Thunderbirds Are Go (1966)

Directed by David Lane

Screenplay by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson

Premiered 12th December 1966

“Excitement is Go! Adventure is Go! Danger is Go! Thunderbirds Are Go! Now on the BIG SCREEN in Technicolor – and Techniscope. THUNDERBIRDS – ARE – GO!” So declared the trailer for International Rescue’s first adventure on the big screen – Thunderbirds Are Go. When the project went into production in March 1966, it must have really felt like Thunderbirds was going to take over the world, having achieved great success on television in the UK, receiving the commission for a second series, and the promise of a network sale to the United States. But the added boost of launching Thunderbirds into cinemas across the world would have surely sealed the deal that the franchise was going to be around for a really long time. But how did the team on the Slough Trading Estate handle this gargantuan task of polishing up the distincitve Thunderbirds look and feel for the big screen, while also producing the television series at the same time. We’re about to find out as we dive into the tale of Zero-X’s voyage to the planet Mars…

Unlike the television series which is owned by ITV, MGM own the rights to both Thunderbirds Are Go and Thunderbird 6. The film was originally distributed by United Artists. The rumble of drums stir up the excitement. A piercing orchestral sting announces that this is ‘A Gerry Anderson Century 21 Cinema Production.’ Thunderbirds Are Go was the first project released under AP Films’ new name, Century 21 – as recommended by Keith Shackleton to tie in with the the TV Century 21 comic. It’s an incredibly striking logo design and musical sting which suit the emerging Gerry & Sylvia Anderson brand perfectly.

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Arrows whoosh across a stormy sky. It would appear that an attempt of sorts has been made to re-imagine the opening titles from the television series. It’s certainly intense, but is so in your face that it does rather lack the polish and excitement of the television series opening.

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The words ‘Thunderbirds’ and ‘Go’ do some unusual animation while a loud voice yells “Thunderbirds – Thunderbirds Are Go!” While it is pretty much a certainty that Peter Dyneley delivers this immortal phrase in the television series opening, this time around it doesn’t sound much like him. So hear out my theory and let me know what you reckon because I’m not entirely convinced about myself to be honest – Actor and voice of the speaking clock, Brian Cobby (1929-2012) had previously made a claim that he was the voice of the Thunderbirds countdown for the television series. It’s always been a controversial notion because the TV series countdown is so clearly provided by Peter Dyneley. Cobby did provide voice work for pieces of Thunderbirds merchandise in the 1990s and it is commonly believed that this is what he actually worked on. He was, however, convinced that he had done the recording in the 1960’s. There’s a possibility, albeit a slim one, that Cobby provided the “Thunderbirds Are Go!” line for this opening sequence. It doesn’t sound like Peter Dyneley who delivers the same line twice as Jeff during the movie, so there’s certainly a chance that it could be a different actor here. Anyway, a model of what one must assume is Mars spins towards camera.

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Proudly filmed in Supermarionation, Technicolor, and Techniscope, the technology behind the making of this movie is certainly impressive. Obviously this is the first feature film to be produced with Supermarionation, which must have been a daunting task in itself. Now although the television series was filmed in colour, TV stations in the UK were transmitting only in black and white at the time, so outside of the pages of TV Century 21, this was the first opportunity for viewers to see the Thunderbird machines and characters in glorious colour. Techniscope was the chosen method for producing the film in widescreen. The popular Panavision system was considered unsuitable for special effects sequences shot at high speed, so Techniscope was the chosen format but with the slight downside that it was essentially cutting a 35mm frame in half, reducing the quality noticeably. Hence why even the high definition release of the film on blu-ray is noticeably grainier than the television series. Further developments included the retirement of the Arriflex cameras which had served the team since the beginning, and the adoption of huge Mitchell cameras. With this development, John Read had been working with Prowest Electronics to redevelop the video assist system which enabled monitors in the studio to display what the cameras were seeing. Add-A-Vision was a huge step forward and Thunderbirds Are Go was the first feature film ever to utilise the system. A Tomorrow’s World feature on Add-A-Vision boasted the technology being used during the production of Joe 90 and Doppelganger. David Lane, the director of Thunderbirds Are Go, tackled all of these new technological advances superbly and he even had his own claim to fame at the time as the youngest feature film director working in the UK.

The Tracy boys, Lady P, and their vehicles are introduced against solid colours in striking close-ups – Lane clearly relishing the fact that they were being shown off in colour on a huge screen for the first time. I’ve included all the shots here because they look so darn good. The new puppet designs which were developed for this movie hold up extremely well. Barry Gray’s score for this opening sequence is extremely powerful, and indeed his work on the entire film is among his finest.

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That’s all the International Rescue that you’re going to get for a little while though. The star of the film is about to be unveiled from her enormous hangar in one of the most drawn out sequences in Supermarionation history…

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The buildings at Glenn Field are carefully detailed with pencil lines to represent joins in the huge concrete blocks that we’re supposed to believe they are constructed from. It’s a simple technique but it works extremely well to sell the idea that these are enormous, realistic buildings.

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Monitoring the launch from the control tower is Commander Casey. He narrates the entire assembly sequence which makes it a little more bearable, although he clearly loves the sound of his own voice. The same puppet later appears as Jim Glenn in Thunderbird 6.

The hangar rolls backwards in a similar manner to that of the Fireflash in Operation Crash-Dive, revealing the main body of the Zero-X. It’s a spectacular beast designed by Derek Meddings. Rather than a typical space rocket which we see fairly often in Supermarionation shows, the Zero-X is a spaceplane which takes off along a runway. One simple explanation for this choice is how marvellously the ship fills the cinema screen. It’s pretty much built for widescreen. In the nearly square 4:3 format of television, the Zero-X would have looked tiny if required to fit into one frame. The change to Techniscope enabled Meddings to come up with something different, and something that would belong firmly on the cinema screen. And boy does it look good.

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Lifting body 2 wheels out of its hangar towards the main body. That little thing turns out to be quite the troublemaker later on…

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Gloriously slowly, the lifting body is raised up and locked to the main body. The amount of panel detailing on the hull is incredible. You have to remember that while the hidden details that we’ve spotted in the television series would not have originally been seen by viewers at home, on the big screen everything had to be supremely well finished in order to maintain the illusion of realism.

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Lifting body 1 slides out of its hangar on a rail. This hangar pops up again in the Joe 90 episode Most Special Astronaut. This is the better behaved of the two lifting bodies… it’s also cooler because it’s on a rail…

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You can feel yourself ageing as the lifting body slowly clicks into position, the rail moves out of the way and the wheels lower to the ground. It’s certainly a spectacular sequence visually, but it does little for the pacing of the film.

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Live action hand inserts are still being put to use, probably sticking out even more so on the big screen! Casey descends into the floor because he just doesn’t fancy taking the stairs…

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The camera “follows” the commander down the building, revealing the MEV attached to the front. This lower portion of the building appears in the Captain Scarlet episode Flight To Atlantica. In the background, you can spot the Matthews Field control tower from The Cham-Cham.

Thunderbirds Are Go certainly has some unusual camera work – some of it looks great like this shot taken from above of the control console descending through the claustrophobic shaft of the building – some of the camera work is just… odd. The commander wheels over to the astronauts waiting in the corridor. Puppet walks were kept to an absolute minimum so as not to look silly… but I would argue fitting wheels to your desk just so you don’t have to get up is far sillier… Many of the computer banks in the room can also be seen in a number of second series episodes.

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Dr Pierce and Dr Grant are seated elsewhere during the briefing… for some reason they weren’t invited… the clever sciencey people don’t get to go to meetings at Glenn Field apparently… Dr Ray Pierce is voiced by Neil McCallum, an actor who also contributed to a few episodes of Captain Scarlet, the UFO episode Court Martial and The Protectors episode One and One Makes One. Dr Tony Grant is voiced by Charles Tingwell who also featured in the final three episodes of the television series, voiced a number of roles in early Captain Scarlet episodes, and appeared in the UFO episode Mindbender.

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The crew are informed about the high stakes of their mission. The Zero-X project is the most expensive thing that has ever happened ever, but the crew will be the first of humankind to land on Mars. The white control levers were also seen a number of times in the television series including the opening of Atlantic Inferno. The red levers pop up again in the cockpit of Delta Tango 19 in the Captain Scarlet episode Winged Assassin. Captain Paul Travers is voiced by Paul Maxwell who had previously starred as Steve Zodiac in Fireball XL5. He also played Captain Ashton in the Thunderbirds episode, Alias Mr. Hackenbacker. The puppet was sculpted by Terry Curtis to resemble Sean Connery. He later appears in Thunderbird 6 as Carter. Space Captain Greg Martin is voiced by Alexander Davion of Gideon’s Way fame. He later appears in the UFO episode The Pyschobombs. What the difference is between Travers’ rank as ‘Captain’ and Martin’s rank as ‘Space Captain’ is a mystery, but Travers is certainly the guy calling the shots. Space Navigator Brad Newman is voiced by TV star Bob Monkhouse who was a huge fan of the Andersons’ work, and took on the role after comic actor Alfred Marks dropped out.

