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The last few weeks have seen a sudden influx of DVD releases, all of which are hoping to cash in on the busy Christmas period. One such title is Thunderbirds which has a lot of making up to do; the movie was a complete flop when released earlier this year. It only made back a small proportion of its outlay costs and has already been deemed one of the turkeys of the year. The film underwent various screening tests; word quickly spread that it was a complete mess and should be avoided at all costs. Jonathan Frakes (probably best known as Commander Riker in Star Trek) was the director who took the brave decision to bring the series into the 21st Century, but fans of the original series were not impressed!

Thunderbirds (2004)
The plot is somewhat simple, but nevertheless it is probably complex enough for kids. Jeff Tracy (Bill Paxton) is the leader of a secret International Rescue team called the Thunderbirds, a group which is adored by kids and heavily relied upon by the British Government. Jeff is a retired astronaut who leads a hectic lifestyle; he is the father of five children whom he looks after on his own, due to the death of his wife. Life is never dull for Jeff as he travels all around the world responding to emergency calls. You may wonder how this is possible? Well that’s easy; Jeff and his sons are aided by a host of amazing vehicles (Thunderbirds) which transport the team around at breakneck speed.

Being a Thunderbird is every kid’s dream and that even includes thirteen year old Alan Tracy (Brady Corbet), who is constantly reminded that he is too young to become a Thunderbird. It is during one of Alan’s visits to Tracy Island (the headquarters of the Thunderbirds) that the youngster finally gets his chance to prove everyone wrong. In the course of one of the Thunderbirds rescue missions, Tracy Island is targeted by a group of villains. The mastermind behind the criminals is The Hood (Ben Kingsley) who has sinister motives for the attack. Alan and a couple of his friends, Fermat (Soren Fulton) and Tin-Tin are left to defend the Island. It soon becomes clear that The Hood intends to use the Thunderbirds as a means of looting the Bank of England, and at the same time frame Jeff with the crime. Can Alan save the day; I think you know the answer!!

Before I start my analysis of this movie, I would like to point out that I was never a huge fan of the Thunderbirds, and that is probably one of the main reasons why I enjoyed this movie. I can understand why purists of the original show detest this movie so much because it really has little in common with Gerry Anderson’s creation. I feel the same way about the recent Alien V Predator movie which completely destroyed two of my favourite franchises. Thunderbirds 2004 has been likened to Spy Kids and I would strongly agree with that viewpoint. Jonathan Frakes has definitely opted to target kids which in itself shouldn’t be surprising considering that The Thunderbirds was always meant for children; however there are very few similarities between this new movie and the original shows. Frakes has decided to focus on the adventures of Alan Tracy and for this reason we don’t really get to see much of the Thunderbirds. There are some exciting action sequences but they are mainly towards the end of the movie and sadly some viewers may have lost interest by then.

Thunderbirds (2004)
As I mentioned above I quite enjoyed this movie and I’m not exactly sure why! Thunderbirds is a harmless movie which offers nothing original, but nevertheless proves to be mindless entertainment. There are a handful of impressive action sequences and the special effects on show are quite impressive as well. Whether or not you enjoy this movie will probably come down to whether you were a fan of the original show, and if that’s the case you will hate this film with a passion. If you are looking for some innocent fun for the kids then you could do a lot worse than Thunderbirds. It’s by no means a classic, but were you really expecting it to be?  

Universal have presented Thunderbirds in its theatrical aspect of 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, and the results are impressive. As you would expect, this transfer is brimming with detail and shows clearly the advantages of DVD. If you know anyone who hasn’t switched over to our favourite format, then why not showcase this disc, as I am sure they will be mightily impressed. Backing up the detail is a vibrant colour palette. Whether it’s the bright pinks on show whenever Miss Penelope’s about, or the colourful surroundings of Tracy Island, this is a beautifully vibrant transfer which will brighten up even the dullest of winter evenings. There are no major flaws which I noticed; compression artefacts were nowhere to be seen and grain was kept at a favourable level. It may sound a little boring but I really struggled to criticise this transfer, so I am not going to!

