Directed by: Jonathan Frakes
Written by: Michael McCullers
Other cast: Bill Paxton, Anthony Edwards, Ben Kingsley, Ron Cook, Brady Corbet, Soren Fulton, Philip Winchester, Lex Shrapnel, Dominic Colenso, Ben Torgersen
Release date: 23 July 2004 (UK), 30 July 2004 (US)
Running time: 91 min
Saving the world is a full-time job for ex-astronaute Jeff Tracy, his four elder sons and their five incredible machines: the Thunderbirds. Together they form International Rescue, a top secret organisation the world relies upon. But today, they are under threat: their arch enemy The Hood has trapped them in space and taken over their hi-tech crafts and technology for his own evil purposes. Unbeknown to The Hood though, Alan the youngest Tracy boy, is still on their secret island. But does he have what it takes to save his family… and the world?
The film is set in spring 2010. Fourteen-year-old Alan Tracy (Brady Corbet), sent off to a distant boarding school, is the youngest of the sons of Jeff Tracy, a retired American astronaut (Bill Paxton). Jeff, a widower, has formed International Rescue, and raised his sons to act as a secret, volunteer organisation which uses highly advanced technology to save lives worldwide. Jeff and his older sons (John, Virgil, Scott, and Gordon, who like Alan were named after the Mercury Seven astronauts) are joined in this effort by Lady Penelope and her butler/chauffeur Parker (a man whose “checkered past” comes in handy). Their futuristic hardware is largely developed by genius scientist Ray “Brains” Hackenbacker (Anthony Edwards), who lives at the International Rescue base on Tracy Island, somewhere in the Pacific, along with his son, Alan’s best friend, Fermat (Soren Fulton). There’s also caretaker Kyrano (Bhasker Patel), cook Onaha, and their adolescent daughter, Tintin (Vanessa Hudgens), who appears edgy around Alan, which Lady Penelope observes is due to a budding romance between them. Alan is eager to join his family in their work, but his older brothers still see him as just their little kid brother; not ready for duty. During the movie Alan is grounded for spring break after he and Fermat sneak into the Thunderbird 1 silo and start the engines nearly revealing International Rescue’s location.
Ben Kingsley portrays the arch-villain known as The Hood, a character introduced in the first episode of the television series, brother of Kyrano. Bitter over having been abandoned and presumed dead by the Thunderbirds in an early rescue attempt, he has come to destroy them and take their machines to use in a daring raid on the Bank of England (renamed Bank of London, for the film) vaults. He launches a missile to wreck Thunderbird 5, the orbiting communications station. The Tracys – except, of course, for Alan – launch into space aboard Thunderbird 3 to rescue John Tracy, who is manning the station when it is hit, and The Hood takes over the secret island base.
Using his mental powers to overcome Brains’ resistance, The Hood takes control of the Thunderbirds home base, aided by his confederates Transom (Rose Keegan) and strongman Mullion (Deobia Oparei). He also disables the control systems, stranding the rescuers aboard the disintegrating Thunderbird 5, briefly transmitting a message to reveal his connections to the organisation’s history. Alan, Tintin and Fermat, having observed the invasion of The Hood and his minions, then hearing his plans, launch a hasty resistance. Fermat disables heavy-lifter Thunderbird 2 as they retreat from the base, then flee to the mountaintop radio transmitter site. They make contact with Jeff Tracy, who tells them to wait for Lady Penelope to come and take charge. However, the impulsive Alan leads the other two teenagers into ill-planned action, resulting in their capture. Lady Penelope and Parker arrive on the Island to help Alan, but they find The Hood has taken the Tracy Mansion, and a fight begins with Lady Penelope and Parker against Mullion and Transom whom they managed to defeat but are likewise captured when they are overpowered by The Hood’s mental powers, and Alan is forced to give Thunderbird 2’s missing guidance processor to The Hood. The island’s defenders all end up locked in the walk-in freezer while The Hood, Transom and Mullion head off to London.
Escaping the freezer, the first order of business is to rescue Thunderbird 5 and the Tracys. Reporting The Hood’s scheme, Alan gets his chance to go to work as he manages to convince Jeff to let him, Fermat and Tintin go after the Hood as his father and brothers would never make it in time. John, Brains and Lady Penelope back Alan up and Jeff reluctantly accepts. The three launch for London in Thunderbird 1, chaperoned by Lady Penelope and piloted by Alan and Fermat while Parker heads for the Bank of London to meet up with them in FAB 1.
