In 1966, the British puppet show Thunderbirds was poised to conquer the big screen and the American TV market. Then, out of nowhere, it all fizzled. This, the opening of the show's would-be blockbuster movie, might have had something to do with it.
For the uninitiated, Thunderbirds, which followed the Tracy family as they secretly used ultra-advanced machines to save people from mortal danger, was the most successful of a series of children's action shows British TV producer Gerry Anderson and team made during the sixties. The shows featured advanced, lip-synced marionettes — a filming style known as Supermarionation — and tons of very impressive and convincing models for the shows' various wondrous aircraft, spaceships, submarines, and vehicles from Derek Meddings, who went on to work on some of the James Bond and Superman movies.
I'm an unabashed lover of Thunderbirds and all the other Supermarionation shows — they are what got me into science fiction in the first place, and I'll always have a soft spot in my heart (and possibly a blind spot in my critical faculties) for these shows. As I've discussed previously, even if absolutely nothing else about these shows stands the test of time, the technical wizardry that went into the models still looks pretty damn spectacular, and nowhere was that on finer display in a Gerry Anderson show than in the launch sequences.
I don't really imagine that Supermarionation invented the launch sequence, but nothing before or arguably since has made such a gloriously big deal out of people getting into machines. To some extent, this was making a secret strength out of the format's biggest limitation. In live-action, the strapping, square-jawed hero could simply walk over to his fighter jet or whatever else and climb in.
But these marionettes couldn't walk around without looking ridiculous, which meant that they always had to get from Point A to Point B while moving as little as possible. This meant creating a future absolutely dominated by moving walkways and conveyor belts, but it also meant designing some awesomely circuitous ways of getting characters into their craft, as you can see here, here, and here. These were also excellent ways of chewing up a few minutes when each episode had to be an hour long.
All of which brings us back to this clip, the opening sequence of Thunderbirds Are Go, the show's first attempt to translate the show's success to the cinema. It's pretty much the alpha and omega of launch sequences. It's a solid ten minutes of assembling the spacecraft Zero X, something with no prior history on the show and thus no inherent reason for audiences to care about it. We see every last detail of how this not-especially-aerodynamic-looking craft is put together, and when it's time for the guy in charge of all this to go brief the flight crew, we discover his big desk is also an elevator that is also able to move around on the floor independently, so that he's ten feet closer to his men. And even after this ten-minute clip, there's still another few minutes before the thing actually gets off the ground. This all comes dangerously close to being a far better parody of Supermarionation's inherent silliness than Team America: World Police could ever hope to be.
If you think about any of this for more than a microsecond, it makes no sense. Never mind the fact that any normal human would just walk the ten feet instead of demanding a special moving desk be built for him, there's just the simple fact that this is what everyone involved thought would be the best possible start to a Thunderbirds movie. Call me crazy, but a more obvious opening might have involved the actual, you know, Thunderbirds in action on some incredible rescue mission, rather than an assembly sequence for some never-before-seen craft, a sequence threatens to make 2001 look like nonstop, thrill-a-minute action.
There's no other way of putting it — this is launch sequence porn, plain and simple, the ultimate launchgasm to kick off what was supposed to be Thunderbirds's world domination. It's a bunch of people effectively saying, "Action? Characters? Humor? Nah, forget all that. We know what the people really want to see, and it's clearly the modelwork." The movie, perhaps not surprisingly, flopped, and I can't help but wonder how much of its potential audience was lost in these first twelve or so minutes.
But you know what the worst of it is? As ridiculous as it clearly and undoubtedly is, I still love this sequence to death. Hell, I even have my own giant Zero X toy to prove it. Sometimes, I really am beyond all help.