Gerry Anderson’s Famed International Rescue Family is GO – With Strings Attached!



When it comes to international rescue, the Thunderbirds are go!

It’s one hundred years into the future, and mankind is in no less need of saving. Thankfully, the intrepid Tracy family is on the case. Each grown son, bearing the vague likeness of a then-current celebrity, pilots his own custom rocket or hydrofoil or carrier plane or satellite from their remote high-tech location, ever vigilant, ever ready to rescue whomever is in need of rescuing. Known as International Rescue, they pilot their five precisely designed and custom-created unique and numbered “Thunderbird” vehicles into action. It’s the sole function of their independent organization, an entity completely in the hands of their island-dwelling billionaire father. What could possibly go wrong?

Did I mention that they’re all puppets? No, not puppet actors in the Hitchcock-ian sense. These are actual puppets. Marionettes, to be more exact. Fortunately, their strings are in the hands of Gerry Anderson, a true hero of puppet and miniature work. These adventure tales may be no masterpieces, but Anderson’s visions thrill like a curious blend of Ray Harryhausen turned sideways and Jim Henson stood upright and rigid. Played for thrills rather than laughs, it’s hard to imaging others scoring success anywhere near the level Anderson manages.

First a big-budget (by 1960s standards, anyhow) UK television series, Thunderbirds graduated to the big screen in 1966 with the first of two theatrical features, Thunderbirds Are GO. It’s unexpected failure at the box office didn’t stop its follow-up, Thunderbird 6, from launching two years later. When that film also failed to muster a sizable audience, Anderson and his devoted crew moved on to other avenues of Supermarionation. (“Supermarionation” being their trademark term for their intricate marionette productions).

One must get into the groove of these Thunderbirds films, but for those young enough at heart to buy into this world, doing so offers valid and worthwhile look into the rarified art form of narrative puppetry cinema, and top notch miniature work.

Despite this initial fizzle-out, the cultural chord Thunderbirds managed to strike nonetheless resonated far greater and longer than anything else of its ilk. The merchandising power alone of the five different Thunderbird rescue vehicles alone proved to be a geek juggernaut that has never gone away. Despite its appeal being obviously and wholly rooted in the impeccable miniature effects work of Derek Meddings (who would go on be an A-lister in his field, working on Superman films, Tim Burton’s Batman, and many, many Bond pictures), Paramount and director Jonathan Frakes attempted a D.O.A live-action version in 2004. Even now, a new animated revival series, sharing the title Thunderbirds are Go (sans the all-caps “GO”) is available via a popular streaming service. Along with that, Kino Lorber Studio Classics has released a bonus-packed two-disc Blu-Ray double feature edition of the two original films, Thunderbirds are GO and Thunderbird 6.

Thunderbirds Are GO

When an amazing new vessel known as Zero-X is sabotaged prior to its maiden flight to Mars, the five members of International Rescue are called upon to monitor a second attempted journey two years later. Zero-X arrives safely to the red planet, but encounters trouble once it gets there. After all of this, the titular international rescue team members are GO!

As that action unfolds, the youngest member of the Tracy family feels dejected and longs for inclusion in the Rescue Team missions. For good measure, he also longs for a night on the town with the glamorous and elegant Lady Penelope, owner of the tricked out car Fab-1. In an extended dream sequence, he takes her to a space club called the Swingin’ Star for a night of rock n’ roll with Brit pop sensation Cliff Richard and the Shadows. (Cliff Richard, Jr., actually. It is one hundred years into the future…)

Of the two movies, this one is said to be closer in spirit to its small screen predecessor. That means a particularly intent focus on the various vehicles, Thunderbirds or otherwise; so much so that first twenty minutes (and then some) could honestly be referred to as “Vehicle Prep: The Movie”. This, according to devoted fans and those in the know, is simply de rigueur for a Gerry Anderson production.

Thunderbird 6

Besides being the amount of time it takes to successfully launch a second manned trip to Mars, two years is also how long it took for the next Thunderbirds feature film to arrive. Less about showing off its gleaming vehicles than about the characters themselves, Thunderbird 6 is a deceptively more ambitious film in certain ways. Although a mysterious and murder-filled scheme is at hand (murky, but at hand nonetheless), the heart of the film is with a side character called “Brains”, a bespectacled young genius in charge of developing and building new gear and vehicles for International Rescue. After being tasked with the creation of a sixth Thunderbird vehicle, Brains then spends the entire film seeing his proposals laughed at and rejected.

With the central focus off of the various planes and boats and Zero-X and whatnot, the filmmakers have that much more time to fill in the roughly ninety minute running time. This means all the more attention must be paid to the surrounding world of the characters – the plains, the countryside, the interiors – than ever before. For, should the illusion be broken, the prospect of a more “human” centric marionette movie becomes a failure of the worst order, an unintentional exercise in crumbled world building. It helps that Meddings and his crew expertly integrate a fair amount of live-action footage, particularly into the prolonged climax featuring a yellow antique biplane, literally adorned with several hangers-on, as it zips out of control across the English countryside. It goes and goes and goes, alright…


Patience is a major virtue when it comes to either feature. Proper enjoyment of these Thunderbirds films hinges entirely upon a far greater willing suspension of disbelief than usual. Audiences being asked to seriously accept and go along with unblinking glassy-eyed marionettes in lieu of any living, breathing actors, and model vehicles, is a particularly difficult ask in this post Team America: World Police landscape. (Yes, Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s 2004 hard-R rated political firebrand is a direct stylistic homage/spoof of Thunderbirds and whatnot). (It must also be noted that both Frakes’ Thunderbirds and Team America came out the same year. Marionette characters made flesh and blood in the former, flesh and blood made marionettes in the latter … Say, what kind off pop culture switcharoo was this, anyway?) Factor in the ultra-thin and clunky characterization and generic quality of the characters themselves (all blandly white, mostly male), and it’s all the more difficult to engage. However, as easy as it is to take for granted established cinematic language and tropes, the realization of the degree of precision and intentionally in every frame of these films renders them as colorful cultural artifacts to be admired.

The amount of bonus features on these discs is positively exhausting. Boasting scores of featurettes dating all the way back to the MGM DVD releases of these movies, Kino Lorber also includes newer commentary tracks, carrying them over from the 2014 Twilight Time Blu-Ray edition. Included are informative director and producer tracks as well as historian tracks on each disc. They are packed with info, and sometimes quite amusing in their humor. While this release offers virtually identical bonus features to the Twilight Time edition, it must be pointed out that that release, and all others, are now out of print. The picture and sound quality of this release is marvelous, well worth the investment for any fan who’s yet to own these films in high definition.

One must get into the groove of these Thunderbirds films, but for those young enough at heart to buy into this world, doing so offers valid and worthwhile look into the rarified art form of narrative puppetry cinema, and top notch miniature work.