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9:00am ET, 8-July-03

Harris Flies With Thunderbirds

British actress Naomie Harris (28 Days Later) told SCI FI Wire that she co-stars as an American news reporter in the upcoming family fantasy film Thunderbirds. "I'm sort of on the scene and reporting live about what's happening," Harris said in an interview. "They're basically doing it as a live-action version of the [British TV] show [which was realized with marionettes]."

Harris added that the film would retain the basic premise of the Gerry Anderson-produced 1960s television series. The story follows the Tracy family, whose patriarch (Bill Paxton) relocates to a secluded island and forms a high-tech rescue team following his wife's death.

"The idea is that he doesn't want anyone else dying in a tragic accident like his wife," Harris said. "His sons are the people who man the Thunderbirds, these huge rescue vehicles that travel ... around the world to wherever they're needed. Everyone wants to know who they are, but they're a secret operation, and they never reveal their identity or location."

Ben Kingsley co-stars as Aristotle Spode, aka The Hood, a villain trying to destroy Tracy's operation. "I'm in the middle of all that," Harris said. "I don't have a clue, really, in terms of [the Tracys'] world and the baddie trying to sabotage everything. I'm just trying to uncover who they are and what their identity is. I'm a plot device, the eyes of the audience, to keep you informed about what's going on." Thunderbirds, from Star Trek: First Contact director Jonathan Frakes, is tentatively scheduled for release in the summer of 2004 from Universal Pictures. Universal is owned by Vivendi Universal, which also owns SCIFI.COM.

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The New Zealand Herald

Stand by for Action!

Jeff Tracy looks taller, younger than he once did. And his head, which is now in proper proportion to his body, doesn't bob any more when he walks and talks.

"So you've met my sons?" quips a jocular Bill Paxton, who plays the Tracy patriarch in the new live-action version of Thunderbirds, the 1960s TV puppet classic.

This is no James Cameron film - Paxton has been in most of them - but rather a return to the innocence of his youth when the anglophile actor was a rabid Thunderbirds fan.

We are gathered at London's Pinewood Studios for the unveiling of what Working Title Films, the company behind Four Weddings and A Funeral, Notting Hill, and Bridget Jones' Diary, hopes will be a Hollywood franchise.

With a budget of US$65 million ($111 million), the film marks the most costly venture yet from the company, which was founded and is co-chaired by New Zealander Tim Bevan and is the most successful British film company of recent years.

"The idea is that by using real actors, the film will have a more realistic feel than the campy original series, as it will speak to a new generation of children who are not quite like he was as a kid," says Paxton.

"I was in Amsterdam a year ago and my [British] wife sent me out to find some videos, and the only thing I could find that wasn't in Dutch was The Thunderbirds. So I brought them back and I remember my son watching it and he made me realise that kids these days are so much more sophisticated than we were. We would have been entertained by a puppet show in the 60s when we were 10 years old, but that's just not going to cut it with the kids today."

Hence the new movie boasts copious special effects - all five Thunderbirds are computer-generated - fast-action with hopefully enough story sophistication to engage those who'll be paying a full-price ticket.

Working Title stalwart Richard Curtis, the writer of Four Weddings, Notting Hill and Bridget Jones, was hired, says director Jonathan Frakes, to sweeten some dialogue. Like giving Lady Penelope (Sophia Myles) and Parker (Ron Cook) some double entendres in their repartee.

Frakes, best known as Star Trek: Next Generation's Commander William T. Riker (he's directed two Star Trek movies), was brought in to ensure an American flavour.

"Having the heroes be three young teenagers obviously reminds us of Spy Kids, and there's a natural connection with Harry Potter," he says, clearly hoping for similar box-office results.

There's a connection to the likes of Batman in this story of Paxton's wealthy patriarch, who uses his money and his children to set up his top-secret International Rescue organisation on an isolated island in the Pacific (actually the Seychelles) to save the planet from the Hood. Frakes admits his casting coup was Sir Ben Kingsley to play the bad guy.

Indeed, with charcoal around his wide eyes to make him look even more sinister, the classically trained actor cuts a mean figure in his long black robe as he enters the Tracy Island set flanked by his henchmen.

The third star name in the cast is the most surprising - ER's Anthony Edwards, a self-confessed anglophile like Paxton, takes the role of the nerdy, stuttering boffin Brains. Frakes says he has turned out to be ridiculously funny.

"The movie has taken on an energy of its own," Frakes continues. "We always said we wanted it to move, we wanted it to be child-friendly, and John Beard's inspired production design, kicking the 60s into the future, the fearlessness of the sets, the primary colours and the casting has turned out better than we ever imagined."

The early evidence of the design and the Americanisation of The Thunderbirds is Lady Penelope's frosted pink, six-wheeled limousine, which in the television series was a six-wheeled Rolls-Royce, but here is a futuristic Ford with black opaque windows and an angular flip-top design.

