Thunderbirds Are Go…Again!

March 16, 2015

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Christopher Mele is the co-host of the About Men Radio podcast and lead blogger for the show’s website. Chris is married and the proud dad of two sons and two adult stepchildren, all of whom have given him prematurely white hair.

When I was about six years old, I would drive my mother nuts by getting up at some god-awful hour of the morning (like 5:30 or 6) to watch what I considered the most awe-inspiring show on television: “Thunderbirds.”

You can be forgiven if you have never heard of this series, but I assure you, it was amazing.

For the late 1960s and early 1970s, and in an era that predated the wizardry of “Star Wars,” “Thunderbirds” was a standout production of imagination, special effects and story line.

Which is why I am buzzing like a vibrating smartphone about the upcoming reboot of the series.

A quick introduction to those unfamiliar with the premise….

“Thunderbirds” is centered on the Tracy family, headed by patriarch Jeff Tracy, and his five grown sons.

The family secretly runs a humanitarian organization known as International Rescue. Here’s the trailer for the new ITV series:

Think of it as a cross between the NYPD’s elite Emergency Service Unit and the FDNY’s Rescue units but backed by unlimited money, resources and technology.

From a manned ship in outer space, IR monitored radio frequencies and responded to calls for help and emergencies that required specialized know-how or gear.

What captivated me were two things: The Thunderbirds were a force for good. They were heroic but sought no recognition for their deeds. And secondly, the high-tech gadgetry was believable!

Superman and other superheroes relied on out-of-this-world back stories or superhuman powers to save people whereas the Tracy brothers used their ingenuity and technical prowess.

Ever the pragmatist even as a kid, I loved Thunderbird 2, which looked like a flying whale and was the all-purpose utility spaceship of the fleet.

By the nature of its design, it could carry whatever cargo was needed, whether it was transporting Thunderbird 4 for underwater missions or tracked vehicles for some land-based rescue.

Plus the pilot for Thunderbird 2, Virgil, had just the coolest way of getting into his seat, through a secret slide hidden behind a panel in one of the rooms at the Tracy compound! It was just so boss!

(The launch sequence was also neat, with the folding palm trees lining the runway made from paper, light cardboard and wood, according to the book “Fab Facts.” The trees were made to fall back by pulling two levers attached to broomsticks on either end of the set.)

I remember as a kid that one of my childhood friends, Charles, and I would head to the playground early in the morning and get on the swings. We would push off on the swings and pretend to be one of the Thunderbird pilots.  (As I recall, Charles was a fan of Thunderbird No. 1.)

In addition to the cool story line, “Thunderbirds” sported special effects that relied on what were clearly models that were blown up, landed on runways, collapsed, etc.

And finally, it featured something called “Supermarionation.”

This was the brainchild of the series creator, Gerry Anderson. Instead of having real-life flesh-and-blood actors, or doing this in animation, Anderson completely broke the mold and told the story with marionettes, complete with strings visible!

It is the same sort of craftsmanship seen in “Team America: World Police,” minus the crazy sex scenes.

Again, I admired that “Thunderbirds” did nothing to hide how it operated. It was a bit of a nod and wink to the viewer, who went along for the ride. It just endeared me more to the show.

Back that all up with a powerful, military march-like theme music, and you had what many critics consider the most popular and commercially successful creation of Anderson’s.

The reboot will feature both computer-generated and live model sets. I am not sure how I feel about that since I will miss the puppetry but it does appear that the story line will stay true to the original premise.

And if that’s the case, then all I can say is: “Thunderbirds Are Go!”