Thunderbirds: Set 1

Thunderbirds: Set 1 (1965)
A&E Home Video
Extras: Making Of Featurette, Photo Gallery

’Thunderbirds are go!’

If that phrase jogs some long-repressed childhood memory of marionettes piloting exotic vehicles across highly-detailed miniature landscapes then get ready to re-experience ’Thunderbirds.’

’Thunderbirds’ stands as prolific television and movie producer Gerry Anderson’s best-known and loved creation. Employing his revolutionary Supermarionation technique, the program featured the exploits of the Tracy family who, along with their intrepid friends, make up the organization called International Rescue. With their fleet of exotic air, sea, land, and space vehicles (cumulatively known as the Thunderbirds), IR is dedicated to answering calls for help from around the globe — and beyond. Standing in their way is The Hood who wants nothing more than to steal their technology and use it for his own insidious purposes.

I have fond memories of watching this program on television as a kid and experiencing equal measures of excitement and trepidation. I marvelled at the highly-detailed sets and models and the incendiary special effects while at the same time finding the whole idea of a show starring nothing but marionettes to be somewhat creepy and nightmare inducing.

Since it first aired in 1964, ’Thunderbirds’ has grown into a true cult classic with a worldwide following. The big question for me was how well it would hold up after not having seen the show for over 20 years. As it turns out, I like it more now than I did as a kid. Sure, some of that fondness has to do with the sheer campy humor of the show, but I really found myself enjoying the miniature work and special effects to a great degree. ’Thunderbirds’ is as much fun now as it was back then and the newly remastered episodes on these DVDs (three per disc) are top-notch.

Episode Guide

’Trapped in the Sky’ — The evil Hood places a bomb on an aircraft in order to draw out International Rescue and evaluate their vehicles. Tin-Tin — daughter of Kyrano, the Tracys’ assistant, and niece of the Hood — is aboard the airliner and must be saved.

’Pit of Peril’ — A new Army vehicle called ’The Sidewinder’ becomes trapped below ground and the Thunderbirds must roll out a new craft, ’The Mole,’ to rescue its crew.

’City of Fire’ — On opening day of a new mega shopping center, an out-of-control car crashes in the subterranean parking garage and sets of a fiery cataclysm. It’s up to International Rescue to save a lone family trapped by the spreading fire.

’Sunprobe’ — A research ship goes out of control and finds itself on a collision course with the sun. Thunderbird 3 is called into action to save the day.

’The Uninvited’ — Scott Tracy’s Thunderbird 1 is forced down by three strange jet fighters in the desert. His attackers turn out to be a lost race called the Zombites and it’s up to Scott to thwart their evil plans.

’The Mighty Atom’ — The Hood steals a robotic rat called ’The Mighty Atom’ that he plans to use to infiltrate International Rescue and take detailed photographs of their exotic Thunderbirds.

’Thunderbirds’ is presented in its original <$PS,full frame> aspect ratio of 1.33:1 and it’s safe to say that the show has never looked this good. When Carlton Media in the United Kingdom acquired many of Gerry Anderson’s television properties, fans were cautiously optimistic that they might eventually be re-released on home video. In the case of ’Thunderbirds,’ Carlton went one step further and commissioned a full-blown restoration of all 32 episodes.

The results of this restoration are stunning. The image is uniformly sharp and colors are amazingly vibrant. Most of the dirt, nicks, and blemishes have been digitally removed rendering an almost pristine picture. Even if you experienced the show during it’s initial run from 1964 to 1966 there’s no way it could have looked this good on the equipment available at that time. Rumors were floating around that the marionette strings might be digitally removed but, fortunately for fans, this is not the case. After all, what would Supermarionation be without the ever-present puppet strings?

The audio has also been remastered and is available in both DD 2.0 stereo or DD <$5.1,5.1 mix>es. Purists may decry the lack of the original mono mix but these new soundtracks are really quite good. The <$5.1,5.1 mix> offers nice spatial separation and even a fair degree of deep bass that makes the Thunderbird vehicles really come to life. Sure, new sound effects have been added to soup up the mix, but the end result is a very well-balanced soundtrack that preserves the original dialogue while adding some much needed dynamic range to accompany the great video presentation.

Extras on Set 1 of ’Thunderbirds’ include a few production photographs and a brief, three-and-a-half minute long, behind-the-scenes featurette entitled, ’The Making of Thunderbirds.’ This feature offers a nice look at the Supermarionation technique but is far too short to get into much detail.

’Thunderbirds’ stands as one of the most unique programs to ever air on television. While the core idea of marionettes who regularly save the world using their far-out vehicles sounds pretty iffy, the dedication of all those involved in the original production elevates ’Thunderbirds’ above the level of sheer camp. Carlton Media must be applauded for restoring the program and we have A&E to thank for releasing it to the Region 1 DVD market. While the UK set offers more episodes per disc and a far greater variety of bonus features, the audio and video is identical across both releases. Fans of the show will delight in these new DVDs and I encourage those looking for something a bit different to check out ’Thunderbirds’ in their new digital glory.