Travers stamps on something which makes the chairs spin around and proceed down a corridor to the MEV. The opening credits begin to roll over the following sequence. These credits were absent from certain releases of the movie on DVD and VHS but have been restored for blu-ray, which justifies the need for such a lengthy sequence.

The crew are moved into position aboard the MEV before the vehicle is lowered to ground level and backed up to the main body of Zero-X.

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The lovely, shiny nose of the ship rises from the ground and also backs up towards the main body.

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The front windows are rendered a bit useless…

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Sylvia Anderson’s control over the style of the film, and David Lane’s firm hand on getting the job done, produced outstanding results and it was a partnership that would be continued on Thunderbird 6. The fully assembled Zero-X is a masterpiece and while watching the entire ship coming together took up an awful lot of screen time, there’s something very satisfying and cool about it. There is no sequence in the entire Gerry Anderson catalogue which better evokes that fascination with watching intricate pieces of technology clicking together and doing their thing – it’s that same quality which makes the launch sequences of the Thunderbird machines such a joy to watch – it’s just pushed to the extreme here.

The final countdown ticks down until the enormous jets blast into action. A regular complaint of the special effects team was getting all of the thrusters on a craft to fire at the same time with the same amount of force, so filming these shots must have taken an awful lot of patience. The substantial undercarriage carries the weight of this huge machine as it rolls down the runway. The large Zero-X model was around 7 feet long, probably making it a tricky beast to manoeuvre on the set!

Up she goes! You can clearly see how the Zero-X was built for the big screen. If filmed in 4:3, much of the top and bottom of the screen would have had to be empty in order to fit her all in shot.

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Oh dear, there’s a troublemaker stowed away! It turns out Glenn Field security is as appalling as London Airport’s…

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This might not end well…

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That is the face of a man with an entire spaceship control mechanism pressed against his foot. His distorted face expresses sheer agony, but his skill for disguise makes him instantly recognisable. It’s The Hood! We haven’t seen him since Cry Wolf and now he’s back, photographing the interior workings of Zero-X because apparently that’s much easier to do when the thing is in the air… The Hood’s role in Thunderbirds Are Go is hardly his most memorable, probably because he barely says a word and nothing he does has all that much effect on things.

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With much pain and agony, he manages to pull his foot free from the mechanism, but leaves his boot in there to keep jamming things up… the fiend…

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The crew begin to lose control of Zero-X. The nose is dropping so Captain Travers decides to…

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… eject the nose cone… did he really think that would help?

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It doesn’t. Zero-X continues to lose height.

The Hood has discarded his mask and drags his bloody foot to the hatch in a severe amount of pain. It’s a pretty intense sequence. There’s a fair bit of a blood and The Hood looks seriously cross about how his day is going.

Over at Glenn Field, Martin is reporting their rate of descent to the commander who is able to plot the crash position on a map. The air-sea rescue team are prepared for action. The launch building has a similar look to the air-sea rescue installation seen in the television series but has been completely re-built to look much bigger and more realistic.

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Helicopters are launched, one of which was seen in Give Or Take A Million and in the Captain Scarlet episode, Place of Angels. In the background, you can spot the Paradise Peaks hotel from The Cham-Cham.

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The air-sea rescue squadron blasts off.

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The Hood continues to drag himself towards the hatch, opening it up to reveal the lovely countryside below. He quickly drops out of the aircraft… knowing The Hood it’s probably 50/50 on whether he remembered to bring a parachute…

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The air-sea rescue jets are also auditioning for roles in Captain Scarlet… or Teletubbies…

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The aircraft carrier model which featured in The Impostors and Atlantic Inferno is also part of the recovery operation.

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Zero-X continues to descend towards destruction. There’s not quite the same tension that one can find in Operation Crash-Dive with Fireflash plummeting towards the ocean. Everyone seems to have accepted the fate of Zero-X pretty quickly and nobody sounds all that worried about it. They’re just going to eject and let the world’s most expensive thing ever crash and burn…

With the rest of the crew assembled in the escape unit, Travers is the last to have his chair backed up straight into the yellow container. It is a bit comical just how hard the production team tried to stop puppets from walking and running.

The windows are operational again now that the pesky nose cone has been ejected. They have reached an altitude of 1000 feet so it’s time for the crew to get the heck out of there.

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Away she goes!

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Somebody must have taken great pleasure chucking the carefully crafted Zero-X model straight into the water tank.

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And then setting off a ruddy big explosion. You can just about see the edge of the water tank on the horizon unfortunately.

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The escape unit crashes to the water and tips over. Well that flight to Mars didn’t go terribly well did it?

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In a neat transition, the screen fades to black, then the camera pulls back from the centre of an extraordinarily large table. From a high angle, the camera tracks down via an enormous crane to reveal the glorious Martian Exploration Center conference room. Sylvia Anderson had stipulated that this set only be rendered in tangerine and black, with the committee uniforms contrasting in blue. It’s a beautiful piece of design and absolutely enormous. Some familiar faces from the television series pop up in this scene but we’ll identify those in a moment. So the aviation investigators who sound like a seriously cool bunch have put together a report 862 pages in length covering the crash of the Zero-X… 862 pages about a boot getting stuck in a thing… I admit I waffle on a bit in my reviews but that’s just ridiculous… It’s also taken them two years to write the ruddy thing. Space Colonel Harris asks for a vote of confidence on the findings of this very fine report… which I doubt anybody has read…

Every member of the committee has a selection of buttons to cast their vote with, and a screen lights up on the other side of the room to show the results. 13 votes come in favouring the findings of this very fine report. There are 13 people sat around the table so a big tick for getting that right. Sat next to Space Colonel Harris is Commissioner Garfield from 30 Minutes After Noon. Harris himself later pops up in the opening scene of Thunderbird 6.

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Harris announces that in eight weeks time, Earth will be in a suitable position in relation to Mars to launch another Zero-X… despite Zero-X being the most costly project yet devised by man, they had no problem digging up the cash to build another one two years later. Sat on Harris’ right is Commander Norman from London Airport… which explains everything… Also recognisable are Simms and Jansen from Path of Destruction, and the Skythrust co-pilot from Alias Mr. Hackenbacker.

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Another vote is held, but this time things don’t quite go the Colonel’s way…

Even though his facial expression remains unchanged, you can tell he’s not a happy bunny. The music heightens the drama in the room. Among the committee members is Cass Carnaby from The Cham-Cham… another excellent candidate for making important decisions about expensive space missions… at the end of the table, the nay-sayer speaks up. The puppet in use is McColl from Path of Destruction. He thinks it would be a jolly good idea if International Rescue were present at the next Zero-X launch because Glenn Field’s security arrangements are a bit pants. So rather than employing better security, he wants International Rescue there for when security inevitably fails to do their job so they can save the day… not the best thinking but heck, it’s the first time International Rescue have been mentioned in this movie which is supposed to be all about them, so I’ll take it.

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A new scene opens on Tracy Island. This new model of the island was produced for the movie but can also be spotted in a couple of shots in Lord Parker’s ‘Oliday.

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The Tracy Villa has been re-dressed slightly but is essentially the same model which was introduced in Trapped In The Sky.

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A newspaper dated 19 June 2066 is held up to camera announcing that the President himself made an appeal on the Trans American Television Network for International Rescue to help out at Glenn Field. The paper also shows an early design sketch by Derek Meddings of the Zero-X. Of course this is all referring to one of the great annoyances to be me about this movie. 15 minutes of material had to be cut in order to bring the story down to a 90 minute feature length. The scenes chosen for axing involved International Rescue being persuaded to give assistance at the launching, and Jeff filming a response from the Tracy lounge.

Only a few images of the deleted scenes survive. Another deleted scene featured Kyrano’s only appearance in the film, as The Hood coerces him into revealing International Rescue’s plans. Another scene which would have featured slightly later on shows Penelope and Parker aboard the Fireflash on their way to America.

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The Trans American Television Network buildings also appeared in a deleted shot, but this was later re-used in the Joe 90 episode, International Concerto. By losing these scenes, a good chunk of time spent with the International Rescue team has been taken out of the story and this does, to an extent, make them feel like secondary characters in their own movie, which is arguably one of the biggest failings of the movie. And while the scenes wouldn’t have contributed a huge amount to the plot, they surely would have given the film more substance than the endless Zero-X assembly sequence, or even the dream sequence which we have yet to experience…

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Anyway, back to the film, the Tracy boys are all gawping at Jeff for a response as to whether International Rescue will be going into action. Virgil’s looking sensational in his salmon coloured shirt and blue waistcoat.

