toy collection at his disposal, and one of the best playtime imaginations ever.

Set in the year 2065, former astronaut Jeff Tracy begins a well-financed and secretive philanthropic organization with his sons:  International Rescue.  Equipped with the most advanced technology and gear for any conceivable emergency, their so-named 揟hunderbird crafts had the ability to reach space, fly several times the speed of sound, go underwater, or haul specific rescue equipment (giant drills, carriers, radio gear, etc.) and could get in and out of practically anywhere.  Over the course of these episodes, you抣l see adventures in space, on and under water, on the ground and in the air.  The Thunderbirds never give up, and they always come through in the clutch.

Assisting the Tracy family are Brains, a Jimmy Stewart-style stammering genius who designed and created the working of the entire International Rescue operation (whatever they抮e paying him, it抯 not enough!), Tin Tin, a loyal Asian service girl who monitors the situations from base, but will take off with the boys at a moment抯 notice if needed, and Lady Penelope, the debonair British undercover agent with a modernistic pink Rolls Royce loaded to the gills with equipment and weaponry (as a note, Lady Penelope抯 car was the only fictional car approved and endorsed by the Rolls Royce corporation!).

Each disc in the two double disc sets packs three hour-long adventures per DVD, making for a collection you can enjoy over several nights (or all at once if you want to have a Thunderbirds marathon party!).  But you definitely want to start with the first set, which begins with the pilot episode 揟rapped in the Sky, and serves as either an introduction or a refresher as to who the team members are and how they operate (it抯 also a longtime personal favorite of mine).  The only thing you won抰 learn is just where the heck Jeff Tracy got all of his money to start and keep International Rescue going.  When asked that question by a fan, Gerry Anderson responded, 揑 don抰 know匤eff never told me that.

The show, though off the air for nearly 4 decades now, continues to grow in popularity thanks to reruns on the BBC, video circulations, and rumors of an eventual new Thunderbirds movie (possibly live action), which Anderson has said he would be all too happy to realize!  Anderson抯 famous work has even found its way into other areas of our culture, most notably the Dire Straits video for 揅alling Elvis a few years ago. 

Fans of the original show will appreciate these discs, but for those who抳e never had a chance to experience this classic show, I抎 urge you to give them a try.  You might think that a marionette and model sci-fi show would be camp, but then again, you might just be surprised at how well-crafted and suspenseful some of these episodes could be.  With over 200 miniatures at his disposal and using simple film special effects like slowing down the speed to make small fires look much bigger, it doesn抰 really take long to forget about the puppets and strings and concentrate on the stories, which were as good or better than any other action drama seen on TV in the 60抯 or 70抯.

Anderson would go on to create another sci-fi classic for television, Space:  1999 (also available on DVD from A&E), but it抯 Thunderbirds that has kept him a known name amongst young and old science fiction fans alike.  His innovation and imagination built a fun, technically impressive family show into a lingering cult phenomenon that should garner even more life with this DVD offering.

BONUS TRIVIA:  A question fans of the show have pondered for years is 搘hat does F.A.B., the team members' standard radio acknowledgement, stand for?  The answer from Gerry Anderson:  nothing.  慒abulous or 慺ab happened to be a popular catch word at the time Thunderbirds originally aired, so he simply gave his characters the fake acronym to be more hip.

Video ***

For starters, these discs are definitely an improvement over earlier VHS versions (at least, the ones I抳e seen).  Thunderbirds was a very colorful show, and that抯 what A&E has brought to life with their DVD release.  The colors are bright and natural looking, with no bleeding and no noticeable fading from age.  Images range from sharp to slightly soft (usually in lower light settings), though the print does suffer from occasional tell-tale signs of wear in the form of light scratches, dirt, and occasional spots (though overall, not distracting or nearly as much as you might expect for episodes of a 36 year old television program).  Overall, a good transfer effort given the limitations of the source material.

Audio ***1/2

I wasn抰 expecting much when I saw that these old shows had been remastered for 5.1 surround sound, but I was surprised at the results桝&E did a terrific job!  The audio is very dynamic, and actually makes more use of the rear state and .1 channel than you might believe.  With explosions, fires, and jet vehicles taking off and landing, Thunderbirds puts you in the middle of the action like never before.  There are even subtle touches, like voices coming over loudspeakers sounding off from the front stage but with the reverb in the rear.  There are, as you might expect, occasional and minor touches of noise here and there during quieter scenes, but these are hardly a distraction and certainly acceptable.  Fans of the show will definitely find this new listening experience a treat.

Features **

On the first disc of both sets, there is a 3-4 minute short film that takes you behind the scenes of both Thunderbirds and Stingray, letting you have a closer look at the puppeteering and sets.  The second disc of both sets contains a photo gallery.  All discs feature animated menus with sound. I抎 also like to point out that all of the cover boxes are neatly packaged with photos, quotes, and bits of trivia卆 nice touch.  And if you want more trivia, you can watch a pop-up version of the "Pit of Peril" episode!


Thunderbirds on DVD are definitely a go卼his nice looking and incredible sounding pair of double disc sets are just the treat fans of the original show have been waiting for.  F.A.B. A&E!

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