The only problem is how to drive it.

"It can do 120mph, in the driveway," jokes Cook, who plays Parker, Lady P's chauffeur.

"No, it hasn't gone that fast yet. They won't let me drive it. It takes half an hour to work out how to get it going - it doesn't have a steering wheel, but some strange stick thing that goes round and round."

Looking stylish, and maybe a little too hot in their jumpsuits, the Tracy boys are slightly older in the film, because they need to look credible to pilot the Thunderbirds.

They are a mix of personality types ranging from naive youngster Alan Tracy (Brady Corbet), whose coming of age story (he gets the keys to his own ship) provides the film's basic thrust, to the eldest Scott Tracy (Philip Winchester), the first-on-the scene fix-it man. In between are independent John Tracy (Lex Shrapnel), who lives away from the family, monitoring what is going on in the world from outer space, middle child Virgil Tracy (Dominic Colenso) who is quieter and flies the slower, bigger workhorse Thunderbird 2, and the second-youngest, Gordon Tracy (Ben Torgersen).

The burning question, however, is whether the Americans, the core audience Working Title is aiming for, will take to the film. The original 32 episodes, aired between 1964-66, were the creation of Gerry Anderson and his then wife Sylvia (who also voiced Lady Penelope), and used the then radical technique of "supermarionation."

The series was a huge success around the world, particularly in Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Japan.

Forty years later, on the Pinewood set, one gets the impression that the movie gives Paxton, Edwards and Sir Ben (his title of choice these days) the chance to behave like big kids. Certainly all three actors have children who liked the idea too.

"My son has an alarm clock with a Thunderbird 2 vehicle, and when the alarm goes off it's '5 4 3 2 1 take-off'," Kingsley explains. "When I told him I'd been offered the role of the Hood in Thunderbirds, he said, 'Dad, we're going to have to do it'."

Still, the presence of the serious Oscar winner Kingsley in such a commercial franchise does seem a little odd.

"I'm new to franchises. This is the first one I've done and I'm hoping it does become a franchise. That's up to us," he says.

"This film assembles the best possible cast to tell this pure story about the struggle for a boy's soul, about a boy facing heroic manhood because of everything that's expected of him."

"It's pure mythological stuff: 'Once upon a time the mother died, the father became a hero and the son didn't know what to do.'"

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Thunderbirds Trashed

With the feature version of classic puppet programme Thunderbirds being heralded as the next big kids film and the teaser trailer turning more than its fair share of heads, now would usually be the time for the studio to wheel out the man behind the original series to give the film his official endorsement. Well, don't hold your breath because while Gerry Anderson has sat and watched his brainchild flourish into a Hollywood behemoth, he's far from convinced it will survive the transition.

"I was really quite prepared to [support the picture] in my own way, but they wanted me to enthuse over it, Anderson told Dreamwatch's David Bassom. And then I saw [Lady] Penelope's new car, which was published in the papers, and I thought it was a monstrosity! I thought if that's the kind of thing they're doing, how can I possibly support the picture? Could I lean against the car and have my picture taken and say, 'Isn't it terrific?' I couldn't do that."

Starring Bill Paxton and directed by Star Trek veteran Jonathan Frakes, Thunderbirds is a CG-enhanced, live-action reimagining of the series and will see the Tracy family battling the evil genius of criminal mastermind Aristotle Spode, who sets out to take over Tracy Island.

Now far be it from us to doubt the sincerity of Anderson's reservations (the man created Captain Scarlet and Stingray for Chrissakes) but could there be a hint of sour grapes here? Publicly announcing his wish to be involved with the film in a consulting role early on, Anderson confirmed that his guidance was, in fact, never sought by the studio.

"It's disappointing for me, and I have a feeling its going to be disappointing for them as well. For example, there's no way I'm going to go to the premiere unless things change." We wouldn't advise waiting by your mailbox for an invite either.

The full interview with Gerry Anderson can be found in the latest issue of Dreamwatch magazine.

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Monday, June 23, 2003

Bill Paxton Talks Thunderbirds

A month or so ago, Empire magazine interviewed director James Cameron and the subject of Bill Paxton came up. "Someone like Bill Paxton or Arnold Schwarzenegger understands [the rigours of action movies]," he told us back then. "They don't call that tough sh!t an adventure. They just call it Tuesday."

Well, it's now Friday and Empire Online caught up this morning with Mr. Paxton en route to Dover Castle for a day out from filming his latest endeavour, the Thunderbirds movie. Ostensibly our talk was about his directorial debut Frailty, which is coming out on DVD in the UK this month, but in-between we did manage to find out a little bit more about Thunderbirds which he's been shooting with director Jonathan Frakes at Pinewood.

"I've got one more day left on Thunderbirds," Bill told us. "It's going to be tremendous. You heard it from me first."

