Thunderbirds is a Universal Pictures release based upon the Thunderbirds television series of the 1960s, directed by Jonathan Frakes. The movie, written by William Osborne and Michael McCullers, was released on July 31, 2004 in several countries, with later dates for others. The film uses live-action actors playing the Tracy brothers rather than the Supermarionation marionettes used in the television series. The vehicles of the Tracy family act as a jump-off point into a "kids-save-the-world" plot following in the footsteps of Spy Kids. There is extensive use of computer-generated imagery to create the illusion that the Thunderbirds, the fantastic machines which give the name to the production, are real.
The movie is essentially a science fiction adventure aimed at the very young, but with a great number of "in jokes" and references for the older generation which grew up with the original series. Ben Kingsley portrays the arch villain known as "The Hood", a character introduced in the television series.
New characters include his sidekicks Transom (portrayed by Rose Keegan) and Mullion.
By August 2004 the film had taken a relatively low worldwide total of about $21m (Ã‚Â£11m). It cost $42m (Ã‚Â£22m) to produce. Critics were mixed in their reviews. Those familiar with the series tended to be more negative in their views, accusing the filmmakers of abandoning the concepts of the original series in favor of the Spy Kids angle, while those unfamiliar with the series seemed to be more positive, although they too criticized the Spy Kids influence. Fans of the original series directed heavy criticism at the film through the Internet even before its release.
One of the few aspects of the film to receive positive acclaim (other than the special effects) was Sophia Myles' performance as iconic superspy Lady Penelope, a portrayal in a style identical to that of her television counterpart. The Thunderbirds craft, as well as Tracy Island, were also seen to be very close to the style of the original designs. Purists disliked the fact that Lady Penelope's car was a Ford rather than a Rolls-Royce. The producers could not get a suitable agreement from Rolls-Royce, the carmaker insisting that only an actual production model could be used. Ford stepped in with special version of their Thunderbird model.
This was in fact the third theatrical release based upon the series created by Gerry Anderson and Sylvia Anderson. It was preceded by Thunderbirds Are GO! in 1966 and Thunderbird 6 in 1968, both films using the Supermarionation production techniques of the series. Gerry Anderson had no involvement in the making of this film; ex-wife Sylvia has the film rights to the characters.