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Jeff is debating the issue. Apparently they have a strict rule that no International Rescue craft is to be launched unless someone is in real danger… like when Scott took Thunderbird 1 on holiday in The Perils of Penelope, or when Virgil flew Thunderbird 2 out to Parola Sands to drop off Alan in Move – And You’re Dead, or when he dropped of Brains and Tin-Tin in the desert in Desperate Intruder, or when he dropped off Bob and Tony Williams back home in Cry Wolf, or when he went to pick up Nicky from Coralville in Give Or Take A Million… y’know, real life and death stuff like that. Jeff points out that rules were made to be broken and decides they’re going to dive into this assignment. Now the fact is, we’ve waited quite a while to see International Rescue actually do something in this movie, and Jeff’s clearly stated that they’re not actually going out to save lives. The question is, would this have been a better movie if International Rescue actually had some sort of massive disaster to deal with right from the off. It amazes me that in the space of three feature length films (that’s including the 2004 movie), there is no such thing as a straight up Thunderbirds disaster movie which sees the team combat one colossal tragic accident. It’s a format which triumphed in the television series but for some reason was never built upon when it came to making the films.

Scott, Virgil, and Alan are ordered to launch Thunderbirds 1, 2, and 3! This is the first and only time that all three vehicles have been used on the same operation, also making this Alan’s first proper solo mission on screen! But what’s Gordon’s role in all of this? Well not a lot. Poor Gordon doesn’t get a lot out of either Thunderbirds Are Go or Thunderbird 6 except being told to sit down and be quiet.

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Thunderbirds Are Go! Jeff really says it like he means it. You may notice that a lot of the puppet shots in this film attempt to avoid showing the tops of their heads as much as possible. It’s actually managed quite subtly, and it prevents any possibility of a puppet wire being visible. An outstanding job is done of hiding the strings in this film, even in the few long shots that there are. Development had also begun at this point on under control puppets which utilised mechanisms operated from beneath the puppet. A photograph exists of The Hood puppet in this form and may well have been used in the deleted scene of him in his temple.

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A happy Scott is off on his way to Thunderbird 1 as we kick off the Thunderbird launch montage extravaganza!

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All of the launch sequences had to be re-shot in Techniscope. The Thunderbird 1 hangar is roughly the same structure as appears in the television series but with the set redressed so as to not look quite so much like it’s covered in kit parts. Thunderbird 1 herself has been spruced up a bit, although looks rather shinier and more like a model than the version seen in the series’ launch stock footage. You can just about spot where ‘TB1’ has been added to the starboard wing, which you can also spot in Lord Parker’s ‘Oliday.

Virgil is tipped backwards down the launch slide once again, although rather than a full 180 degree turn, he is only twisted 90 degrees in order to negotiate around a corner.

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Alan descends into the floor while Gordon can only watch longingly. Why was it so inconceivable to bring Gordon along? The first Zero-X did crash into a large body of water after all…

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The launch slide connects with an excessively shiny Thunderbird 2. She stills looks magnificent, but she could have done with being dirtied down a bit for these launch shots. The hangar set contains much more detailing than its television series counterpart and benefits from darker lighting, which is one thing the film as a whole actually benefits from. Now that the sets, models, and puppets are being filmed for a cinema screen rather than a tiny black and white television set showing minimal detail, they can be treated to more dynamic lighting which adds a touch of realism.

At a very rapid pace indeed, Virgil is thrown into his seat. It amazes me how rushed these launch sequences are compared to the Zero-X assembly sequence. At last there’s a bit of energy in this movie but it’s real blink and you’ll miss it stuff!

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Alan is lowered down to Thunderbird 3’s launch bay. These shots are also utilised in the episode Give Or Take A Million, including a few which were clearly shot for Thunderbirds Are Go but don’t actually appear in the finished film.

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Thunderbird 1 arrives in her launch bay. An unusual aspect of the television series launch sequence was the fact Thunderbird 1 flipped 90 degrees in order to face the camera while going down the rail. Here, she’s actually flipped 180 degrees has her top side is facing the other way to the shot of Scott boarding the craft. A little more detailing has been added to this set as well as a repaint of famous elements including the lemon squeezer on the wall and the two children’s periscope toys on either side.

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Pods race along beneath Thunderbird 2 while Alan boards Thunderbird 3. The Thunderbird 3 lounge set is similar to how it first appeared in Sun Probe with additional detailing added to the control panels and a change of flooring, as well as a new elevator door.

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With Jeff’s clearance, Thunderbird 1 blasts off out of the pool and rockets up into the sky.

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Thunderbird 2 lowers down onto Pod 5 as the cliff door opens up. The Cliff House has been almost completely redesigned with square windows instead of rectangular ones.

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Thunderbird 3 is the next to blast off.  The Round House is now a two-storey building, rather than the single-storey model we first see in Sun Probe. Interior details like curtains are certainly a nice touch to this mysterious Tracy Island installation which we never see the inside of or hear anything about…

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Curiously, this particular Thunderbird 3 model does not have a large number ‘3’ on all sides as we’ve seen before… or maybe we’ve just never seen this side of Thunderbird 3 before… either way it looks a bit unfinished.

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The pace of this action packed sequence slows right down as we head for the finale. Thunderbird 2 looms in towards camera. Unfortunately it doesn’t look terribly imposing because it’s just a shiny model. It probably has more impact on a cinema screen though.

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And off she goes! The support struts on this launch ramp are much further back than the ones on the television series ramp.

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Gordon really wishes they’d gone with my suggestion of making a movie out of Terror In New York City

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Here’s Tin-Tin! Remember her? Yeah she doesn’t have much to do in this movie unfortunately. Nice outfit though. That said, she does remind Jeff of one important point – International Rescue should probably be ready to tackle the saboteurs seeing as that was why they were hired for the job in the first place…

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Not to worry, Jeff’s going to get Penny on the case. The time on Tracy Island is 11am, making it about 4pm in England (tea time) according to Jeff. That puts Tracy Island somewhere just off the coast of Chile. This is the only time we see this particular portrait of Penelope – a different one is seen throughout series 2.

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Creighton-Ward manor is magnificently announced by a jolly yet stately fanfare. The model of the house is the same but it looks like more trees have been planted in the garden.

Penelope is indeed enjoying some tea as Jeff predicted… although she is almost always drinking tea so no prizes for that one Mr Tracy… Penelope’s outfit is certainly fancy-schmancy today. She’s given the order to head for Glenn Field and handle all the security on the Zero-X launch. Apparently two International Rescue operatives handling all of Glenn Field’s security from a pink Rolls Royce is going to be an improvement on what they had for the first launch… which was probably just Commander Norman and his trusty binoculars…

Since these bells appeared in Parker’s office in Brink of Disaster the labels for the library and lounge have been swapped around. Quick as a flash, Parker is back in the lounge and ready to take FAB 1 to London Airport for a trip aboard Fireflash… which we don’t get to see… but it’s one of the deleted scenes… so at least somebody had the idea that Fireflash would look amazing on the cinema screen, just a shame somebody else decided it wasn’t worth seeing…

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Meanwhile, Thunderbird 1 has arrived at Glenn Field. Paradise Peaks can still be spotted in the background.

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Scott has his mobile control unit set up in the control tower. The commander looks over, full of envy, wishing his desk was as bright red as Scott’s… While Atlantic Inferno was the last time the mobile control unit appeared in the series, Thunderbirds Are Go marks its last appearance full stop.

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Thunderbird 2 touches down on the tarmac, filmed from her very best angle. As a transport ship rather than a rocket, she’s certainly fills the cinema screen best out of all the Thunderbird machines.

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With Thunderbirds 1 and 2 at Glenn Field, all they can do now is wait until the launch of Zero-X begins… tomorrow morning… why did Scott and Virgil need to turn up a day early? Even Penelope is still hours away. The commander invites Scott to the press conference, but he declines, claiming that the only good publicity is no publicity, which is probably the smartest thing Scott has ever said…

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The Zero-X crew are all ready for the press conference which is being coordinated by the Commander of Matthews Field from The Cham-Cham. He believes that the only bad publicity is no publicity. Suddenly Scott doesn’t sound quite so smart. Among the reporters you can spot The Duchess of Royston from The Duchess Assignment, the Scottish Onlooker from Danger At Ocean Deep, the International Air Minister from Operation Crash-Dive, Simms from Path of Destruction who was at the Martian Exploration Center committee meeting earlier, Jim Lucas from Path of Destruction, Dempsey from 30 Minutes After Noon, Blanche Carter from City of Fire in a blonde wig, and Commissioner Garfield from 30 Minutes After Noon who was also just seen as the committee meeting. Oh and Lady P is there too in an outfit which doesn’t exactly scream subtlety…

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The press conference is rigged up with some very unusual telephones which allow the reporters direct contact with the Zero-X crew. These phones pop up throughout the second series on everyone’s desks. Penelope immediately locks eyes on Paul Travers and we watch them have a natter via a split screen.

She has a Saint Christopher delivered to Captain Travers who takes another call while fumbling around to put the thing on in the right place. Penny looks awfully mischievous when all is said and done. It’s never mentioned, but presumably she pulled the same stunt off with all five of the crew members, which probably made Paul feel a little less special…

The next morning, International Rescue are ready for the launch of Zero-X II! The only downside is that Scott has to sit in the control room and listen to the commander ramble on about the Zero-X pre-flight assembly sequence again… poor guy.