"Thunderbirds is about the International Rescue and The Hood and in a way it's got an innocent charm great action and great scale and great characters. To me it has an old-fashioned, retro set of ethics I feel like it's going to be embraced as a breath of fresh air as far as a big family movies go."

"But when I say family friendly, I don't mean homogenised. This thing has got something for everyone and I mean that in a great filmmaking way. I think it's got to be a tour de force. It's great to see the five brothers running together and all that. It's got a lot of integrity, but it has an innocent charm that I haven't seen in films in a while."

Was he a fan of the original TV show? "It was a cult curiousity. Something I think I watched more as camp amusement it wasn't big when I was a child growing up in Texas. It was never widely syndicated in the States."

So what can we expect from the tone of the film? Well it seems like it's a homage to Sixties Britain. "Everything was coming out of London in the 1960s the music, the fashion, the great actors. That's kind of what Thunderbirds is celebrating the 60s but not in an Austin Powers kind of way."

And we hear there are going to be some massive action sequences, namely one set on the Thames. "Oh god, there's several," he sighs happily. "This thing is big, big, big."

So big, in fact, that there's already a teaser trailer for Thunderbirds in existence which previewed in London last night ahead of the Hulk press screening. Our sources at UIP say it's a very early test, with no word yet as to whether it will accompany The Hulk when that's released in the UK next month.

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Updated: June 13th, 2103

Thunderbirds Feature Film Tracy Brothers Revealed

The latest official photo from the set of the Universal/Working Title live-action feature film of Thunderbirds shows four of the five Tracy brothers with International Rescue patriarch Jeff Tracy wearing International Rescue uniforms created by costume designer Marit Allen, whose previous work includes Little Shop Of Horrors (1986), Mrs. Doubtfire (1993) and The Hulk (2003). Shown (left to right [not pictured here; see Gallery]) are Thunderbird 5 space monitor John (Lex Shrapnel), Thunderbird 2 pilot Virgil (Dominic Colenso), Thunderbird 4 aquanaut Gordon (Ben Torgeson) and Thunderbird 1 pilot Scott (Philip Winchester). 14-year old Alan Tracy, played by juvenile actor Brady Corbet, is not shown.

Unlike their counterparts in the television series, Scott, Virgil and Gordon all have the same hair colour. Their uniforms bear no resemblance whatsoever to the television versions, being pale grey jumpsuits with red piping more akin to the uniforms worn by the members of the World Aquanaut Security Patrol in Gerry Anderson's earlier series Stingray. The uniforms include a simplified version of the International Rescue motif, the word 'Thunderbirds' down the left arm and, bizarrely for an organisation whose operatives must remain secret from the world at large, the character's name on the left breast.

The feature film appears destined to court further controversy amongst fans with the revelation that John has become the eldest of the Tracy brothers, rather than Scott, as in the television series. The relative ages of the five brothers has been a long-argued topic amongst fans, as the intentions of the series' producers (illustrated by the order in which the brothers appear in the programme's title sequence: Scott, John, Virgil, Gordon, Alan) were contradicted by a series of character biographies published in the mid-Sixties British comics magazine TV Century 21 (later used as the basis for information published in several books, magazines and comics published in the 1980s and early 1990s), which suggested that Virgil is older than John. Since 2000, the official character biographies endorsed by Gerry Anderson and the series' owners Carlton International Media have restored the programme-makers' original vision of the Thunderbirds chronology, but in the Working Title film, John is Jeff Tracy's first-born, followed by Virgil, Scott, Gordon and Alan who are all still teenagers.

The final two additions to the film's main cast have been announced as juvenile actors Soren Fulton and Vanessa Anne Hudgens who will play Brains's son Fermat (named after the 17th century French mathematician Pierre de Fermat) and Tin-Tin respectively. In the film, these characters will join Alan Tracy to overthrow the evil Hood (Sir Ben Kingsley) who takes control of International Rescue's Tracy Island headquarters after Jeff and his other four sons are stranded on Thunderbird 5 during an emergency. Intended to act as a prequel to the events of the TV series (and an introduction to what is hoped will become a long-running film franchise), the film will tell how Alan manages to 'earn his wings' and become a fully-fledged member of the International Rescue organisation as the pilot of Thunderbird 3.

The film's marketing department recently invited a number of members of the press and prospective merchandise licensees to visit the sets and meet the members of the cast during filming at Pinewood Studios. Many of these visitors appear to have been impressed by the scale of the production and the quality of the sets and full-size vehicles constructed for the film. They also report that the film's versions of Thunderbirds 1, 2 and 3 remain relatively faithful to their original television appearance while Thunderbirds 4 and 5 are almost completely different.

Composer Elliot Goldenthal, whose genre credits include Alien 3 (1992), Interview With The Vampire (1994), Batman Forever (1995), Batman And Robin (1997) and Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001), has been signed to score the movie, although there is no indication yet as to whether he will be incorporating any of Barry Gray's original Thunderbirds themes.

