Thunderbird 6 (1968)
Directed by David Lane

Artistic Value: * * *
Entertainment Value: * * * ½

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While Brains, a brilliant inventor, is designing a vehicle, Thunderbird 6, for millionaire ex-astronaut Jeff Tracy, who heads International Rescue, a team of daring altruists composed of his five sons, Alan, one of those brave boys, travels around the world on an anti-gravity airship together with his father's sexy assistant, Tin-Tin, the aristocratic Lady Penelope, and her butler, Parker. What none of these persons know is that the Hood, an insidious villain, has murdered the airship's crew and replaced them with his own henchmen, who are secretly recording Lady Penelope's voice so that they can use it to create a message with which they can set a trap for the members of International Rescue.

David Lane's Thunderbird 6, which is based on Gerry Anderson's television series, Thunderbirds, is a fun, often charming tale of adventure.

The film is performed almost exclusively by relatively realistic puppets. Happily, with their slightly oversized heads, stiff faces, and inability to walk, these are always entertaining to watch. At times, Lane does, however, dispense with his marionettes. Whenever, for instance, he shows a close-up of a character's hand, he makes use of the hand of a human actor rather than that of a puppet. These moments can be distracting, but, somehow, the inconsistent feel they lend the movie actually adds to its appeal.

I cannot, however, say that the film's story is likely to make a profound impression on the viewer. It is never dull, but it is never especially captivating either. Most of Thunderbird 6 either consists of the journey Alan, Lady Penelope, Tin-Tin, and Parker make on the airship or of Brains' numerous attempts to develop a new vessel, Thunderbird 6, for Jeff Tracey. In his presentation of the former, the director has included a visit to the Alps, where the heroes go skiing and dine at a peculiar restaurant where their meals are conveyed to them on toy trains, a stop in India, where they buy jewelry and see a snake charmer, and a gun battle fought between the heroes and the fiends impersonating the airship's crew. When relating the other narrative thread, Lane usually concentrates on trying to make the viewer laugh by revealing Brains' increasing frustration as he makes one model vehicle after another, only to have each rejected by his patron. Both these portions of the story, which are frequently enlivened by humorous touches, are amusing, even if neither is memorable.

Fortunately, the action sequences with which Lane has punctuated his movie are at once odd and delightful. At various points, he presents the viewer with the gun battle noted above, a daring flight in a biplane, during which two characters shoot at each other from the craft's opposite wings, upon which they are standing, an attempt by two of the Tracey brothers to prevent the anti-gravity airship from crashing into a military base after it has lost its engines and has been snagged on the top of a tower, and other sequences as well. All of these are genuinely entertaining.

Moreover, the sets in which such events occur and the props used to bring them to life are, perhaps, as beguiling as are the heroes' actions. The Traceys, at different times, hurtle through the skies in a silver rocket, a green rocket that vaguely resembles an overweight slug, and a yellow biplane. Brains' vast airship, which slowly wafts across the globe, is filled with several outlandish rooms, including a hot pink bedroom for Lady Penelope, a strange, brightly painted, cavernous lounge, and an engine room teaming with rotating metal hoops. Even the Traceys' palatial island hideaway and a couple of military installations are given some screen time.

While it is hardly a great artistic achievement, Thunderbird 6 is an enjoyable movie. The puppets the director has employed throughout are especially so and suffuse the film with a quirky distinctiveness that is sure to charm the viewer.

Review by Keith Allen

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