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Here’s an absolutely gorgeous shot of Thunderbird 3 up in orbit, where Alan has presumably been waiting for some time in order to get into the right position to rendezvous with Zero-X. The much more dynamic lighting of cinema has certainly improved the authenticity of these space shots dramatically.

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Alan is flying solo quite happily aboard Thunderbird 3, giving us a chance to see more of this rarely used, revamped set. It has also been beautifully lit to give it a darker, moodier atmosphere.

FAB 1 arrives at the ‘Glenfield Press Enclosure.’ Elsewhere it is spelled ‘Glenn Field’ The flying lady ornament over the radiator of the rolls is put to clever use as a tracking device. A firm set of beeps are heard for channels 1 and 2.

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Meanwhile, Zero-X begins her pre-flight assembly, and fortunately we don’t have to watch the whole thing all over again. But for goodness sake, 15 minutes of plot was cut out of this movie, and they go ahead and include these exact same shots again!

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Over in FAB 1, Parker switches to channel 5, which produces a weak, feeble, disappointing little blip – similar to the noise I make when I switch over to watch Channel 5 actually. Let’s take a moment to appreciate the full size FAB 1 set in all its glory. It was certainly put to great use for publicity shots. In the background, you can spot the ‘Robotics International Ltd.’ sign attached to the fence from when it was used in Path of Destruction.

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Penelope immediately calls up Scott to inform him something is up with channel 5. The launch cannot be stopped because of the rendezvous with Thunderbird 3… even though this issue is probably much more important. Nevertheless, Scott is going to “attend to Number 5.” You see Scott’s actually in training to be the new number 2… let me know if you got that reference… and if you ever want to see reviews from me of that particular series…

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Scott arrives aboard the MEV and asks if everyone is okay. Dr Pierce answers as if he’s the suspicious bad guy, but really it’s Dr Grant who Scott wants to interrogate because his face is displeasing. In a bold move, Scott tears the face off to reveal…

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The Hood! Despite being found out within just a few minutes, that has to have been one of his best disguises yet.  All the same, he’s not too happy. At least he appears to have hair for the first time ever.

Scott completely misses his chance to be the hero and runs away to the other side of the cabin like a frightened puppy. The Hood threatens to blow Scott’s head off which is pretty violent even by his villainous standards.

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The Zero-X assembly continues while Scott contacts Penelope about the escaped assailant. Parker and Penny now have to clear up Scott’s mess and take out the villain. Penny also informs Scott of the real Dr Grant’s location. The Hood leaves the control tower “in a motor car” as Parker politely puts it. The Matthews Field control tower from The Cham-Cham is back in the background once again.

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FAB 1 recklessly zips around the parking lot to chase The Hood. You can distinctly see the track in the ground which is being used to drive FAB 1 around the set, rather than on wires. This technique is used much more in the later Supermarionation series to create realistic and more dynamic vehicle movement.

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In a way that apparently makes sense, Paradise Peaks and the control tower from The Cham-Cham are both visible in the background of this shot, even though they were in fairly differently locations previously.

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As The Hood, and FAB 1, crash through the gates, they are fired upon by a machine gun. The guard has terrible aim.

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Scott indicates that the real Dr Grant is located in the missile store… why does Glenn Field have a missile store? Anyway, he claims a pretty little bird told him because the commander refuses to believe that Scott is smart enough to have worked all this out himself… which is fair enough really seeing as Scott managed to let a man sitting perfectly still, right in front of him, run out of the door which he left open…

FAB 1 raises along the mountain roads and Penelope watches as The Hood parks up at the end of a jetty, ready to board a boat. The model set of the shoreline is beautifully rendered in polystyrene. The crack in the road is clearly visible as the car drives along its path.

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Scott welcomes the new Dr Grant back aboard Zero-X. As a scientist, he actually has a slightly different ‘ZX’ patch on his arm to the rest of the crew. Grant is a bit cheesed off that his good luck charm from Lady Penelope didn’t work, smashing the ruddy thing on the floor, revealing the electronics inside which actually saved his life… you’re welcome!

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Parker ensures Penelope has her safety belt fastened. He’s all about the safety when it comes to murdering criminals…

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FAB 1 leaps off the end of the jetty to chase after the boat. It’s the same jetty which FAB 1 jumps off of in Lord Parker’s ‘Oliday – one assumes that the idea was devised for the movie first but that’s pure conjecture.

With a big splash, FAB 1 hits the water, getting a sprinkled canopy before rising up on her hydrofoils and proceeding to continue the chase!

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The Hood’s boat goes like a stabbed rat, but FAB 1 is catching up fast! The Hood is very grumpy about the whole thing. It’s hard to fully comprehend how much of a treat it is to have him back in a Thunderbirds adventure, albeit his appearance is a tad forgettable in the overall story.

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Meanwhile, if you haven’t been paying attention, Zero-X is finally all put together again.

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The Hood is heading over to get picked up by a ‘eavily h’armed h’army ‘elicopter, as Parker eloquently puts it. Penelope’s just excited to blow the thing out of the sky… which is lovely…

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Zero-X proceeds to take off! Even though there are two police cars on the runway, and it took the “airport police” to locate the whereabouts of the real Dr Grant, for some reason the security at Glenn Field was still appalling enough for The Hood to just wander aboard the MEV and take a seat. What was his plan anyway? At a guess I would say he was going to steal the Zero-X and deliver it to a high-paying foreign government, but it could just be that he likes hi-jacking things and being a bit evil… or he had an appointment with the Mysterons on Mars that he just had to keep…

There’s a quick game of cat and mouse out on the ocean. Parker lines up the shot and strikes with FAB 1’s cannon, knocking out a vital component and sending the helicopter plummeting towards the water.

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Curiously, the explosion appears to occur in front of the spot where the helicopter crashes. But never mind that, The Hood goes up in an enormous fireball.

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Penelope remarks that there isn’t any point in looking for survivors. That’s as close as we get to a confirmation that The Hood is dead. Parker removes his hat as a mark of respect. If The Hood didn’t get torn apart by the explosion he probably drowned. Blimey, it’s actually a little hard to accept that he’s totally, utterly and completely dead… particularly as he may or may not pop up again in Thunderbird 6… but oh boy, that is an other story…

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I rather like this shot which shows a tiny little Zero-X model ascending through the clouds while Parker watches. Firstly, it’s unusual to see the back of any puppet’s head for this long, but also to show a puppet actually watching a model aircraft in the distance always look great but isn’t done all that often in the history of Supermarionation.

Zero-X is doing rather swimmingly, so swimmingly that Virgil doesn’t have to do anything while following her in Thunderbird 2. I’m not actually sure what sort of rescue Virgil was prepared to carry out anyway if anything had gone wrong. If only he’d brought Gordon and Thunderbird 4 along he might have been a little more prepared, and it would have given Gordon a better part in the film. I mean what harm would that have done?

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Alan is standing by in Thunderbird 3 to monitor Zero-X’s progress… very much doubt anything is going to happen by this point but sure, let’s see this slightly weird plan through to its conclusion. At least we get another lovely shot of Thunderbird 3. On a big cinema screen this must have looked incredible.

The lifting boards have done their part and are sent back to base, followed soon after by that oh-so-useful nose cone… That’s the great thing about Zero-X’s design, it still looks cool with half of it missing.

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I love this shot of sky turning to space through the front windows. It was presumably achieved using a back projection screen. The large chasm of white light in the centre of the control panel is rather intriguing too.

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Alan watches Zero-X on Thunderbird 3’s scanner screen which shows some orbits which appear to have been hand-drawn in a slightly wonky manner. The spaceship accelerates to 100,000 mph… which is pretty quick. So let’s do some rough math. It reportedly takes Zero-X six weeks to fly between Earth and Mars (on their way back at least). There are 1008 hours in six weeks. So if Zero-X continues on most of its journey at 100,000 mph for about 1008 hours, this puts Mars about 100 million miles away from Earth, which is just under the average distance between the two planets, depending on their positions in orbit around the sun… although the real math is probably a bit more complicated than that…

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So that’s the mission completed… and none of the Thunderbird machines actually did anything useful… which is a bit disappointing almost 45 minutes into a movie all about the Thunderbird machines. FAB 1 has seen more action than any of them. Anyway, Scott passes on his congratulations to Zero-X, and then receives congratulations from Commander Casey, who then receives a vague congratulations from Scott. Everyone’s pretty chuffed basically.

Thunderbird 2 and FAB 1 soon return to Glenn Field. Time for boozey celebration at the Swinging Star nightclub by Penelope’s hotel. Scott and Virgil sure look up for it!

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I’m sure Alan won’t mind that he wasn’t invited and definitely won’t hi-jack a large chunk of the film to being all angsty and messed up over his emotions towards being young, left out, and confused about his attraction to Lady Penelope…

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Here’s a great shot of the villa, actually showing the ocean far off in the distance.

