The SUPERMARIONATION cult television classic leaps into the stratosphere of fun and excitement with Thunderbirds: The Complete Series! Operating from a top-secret island base in the year 2065, the team at International Rescue- intrepid Jeff Tracy and his valiant sons Scott, John, Virgil, Gordon, and Adam- engage in a never-ending humanitarian crusade to protect the innocent. Traveling via land, sea, air, and space in their fantastically advanced vehicles, the Tracys take on the most impossible of missions with courage, honor…and their greatest strength of all: the power of family.
The crown jewel of Gerry Anderson's visionary creative oeuvre, Thunderbirds promises audiences both young and young-at-heart an outstanding showcase of thrills, action, and adventure-with no strings attached (okay, maybe some strings.)
Blast off with the team at International Rescue in 5…4…3…2…1...
"5...4...3...2...1...Thunderbirds Are Go!"
As I mentioned back on The Bonus View a few months ago, 2015 is a very special year for Gerry Anderson's cult British sci-fi TV series 'Thunderbirds'. The show debuted on September 30, 1965 and if you do the math, that means this year marks the franchise's 50th anniversary. To celebrate the occasion, 'Thunderbirds' will not only be honored with a new co-operative board game developed by Modiphius Entertainment and Pandemic designer Matt Leacock set to arrive sometime this fall (I've already pledged for my copy through their Kickstarter campaign), Shout! Factory has also given all 32 classic episodes the high-definition treatment on Blu-ray!
Set in the year 2065, the series focuses on the adventures of International Rescue -- a covert organization that launches their fleet of state-of-the-art vehicles called the "Thunderbirds" to save lives whenever disaster strikes. Led by billionaire philanthropist Jeff Tracy from their secret island base in the Pacific, the team includes Jeff's sons Alan, Gordon, John, Scott, and Virgil (all named after real-life NASA astronauts), London operative/fashionista Lady Penelope (voiced by Gerry's wife Sylvia) and her devoted butler Parker, and of course the tech-savvy Brains -- who is basically a younger, nerdier Q from Ian Fleming's James Bond stories.
Each episode pits the Thunderbirds against some sort of grave peril -- from hijacked airliners and towering infernos, to potential nuclear dangers or even giant mutated alligators -- but their greatest nemesis of all is a criminal mastermind with mystical powers known only as The Hood. Dubbed "the world's most dangerous man", he's a master of disguise and is actually the half-brother of Kyrano, the Tracy family's loyal servant. The Hood shows up every now and then plotting to steal Thunderbird technology for his own personal gain, but it should come as no surprise that it just never really pans out for him in a Scooby-Doo/meddling kids kind of way.
Following in the footsteps of Anderson's 'Four Feathers Falls,' 'Supercar,' 'Fireball XL5,' and 'Stingray' television shows, 'Thunderbirds' embraces the process known as "Supermarionation" -- a lost art which fused scale-models with marionette puppetry. But what sets 'Thunderbirds' apart from those earlier efforts is that Anderson aimed for the stars in terms of production values and scope. The amount of detail that went into creating this fictional world is utterly phenomenal, from all of the various character designs to the elaborate sets. And the effects -- my god Anderson must have been a pyromaniac at heart with the sheer amount of destruction on display here. Each episode features 90-120 special effects sequences filmed at between 72 and 125 frames per second -- many of which involve fire or explosions. It really is a sight to behold, and feels like you're watching a cinematic epic on the small screen.
Of course, 'Thunderbirds' is a product of the 1960s, so it is predictable, severely dated, and downright corny at times. I actually burst out laughing when I was reminded of the way in which Virgil loads himself via a conveyor belt into Thunderbird 2. Some of the characters also smoke, which is something we just wouldn't see in family oriented shows produced nowadays. However, all of this is part of 'Thunderbirds' charm -- and as wholesome entertainment I have to say that it still it holds up surprisingly well five decades later.
'Thunderbirds: The Complete Series' speeds, splashes, and soars to high-definition from Shout! Factory And Timeless Media Group. The set comes on six Region A BD-50 Blu-ray discs packaged inside a multidisc flipper keepcase. My screener copy also included a slipcover. The discs boot up to a animated menu screen featuring the classic 'Thunderbirds' countdown. The bonus materials can be found on disc #6.
'Thunderbirds: The Complete Series' was released on Blu-ray in the UK in 2008, however someone at ITVdecided that it was a good idea to crop that release into 16:9 widescreen -- which frustrated many and even sent more than a few diehard fans into convulsions. Thankfully, Shout! Factory wisely does not commit the same kind of travesty and preserves the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio in this North American edition.
For a fifty-year-old production, 'Thunderbirds' looks pretty F.A.B. on Blu-ray. The print appears to be cleaned up rather significantly, with very minimal age spots and other defects remaining. Details are significantly improved over the standard-definition releases. Seams, stitches, and textures in the puppets' costumes are plainly visible, while the marionette strings and even the beads of sweat that are occasionally added to the characters' faces for dramatic effect are more noticeable now than ever before. This is also the kind of production that is full of bright and vivid colors and the 1080p picture shows them off beautifully.
Contrast does seem to run high in places, however this could just be attributed to the lighting used on the sets as it only really occurs in some of the busier exterior scenes. Stock footage of things like African wildlife aren't uncommon in 'Thunderbirds' either, and these instances tend to be flatter, duller, and in far worse shape than everything else. Grain is stable for the most part, but it can be a bit heavier in certain shots. Every now and then there seems to be some focus issues, but again I suspect that this may be from the camerawork and not an actual fault with the transfer. All in all, this is a solid transfer that should make fans happy.
'Thunderbirds: The Complete Series' features two audio tracks -- a default DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track, as well as a faithful lossless presentation of the original mono. The release also includes English subtitles.
The 5.1 option is obviously the busier of the two, and packs a much more powerful punch whenever thrusters fire up or bombs explode. Barry Gray's classic score is more expansive in this track as well and fills the room quite nicely. There are the occasional discrete sound effects in the rear channels such as birds chirping and other background noises, plus the fronts deliver a few pans here and there as vehicles zoom from one side of the screen to the other. Dialogue is also clear and intelligible for the most part, although prioritization is noticeably better in the mono mix just because it doesn't have as much going on. I also didn't notice any hissing, popping, or other age-related faults in the presentation.
Purists will still likely prefer the mono mix, but the 5.1 is pretty enjoyable for what it is and no one can really complain for having both choices available in this release.
Diehard fans hoping for a wealth of 'Thunderbirds'-related bonus features may be disappointed here. There are only two supplements included with this Blu-ray set, which is odd as Shout! Factory usually has been pretty generous with many of their other titles. At any rate, since these items appear to be Blu-ray exclusives, I've included them in the next section.
Packed with catastrophes, campy humor, and even a bit of that trademark "Supermarionation" creepiness, there's no denying that Gerry Anderson's 'Thunderbirds' has soared to cult phenomenon status since that first adventure aired fifty years ago. And now all 32 original episodes have been given a solid high-definition upgrade courtesy of Shout! Factory. The series has simply never looked or sounded better, although this Blu-ray edition does come surprisingly light in terms of bonus materials. Nonetheless, fans should still enjoy this fun nostalgic trip to the '60s of the past -- and the future. Recommended.