Thunderbirds Are Go/TB6 on Blu-ray

Wednesday, 24 June 2015 23:00 Written by 

Thunderbirds Are Go and Thunderbirds 6 - out now on UK Blu-rayWith a new reboot on ITV, it wouldn’t be long before the Blu-ray versions of the big screen movies from the 1960s of Thunderbirds would finally make their way to the UK. We’re talking about “Thunderbirds are Go” (1966) and “Thunderbird 6” (1968). Mostly forgotten, even at the time, due to very lacklustre box office returns, they are far more than being double-length TV episodes, filmed entirely in an extreme cinematic aspect ratio, with no carriage over of footage from the small screen adventures. And you had the chance to win one of three copies of both releases which we had up for grabs in our prize competition.

Gerry Anderson often told the story that Lew Grade confided in him that he couldn’t make his mind up whether the first of the movies would out-perform James Bond at the Box Office or not. The problem was that even the sales line that this was your chance to see International Rescue in glorious colour, something not afforded the monochrome television audiences of the time, did not make the case for the cinema audience to buy their tickets. Perhaps they were too dumb to realise these were all-new adventures, with everything illustrated on a much bigger canvas?

“Thunderbirds Are Go” saw the debut into the worlds of Supermarionation of ‘Zero X’ – a manned flight to Mars, which would get its own comic strip in TV Century 21 magazine, running from January 1967 to August 1969. The craft also made a guest appearance in the first episode of Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons (albeit with a different crew, including Captain Black).

As in the television adventures, we had a lot of screen time getting to know the characters who were going to be rescued. The ‘Zero X’ crew included voice artists known for other things. National treasure Bob Monkhouse was Space Navigator Brad Newman, while Paul Maxwell, formerly the voice of Steve Zodiac in Fireball XL5, was Captain Paul Travers. Also on the crew was Alexander Davion (who was playing Detective Chief Inspector David Keen in Gideon’s Way at the time) as Space Captain Greg Martin. Anderson stalwarts completed the crew – Neil McCallum (who had played Pete Paulson in The Vise and did uncredited work on several episodes of Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons) was Dr Ray Pierce, and Charles Tingwell (who had played Dr Alan Dawson in Emergency Ward 10, did uncredited voice work on second season original Thunderbirds and was a regular on Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons) played Dr Tony Grant.

The word is that Bob Monkhouse first approached the Andersons for permission to film a comedy sketch based on Stingray, but ended up agreeing to replace Alfred Marks, who had withdrawn from the film due to a fee dispute. Monkhouse recalled the conversation: "Gerry said 'How much would you charge for the job?' I said, 'Gerry, I'd do it for nothing.' And that was the first time I ever heard the phrase, 'The price is right'." Bob also provided the voiceover for the UK cinema trailer for the film.

Also in the film are marionettes of Cliff Richard and the Shadows. They are part of Alan Tracy’s dream-come-nightmare sequence at the Swinging Star nightclub. The Shadows perform an instrumental called “Lady Penelope”, while Cliff Richard (Jr) is there with the vocals for "Shooting Star", introduced to the audience by Bob Monkhouse. Both tracks featured on an EP released in November 1966, and also included The Shadows performing instrumental versions of the "Thunderbirds" and "Zero X" themes. This was one of five Cliff Richard EPs released during 1966, none of which charted.

In terms of behind-the-scenes, Sylvia Anderson was the producer, and Derek Meddings, as had been the case for a whole host of the Anderson catalogue, was in charge of the special effects. The film was directed by David Lane, who at 24 years old, was the youngest British film director working at the time. He went on to be the key man on the CGI revival of New Captain Scarlet in 2005.

The film had a budget of £250,000, and just before the film came out Gerry Anderson won a Silver Medal for Outstanding Artistic Achievement from the Royal Television Society - something you would have thought the PR folk of the time would have made great play out of.

Extras on this release include a whole host of stuff from Blu-ray releases from other territories, as well as stuff which was included on previous DVD releases:

  • Gerry Anderson’s Countdown to Thunderbirds (15 mins - an all-new 2015 production, featuring archive interviews and footage);
  • “Entertainment is Go” (21 minutes - a making-of from Anderson Entertainment, which is well worth the Blu-ray price on its own);
  • Audio Commentary with Producer Sylvia Anderson and Director David Lane;
  • Isolated Score track;
  • Cliff Richard and The Shadows unseen test footage;
  • History and Appeal;
  • Factory of Dolls and Rockets;
  • Epics in Miniature;
  • Photo Gallery;
  • Come with me to the rushes;
  • What does F.A.B mean?
  • Original UK and US Theatrical Trailers.

The only item that was included on the American Blu-ray limited release which is not present here is an audio commentary by ‘Film Historians Jeff Bond and Nick Redman’, which I regret to say is not much of a loss.