Jeff is absolutely furious that Scott wants to be a normal guy in his 20’s and have a night out. Alan rides the sofa back up to the lounge, humming the Thunderbirds march along the way – nice. Tin-Tin remarks that “all work and no play makes Scott a dull boy.” Which is her way of saying Scott is pretty dull most of the time… Jeff gives in and lets Scott and Virgil go to the Swinging Star. Alan arrives at just the wrong time… I hope he takes this well…

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He’s not happy at first, but suggests that Tin-Tin flies off to the mainland with him for a night out. She’s going to wear her new dress. It’ll be perfect! But no, Jeff is putting his foot down, refusing to leave the base unmanned… couple of points here. Firstly, they quite happily left Kyrano at the base all alone while attending The Ned Cook Show in Terror In New York City. Secondly, what good is having Alan on standby when Thunderbirds 1 and 2 are still at Glenn Field, meaning International Rescue are only able to respond with Thunderbirds 3 and 4… besides which, Gordon, Jeff, Brains, Kyrano, and Grandma would all still be at the base and could carry out a rescue if absolute necessary – except they wouldn’t have any aircraft to perform it with anyway. So basically Alan could have left and it wouldn’t have made a blind bit of difference. But no, let’s annoy him instead, that always goes well… He refuses to have any coffee because it keeps him awake – which is the only time in Supermarionation history that somebody actually makes that observation when having coffee in the evening.

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Night has fallen on Tracy Island. I must warn you, this next portion of the film is just… well… you’ll see…

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Jeff is still up at his desk working late while Alan is sleeping. He starts to make some very peculiar noises which I would advise you don’t repeat in polite conversation. The red headboard on the wall behind Alan’s head is similar to the one seen in Jeff’s bedroom in Atlantic Inferno but this one appears to be slightly wider. At the foot of Alan’s bed appears to be the treasure chest which popped up a couple of times in the series including as the treasure chest presented to The Hood in Edge of Impact. Anyway, Alan starts dreaming because he’s so ruddy traumatised by being left out of the trip to the Swinging Star… because of course he does…

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Yeah… now in terms of scripting this sequence is certainly imaginative but it contributes very little content to a film already lacking in substance. From a design point of view it is quite stunning. The team were committed to delivering this dream sequence with full blown outlandish design and special effects. It looks superb, and it is incredibly memorable. That’s what you need from a big budget feature film in order to sell tickets at the end of the day. From a fan perspective, it is frustrating perhaps that 15 minutes of plot involving Kyrano, The Hood, and Fireflash were cut out because we find those sorts of things interesting, but this dream sequence is something that would get people talking about the film, and in terms of marketing and making the film a success, carried more weight. In the end, it didn’t quite work out that way, but what makes Thunderbirds Are Go that little bit extra special is this sequence. You may not like it, or you may love it, but you definitely remember it. The set design is bizarre and unusual, the pink clouds stand out beautifully on screen, and Alan’s costume is just ridiculous. Apparently he’s waiting for Penelope to pick him up.

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And here she is, looking utterly fabulous of course. Even Parker has changed into a pink uniform, which is how you can be certain that this is all just a dream.

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Parker looks very much like he doesn’t want to be there…

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Alan takes his seat next to Penelope and off they go to the Swinging Star! Barry Gray’s music is rather lovely throughout this sequence, dream-like and grandiose.

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This movie really is gorgeous at times. It’s a real delight to see some imaginative design and lighting at work. Supermarionation on the whole is about achieving realism as closely as is conceivably possible with puppets and models. But here, the realism has been done away with and we’re treated to some pure fantasy, producing some truly stunning results from a visual standpoint. Now the whole dream element is a little flimsy in terms of scripting and contributes little to the plot, but in terms of delivering beautiful visuals it gets top marks, at least to begin with anyway. I wish there was a Supermarionation film which had nothing to do with Thunderbirds that just delivered visuals like this in a complete fantasy world just so we had an excuse to see more highways in space built on clouds and bathed in moonlight.

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With great musical build up, FAB 1 blasts off into space, taking flight for the first and only time in classic Thunderbirds. The impact of this is somewhat lost now seeing as FAB 1 is seen to fly in both the 2004 movie and the new series, but in this particular film it is something truly special and genuinely wowed me when I saw the film for the first time as a youngster.

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Alan and Penelope leave the Earth behind them via the use of back projection. Penelope directs Parker to “turn right, just past planet Mars.” Unfortunately, with the spectacular visuals also comes some silly dialogue. One can’t fully be swept up in the wonderment of Alan’s dream because there are some truly silly things that happen and that’s probably where the sequence falls down a bit. Alan doesn’t have a particularly romantic evening with Penelope, just a bizarre and silly one, so when it all falls apart later on, it just doesn’t pack much of a punch.

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Just imagine this image stretched across an enormous cinema screen. With the swelling music and everything it would just feel like something very special. It may not make sense, but it’s still a satisfying visual and gorgeously presented. The model of Mars would later pop up in Captain Scarlet.

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And here’s the Swinging Star. Certainly an unusual and striking piece of design but perhaps not quite as memorable as it could have been.

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“No parking problem ‘ere, m’lady.” Again, another fabulous and striking idea to see some very regular cars just hanging in space, but perhaps actually seeing 999,999 cars floating in neat rows would have had a bit more impact, leaving just 1 space for FAB 1.

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Just before firing her retros, we get this rather good shot of the full size FAB 1 slowing down. Very nice indeed.

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The interior of the Swinging Star is certainly another clever design, but still not as impressive as it could have been. Maybe Alan’s imagination is a bit limited. The puppet characters rendered in black and white do genuinely appear to be puppets painted in different shades of grey and posed completely still for the duration of the scene. Maybe they’re photographic cut-outs, but to me they look like they’re really there. In the centre, Alan and Penelope sit in full colour. Their outfits are nicely co-ordinated but don’t quite deliver the explosion of colour which I believe we are supposed to be seeing.

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We are introduced to The Shadows, who are of course rendered in puppet form based on the real Shadows, Brian Bennett, Hank Marvin, John Rostill and Bruce Welch. Celebrity stars were often used as the starting point for puppet designs, but this was the first time that Supermarionation puppets were specifically created to actually be real people. Now I’m not particularly familiar with The Shadows so I can’t say I have ever been astounded by this moment in the movie, but at the time I’m sure it was quite an impressive gimmick. In fact it was a gimmick the Andersons thought worked so well, they were planning to have guest stars “appear” in every episode of Captain Scarlet, starting with Patrick McGoohan lending his voice and face to the World President in episode 1. This never happened of course, but the idea certainly had some potential, but would have been limited by the fact some likenesses probably would have worked better than others. That said, these puppets of the Shadows are reasonably good, Hank Marvin in particular with his striking glasses is instantly recognisable. The others have a certain resemblance but could just as easily be anyone else. The tune they play is a specially composed instrumental by The Shadows called ‘Lady Penelope’ which is rather nice.

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It turns out Penelope considers The Shadows to be “way out.” Because she’s contemporary and hip like that you see. Apparently she didn’t bring Scott and Virgil to this Swinging Star which has been specially reserved for Alan… Alan responds by attempting to get Penelope drunk…

The end of the performance triggers applause from Alan and Penelope which actually looks fairly convincing. Presumably a floor puppeteer was hidden just out of shot clapping their hands together.

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Parker takes a well-deserved snooze. That uniform is awfully pink isn’t it?

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“And now, ladies and gentlemen, we present the biggest star in the universe! None other than Cliff Richard Jr.” Now even if The Shadows passed you by for some reason, you should at least know the name Cliff Richard. Now the notion that he has a son called Cliff Richard Jr. is pretty laughable, and the idea that he’s “the biggest star in the universe” even more so. But it’s a nice little gimmick for the movie which came about because Cliff Richard had a Portugal home close to Gerry and Sylvia Anderson’s holiday home where they would write scripts.

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And so begins a performance of Shooting Star, performed by Cliff Richard and The Shadows especially for the film. Footage was actually taken of the real band performing the song so that the puppeteers could study their movements and recreate them accurately on screen. The results are a little peculiar, with Cliff Richard Jr. appearing to just flail his arms around uncontrollably and The Shadows moving very little. The song itself is pretty enjoyable, but does carry undertones of a girl being trapped in an abusive relationship with the singer who will have her beaten up by his friends if she cheats on him… which I’m sure is not the intention but that’s certainly how one could interpret it…

Now let’s see if I’ve got this right so far. Cliff blasts off, propelled by the force of his magic rocket shoes, tearing a hole in the ceiling of the Swinging Star which would cause all the air and people in the room to be sucked into the vacuum of space. Meanwhile, a guitar-shaped missile is being prepared for launch on a barren surface (which actually gets re-used as the surface of Mars later on)… maybe it’s just a guitar though… but why a guitar would be being launched as an act of war is beyond me. Then Cliff is on the moon… even though it can’t be the moon because it’s too small, the wrong colour, and the moon isn’t actually that shape. He jumps off, dissatisfied with this particular moon. Then he’s stripped Parker naked and thrown him out into space, just to steal his pink uniform. Penelope and Alan sit in the car staring at each other because apparently there’s a romantic attraction there which was never addressed in the television series. The Shadows have joined Cliff and are sitting outside FAB 1. The drum kit couldn’t be brought along so Brian Bennett has to make do with tapping the bonnet of the car, probably not caring less about scratching the paintwork. The entirety of FAB 1’s canopy has been removed to allow access for puppet wires and cameras… and to allow Cliff to shoot off into space once again, taking the steering wheel with him because he’s a twerp like that…

Yes there’s more. The guitar missile is almost ready for launch, while Cliff has returned to the moon, only to slide off it again because he’s just that laid back about the whole thing. Meanwhile – in space – the gang are all performing their hearts out, not at all fussed about the lack of oxygen. Alan is an astronaut for goodness sake, you’d have thought his dreams about the deep space would at least be vaguely realistic…

The guitar blasts off to do… whatever… Cliff jumps off the moon again… and apparently the guitar was just some spaceship for the band to perform on again. Hank Marvin desperately clings to the neck of the guitar because the others kicked him off for some reason. The guitar prop for this scene was pretty enormous and is actually sitting on a black cloth here which you can just about notice as the camera moves. Visually stunning but the silliness of it all does ruin it slightly.