At the recent 'An Evening with Gerry Anderson' event at The Barbican Centre in London, Gerry Anderson updated fans on his involvement with the film. Following on from statements he made earlier in the year (see below), Anderson confirmed that the film's producers had offered him "a fantastic amount of money" to endorse the project by being photographed on the set and speaking positively about the movie in interviews. However, on sight of the vehicle created to be the film's version of Lady Penelope's FAB 1 (right, with Sophia Myles as Lady Penelope and Ron Cook as Parker [not pictured here]), he felt that he was unable to accept the producers' offer as this would compromise his integrity.

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04 April 2003

Gerry Anderson: Three, two, one...

Thunderbirds are go! A live-action version of the sci-fi series is now being filmed, but the man behind the puppets Gerry Anderson almost got left out in the cold. He tells Matthew Sweet why

In the summer of 1957, the founder of a small British production company was approached to direct a children's series for ATV. He didn't need to be asked twice. AP Films was on the point of bankruptcy. It was only after he'd agreed to take the job that he realised that the star of The Adventures of Twizzle was not going to be an actor, but a small puppet with red hair and extendable legs. "My dream of becoming Stanley Kubrick," says Gerry Anderson, "fell to pieces in an instant."

Gerry Anderson MBE, father of Supermarionation, has a surprisingly equivocal relationship with the stringed instruments that made him a household name. He's not resentful, exactly, of Lady Penelope, Troy Tempest and Zoony the Lazoon from the planet Colevio. He won't be discovered locked in a fatal embrace with one of his own creations, like that scene at the end of Dead of Night (1945) in which Michael Redgrave is strangled by his own ventriloquist's dummy. But it was never his intention to spend so much of his career in their company, and he can't pretend it was all he ever wanted to do. Tellingly, perhaps, he refers to all of his live-action TV series as movies.

"It's only comparatively recently that I've taken a liking to any of the puppet shows that I've made," he explains, sitting at the boardroom table in his offices at Pinewood studios. "I always used to think that they were terrible. I didn't see much on screen but the faults. I couldn't get a puppet to pick something up, or to walk. Their mouths were like letterboxes flapping open and shut. But I got to the point where I thought I'd better stop running down these pictures, because everybody in the world except me seems to like them."

Anderson also has less sentimental reasons to stop knocking his own back catalogue. On 14 April which, coincidentally, will be his 74th birthday he and his team at Pinewood will go into preproduction on a new 26-part, 30m revival of Captain Scarlet. This time, he has cut the strings: the series will be made entirely in CGI. And just to show that he hasn't abandoned his roots, a screen caption will announce that the new series is filmed in "Hypermarionation."

Gerry Anderson has had his fair share of wilderness years, but 2003 and 2004 will not be among them. The Complete Gerry Anderson, a Bible for admirers of Fireball XL5 and Joe 90, is published next week. (My favourite fact from its pages: the Space 1999 episode "The Rules of Luton" got its name when its American writer spotted a sign on the M1 that he thought sounded appropriately extraterrestrial.) Charles Bender, the producer of Solaris (2002), has his eye on a remake of the 1970s Anderson live-action series UFO. And Thunderbirds the archetypal sci-fi puppet extravaganza in which five plastic brothers and a plastic toff in a pink Roller saved the world from one spectacular set-piece special-effect after another is about to be revived in two different forms.

After two decades of company takeovers and the imprisonment of the Australian media magnate Alan Bond for fraud, the TV rights to Thunderbirds have passed to Carlton, which intends to bring back International Rescue as a CGI animation. The movie rights have seceded to Working Title, which now has a $70m (45m), big screen, live action, no-strings-attached version of the show in production at Pinewood studios, with Bill Paxton and Ben Kingsley in the lead roles, and the Star Trek alumnus Jonathan Frakes behind the camera.

Incarnated as flesh-and-blood actors, the Tracy family will finally be able to conquer a hazard that defeated them in the 1960s walking through doors with lintels.

Anderson hasn't always been served well by the companies that have inherited the rights to his ideas. Carlton is negotiating with him to join their Thunderbirds television series in an advisory capacity, but the behaviour of Working Title has been less considerate. He hasn't been asked for his advice. He hasn't even been offered a courtesy visit to the set despite it being a 60-second golf-buggy ride from the offices of Anderson Entertainment.

I'm told, before the interview, not to press him about his dealings with Working Title, but find myself doing it anyway. The legalistic caution with which he discusses the subject suggests that his real feelings on the matter are less than temperate. He wouldn't be so ill-mannered as to sound off about their behaviour, but then, he doesn't need to. On web pages and in fanzines, his die-hard admirers are doing it for him. Anderson's treatment, rages one acolyte, has been "atrocious". Without the creative input of the Master, the Thunderbirds film will have "turkey written all over it".