Thunderbird 6 and Thunderbirds Are Go - out now on UK Blu-rayMoving on to “Thunderbird 6” now, again written by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, and directed by David Lane, this time the new craft star is Skyship One, the latest invention from Brains, is a futuristic airship, designed to bring back an era of travel, where speed was not of the essence. When the ship is hijacked by gold-diggers, only a well-maintained old Tiger Moth plane can help them save the day.

This is very much a change of pace for Thunderbirds, with the majority of the film playing out as an adventure for Lady Penelope and Parker, with Tin-Tin and Alan along for the ride. This is more a spy movie than a tale which has its focus on the exploits of International Rescue, although the conclusion of the movie gives us both a rescue as well as Derek Meddings blowing things to pieces in the most spectacular of fashions. We see Supermarionation versions of many a world travel destination, the Pyramids included. And for those who like Thunderbirds craft, the very short glimpses of prototypes from Brains for the new Thunderbird 6 are flights of fancy into what might have been – and a missed merchandising opportunity!

For those reading between the lines, we also have the not-seen-on-screen destruction of FAB 1, as well as Scott and Virgil callously shooting up a villain, who may or may not be ‘The Hood’ himself. Both of these are, with adult hindsight, regrettable, and very much mark that this really is the final original Thunderbirds outing.

Despite it being a marionette movie, many of the stunts were done with real people and accompanying equipment, including a scene where the Tiger Moth swoops under a motorway bridge. Renowned pilot Joan Hughes was charged with seven counts of dangerous flying for this stunt, after not doing what the ‘suits’ watching wanted, which was for her to fly over the bridge instead.      

In an unusual way of being ahead of its time, the delivery of meals by toy train in the restaurant scene pre-empted the arrival of Yo Sushi by some 40 years, and has also been copied by numerous Japanese restaurants. And to add further interest to this scene, the marionette of Cliff Richard makes a cameo appearance, disguised with thick-rimmed glasses and a moustache, sitting behind Lady Penelope at the Whistle Stop Inn.

For those who take such details as on-the-money, we discover that when it is 11.00am on Tracy Island, it is 4.00pm in England. If you take the world's time zones as being consistent now as will be then, this puts Tracy Island somewhere just off the coast of Chile or Peru.

Special Features on this Blu-ray are:

  • Gerry Anderson’s Countdown to Thunderbirds (the same 2015 production as on the “Thunderbirds Are Go” Blu-ray);
  • Lady Penelope;
  • Building Better Puppets;
  • A Call from Stanley Kubrick;
  • A Television Tribute;
  • Original Theatrical Trailer;
  • Photo Gallery.

I do hope the artwork for the front covers of both theses releases has been corrected – the quote at the bottom from Entertainment Today says “Brilliant! Decades ahead of it’s (sic) time”. Yes, a grocer’s ampersand has appeared in the word ‘its’. These things really DO matter, especially when it’s so prominent. At least the artwork of the characters from the German release by Concord has been amended – on that a host of uniform sashes were reversed (being shown over the right shoulder rather than the left).

Both releases come with a little booklet included within the box, giving full cast and crew details, gushing plot summaries, postage stamp sized images from the films, and a speckle of facts and trivia items. There was so much more that could have been said, so they do feel a little hollow, even within the constraints of being 16 pages each.

The one disappointment, and this is shared across the recent German and limited American releases of these films, is they share the same prints for the movies, which are regrettably very grainy, and at times makes you think you are watching a DVD upscaling rather than a full blown HD version on Blu-ray. The Anderson Entertainment-produced "Entertainment Is Go" included here, as it was on the German and American releases, has amazing quality on the clips it includes, in comparison to the films themselves. This might possibly have been due to more clean-up work having been done by the documentary makers, but comparing like for like on a 50" plasma screen you are befuddled as to why the documentary clips are so much crisper to look at. Comparing to the Blu-ray clean-ups for the original Thunderbirds TV episodes, the films are very poorly handled.

Even so, don't let this put you off investing in these Blu-rays, as they still leave the 2015 reboot in the starting gate in terms of stories and execution.

Both titles are out now from Fabulous Films/Fremantle Media Enterprises - "Thunderbirds Are Go" ('U'), has a running time of 93 minutes and a RRP of £19.99, "Thunderbird 6" ('U') has a running time of 89 minutes and also has a RPP of £19.99, or get either for less at www.culttvstore.com

Thanks to Fabulous Films/Fremantle Media Enterprises, you had the opportunity to put one of three sets of both Blu-ray releases available to win and put on to your mantelpiece, in our prize competition. All you had to do was tell us the answer to the following question: Which song did Cliff Richard sing in “Thunderbirds Are Go”? The answer was "Shooting Star" and the winners were Neil Whitlock of Bournemouth, Glyn Wigley of Barnsley, and Paula Readings of Clacton-on-Sea. Well done all, and your prizes will be with you shortly.

 

Last modified on Thursday, 25 June 2015 04:37

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