There may not be a DTS track included with this release, but that’s not an issue because the English Dolby Digital 5.1 track is a worthy substitute. The region one disc will feature French and Spanish 5.1 tracks, but it will be interesting to see if the image suffers because of this. The 5.1 track included with this region two release deals with the action sequences in a very efficient manner. Throughout the surrounds are put to good use, a good example of this is during some of the action sequences where you get to hear the thunderbird vehicles whizzing past. The musical score is also brought to life and dialogue levels are perfectly toned. Universal have once again produced a solid soundtrack.

Subtitles are included in English.

Thunderbirds (2004)
The first extra I came across when reviewing this disc was titled Creating the Action. This extra is very much targeted at younger viewers as it goes into every little detail. This featurette starts off by showing the storyboards from the movie and there is even a little description about what storyboards are used for. This extra will appeal to kids, but adults will find that it is targeted below them and will probably find it quite boring. Next up is another short but sweet featurette called Tracy Island Revealed. This extra starts off with an introduction by the director who gives a run through of what is involved with Tracy Island. This extra is more detailed than the previous one, it goes into great detail about how the Island was digitally created and we also get to see how the filming location for the Island was found. As well as featuring some input from the director we also get to hear from various members of the cast and crew. This featurette lasts for just over nine minutes.

If you enjoyed some of the fighting scenes from the movie then you will be intrigued by the extra called Lady P & Parker: Fun and Stunts. This extra shows how the cast prepared for some of the more gruelling fight scenes. This extra includes lots of behind the scenes footage and there is also lots of feedback from the cast who were involved. This extra lasts for two and a half minutes. Following on is the intriguing extra called FAB1: More Than Just a Car. The title gives a little hint as to what this extra is about. This featurette is concerned with the cars involved with the movie. Like the movie itself, this extra takes every opportunity to publicise Ford who were heavily involved with the movie. Once again this extra is targeted at younger audiences and that’s part of the reason why it only lasts around three minutes.

Moving the focus back to Lady P, the next extra is called Lady Penelope's Pink World. This extra reminded me a little of the girly extras featured on the Legally Blonde DVDs. This extra is definitely one for the ladies and personally I found it quite boring! If you are a fan of the Lady P character then I have no doubt you will like this extra, but boys be warned there is lots of pink about! This extra lasts for four minutes. Possibly the most painful extra to watch on this is the Busted ‘Thunderbirds Are Go’ Music Video. I know there are plenty of Busted fans about and probably most of them will buy this disc. There is nothing much to say about this extra, chances are you will either love or loathe it!

Thunderbirds (2004)
Adding a bit of variety is an extra entitled Hood Vs Thunderbirds. This is a text based game which is not very exciting but should keep children entertained for at least half and hour. If you are a fan of commentaries then you should find the director’s commentary to be absorbing. While Jonathan Frakes is not the most animated commentator he goes into lots of detail and this commentary should be interesting for all generations. It is clear from this commentary that the movie went through a lot of test screenings and Jonathan talks about scenes that were cut from the final movie. That begs the question of why the scenes weren’t included as deleted scenes. This probably won’t be the most technical commentary that you will hear this year, but it makes for easy listening. The final extras on this disc are all trailers. There are trailers for Shrek 2, Billy Elliot: The Music, the Land Before Time 10 and Balto The Wings Of Change.
Thunderbirds was a spectacular flop when released early this year and it is easy to see why! The movie has very little in common with the original series and I am sure that many parents refused to take their children for this very reason. I approached the movie with an unbiased view, as I am not particularly familiar with Gerry Anderson’s creation and therefore I can easily accept this movie for what it is; a kids’ action movie which requires very little thought.

This point is further emphasised with this DVD release; the extras definitely cater for younger audiences and I personally I found some of them to be quite laborious. However I am sure children will be engrossed and that’s all that really matters. The visual and audio aspects of this release are perfectly respectable. Thunderbirds will be on many children’s Christmas lists this year and for that reason alone it is likely to sell by the bucket load. If I was a child I could think of far worse presents to receive!