Now, however, the fans can down their cudgels. Jonathan Frakes has been sneaking over from his set for long chats with Anderson, and consequently, Working Title has agreed to do right by the man from whose creations they are hoping to squeeze a fortune in merchandising licences. Anderson hopes by the end of today to have signed a consultancy deal with Universal, Working Title's parent company. But he warns that they will not be able to expect too much help from him and if he thinks the project has any turkey-like qualities, he will tell them.

"I'm doing my own thing," he says, "so I haven't got all the time in the world, and also I know consultants can be a pain in the arse, which I don't intend to be. It's Jonathan's picture. If he asks me what I think I will happily tell him, and if I can help him to make it a better picture I will. But I won't be going down there every five minutes interfering with them."

Gerry Anderson was born in London in 1929. Had his grandparents remained in their hometown on the Russian-Polish border, and not sailed for Britain in 1895, he would have been a Bieloglovski. The name defeated the immigration official who checked them in off the boat: he scribbled "Abrahams" down in his register. But the family didn't keep their new name for long, and "Anderson" was chosen simply because his mother, Deborah, liked the sound of it. Gerry was the second child of his parents' marriage. His elder brother, Lionel, was an RAF pilot who ran 38 wartime missions before he went missing over enemy territory. The name of the American airstrip where he completed his basic training Thunderbird Field stuck in his younger brother's mind.

Anderson's film career began at the Colonial Film Unit, where, as a teenager, he trained under George Pearson, an eminent director of silent British films who, by the 1930s, had slipped into obscurity. In 1957, he set up his own production company at Islet Park, an Edwardian mansion on the banks of the Thames at Maidenhead, and found himself in charge of Twizzle. The success of this programmes led Anderson to Torchy the Battery Boy a luminous schoolboy who lived in a town formed entirely from carved fruit and Four Feather Falls, a comic Western performed by marionettes and voiced by Nicholas Parsons.

Supercar, Fireball XL5 and Stingray were the first productions to take on the recognisable characteristics of a Gerry Anderson series elaborate special effects, futuristic vehicles, a cast of characters working within some kind of hi-tech troubleshooting agency. "I was doing puppet shows," he explains, "but I wanted to make decent feature films. So what did I do? I tried to make the puppets look and behave like actors. And then in order to enhance that I introduced special effects. So without realising it, I was creating something new. And whether you think they were good or bad, there was nothing else like them on television anywhere in the world."

He can still remember the 7.30am meeting at which he pitched Thunderbirds to Lew Grade, the head of ATV and its international distribution arm, ITC. They sat down in his office, drank coffee from little silver cups and broke out the Havana cigars. Grade leaned back in his chair and asked Anderson to sock him with his new idea: Anderson warned him that it was going to prove so costly that he wasn't sure whether Grade would want to risk backing it.

"You have to believe me," says Anderson, "but he got up from his desk, came round the table and grabbed me by the scruff of the neck. I thought he was going to hit me. I was really quite scared. He pulled me out of the chair into the centre of the office, and he said, 'You see that light bulb? If you want to make a television series about that light bulb, I'll back it.' So we sat down and I told him about International Rescue, and at the end of 20 minutes he told me to go off and start work."

Under Grade's stewardship, Anderson enjoyed his most consistently productive period. He at last got his wish to produce a series in which the stars were not hung up on hooks at the end of a day's filming. He put Ed Bishop and Gabrielle Drake into battle against a covert alien invasion in UFO. He blasted Martin Landau and the staff of Moonbase Alpha into the void for the optimistically-titled Space: 1999. He imported Robert Vaughn, star of The Man From Uncle, for The Protectors although this experience made him feel nostalgic for co-operative leading men such as Scott Tracy. "Robert Vaughn hated me. I didn't like him too much either. I think he hated me mainly because I threatened him once with litigation. I believe that if people are working together to make a movie, anybody who lets the side down needs to be stamped on. And I did a little bit of stamping."

Space: 1999 proved a watershed in Anderson's life. During its production, his long relationship with ITC came to end, as did his slightly longer marriage to his second wife, Sylvia. Acrimonious is too pale a term to describe the collapse of their marriage (this is another subject that I'm asked by the PRs to avoid), but the support of his fans, who first began to mobilise in the early 1980s, helped him get through it.

"They are without question the most trustworthy group of people I have ever met in my life," he affirms. "Would I want to collect memorabilia? No. Do I understand them? No. But if they enjoy it, who am I to question it? Like most people, I've had good times, and I've had some pretty rough times. There were a few years when I couldn't pay my bills, spent all my time worrying, lost all my confidence. And the fans were a great help. When I rang them, they never said, 'oh, it's Gerry on the phone, Gerry's gone down the plughole'. They were just as respectful and friendly and encouraging as they ever were."

And they continue to be, commiserating with him whenever a cherished project a planned feature film called Eternity, for instance hits a brick wall.

1999 has been and gone, and like his dream of being the next Kubrick the futures conceived by Gerry Anderson have failed to materialise. There was no Moonbase Alpha. The Nehru suit never caught on. Gull-wing jet-propelled cars failed to roll off the production lines. The World Government was never elected.

