on 30 June 2010
Thunderbirds quite rightly stands head and shoulders above all other British television programmes, and, apart from the soaps and Only Fools And Horses, is probably the best remembered TV show in the country. As a Sci Fi Show, only Star Trek (vastly inferior in my opinion, the yanks could never match Derek Meddings Special effects so they poached him for Holywood)is better known, and as a childrens T.V. Series only Sesame Street(per-lease!!!)is arguably better known. And when it comes to TV intro's, Peter Dyneley's 5-4-3-2-1 Thunderbirds are go! intro unequivecally the world's most famous TV introduction. Many people have commented on Amazon about the show and this DVD set.
I'll comment about the DVD's themselves a little later, but first I'll give you a little history behind the show. It was produced by Gerry Anderson's APF (Anderson Povis Films Arthur Povis was Gerry's original partner but sold out to Gerry) Television productions which, by 1964 when the cameras first rolled on the series, was wholly owned by Lew Grades ITC. It was the third British series to be filmed in colour. The first was the second half of 1958's the adventures of Lancelot series (another Lew Grade production), filmed at a time when Colour TV was taking off in the states and the BBC was heavilly trialling experimental colour broadcasts). The second was Stingray (in colour for sale to the USA), another landmark Anderson production.
Originally a 30 minute show, Grade saw the pilot episode and declared 'That's not a TV show it's a Feature film' and ordered the whole series be made as an hour long show. The problem was that 9 half hour episodes were already finished, and had to be extended (hence the full launch sequences being repeated in several shows). When the BBC gave the programme it's first network airing in 1990 (each ITV region had scheduled it at different times and dates) it was estimated each episode had a cost of about half a million pounds after allowing for inflation etc at 1990's prices, so we could almost double it by todays prices.
I'd only been born for 18 months when Thunderbirds debuted at 7pm on 30th Sept 1965 in the ATV Midlands region, hardly a children's TV slot.. Lew Grade was dismayed when US stations split each episode into two half hours, a practice that some ITV regions adopted for the later episodes.A comic, TV Century 21 had debuted in January 1965 and had introduced Lady Penelope & Parker 6 months to the first episode being broadcast. On 15th Sept 1969It was the first Children's TV show to be broadcast in colour, and Birds Eye peas became the first colour ad in the UK, when it was broadcast during the show.
As a boy my childhood dream was like many lads of my age to pilot Thunderbird 1. It had been repeated regularly between 1965 & the early 70's, only to vanish from our screens until 1981 when most ITV regions repeated it, along with Joe 90, Stingray, and all the colour ITC series from the 60's with the exception of Department S. It might well remained forgotten had ITC not been sold to Polygram entertainment. Back in 1981 ITC had edited several episodes of Gerry Anderson's series into TV movies, among them were 3 Thunderbirds films. The first of these was entitled `Countdown to disaster' and had two 50 minute episodes (without adverts of course) edited into a 90 minute movie. When Polygram released it on video cassette it wasn't expecting anything special sales wise. It went on to be the best selling children's video of the year. As a result the other two movies were released, followed by the remaining 26 episodes, in production schedule. Carlton TV bought out Polygram Video in the 90's.
In 1990 the BBC repeated the entire series in production order (apart from the Christmas episode shown the Friday before the 25th). Merchandising had never been as big as this since when it was first broadcast, with comics, toys,sweets etc. Thunderbirds was suddenly the most talked about kids show on Tv, almost exactly 25 years to the weekend of it's first broadcast. Thunderbirds was suddenly go all over again. In 1999, the BBC repeated the series yet again, this time with digitally remastered versions. The picture quality however was a bit of a letdown, looking like an NTSC transfer of a 70's TV comedy.
THE BOX SET
PACKAGING & CONTENTS.
The DVDs are housed in a plastic 'Digipak' case which comes in a laminated cardboard sleeve, just marginally bigger than a VHS video case. This can be awkward to close properly. All 9 DVD's are included, 8 containing all episodes, the 9th being the 'Thunderbirds Companion' Doccumentary from 1999. Each disc contains 4 episodes, plus special features, except the companion. Some are accessible only on a computer. Generally, they are mainly picture/text based, giving insight into the tech specs of the craft or history of the series with cast bios etc. Several discs have sections of the companion doccumentary as well.
