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Friday, July 30, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Movie Review
Quirky "Thunderbirds" gets slick remake

By Tom Keogh
Special to The Seattle Times

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The last time I looked, "Thunderbirds" was a 1960s children's television series featuring marionettes as a futuristic family, the Tracys, who routinely perform superheroic rescue missions in fantastic flying machines. (A 1968 TV film, "Thunderbirds Are Go," pops up on cable from time to time.)

Note that bit about marionettes. "Thunderbirds" was the creation of British producer and animator Gerry Anderson, who captivated kids with his weird, clunky, slightly psychotic adventures enacted by wooden characters whose strings were often clearly visible.

Movie review

Showtimes and trailer

"Thunderbirds," with Bill Paxton, Ben Kingsley, Sophia Myles, Anthony Edwards, Brady Corbet. Directed by Jonathan Frakes, from a screenplay by William Osborne and Michael McCullers. Based on a story by Peter Hewitt and Osborne. 87 minutes. Rated PG for mild violence. Several theaters.

Well, times have changed. The tastemakers at Working Title — producers of "Love Actually" — have spurned Anderson's hallucinatory, low-tech approach for an all-human, effects-heavy feature version of "Thunderbirds." In the process, they've eliminated "Thunderbirds' " aesthetic challenge, but the new incarnation, crisply directed by Jonathan Frakes (star-director of two "Star Trek" features), has some interesting virtues.

Bill Paxton plays Jeff Tracy, billionaire leader of International Rescue, headquartered on a remote South Pacific island. Widower Jeff's many sons comprise a worldwide emergency-response team, though his youngest, Alan (Brady Corbet), is stuck at school. A crisis, which traps the senior Tracys on an out-of-control space station while a telekinetic villain (Ben Kingsley in an unfocused performance) overtakes the island, gives Alan and friends a chance to prove their mettle.

"Thunderbirds" will especially appeal to children for whom boundless invention means more than probability. (Jeff's rockets zoom from beneath his swimming pool, which conveniently slides out of the way.) Adults will likely enjoy Sophia Myles' classy take on Anderson's Swinging-London-era heroine, adventuress Penelope Creighton-Ward, though perhaps not Anthony Edwards' stuttering Professor Brains, whose speech problem is played for laughs.

It hardly matters. This "Thunderbirds" is too generic an action piece to be the defining experience Anderson's strange show once was.

Tom Keogh:

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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