"I got it very, very wrong," he muses. "I thought everything would be stainless steel and sanitised and we'd all be walking around in brilliant white suits that never got dirty, and that there'd be no more disease or war." It's appropriate, then, that in 2003, Anderson has chosen to revive the most compromised of his utopias.

Each episode of the original Captain Scarlet was prefaced by a booming threat from the disembodied voice of humanity's arch-enemies, the Mysterons. "We know that you can hear us, Earthmen. We will deal another crushing blow. We told you we intend to obliterate the sub-continent of North America. We will be avenged!" The original series opened with a plot about the assassination of a world leader by a suicide bomber. "The Mysterons are waging a war of nerves," says Anderson, "and here we have, inevitably, ramming buildings, planting bombs, trying to kill the president." The subject of Captain Scarlet, he concedes, is terrorism. So in one discomfiting respect, Anderson a man still impelled by the force of an accidental entanglement with a marionette called Twizzle got it very right indeed. More right, perhaps, than Kubrick.

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Story filed: 18:28 Monday 3rd February 2003

Ben Kingsley to play Thunderbirds villain

Sir Ben Kingsley is to play the villain in the new Thunderbirds movie.

He will take on the role of The Hood - who plans to take over the International Rescue headquarters.

He joins a cast of mainly unknown actors for the film, which has been on the drawing board for years and finally begins filming next month.

Bill Paxton - whose credits include Titanic and Twister - is reportedly in negotiations to play Jeff Tracy.

Sophia Myles, who appeared in Mansfield Park, is lined up to play Lady Penelope, while the role of chauffeur Parker will be filled by Ron Cook, who appeared in Chocolat.

The film sees The Hood invade the Pacific base of Tracy Island, after sending International Rescue on a fake mission. It will be shot in the UK and in the Seychelles.

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Story filed: 16:33 Friday 10th January 2003

Newcomer to star as Lady Penelope in Thunderbirds film

British actress Sophia Myles is set to star as Lady Penelope in the live-action movie version of Thunderbirds.

The little-known 22-year-old has landed the role of the glamorous secret agent in the 50 million film.

Model Sophie Dahl and Bond girl Rosamund Pike had both been linked to the role.

British film company Working Title, makers of Four Weddings And A Funeral, Notting Hill and Bridget Jones's Diary, announced today they were going ahead with the film.

A live-action version of the Sixties TV puppet show has been mooted for years but never got off the ground.

Myles has not been officially confirmed as Lady Penelope, but an insider said the role was hers and an announcement would be made shortly.

It is a big step for the London actress who has never taken the lead role in a film before. Myles has previously had small parts in the Johnny Depp film From Hell, Mansfield Park and last year's The Abduction Club.

She has appeared mostly in period dramas, including TV adaptations of Oliver Twist and The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby.

Lady Penelope's loyal chauffeur Parker is set to be played by Ron Cook, who has appeared in Chocolat and Mike Leigh's Topsy Turvy.

Filming begins in March and will take place at Pinewood Studios and on location in the Seychelles.

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Story filed: 14:33 Friday 10th January 2003

Thunderbirds creator upset over new movie

Thunderbirds creator Gerry Anderson is upset that he hasn't been consulted over the film version of his series.

He says it was his number one ambition to make a film of the cult 60s children's TV show.

British company Working Title have been given the go-ahead to start turning the series into a 50 million film.

It will be directed by Star Trek veteran Jonathan Frakes on location in the UK and the Seychelles from March.

Anderson told Teletext: "I'm not going to ask anyone for any favours. All Working Title have to do is negotiate with me. I do not know why I have not been asked to help."

"It was my number one ambition to make a big movie. At the moment I won't be involved."

"What I am saying is that if people reading your report want to know why I'm not involved, that is a question I cannot answer. They should contact Working Title. I am not going to lower myself by approaching them."

Anderson is currently making a new computer-generated version of his series Captain Scarlet.

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Wed Jun 25, 5:00 PM ET

"South Park" Duo's Puppet Pic

The brain trust behind Cartman, Stan, Kyle, Kenny and those other scatological paper cutouts are pulling some strings for their next project.

South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone are joining forces with producer Scott Rudin (The Hours) and Paramount Pictures to make Team America, a spoof that will use marionettes to lampoon the war on terrorism, mindless action movies and celebrities, according to the Hollywood trades.

Sounds like par for the course for the duo that sent Saddam Hussein to hell in South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut and satirized President Bush on their short-lived comedy series, That's My Bush!.

"We will be sophisticated and employ all modern technology," Rudin tells Variety. "We have gone well beyond the paper cutouts used in the last movie. Here the entire cast will be made of wood!"

The movie will be a reunion of sorts, as Parker and Stone first collaborated with Rudin and the studio on their 1999 South Park feature.

