`Thunderbirds' on the scene again

Film revives interest in '60s puppet series once ahead of its time

August 02, 2004|By Roger Catlin | Roger Catlin,HARTFORD COURANT

Gerry Anderson may feel a little like Geppetto this weekend as his marionette characters from his 1960s TV series Thunderbirds break free of their strings in a new live action film.

But though his name appears on the new production starring Ben Kingsley and Bill Paxton, "the movie version is not mine," Anderson, 75, laments over the phone from London.

He lost control of the Thunderbirds, his sci-fi puppet series that ran in 1965-1966, about the time he was doing another series in his famous "Supermarionation" style, Fireball XL-5.

By selling it to Associated Television, "the good news is they financed everything I did and they were very pleasant people to work with," Anderson says. "The bad news is that they had the rights."

Though he has nothing to do with the Hollywood version of Thunderbirds, Anderson is promoting the latest release of his '60s work, a two-DVD compilation The Best of the Thunderbirds.

"All the scratches and marks have been taken out. They have brought the colors back to life and also enhanced the soundtracks," Anderson says. "People buying the DVDs now are seeing it as it was originally transmitted. Actually, people seeing it now are also seeing it in far better quality, simply because TV sets are so more advanced."

But, he adds, "I guess since everything else is enhanced, so are the flaws." That means the strings on the characters are more visible as well.

"When the show starts they see the wires," he says of his audiences. "But once they become interested in the stories, they forget about them."

Thunderbirds was praised for its depiction of the future world of 2065, with rockets that blasted skyward from inclined rails. But in general, Anderson says, when it came to the future, "I got it totally wrong. My show saw the future where everyone was well-dressed in modern buildings, where everyone was kept in clean surroundings, and everyone loved each other. I was looking at the world through rose-colored glasses."

There's a retro appeal to Anderson's work.

And a lot of the fans today are those who grew up on the series.

"Kids who watched the show when it first came out when they were 8 years old are now 48 or 50 with kids of their own," Anderson says. Their kids pick up on it, too. "The surprising thing is that children who are used to seeing the wizardry of modern filmmaking love them."

To be sure, the puppets were limited. "The main thing with the marionettes is that their heads and faces were made out of fiberglass, and obviously had no expression," Anderson says. "The reality was: They couldn't walk, they couldn't pick things up, they couldn't run - which made them highly unsuitable for an action show."

Anderson has always paid attention to special effects.

"There was no question we did lead the world in special effects," Anderson says. "We were even asked to do 2001. That may have been the proudest moment of my life, turning it down.

"Looking back at it," he says of the offer from Stanley Kubrick, "I had quite a lot of cheek to say that to him."

The Hartford Courant is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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