The Hood and his accomplices, having arrived in London, use International Rescue’s drilling machine The Mole to begin tunnelling toward the vaults at the Bank, in the process damaging the support pylons for a public-transit monorail, which falls into the River Thames. Alan, Tintin and Fermat land next to Thunderbird 2, then they begin their rescue of the submerged monorail and its passengers. Alan turns over piloting duties to Fermat, then launches in the Thunderbird 4 rescue submarine. When Alan and Fermat are unable to connect the lifting cable, Tintin dives into the water, swims down to the stricken monorail where she secures the cable, then joins Alan aboard Thunderbird 4. Jeff and his other sons arrive just in time to see the successful rescue, then Jeff, Alan, Tintin and Fermat rush to the bank, where they are joined by Parker.
Lady Penelope and Jeff get captured and Fermat and Parker defeat Mullion by working together. As Alan and Jeff try to find the Hood, Alan asks his father if the Hood was telling the truth about Jeff abandoning him, Jeff admitting that he left the Hood behind during the rescue but also admitting that he only did it because he couldn’t see any way to save the Hood that wouldn’t have resulted in the deaths of both. Alan and Hood fight while Tintin traps Transom. With Hood using his mental abilities, Alan starts to lose but Tintin arrives on the scene just in time. She then proves that she has mental powers similar to her uncle’s and actually overpowers him in the resulting duel (presumably due to The Hood being weakened from fighting Alan as he grew weaker the longer he used his powers), which results in the evil Hood falling into mortal danger. Alan, who has to choose between saving the Hood and letting him die, saves him, saying, “I don’t want to save your life, but it’s what we do.”
The Hood, Mullion and Transom are arrested by the police with the Hood promising to “see you soon, Jeff.” With the evil-doers turned over to police custody, the Tracys return home, where the three young heroes are inducted into International Rescue, while Tintin begins making a move on Alan, receiving a knowing wink from Penelope. Moments later, a call from the President has the Thunderbirds (minus Jeff who stays behind, but including Alan and presumably Fermat and Tintin) off on another mission.
Sophia plays Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward, the London Agent for the secret organisation International Rescue. Lady Penelope is stylish and fashionable in almost every aspect of her life. Lady Penelope takes tea almost religiously and can communicate with International Rescue via her Regency tea pot.
Richard Curtis was brought in to write the dialogue for Parker and Lady Penelope.
Quotes from Others
It was lovely to be in Jonathan’s company, Anthony Edwards and Sophia [Myles] and our lovely cast all of whom not only had a very good working relationship with the children in the film, but were also very aware that if you’re going to introduce a whole section of people to Thunderbirds and a new audience in the cinema, really you’ve got to aim for excellence.
Quotes from Reviews
The Boston Globe
Tintin is far more capable than either of her friends, and the film picks up whenever Sophia Myles is onscreen as Lady Penelope, the titled and teddibly droll fashion plate who functions as an adjunct Tracy (her hot-pink amphibious car serves as an unofficial T6). On the series, Lady P. looked as much like Julie Christie as a puppet could without getting slapped with a lawsuit. Myles honors that spirit with a Carnaby Street unflappability and mad kickboxing skills that keep ‘Thunderbirds’ cruising even when Saturday matinee cliches swamp the last 20 minutes. When all is said and done, the movie’s a steaming plate of corn — and, indeed, that’s part of the pleasure. Myles, though, delivers a fine comic performance with no strings attached.
The saving graces are Sophia Myles and Ron Cook as the perpetually pink Lady Penelope and her chauffeur Parker, who steal every scene they appear in. Their great double act is punctuated with some sharp humour, and they should be given their own movie.
FilmJerk.Com by Brian Orndorf
I also enjoyed Sophia Myles’s elegant touch on Lady Penelope, adding a dash of English class to a role that isn’t clearly explained to the audience, unless you’re a diligent student of ‘Thunderbirds’ lore.
Movie-Gazette.Com by Anton Bittel
Only the permanently pink and plucky Lady Penelope (Sophia Myles) is able to bring some fresh air into the lockerroom of these identikit boys-with-toys, offering a much-needed female perspective, introducing a hint of knowing sexuality, and getting all the best lines.
Sophia Myles and Ron Cook both turn in scene stealing performances as Lady P and her manservant.
Notable exceptions are Sophia Myles, who tries her best as Lady Penelope and Ron Cook as Parker but they’re not enough to save the film.
Sophia Myles enjoys a preposterous triumph as a living, breathing Lady Penelope, originally a puppet variation on Emma Peel of ‘The Avengers.’
Here she is mischievously brought to life by the beautiful Sophia Myles.
Only Sophia Myles makes a positive impression, acting amused and amusing as in-the-pink posh spy Lady Penelope.
FilmFocus.Co.Uk by Joe Utichi
Sophia Myles and Ron Cook are the only highlights: Penelope and Parker could not have been more fantastically realised. She’s got just the right amount of attitude to carry her role and his ‘chequered past’ provides more than a little comic enjoyment.