The plot reportedly revolves around a classic action-hero good guy, who's tapped to help Team America fight the baddies of the world. Along the way, the flick will poke fun at everything from America's foreign policy to some "super important huge movies" made by big-shot producers like Jerry Bruckheimer.

That's according to Stone, who dreamed up the movie with Parker after being inspired by the decidedly low-tech puppet-fied cult British TV series Thunderbirds, as well as some over-the-top action flicks.

"I hate all these new Hollywood films that are CGI-driven. Trey and I loved that Thunderbirds series because of the artistry of the marionettes," Stone tells Variety, before taking a potshot at Universal Pictures, which is adapting Thunderbirds but is chucking the marionettes.

"It's amazing that a studio would make a movie out of it and take out the only thing that was good about the series," he says.

Team America evolved from another puppet-based project the duo had on the drawing board.

"It started when we got snuck a script of The Day After Tomorrow, that Roland Emmerich movie about how global warming (news - web sites) causes an ice age in two days," says Stone. "It's the kind of script where you know it's going to make hundreds of millions of dollars, which makes it the greatest dumb script ever."

"We planned to secretly shoot that movie with puppets, word for word, and release it on the same day. We thought that would have been hilarious, but our lawyer convinced us we wouldn't get it released."

But the lawyer hasn't kept the two from some potential bridge-burning.

Says Parker in Variety: "We hate those actors who take themselves so seriously and think they are a productive and important part of society. The subtle joke here is that all actors are puppets. This will probably piss off everyone in town--and might well be our swan song."

But he doesn't have to knock on wood just yet. In case Hollywood does revoke Parker and Stone's movie-making card, the two jokemeisters won't be out on the mean streets of Tinseltown right away.

Their South Park, which celebrated its 100th twisted episode in April, has been renewed by Comedy Central through at least 2005.

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Story filed: 11:54 Friday 18th October 2002

South Park creators to take on Thunderbirds

The creators of South Park are to make their own version of Thunderbirds.

Matt Stone and Trey Parker say they will use marionettes in their homage to Gerry Anderson.

But unlike Thunderbirds and Joe 90 their film will be only for adults.

"It's going to be for over 16's, very over the top, and no holds barred," Stone tells

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Story filed: 10:50 Monday 9th September 2002

Thunderbirds movie to have 'James Bond' vibe

Jonathan Frakes says the new film version of Thunderbirds will be a cross between Spy Kids and James Bond.

Frakes, who is best known as Will Riker is Star Trek: The Next Generation, is to direct the live action version of the classic series.

He says he didn't realise how popular the show was until he got the job.

"What I understand from being in England already is that Thunderbirds is as popular with the English as Star Trek is with Americans," he told

"Our version of Thunderbirds will be entirely live-action, with a Spy Kids meets James Bond kind of vibe," he says.

Production will begin in February, with filming taking place in South Africa and London. The film will be released in 2004.

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Friday July 19, 2003 - 10:30 AM

Director beams to Thunderbirds movie

From the Enterprise to Tracy Island, it's been confirmed that Star Trek: The Next Generation's Jonathan Frakes is to direct the live-action adaptation of Gerry Anderson's cult 60's TV series, Thunderbirds.

The Working Title Films project has recently been given a bit of a overhaul by its producers, in an attempt to get it kick started into production and the addition of Frakes to the team means that progress should now be made.

A script has been penned by Will Osbourne, filming is now expected to start early next year and, hopefully, we'll see Lady Penelope et. al. on the big screen later on in 2003.

Frakes, who plays Commander William Riker in the long-running TV sci-fi franchise, has previously stepped behind the camera for such movies as Star Trek: First Contact and Clockstoppers, the latter will open in the UK on October 11th.

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02/04/2003 - 7:13:20 pm

Thunderbirds the movie is go

Lady Penelope's swanky pink limousine FAB 1 today gave fans their first glimpse of the new Thunderbirds movie.

The classic six-wheel motor, driven by faithful chauffeur Parker, is part of the production which has just begun filming.

The movie, based on the characters from the 1960s sci-fi show, has been hit by years of delays but is now being produced by the makers of Notting Hill and About A Boy.

Posh agent Lady Penelope is being played by actress Sophia Myles, who is delighted with the car.

FAB 1 has been overhauled from its 1960s look and the 1.4-tonne 27-foot-long vehicle has been hand-built over a period of 12 weeks.

Unlike the original, the new version which is designed for the year 2024 - will be able to fly, and turns into a hydrofoil.

Miss Myles said: FAB 1 is the ultimate dream car. I am so honoured and thrilled to have the opportunity to be able to represent this iconic character on the big screen.

Producer Tim Bevan said: This is the first glimpse of the new look Thunderbirds Movie and it is just the beginning.

We hope to fully realise the genius of the original series and bring it to life for an entirely new generation Worldwide.

FAB 1 has been designed by the Thunderbirds team and Ford UK's designers.

