Thunderbirds are Go (1966)

At the same time that one unit of AP Films was making the second season of Thunderbirds, another crew was making the first of two feature films. It’s pretty uneven, unsurprisingly, but it mostly hit the mark with the target audience in this house. Daniel really loved the first launch sequence, which runs for something absurd like twelve freaking minutes of launch porn. He exclaimed at one point “I can’t wait to see it take off!”

“It” is a rocketship called Zero-X, and the film really functions as a backdoor pilot for a Star Trek-like (or should that be Fireball XL5-like?) series in which the three astronauts and two scientists explore our solar system and run into strange alien life forms like the rock snakes of the planet Mars, which they reach after six weeks in space. Daniel loved – slash – hated the “space snakes,” and alternately said those were the best part of the movie and the scariest part, and he never wants to see them again! A TV series about Zero-X was never made, but a comic series did run in the TV Century 21 comic for quite a while, and the reprints that I’ve read are pretty entertaining.

Thunderbirds are Go is slightly notorious for a bizarre dream sequence right in the middle of the movie in which Alan imagines himself at an interplanetary nightclub with Lady Penelope, enjoying the smooth sounds of Cliff Richard and the Shadows, who contributed two songs to the production. I had to explain to Marie who the heck Cliff Richard is. For the benefit of my readers in the UK who may be amazed that Marie never heard of the guy, Cliff Richard is best known in this country, if he’s known at all, as being the silly obsession of Rik in The Young Ones. I think that the overwhelming majority of his sixty million LPs were never released here.

Still, the musical intermission had the desired effect of shaking up the narrative a little bit, and Daniel continued singing “Shooting Star” for a few minutes, until the rock snakes and Zero-X started shooting at each other.

So all this talk of Zero-X, launchings, and rock snakes might leave readers wondering whether this is a Thunderbirds movie at all, and the answer is barely. Our heroes are really reduced to supporting players in their own movie. This wouldn’t be the first time this happened. In season one of the show, the need to expand completed twenty-five minute stories into fifty minute ones meant that they often filmed new material around the guest casts, but there’s no excuse for that here. All of the emphasis on Zero-X means that great opportunities to spend time with the Tracys are missed.

The real loser in this is the series’ villain, the Hood. He’s killed off, apparently, meeting an ignoble and barely-acknowledged end when Parker shoots his helicopter out of the sky. He doesn’t get a womp-womp-womp comedy bit showing he survived, but there’s no follow-up at all. The whole thing just feels like a huge missed opportunity. Perhaps the modern impetus would be to focus the movie on International Rescue learning their occasional tormentor’s secrets and hunting him down across the world, and give some closure to the show’s main (only?) running subplot, but it didn’t happen, which is a huge shame.

The film was a failure in England, although United Artists concluded that it stumbled because the TV show was still on the air and audiences didn’t quite understand why they should go out and pay money at the cinema for something that was on TV every Sunday evening. The studio still believed in the potential of the property, and so they bankrolled a second film which went into production six months later.

But was it worth it? For the newly-filmed launch sequences for Thunderbirds 1, 2, and 3, and for the awesome end theme, performed by H.M.’s Marine Corps Band, yes, and the dream bit is just so strange that it’s kind of compelling, but honestly, if I wanted a Zero-X adventure, I’d read the comics!

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2 Comments

Filed under supermarionation, thunderbirds

2 responses to “Thunderbirds are Go (1966)

  1. ” I had to explain to Marie who the heck Cliff Richard is.”

    My Aunt Irene is a big Cliff Richard fan. She had never heard of his performance in this until I shared the YouTube clip of him from this film. I’ve since directed her to Big Lots to find the film on DVD. Wish her luck!

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