Mars explodes and Cliff Richard Jr. disappears into his moon. It’s all so ruddy weird I can’t even call it a satisfying ending… it’s just an ending. It’s good fun though.

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The performance ends and the crowd goes wild… even though they can’t have seen most of it what with the band performing on top of a guitar out in space… anyway, the night is young and Penelope and Alan are about to go dancing… I’d quite like this dream to be done now…

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Jeff intervenes just in time… get it… just in time… because he’s in a watch… anyway, he needs Alan to come back to base because there’s an emergency and Scott and Virgil are away enjoying themselves, as usual… probably passed out in a puddle somewhere. This wrist prop was a massive piece of construction which housed hundreds of wires to light up each LED bulb, red representing hours, yellow as minutes and the green ticking around to show seconds – pretty neat! Alan agrees that as the most reliable of all the Tracy brothers, he must go back to Earth. Gordon and John probably don’t even exist in Alan’s subconscious.

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Penelope is clearly displeased that the evening has been cut short as they step back into FAB 1.

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The canopy is still mostly missing from the car. Parker reminds Penelope to mind the gap, something which Penelope takes very much to heart.

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“Mind the gap Alan… Mind the gap Alan…” It’s chilling stuff as the dream all begins to fall apart. From the delightfully fantastic flight of FAB 1, to the bizarre pop music video of Cliff and the Shadows, to the sheer nightmarish terror of stepping out into nothingness, Alan sure experiences a wide range of emotions during this dream sequence, but I think it’s fair to say it would have been a touch grating had it gone on for any longer. The gap between FAB 1 and the Swinging Star has suddenly become vast, the enormous FAB 1 model hanging in space seamlessly. Alan’s courage is tested by the headmistress-like Penelope. He is not afraid…

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Another gorgeous visual as Alan spins back to Earth, everything horrifically falling apart…

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We’re shown a rare view of Tracy Island from above. This shot was actually a last minute replacement for some footage shot on location in Portugal. A weekend had been scheduled for filming back projection footage to be used in the climax of the film. One shot included filming from a contra-rotating helicopter descending sharply towards an island. Needless to say, it didn’t turn out too well and this model shot certainly does the job perfectly.

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In case you hadn’t noticed, it was all a dream. Jeff hears an enormous thud and discovers that Alan in some particularly hideous pyjamas has fallen out of bed. Note the stuffed alligator in the background… now we know what happened to Alan’s pet at the end of Attack of the Alligators!

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Presumably six weeks or so later, Scott and Virgil are suffering from severe hangovers still while Alan sulks… remember that Zero-X has flown all the way to Mars by now and Alan is still grumpy. Virgil and Brains are playing chess together… I think we both know who’s going to win. Scott and Jeff are discussing very important matters. This pool side set is very impressive. The stairs seen here can also be spotted in the background of Francois Lemaire’s office in Alias Mr. Hackenbacker as well as the chairs.

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Tin-Tin and Gordon pop up from the water, just to remind you that they are actually in this movie. Gordon’s upper torso has been specially sculpted in one solid piece – the finer details of his anatomy have been skipped in the sculpting process.

Alan is enjoying a copy of Riviera magazine, the same copy that Power was seen reading in Ricochet. Gordon chucks a beach ball at him because, let’s be honest, Alan needs to lighten up. He drops the magazine to reveal some truly horrific sunglasses. Because Alan’s being such a grumpy so-and-so, Jeff subtly hints that it might be time for Alan to spend some time on Thunderbird 5 because for the first time ever he actually misses John… not that much though…

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Thunderbird 5 hangs in orbit. We don’t get a very good look at her, but this is the first time a new shot has been taken of Thunderbird 5 since the beginning of the series. It’s fair to assume that this is the original model, purposefully filmed from far away to save time revamping and improving her for the big screen.

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John is monitoring the Zero-X mission with a clipboard to make him look extra important. Captain Travers reports that they have successfully touched down on the surface of Mars.

Here’s a pretty neat piece of tech. Jeff’s cocktail lights up to alert him of a call coming in. From the gold – yes gold – lining of his jacket, Jeff pulls out a little photo album called ‘My Family’. He flicks through it to reveal John on the third page – which is not a bad placing considering it’s John. The picture changes to a video communication screen showing John up on Thunderbird 5. It’s essentially a portable version of the portraits in the lounge, and a very clever, very Thunderbirds-esque invention. Jeff tells John to keep in touch about the Zero-X, but sadly this is John’s biggest scene in the movie, his role being kept to an absolute minimum.

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On the very grey, very barren surface of Mars, we’re shown a loooong tracking shot as the MEV slowly drives into the foreground, kicking up a huge cloud of dust behind it. Nobody had ever seen a photograph of the surface of Mars in 1966, so the special effects team got it pretty spot on, albeit missing out the fact that the planet has a hint of red about it.

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The MEV trundles along on some tracks.

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This is a lesson on how to get four characters on screen at once while also not showing too much of their puppet wires. Brad Newman drew the short straw and had to stay aboard the main Zero-X body, keeping him well and truly out of the history books. Dr Grant reckons that Mars could have a breathable atmosphere, but not for “life as we know it.” This gives everyone the jitters.

The gang come across some strange rock formations which appear to be wrapped up in coils. Dr Grant is quick with the answers, suggesting that molten rock was squeezed out of the planet when meteorites struck it… fair enough… it would be ridiculous if they were anything else…

Dr Pierce is to be the first man to set foot on the Martian surface to collect a sample of the rock formation. He’s a bit nervous. Travers blasts the rock with a cannon which looks ruddy cool.

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But then…

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Oh dear… unlike Fireball XL5 and StingrayThunderbirds tries seriously hard to ground itself in reality. The Hood’s magical powers are the primary element of the show that strays into complete fantasy and that part of his character was basically written out by the second half of the series. The show strives further and further towards being more real and grown up… and then the serious implication is made that there’s life on Mars… that’s just about acceptable… but did they have to be rock snakes that shoot fireworks out of their mouths? What’s even weirder is the fact the snakes are barely even referenced in the rest of the film. Don’t get me wrong, they look terrifying and seriously cool on screen, but for me they shift everything just a little bit far into the realms of fantasy for me to take them seriously.

And then the whole shooting of fireworks from the mouth starts. It’s certainly an unusual defence mechanism. They are a very original monster idea. I suppose the Andersons needed to come up with a creature that could remain undetected on Mars, but would also create a lot of trouble for the Zero-X crew when they landed, and would also stay put on the planet after they left so the Earth wasn’t doomed to future attacks. Pierce is forbidden from going outside – it certainly would have been dramatic for him to have gotten picked off as soon as he stepped foot on the planet.

Suddenly there’s a whole herd of rock snakes shooting fireworks at the MEV. The bombardment is relentless and it looks amazing.

Zero-X orbits the planet under the control of Brad Newman. The MEV cannot lift off until the main ship is in the correct position for a rendezvous, leaving the crew stranded.

Forced to wait around, they attempt to return fire, blasting a rock snake to pieces while the MEV remains intact.

Blimey those are some big bangs! The editing of this sequence sure is quick!

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Under heavy fire, Travers is forced to take off before Zero-X is in the correct position, risking completely running out of fuel and drifting into space for all eternity… because Paul Travers is that kind of guy. The rock snakes continue to open fire… I mean how do they even do that anyway?

Everything has suddenly worked out just fine and Brad gives the order for the MEV to fire retros before coming up behind her for docking… so all the tension is just completely diffused because the whole issue of them running out of fuel just doesn’t matter.