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Thunderbirds live-action movie plot

From Yahoo! Movies:

With filming well underway on the live-action Thunderbirds movie, Universal Pictures and Working Title Films have decided to reveal the main points of the films plot.

The film, which is based on Gerry Anderson's cult supermarionation show of the 60s, is being directed by Star Trek: First Contact's Jonathan Frakes and, according to the the plot synopsis, it looks like the youngest of the Tracy clan is going to be charged with saving the day: (Highlight text below to view spoiler...)


"Tracy Island, a lush patch of land situated in the remote waters of the South Pacific, is home to brilliant entrepreneur Jeff Tracy (Bill Paxton) and his five sons. It is also the home base of Tracy's top-secret organisation, International Rescue - and it is under siege. Master criminal The Hood (Sir Ben Kingsley) has breached island security, intent on commandeering International Rescue's fleet of five highly advanced rescue vehicles, each designed to accomplish a specific do-or-die task. Deploying Jeff and his four eldest sons on a fake mission, The Hood finds his plans obstructed by Jeff's youngest son Alan (Brady Corbet) who'll do anything to save the Tracy family and the organisation."


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January 20, 2003


Working Title launch its biggest production to date and a brand new film franchise

Jonathan Frakes to direct

20th January 2003. Working Title Films are delighted to announce the live action feature film of THUNDERBIRDS will start filming in March.

Based on the hit British TV series of the 60s, created by Gerry Anderson, 32 programmes were made following the exciting rescue missions of the Tracy family and their top secret organisation - International Rescue. Over the past 40 years, the series has attracted an estimated 100 millions fans in 66 countries and the programmes still run regularly in many countries appealing to whole new generations. Carlton International, owner of the rights to Thunderbirds worldwide, recently granted broadcast rights to BBC2 (in the UK). The return of the series attracted average audiences of 3.5 million viewers and fans snapped up over a million books, videos and DVDs.

The film, which sees Tracy Island itself threatened by an evil force by the name of The Hood, is to be directed by Jonathan Frakes (Star Trek: Insurrection, Star Trek: First Contact, Clockstoppers) from a script by William Osborne, (The Scorpion King) and produced by Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner and Mark Huffam. Shooting will take place on location in the Seychelles and the UK. Universal Pictures will distribute worldwide.

For Working Title, which numbers among its recent successes Bridget Joness Diary, About A Boy and Notting Hill, THUNDERBIRDS will be the company's biggest production to date, launching a new film franchise to rival Harry Potter and James Bond.

Onboard the production team is designer John Beard, who, in remaining faithful to the original Thunderbirds designs, will create new and exciting versions of the rescue craft as well as Tracy Island, the Tracy family's high-tech, post-modern home. The visual effects are being created by leading effects house Framestore. Marit Allen is the costume designer.

The feature film of THUNDERBIRDS will not only reach out to fans old and new in the cinema, it will also trigger a whole new range of toys on the high street. To date, there are over 60 Thunderbirds licensees in the UK alone and over the last two consecutive years, Tracy Island was one of the best-selling toys for Christmas.

Tim Bevan commented, "It is a dream to make this film. The characters are as popular today as they were in the 60s and it is our mission to make a contemporary live action film using all the latest technology without straying away from the original formula."

Jonathan Frakes added, "It is an honour to be asked to direct this film. In creating the feature film of THUNDERBIRDS, I want it to appeal to both die-hard fans and those who have never heard of the original series so they all queue up and see and enjoy it together."

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12:00pm ET, 6-September-02

Frakes Warps Into Thunderbirds

Jonathan Frakes told SCI FI Wire that he didn't know anything about Thunderbirds before signing on to direct a big-screen live-action version of Gerry Anderson's cult SF marionette TV series. "I know a lot about it now," Frakes said in an interview. "It's about a family international rescue team that functions under the radar of the public."

Frakes added, "This family, the Tracy family, is called in to save falling bridges and burning buildings that firemen can't save. It's one of those situations where someone calls a hotline, and this family comes to the rescue. There's also a wonderful international spy named Lady Penelope, who drives a six-wheel pink Rolls Royce. The original show was done with marionettes, and it was pretty wacko."

Frakeswho previously directed the Star Trek movies First Contact and Insurrection, as well as Clockstoppers will jet this weekend to England in order to hire a crew and audition actors. "What I understand from being over in England already is that Thunderbirds is as popular with the English as Star Trek is with Americans," he said. "It's a huge favorite there, with the toys and the Tracy family action figures. All of those things are still huge sellers at Christmas every year. As I understand it, England, Australia and Japan have a passionate audience. Anyway, our version of Thunderbirds will be entirely live-action, with a Spy Kids meets James Bond kind of vibe." Production will begin in February 2003, with filming slated to take place in South Africa and London. Universal will release Thunderbirds in 2004. Universal Pictures is owned by Vivendi Universal, which also owns SCIFI.COM.

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