The picture remastering has , overall, been well mastered. Fortunately, the mastering hasn't been done on a BRITE machine that Granada own (if you've seen ITV 3/4 re runs of the Proffessionals or Robin of Sherwood that useed BRITE `Britsh Independent Television Enterprises' a company formed to remaster old shows when Granada & LWT merged-you'll know how awful they look), and is sharp and clear. Carlton who used the original inter-positive masters as opposed to broadcast prints which means there's hardly any scratches on the episodes, unlike many younger classic TV shows from the 70's mastered from scratchy and damaged transmission prints. Colour and contrast seems a little dull, the best episode colour wise seems to be `The Duchess Affair.' It's still in the 4:3 ratio, but my TV stretches it to 16:9. It looks great on a large widescreen TV, and the family's Mac Mini is set to HDMI quality, so it looks absolutely fantastic.
Sound is excellent, and the effects are fantastic. It's been transferred to 5:1 surround sound. This means the effects and music are on separate tracks to the dialogue, which can get a little drowned out when the music or effects get too loud when viewed on a normal stereo TV. The music has been re-channelled for stereo sound. I watched an episode on my laptop through headphones, and the stereo effect was noticeable, without sounding too harsh or echoey like some oldies music C.D.'s can appear.
All 32 episodes are present in their entirety, with just over 27 hours of worth of programmes on 8 discs. Despite what one Amazon reviewer states, they appear in the original broadcast order, as both the Polygram video releases and the BBC re-runs used the production order. The reviewer's confusion probably stems from the fact that the Fanderson web site lists them in production order with the original broadcast date underneath the episode review. The original cinematography was breathtaking, (just look at the shots of sidewinder falling into the pit in `Pit of peril' or the stormy rockslide in `End of the road') and the Models (Especially Thunderbirds 1, 3 & 4 don't date at all. The stills of them on the back of the box could be from the 2000's not the 60's. Standout episodes include the series opener `Trapped in the sky', `Pit of peril', `City Of Fire', `Atlantic inferno' `Sun probe' and the eerily dark & Macabre fan favourite (though not mine) `Attack of the aligators'. The series revolves around the daring life saving exploits of International Rescue their incredible Thunderbird machines, in reality millionaire ex astronaut Jeff Tracy the and his family. The recurring Villain of the piece is the Hood a mercenary, villain and master of espionage with mystic powers, who appears in over half a dozen episodes. He longs to steal the secrets of International Rescue.Trivia: Although the official statement from Gerry Anderson is that the Hood's name is never mentioned, at the end of the episode `Edge of impact' it IS heard being spoken through an underwater speaker. Many of the technical gadgets in the show have since become reality, such as supersonic travel, radio microphones, video phones, etc, etc, etc, and if you look at the glasses many of the puppets are wearing..... why they're back in fashion.
There's lots of features spread across the 8DVD's of episodes. Several discs feature segments from the Documentary on disc 9, which is a shame. They're there because the discs were originally sold as 8 single volumes. Also, there's a section on each disc featuring biogs about the characters and machines. These are from the Thunderbirds comics. Several cutaway diagrams and pictures accompany the text, and again these are from the comics. Some of the photo's of the puppets and craft were originally taken for the TV Century 21 comic from the 6o's, whilst the text appeared in the 1991 comics, but may have been reprinted from TV21. Some stills of the original comics are used as well as a quiz, and original TV ads for Lyons Maid & Kelloggs featuring the characters made by Gerry's APF films. A printable DVD Rom section for viewing on a PC rounds off each special features section. It would have been better (as other TV series box sets often do) to put all the special features on the last disc with the companion documentary, as I was expecting, as the packaging gives that impression.
Despite the minor flaws mentioned earlier with the pale colour (turn the colour & contrast up), dialogue and special features being spread across all discs, the set deserves a full five stars for two reasons. Firstly: The price. I paid £15.95 from Amazon (not a marketplace trader) for a brand new copy, equals 48 pence per episode, or just under £1.75 per disc. It's gone up to £20.74 which is still a bargain. Secondly the excellent picture and sound quality for a set at this price is fantastic. True it originally cost over £100 new on initial release in 1999 which is probably why Carlton did such a good job of the restoration. I cannot recommend this set highly enough.