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Some snooker balls simulate the docking procedure… because this film is just weird at times…

Yes, back on Tracy Island, Jeff and the gang are discussing the outcome of the Zero-X mission. Jeff doesn’t sound the slightest bit bothered that there giant exploding rock snakes living on Mars. That’s the last time they’re brought up. Let’s hear your theory, were they crude, sentient defence systems created by the Mysterons, or strange monsters left on Mars by Zelda from Terrahawks? Virgil mentions that the MEV sustained some damage but nothing too serious, so now it’s just a case of Zero-X getting back to Glenn Field in six weeks time…

Fast forward now from July 22nd to September 2nd. I love fast forwarding clocks in film and TV…

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Zero-X is ready to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere. How thrilling!

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The commander at Glenn Field has enjoyed having some time off while Zero-X has been in space. He’s probably been staring at a blank wall muttering the assembly sequence to himself ever since the take-off…

The retros fire, and the tracking stations confirm all is well… not actually sure what the ‘Zero-X Flight Bay’ sign on the wall is for… maybe it’s to remind the commander where he is… Anyway, let’s get this landing underway, I’m sure it’ll go just fine…

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Looking very cool indeed, Zero-X re-enters the atmosphere and fires retros again for good measure.

Brad is given control of the lifting bodies which have been launched for Glenn Field to provide Zero-X with some control surfaces and jet propulsion now that the craft has re-entered the atmosphere.

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This looks like it might be rather delicate, particularly as Brad can’t actually see what he’s doing.

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In a painfully slow and fiddly motion, lift body 1 touches down and docks with the main body. Lift body 2 is bringing up the rear…

“Radio control failure! I can’t hold her!”

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This slight incident causes a few more issues than you might think…

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“What’s happened?” Good question Captain Travers. Everything happens incredibly quickly which does make it genuinely quite shocking.

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The lifting body is now inexplicably very much on fire, leaving a trail of black smoke behind it before exploding in a big orange fireball. The shot of the lifting body blowing up was actually filmed outside of the studios against real sky. The model was thrown from a gantry borrowed from the Slough Power Station.

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Frantic communications between Commander Casey and Paul Travers ensue. Apparently the locking mechanism was damaged so sending up the elusive lift body 3 wouldn’t be much help. Their fuel and control systems are working, but remote control and – yes, you guessed it – escape unit circuits are dead… that’s a rotten bit of luck… why oh why would lift body 2 hitting the back of the ship knock out the escape unit? Those circuits should be kept extra safe what with them only being used in emergencies and all that. John overhears the entire conversation and can’t help looking a little bit excited by the whole thing. It is the most exciting thing that’s happened to him in this film.

John reports in to base, making his final appearance of the movie… it’s not exactly been a memorable performance. Jeff briefs the team, even though they were all in the room when John just explained the whole thing to Jeff. But for the benefit of the audience, Zero-X has only one functioning wing which means she can’t maintain height and reach Glenn Field, so she’s going to crash in approximately 30 minutes.

Scott is going to take Brains with him to Glenn Field to co-ordinate things. Thunderbird 1 has only ever carried passengers as an after thought so it’ll be interesting to see where Brains sits. Virgil is ordered to take Thunderbird 2 and Pod 4, which for some reason contains the air-to-air rescue equipment rather than Thunderbird 4. Maybe Jeff dislikes Gordon so much that Thunderbird 4’s just been shoved in a skip until they need it again. Alan is given a very direct order indeed – he will be boarding Zero-X to fix the escape unit. Oh and Gordon will be there too, bringing his character arc of being Jeff’s second-most-hated son to a conclusion… he’s still Jeff’s second-most-hated son but needs must when a spaceship is crashing…

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What can Tin-Tin do during this most dangerous of missions? Well Jeff wants her to… help… we don’t hear from Jeff again for the rest of the operation… so she can’t have been that much help…

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Thunderbirds 1 and 2 immediately blast off. These shots are actually different takes to the launches seen earlier in the film.

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I feel like every Thunderbirds newspaper article or piece of merchandise ever has had this image in there at some point.

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For one time only, Thunderbird 1 finally has a proper passenger compartment, as a hatch slides open to reveal Brains sat behind Scott. Hope Scott doesn’t mind backseat drivers. He gives Brains a very dismissive “mhmm” when reminded to speed up…

Just for a bit of fun, Commander Casey wants to know how many people Zero-X might be about to kill. The number is alarmingly high, so he has the population of Craigsville evacuated, and decides now might be a good time to call International Rescue. But they’re already on their way! Now that’s service.

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The commander gives Thunderbird 2 a steer for locating Zero-X of International Fix System 24-04, on a heading of 143 magnetic. The entirely made up International Fix System is also employed by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson in their screenplay for Thunderbird 6, also giving a reading of 24-04… must be a popular International Fix…

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The gang aboard Zero-X are a little bit worried. The commander calls up and informs them International Rescue are on the case, instructing Travers to switch over to channel 4. I don’t think watching Grand Designs is going to help matters very much…

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Thunderbird 1 touches down at Glenn Field while the crew of Thunderbird 2 prepare for their perilous mission. We learn that Thunderbird 2 has an astrodome apparently.

Quickly set up in the control centre, Scott requests that Zero-X and Thunderbird 2 transmit 10 seconds of unmodulated carrier waves to track their positions… which is possibly the smartest thing Scott has ever said, since his last smart quip about publicity was proven false by the Press Relations Officer earlier in the movie. Thunderbird 2 is given another steer to locate Zero-X. The commander is so nervous he stands up, which is something of a rarity. Scott informs him that they’re going to put a man aboard to fix the escape unit. But not just any man, a man who whines and complains when he’s left out of anything.

Scott informs the Zero-X crew of the situation, well sort of, he actually keeps things rather vague which is not what you need when your aircraft is 15 minutes away from turning into jam.

Aboard Thunderbird 2, Gordon is sitting behind a really big gun – the same one seen in Alias Mr. Hackenbacker and Ricochet to be precise. The hatch is opened, ready for Alan to depart.

The Zero-X crew are finally informed of the full plan and aren’t terribly thrilled with having a man fired at them. They don’t have a lot of choice though so lower the nose wheel as Thunderbird 2 flies underneath them. Gordon lines up the shot…

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The lighting in this particular shot is rather epic. Just thought I’d mention it.

A very windswept Gordon manages to fire the clamp straight into wheel housing. In the long shot of the cable flying out of the cannon, Gordon actually appears to be facing a completely different direction, making his sharp aim all the more impressive…

Alan begins his ascent. The sequence is basically a remake of Gordon’s boarding of Fireflash in Operation Crash-Dive… Gordon made it look easy though. So apparently all of the complex and important circuitry for Zero-X is kept next to the wheels… y’know, the things that hit the ground really really hard when the ship comes into land… is that normal?

Time is of the essence as Alan starts to receive direction from Brains on how to fix the escape unit. Brains rattles off a long explanation about how Alan should find the E.U.C. box on the wall, when really all he needed to say was, “Look up.” You might need to speed things up a little Brains…

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Dr Grant and Dr Pierce are sent back into the escape unit before they pee their pants.

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After more unnecessary waffle from Brains, we finally cut to the chase – Alan needs to plug some yellow wires into some green wires and that will apparently fix everything. How Brains managed to figure that out I don’t know, but more importantly why aren’t the wires already connected together like that if that’s what makes the escape unit work? I’m no electrician though. Anyway, Alan’s live action double for these scenes was apparently puppet sculptor John Brown according to a brochure about the film released in 1966. We’ll get a closer look at it later, but any guesses yet where you might have also seen Alan’s special screwdriver?

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Basically everyone just has to wait around for Alan to fix the wiring now, but Paul is worried they’ll need every second they can get. He decides to send his fearless comrades back into the escape unit so he can fly the craft on manual for as long as possible, giving Alan the best possible chance. What a guy.

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Everyone’s just standing around waiting. It’s exciting, but there’s certainly more action to come. The commander has managed to leave his desk for the first time in the entire film, so that’s good.

Below Alan appears to be dangling in front of some of that footage shot from a helicopter in Portugal… I say that because it looks quite a bit like Portugal. Disaster strikes! Alan drops his screwdriver which you may recognise as the Third Doctor’s sonic screwdriver from Doctor Who. When Century 21 closed, many models and props were sold off, and this particular prop became the sonic screwdriver!

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Oh… fiddlesticks…

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Meanwhile, Paul has been trying to overrun his engines to keep the ship in the air, causing them to blow up rather spectacularly.

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As Alan struggles desperately to fix the wiring by hand, the wheels are shown almost skimming the trees… or almost skimming the unconvincing back projection footage rather. It looks as though Virgil is using all the power Thunderbird 2 has to keep the enormous Zero-X beast in the air… or he’s just trying to avoid hitting the trees himself…

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Alan’s really feeling the pressure now…

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They’re approaching a Portuguese village! I mean Craigsville…

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Virgil is super grumpy that things have gotten this close. He’s putting his foot down. Alan has to be finished by end of his five second countdown.

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You can almost feel your own stomach lurch as Alan completes the wiring job by hand, and has to drop out of the hatch. It is seriously thrilling stuff.