Skymovies.Com By Mike Taylor
The gags (for those of us who’ll get them) come thick and fast and the film is stolen by Lady Penelope (Sophia Myles) and her chauffeur Parker (Ron Cook) – a comedy double-act as good in live action as they are in wood (tea-pot emergency beacon anyone…?)
And there are some plus points – Sophia Myles as Lady Penelope and Ron Cook as Parker are good fun, even if their pink car is now a Ford not a Rolls-Royce.
Teletext.Com by Paul Arendt
The exception to this rule is Lady Penelope’s iconic pink Rolls-Royce, reimagined here as a plasticky looking Ford which can – tsk – fly. Penelope herself (Sophia Myles) is an effective butt-kicking heroine with the lion’s share of the funny lines, while her faithful chauffeur Parker is well impersonated by reliable old Brit Ron Cook.
Yet there are plus points. Myles peps up the proceedings as a sassy Lady Penelope.
Fortunately, Sophia Myles as Lady Penelope goes some way towards saving the film. Her Lady P is part Nancy Drew-style schoolgirl sleuth, part Chanel-suited minx.
Quotes from Sophia
When I went to the first audition for Thunderbirds, I just thought there wasn’t a chance in hell I was going to get the job. I didn’t even read the script, I just read the pages at the audition, and then Jonathan Frakes said, ‘That was fantastic! Will you come back?’ So then I went for a screen test. They had about five other girls there at the screen test – I don’t know who the other girls were – and it was in full costume and full make-up and hair. Again, when I did that, I just thought. ‘There’s no way l’m going to get it’, and I just had fun with it. And then by some miracle I got the job. I was just honoured and really flattered to be offered the role.
I watched [the original] Thunderbirds on DVD und I talked to Jonathan about the character. Ron und I also really bounced off each other, because our characters don’t really exist as individuals – it’s always Lady P. and Parker.
For me, the important thing was to capture the grace and the elegance of this character at all times. When I was playing her, the word ‘poise’ was always at the forefront of my mind.
After three days of filming, the producer came to my dressing room and said, ‘I don’t want you to get offended by this, but we’re going to get you a movement coach, because you can’t walk in those heels.’ I couldn’t believe I had to have a coach to teach me to walk like a lady.
My favourite scene has been cut, but it goes something like this: The Thunderbirds are in trouble. And the evil villain, The Hood, played by Ben Kingsley, has somehow got on to Tracy Island. I turn to Parker and say, ‘Let’s go help!’ We hop into our pink car, FAB 1, and fly off to lend the Tracy boys a hand. FAB 1 can fly in this film, by the way. Anyway, we’re in the flying car thingy and I see a torpedo approaching, so we abandon ship. Cue: explosion! Cut to me and Parker in this bubblegum-pink inflatable, like a blow-up speed boat – a dinghy but with a Mississippi paddle wheel. I spent two weeks in the Seychelles sat on the back of a glorified pedalo, holding a parasol with helicopters whizzing over my head.
It wasn’t freezing it was very warm. It took two days doing that scene and I think it was because of the bubble bath, this cheap bubble bath with huge bubbles. My skin started to itch and I had a rash all over my body. It was horrible.
It was the most exercise I have ever done in my whole life! It was two weeks and we had a great group of stunt co-ordinators and we just broke the sequence day every day bit by bit. Obviously our fighting styles are very different Lady P is very acrobatic. I have to point out that I had two stunt doubles, so anytime I look cool during that sequence it ain’t me!
Whenever you see Parker and me sitting in FAB1, we weren’t sitting in the car at all – we were sitting in a mock-up in a car park in Pinewood, and we’ve got cows mooing on one side and they are demolishing the set of Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life on the other, and we are surrounded by blue plastic. But when you see the film it’s fantastic! You have to really use your imagination.
He [Director Jonathan Frakes] is just one of the nicest human beings I’ve ever met. He gets so over-excited: he’d always say, ‘Again, with alacrity’. At the end of the shoot, I asked him, ‘Jonathan, what does alacrity actually mean?’ and he couldn’t actually explain.
He [Co-Star Ron Cook] was very protective of me. We went to a casino one night and had a few drinks, then Ron said, ‘It’s way past your bedtime. We’d better leave now,’ and he escorted me back to the hotel. It was very Parker-like behaviour.
The Hood is more frightening than the child catcher from ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ and that’s saying something. Sir Ben Kingsley is amazing in this film and I’m so thrilled that he’s part of it. It was wonderful to get the chance to play opposite him. Because I was playing Lady P, I pretended I was cool.
We went to the Tribeca Film Festival and Sir Ben was there as well and I had little girls coming up saying ‘We really love your car!’