Thunderbirds Are Go and an analogy about reheating coffee

I’ve sometimes argued that modern 3D character based cartoons and other similar works are an extension of puppetry rather than animation. Some could say that 3D is the next step of supermarionation Gerry Anderson’s shows since Stingray used. The argument leans on the idea that the 3D model is first build to move, then animated for that motion. In principle, this is similar to puppets, where the puppet is build to move, then brought to live with strings or other ways, depending what kind of puppet it is. It has become apparent that the use of physical sets and effects has lived in an unsure state for a long time now, ever since computer images began flourishing. Some have said that practical effects have already died, but it would be more accurate to say that practical effects, sets and props exist alongside each other and supporting their best sides. Well, until computer graphics actually reach the level where they can simulate reality to every extent.

The new Thunderbirds series, Thunderbirds Are Go, is a good example of a series that blends practical sets and effects with CG. According to a promotional documentary Reggie & Thunderbirds – No Strings Attached the sets and props are all physical, and all the characters and Thunderbirds machines are made through CG. The way the first episode looks is by all means impressive, where all the Thunderbirds still retain their model like movement from the original series and the difference between models and CG is hard to distinguish without prior knowledge. Because the show was designed from the get go to mix these two elements as seamlessly as possible, the end result manages to look impressive.

Naturally, in this kind of show we have to question whether or not the idea of remaking of the classics of pop-culture is a good or even a valid idea in itself. Thunderbirds is one of those shows that didn’t just hit the pop-culture sense, but stuck there for decades. Some of Anderson’s later shows, like Terrahawks, didn’t have as much impact and remained as cult hits at best. In the 90’s BBC did a Thunderbirds revival with basically rerunning the original show and licensed Matchbox to produce new toys. These toys were great too, combining diecast metal with some plastic bits here and there. However, while rerun revival is great for a show, it’s not really adding to the already existing franchise. Perhaps this can be ignored, as this revival exposed completely new audience to the series. The success of the revival paved the path for other Anderson’s supermarination shows like Stingray and Captain Scarlet, and with video games now more or less a booming million dollar business, more games of varied quality was released across different platforms. In 2004 a live action movie named Thunderbirds was produced in order to keep the franchise on the customers’ mind, but this attempt was more or less a failure. Rotten Tomatoes has one star for the movies and IMDB brandishing 4,2. I have to say that the movie is indeed bad, replacing most what Thunderbirds is in favour of kids action approach much like what Spy Kids franchise has.

The revival also allowed way for a CG remake of Captain Scarlet to be produced in 2004 under the title Gerry Anderson’s New Captain Scarlet, a title that’s a bit mouthful to say. While the show in itself wasn’t bad at all and was extremely faithful to the core of Captain Scarlet, it didn’t reach the same status as the original for whatever reason. The new Thunderbirds series can be compared to it in many ways, from updating the designs to sticking with familiar looks. Perhaps certain kinds of shows, however well remade, simply can’t reach the same pop-culture status because the original will always be there to shadow them, if allowed.

Created in HYPERMARIANATION. That’s excellent, that’s exactly what it is to boot

With the 2004 Thunderbirds movie a failure and no new addition to the original TV-series had been made since Thunderbird 6 in 1968, Thunderbirds Are Go seems to be something the franchise has been asking for some time now; a new entry that doesn’t necessarily tie itself down by using the original series as source, like Turbo Charged Thunderbirds and the FOX Kids series that basically just cut and pasted new footage with the old. Making a new rerun revival wouldn’t work as well nowadays with technology more digital than anything else. While the designwork in the original series is good by all means and engineered new techniques to produce those models, they do look like they were designed half a century ago. Their core design is still valid and has stood the test of time, which is why the designs of the Thunderbirds machines in the new series opted to modernise them rather than revamp them completely.

The opening has a similar look and feel to the original one, albeit I’m still expecting to hear Thunderbirds are go right after the countdown ends

That’s the core of the new series; taking all the best bits of the old, the timeless coda, and take the aged, chipped paint off and rebuild a new sturdy shell. This is the best option to update the series for a new audience. Old guard has already voiced their distaste for the new series, calling it ugly and too fast paced. Calling it ugly is incorrect and shows prejudice, but it is fast paced. Thou, only as fast paced as half an hour children’s shows usually are. There’s only so much one can tell in half an hour, but then again we can also argue that the original show had large amounts of dead air in there.

Then again, it is a remake and ultimately doesn’t bring anything new to the overall table of television history. While rescue themed television shows aren’t too uncommon either, should the effort put of this series have been directed towards a completely new in the genre. Thunderbirds Are Go can be seen as someone warming up a cold cup of coffee while adding some sugar into it. However, this is more like using the same source bush for the beans, grinding a new set of coffee with new tools and spicing it up a bit.

Whether or not an old person who is in his thirties or something like that likes the show personally doesn’t really carry much weight in the end. Thunderbirds has always been a children’s show first and as such it should stay. We don’t need a realistically gruesome depiction of realities how rescue missions would work in Thunderbirds universe for the older audience. It’s not to say that all ages couldn’t enjoy Thunderbirds, as that’s far from them case. There’s no reason to expect a franchise aimed for the younger audience to suddenly cater to the older one. Sometimes, generational gaps just need to be recognized.

It has to be said that the series was clearly made by people who loved the original. The designs themselves qualify as their own post later down in the future, but even the CG has been made to mimic certain elements of the original show. The characters have that similar feeling to them, a sort of eerie uncanny valley that the puppets had, but slightly more lively. In addition, their shape and appearance has been modelled after them, thou far more in human proportions this time around. Even the little things like how the eyes were moved back and forth to breathe life into the puppets has been adapted slightly differently to the CG models. The modelled skin also was made to reproduce similar look to the puppets’ skin, where there is this sort of slightly glossy, almost shiny eggshell kind of quality to them. Going this far to root themselves to the original can almost be called a fault, but it ends up giving a very familiar look that’s unique to Thunderbirds in general. While I do applaud for them sticking with how Thunderbirds has always felt, I would say that they need to do their own thing with it as well. It’s apparent that a more overarching plot is being introduced to the series, which could go either way.

While it would have been interesting to see Thunderbirds Are Go made with puppets instead of CG, puppets themselves don’t lend themselves too well for fast paced action. Yes, Captain Scarlet and other shows proved that puppets can do action just fine, but they’ll never be as controllable or spot on as well designed 3D model animation. Personally, I would love to see a new series with modern supermarionation, but I guess we’ll only get that when someone rich enough will put the money into it.

I’m sure Gerry Anderson would be proud to see his legacy still living on with these new forms of crafts.

As a sidenote, I would kill if shows would still use similar approach to their openings like Stingray did. Stand-by for action! and Anything can happen in the next half hour! are such strong statements to make in an opening that it will attract anyone’s attention.

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