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Alan is thrown from the ship and Thunderbird 2 sharply gains height while Zero-X continues to fall to its doom…

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Hope everyone got the memo to clear out…

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Scott has a handy ‘EJECT’ switch installed on his mobile control unit… right next to the ‘COSMIC 3’ switch. Anyway, if you could flick that switch like a good chap Scott we can call this a job well done.

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Splendid, glad that’s been taken care of in a timely manner.

The screen is just filled with fire and destruction as Zero-X completely flattens Craigsville. Most of the buildings are made of flimsy cardboard and LEGO bricks to ensure they break apart and debris flies everywhere. It is, quite simply, the most destructive and spectacular special effects sequence the Century 21 team ever pulled off, rivalled closely by its Thunderbird 6 counterpart.

With the escape unit parachute deployed, everyone is safe and sound. Alan is a bit stuck though, but there’s someone on the ground to come to his aid…

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Good ole’ Lady P and Parker have turned up to watch the crash. Apparently, as soon as they heard the forecast crash position they made their way there… the crash position was only forecast about 30 minutes ago, and Penelope and Parker haven’t actually been needed in the United States for about 3 months since the launch… rather lucky coincidence that they happened to be nearby…

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With expert precision, Virgil is able to drop Alan off right next to FAB 1. If I were Alan I’d still be shaking quite a bit, but apparently he’s able to play it completely cool with Penelope.

First they’re going to make a trip to Glenn Field so everyone can give Alan a pat on the back. Then they’re going to Penelope’s hotel. Alan immediately assumes therefore that they’ll be going to the Swinging Star after all. Well she didn’t actually say that Alan, but you’ve sort of forced her into it now. But more to the point, Penelope and Parker have been staying at the same hotel for three months now – why exactly?

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I must admit that in my opinion, the real Swinging Star looks quite a bit more impressive than the made up one. Building 67 from Alias Mr. Hackenbacker can be spotted on the right.

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It looks quite a bit more like a restaurant than a night club as the others suggested earlier, but never mind, shouldn’t someone install some sort of safety railing? The puppets in the background of the scene are hard to make out but include the Duchess of Royston from The Duchess Assignment and Francois Lemaire from Alias Mr. Hackenbacker. There’s some beardy chaps on the right of shot but we’ll get to them in a moment…

Penelope looks absolutely lovely in her outfit and Alan looks… wait… Alan what on earth do you have on your face? It’s not exactly a very good disguise, but nevertheless, this is the measure International Rescue members have to take when they’re out in public to avoid recognition… they can’t be that worried about it if that’s the best they can come up with. Anyway, Alan blabbers on about himself for a bit because that’s what he’s good at. Penelope doesn’t appear to be listening.

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Jeff… I mean, a mysterious stranger, asks for an ash tray. Oh no, it really is Jeff – his incredible disguise had me fooled for a moment there.

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Not only is Scott in disguise but he’s also quietly mocking Alan by wearing his ridiculous sunglasses from earlier. Virgil looks absolutely incredible with his new facial hair – it suits him far, far too well. Brains has removed his glasses as some form of disguise even though he’s now blind as a bat. Tin-Tin has put on a wig but is ruddy jealous of the fact Alan’s having dinner with Penelope. She looks about ready to jab that glass in Penny’s eye… Meanwhile, Gordon is stuck at home having a trippy nightmare about The Beatles playing at an underwater nightclub…

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Penelope tries to sound incredibly philosophical to round off the movie nicely but it goes over everyone’s heads. The gang congratulate Alan on another good day at the office. How sweet.

Just in case you were under any delusion that you had been watching real people for an hour and a half, this incredibly jarring sequence is played during the end credits. It’s the Royal Marines marching around playing the Thunderbirds March while the voice artists are credited along with Cliff Richard and The Shadows. Then there are some very silly made up credits which try to make the whole thing sound real… even though it clearly isn’t because a sequence showing real people is played at the same time to completely shatter the illusion. It’s a great rendition of the tune, but it really doesn’t fit at all well with the rest of the film. Ah well, that’s the ending we’ve got, so that’s what we’ll have to stick with.

So let’s get one very clear conclusion about Thunderbirds Are Go out there immediately – it looks stunning. The greatest strength of this film is the fact that it firmly delivers on its promise of bringing Thunderbirds to the big screen. David Lane, Derek Meddings, and their teams absolutely nailed the technical and design transitions over to filming for the cinema. It is very clear that a lot of time was spent working out what would need to be done differently for this film compared to the series, and I think they got the look absolutely right. The puppetry, the special effects, the sets, the lighting, the camera work, the dialogue delivery, and the music are all of feature film standard – in fact many aspects are beyond feature film standard – they’re out of this world. Thunderbirds Are Go retains the distinctive Supermarionation style while clearly demonstrating the team’s understanding that the requirements of cinema are different to those of television. The result is something new and exciting but still definitely Thunderbirds.

The story is perhaps where the transition doesn’t quite work. The tale of the Zero-X’s flight to Mars is certainly thrilling, and would have made a seriously top notch television episode, but the story is definitely about Zero-X more than International Rescue. That is not uncommon for the television series. Frankly, most episodes of the TV series are more about a guest craft or character than about the Tracy family, but the overall series adds up to being firmly about the adventures of International Rescue. In order for Thunderbirds Are Go to be more than just an expensive episode of the television series, it needed to accurately do what the entire television series does across its 32 episodes, all in just an hour and half. Rather than a feature film adaptation of the Thunderbirds television series, what we’re left with is a feature length Thunderbirds episode. Alan is the only character in Thunderbirds Are Go to be given any sort of story arc, and it doesn’t even have that much to do with the Zero-X mission, whereas across the television series we learn more about the characters with each episode as we grow to like them, even though the episodes aren’t connected together in any sort of thread – but there’s still some development there. In terms of storytelling, Thunderbirds Are Go sits alongside the television series episodes, but it doesn’t stand out from them.

Is that a bad thing though? Well I’m certainly happy that we have Thunderbirds Are Go, and while it certainly belongs on the cinema screen visually, it just doesn’t fully explore the full potential that Thunderbirds had to start up a full blown movie franchise. Gerry & Sylvia Anderson must have had a very good reason for wanting to focus so much of the film on Zero-X, but imagine a Star Wars film that doesn’t focus on the Jedi at all and is instead worried about some random planet going through some random problem… oh wait, that’s called The Phantom Menace

Speaking of phantom menaces, why did no-one turn up to see this film in cinemas in December 1966? Neither Lew Grade, nor any other executives thought it was a bad film and were certain it would do extremely well. Thunderbirds was still popular and still in the public eye with the screening of the second series underway at the same time. However, Gerry Anderson believed that maybe people weren’t used to seeing a television series adapted for the cinema, and that audiences didn’t see the point of paying to go and see something they could watch on television at home. There may be some validity to that argument, particularly when one considers the previous argument that the story of Thunderbirds Are Go doesn’t really deliver anything that an episode of the TV series can’t. Only really die hard fans would have been lured by the thrill of seeing the characters and machines in colour for the first time, so perhaps United Artists were counting on that attraction a little too much. It is also possible that Thunderbirds Are Go was lost among other big blockbuster movies released at the same time. Whatever the reason for the film’s commercial failure, United Artists thought it was worth giving another go, and so Thunderbird 6 was commissioned. They really believed Thunderbirds could be turned into a long-running line of feature films, even when the television series was off the air. I would, however, be bold enough to say that only Star Trek has enjoyed more success from its feature films than its television series overall, and that was only in very recent years when the format of the original series was simply converted into a feature film – I’m also not suggesting that this success is going to last as long as the original television series has. But who knows, maybe Thunderbird 6 would be the film to launch Thunderbirds to an entirely new audience on the big screen… just a shame the title suggests this is the sixth in a line of films you’ve never heard of…

Stay tuned for our action-packed review of Thunderbird 6, coming to the Security Hazard blog on Friday 5th May 2017. While members of International Rescue enjoy a vacation aboard Skyship One, Brains’ latest aviation revolution, plans are afoot by the elusive Black Phantom to steal the Thunderbird machines!

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4 thoughts on “Thunderbirds Are Go (1966)

  1. Another great review that had me giggling throughout – and also poinbting out thigns that I always wondered myself.

    As fro the end Swinging Star scene….. Gordon is the mastermind that came up wit hthe whole “hear wear this fake facial hair and be completely unrecognisable”. He is back at Tracy Island drinking Jeff’s whiskey, smoking his cigars and laughing with John at the feed of the whole silly thing. In between them both debating just which one is the most hated son. John wishes he had the whiskey, although he is carefully recording Gordon becaue it’s always useful to have leverage on your brothers.

    Just a small spelling quibble – elusive not illusive.

    Like

  2. Chris Rolfe

    Very good and funny review. I love the Zero X machine. A fantastic craft.
    I think that’s what makes the film. Just as an aside would Zero X or any of the Thunderbird craft be able to fly for real with today’s technology? Imagine Zero X flying low over your home.

    Like

  3. Paul Meads

    Thank you yet again for taking the time to produce this wonderful review. I learnt a lot from reading it and I will appreciate it all the more next time I watch it.

    Like

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