Thunderbirds Are Go! episode 1 review: Ring Of Fire

Thunderbirds Are Go! has an action-packed launch, but its script and CG are far from top-notch. Will the revamp live up to its potential?

This review contains spoilers.

1.1 Ring Of Fire

Not only are the Thunderbirds gang back, they’ve also been appended with “are go!” – and boy, do they ever go. Sylvia and Gerry Anderson’s much-loved show, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, screeches and blasts its way on to the small screen and doesn’t hold up for 45 minutes or so.

The puppets, and their charm it has to be said, may have been replaced by computer-generated characters, but the iconic ships and Tracy Island remain, for the most part, as beautiful standing-set models produced by Weta (The Lord Of The Rings).

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This first instalment, which sees two episodes aired together as one, neatly introduces to the International Rescue troupe. All the Tracy brothers remain, though dad Jeff Tracy has been extracted from the story and we’re given a new character Kayo to enjoy (who, according to lead writer Rob Hoegee is a reversioning of Tin-Tin Kyrano).

It’s a simple first outing – someone has planted sea quake-inducing devices in the sea and International Rescue need to diffuse the situation and find the culprit. Older fans won’t be surprised to discover that The Hood is behind the menace.

Given the incredibly action-packed nature of the episodes – and, really, it does not let up for forty-five minutes with constant peril being the theme – the dialogue and characters take a back seat. Those hoping for a more engaging watch, may well be disappointed. As ITV have categorically stated, Thunderbirds Are Go! is aimed at 6-11 year olds, and on the evidence of this opening gambit, it does show.

The dialogue isn’t to savour. It’s perfunctory, slightly clunky (“Why would someone want to cause an earthquake? It’s 2060, that’s not the kind of world we live in!”) and heavy on exposition at times (characters explaining who they are to other characters who know who they are, for example). When one thinks of current “children’s” programming in the UK with intelligent and well-crafted shows Wolfblood and Eve, Thunderbirds Are Go! falls short in the script department. I would think that those in the upper bracket of the proposed 6-11 year old target audience may find it a tad patronising and childish.

Another facet where it falls down is in the aforementioned CG work. The characters are often as clunky as the dialogue, and the facial expressions are flat; any scenes with close-ups or conversations just don’t work. The eyes are lifeless and the mouth syncing is appalling. With shows like Star Wars: Rebels demonstrating how proper CG characters can work when it comes to emotional resonance, it’s a shame, again, that Thunderbirds Are Go! is a poor second, or even third best.

Of course, this may seem slightly odd given that the same could be said of the original series’ puppets. True, but if you’re going to modernise a series, it should be done properly. What’s the point of having them CG if they aren’t as dynamic as they could be?

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However, if you can get past the characters and their animation (and I suspect this will split fans and viewers), then there is a great deal to enjoy.

The opening thirty seconds are truly electrifying. Truly. As a young boy’s father falls to his would-be death and we crash in to the iconic sounds of “5! 4! 3! 2! 1!” (sampling Peter Dyneley’s original voiceover), you cannot fail to feel your hairs rise and a rush of excitement. It’s difficult to recall such an eye and heart-grabbing debut for any show.

Barry Gray’s original theme is kept and respectfully reproduced by composers Ben and Nick Foster. Throughout the two eps, the Fosters are on top form giving those big moments (and there are lots of them) the blast they need but also serving quieter moments, such as undersea or in space, with more interesting and curious themes and melodies. Just as Murray Gold did with Doctor Who, the music is an absolute rock and lifts the show to a cinematic level.

As you would imagine the ships loom large and they’re treated with a fetishistic gaze. Any time they blast off (which they do a lot – almost to a repetitious degree), the camera lingers on them and can barely keep up as often they break frame from the stylistic crash zooms. It’s clear a new generation will fall in love with Thunderbirds 1 through 5.

Ring Of Fire is an interesting and often infuriating clash of expert production and not-so expert production; but with huge potential. Especially as there are over 50 episodes coming our way. Hopefully, the show will get time and space to breath and fully engage the older viewers.

Read Cameron’s interviews with the Thunderbirds Are Go! voice cast, here.

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