Thunderbirds review

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It didn't work for The Avengers. The Saint was a write-off. So it takes either a lot of chutzpah or stupidity to give another jewel in the British TV crown - Gerry Anderson's "Supermarionation" classic Thunderbirds - a live-action blockbuster makeover. Especially given it risks incurring fanboy fury by entrusting this quintessentially English phenomenon to an American director (Jonathan Frakes of Star Trek: The Next Generation fame).

The good news is that Thunderbirds more than makes the grade as a fast-paced family adventure, with effects, sets and action beats well up to Hollywood standards. The bad news is that Thunderbirds the film has virtually nothing to do with Thunderbirds the TV show. You can understand why Frakes chose to start with a clean slate, particularly given the programme's relatively low profile in the all-important US market. But that's no excuse for playing so fast and loose with cherished iconography, or sidelining key characters to pander to the teen demographic.

Things kick off promisingly with a spectacular oil-rig rescue that serves as an effective introduction to the newly retooled Thunderbird vessels. And Tracy Island is all it should be: a gleaming techno paradise, replete with hi-tech command centre and retractable, silo-concealing pool. But the indecent haste with which Bill Paxton's Jeff Tracy and his Hitler Youth-alike offspring are dispatched to ailing space station Thunderbird 5 gives the first worrying hint that Frakes has his own agenda.

Our suspicions mount with the marginalisation of Anthony Edwards' stammering Brains and Sophia Myles' feisty Lady Penelope, who arrives on the scene, not in her customary pink Rolls, but in a gaudy flying Ford. Instead the focus shifts to tedious boy-bland Brady Corbet as he battles to save International Rescue HQ from Ben Kingsley's bad guy. It's like walking into Spy Kids 4.

There are a few, isolated glimpses of the Thunderbirds of old in Ron Cook's stoical chauffeur Parker and an exciting finale in and under the Thames. But Frakes' version will be best appreciated by younger members of the audience who can't make comparisons with the classic TV series.

A bold attempt to rejuvenate a TV cult that jettisons much of the original's kitsch charm. It's Thunderbirds, Jim, but not as we know it.

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