For a few years in the '60s and '70s producer Gerry Anderson made "supermarionation" all the rage in the world of British children's television. His stop-motion puppets starred in a number of sci-fi adventure series most memorably Thunderbirds which followed the exploits of International Rescue -- a team comprised of ex-astronaut Jeff Tracy and his sons. Based out of their secret fortress on Treasure Island the Tracys (aided by lovely secret agent Lady Penelope) used their amazing rocket-powered vehicles to prevent disasters and save lives around the world. Now 40 years after Thunderbirds' TV debut Star Trek vet Jonathan Frakes has brought Anderson's characters to life on the big screen. Front and center is youngest son Alan Tracy (Brady Corbet) who dreams of the day he too can pilot one of his family's fab ships and lead missions. But first he has to prove himself to his father Jeff (Bill Paxton). That opportunity comes sooner than either expects when mysterious villain The Hood (Ben Kingsley) strands Jeff and the older Tracy boys in space and attacks Treasure Island. With only his friends Tintin (Vanessa Anne Hudgens) and Fermat (Soren Fulton) to help him Alan has to grow up quickly if he wants to save his family ... and the world!
It would be easy to mock several of the performances in Thunderbirds-- to chide Paxton for his earnest seriousness as Tracy patriarch Jeff to dismiss Corbet's angst-tinged eagerness as Alan to roll your eyes at Kingsley's over-the-top mystical fierceness as The Hood and to wince at Fulton and Anthony Edwards' nerdy stuttering as science whizzes Fermat and his dad Brains. But actors are only as good as their script and the one Frakes has given his cast (courtesy of screenwriters William Osborne and Michael McCullers) is weak and clichéd at best filled with after-school-special-worthy lessons for Alan to learn. "You can't save everyone " Jeff tells his son somberly and even Tintin has a moral for her crush when he's feeling selfish and indulging in self-pity: "This is hard on all of us Alan." Talk about insight! What makes it even more frustrating is knowing that the actors are capable of much more even the kids: Both Corbet and Hudgens did well with supporting roles in Thirteen. Thunderbirds' only real bright spot is Sophia Myles as Lady Penelope. A cross between Reese Witherspoon's Elle in Legally Blonde and Jennifer Garner's Sydney on Alias Myles' Lady P doesn't let her pink couture wardrobe prevent her from coolly kicking ass when the situation demands it. Attended by her droll driver/man-of-all-trades Parker (Ron Cook) Lady Penelope is a fresh feisty heroine with all of the film's best lines -- and the coolest car to boot.
Frakes cut his directorial teeth on episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation and his first feature film was Star Trek: First Contact so he would seem like a natural choice to bring a cult sci-fi TV show to the big screen. Unfortunately while he does an admirable job re-creating (and improving on) the original Thunderbirds' mod sets cool ships and special effects (which are fine if a bit more TV-sized than summer blockbustery) Frakes can't seem to decide who his audience is. If he was aiming at grown-ups who remember the show fondly from their own childhood he should have embraced the source material's campiness (à la Starsky and Hutch) rather than restricting it to the Tracys' plastic Barbie-like furniture and Lady P's bouffant hairdo. If on the other hand Frakes was hoping to entertain today's kids he should have really reinvented the show for a 21st-century world (à la Stephen Hopkins'1998 Lost in Space) rather than clinging to the '60s references As it is he's stuck somewhere in the middle leaving adults bored during the kids-on-an-adventure bits and children mystified by the handful of jokes aimed at their parents.
The Hollywood studios are already hyping their crop of blockbusters for summer 2002, and it started long before Entertainment Weekly put Spider-Man stars Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst on its June 29 cover.
The hype went into overdrive in a galaxy far, far away, when George Lucas announced that he would unveil Star Wars: Episode II in May 2002.
In fact, sequels like Episode II seem to be a dominant theme for next summer's big releases. And chances are, if it's not a sequel, it's an adaptation of a cartoon or comic book hero. Could Hollywood be on to something?
"Until recently, sequels were lucky to do 60 percent of what the first film did," Paul Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations said. "But with films like Mission: Impossible 2, Austin Powers 2 and Hannibal, the tide has changed."
Sequels are indeed proving to be a good summer formula. Dergarabedian noted that sequels are now outperforming their original counterparts.
"There is a built-in fan base inherent in sequels. They are pre-marketed," he said.
Video rentals don't hurt the cause either. Austin Powers, for example, found an audience on video that helped fuel the sequel's success.
Is the hype for summer 2002 too much, too soon? Only next summer will determine that. While the formula of sequels and hyping works now, you can only fool an audience so long.
Here are some films to watch out for next summer:
Spider-Man's senses must have been tingling on the set of this Marvel Comics classic. Since shooting began in January, death, injury and theft have plagued the troubled set. Let's hope the film, which explains how shy high school student Peter Parker acquires his web slinging abilities, has better luck at the box-office. Tobey Maguire takes on the role of Spider-Man, Kirsten Dunst the salacious Mary Jane Watson and seasoned Willem Dafoe as the Green Goblin. (Sony Pictures)
Release date: May 3, 2002
Star Wars: Episode II
Set 10 years after Star Wars: Episode I-The Phantom Menace, Darth Sidious takes over the Republic, turns it into an empire and controls everything. The Clone Wars reach their pinnacle as the Jedi Knights struggle to defend the galaxy from the forces of evil. Meanwhile, Anakin Skywalker falls in love with Queen Amidala but begins to succumb to the Dark Side of the force. Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman will reprise their roles. Ewan McGregor will take on the part of Ben 'Obi-Wan' Kenobi as a young man. Cool guy Samuel L Jackson will play Jedi Knight Mace Windu. But will the presence of the all-CGI character Jar Jar Binks spawn as many venomous anti-fan Web sites as he did with The Phantom Menace? (20th Century Fox)
Release date: May 22, 2002
How can you go wrong with a group of teenagers who ride around in a van called "The Mystery Machine," solving crimes with their dog, Scooby-Doo? This is a live-action adaptation of the half-hour animated Hanna-Barbera series The Scooby-Doo Show, which aired on ABC from 1969 through 1974. It will be interesting to see how true the film stays to the story and its characters. But will there be a romance between real-life couple Freddie Prinze Jr and Sarah Michelle Gellar who play Fred and Daphne? And will those references we never got as kids be kept in? (Warner Bros.)
Release date: June 14, 2002
Adam Sandler plays a small-town guy who inherits a fortune and moves to the big city where he is quickly besieged by opportunists gunning for their piece of the pie. One of them is a pretty girl played by Winona Ryder. Seems someone finally told the actress that she needs make herself more marketable. Based on the Frank Capra classic Mr. Deeds Goes to Town. (Sony Pictures)
Release date: June 21, 2002
Steven Spielberg directs this sci-fi thriller set in a futuristic judicial system in which killers are arrested and convicted before they commit murder. Based on a short story by Philip K. Dick, who also wrote Blade Runner, it stars Tom Cruise as Officer John Anderton. (20th Century Fox)
Release date: June 28, 2002
Men in Black 2
Fans have been anticipating this sequel to the 1997 blockbuster hit based on a Marvel Comics comic book about agents who protect Earth from extraterrestrial aliens. The irreplaceable Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones reprise their roles as Agents J and K, and Linda Fiorentino as Elle. If the anticipation is too much, check out the WB cartoon Men in Black: The Series on Saturday mornings.
Release date: July 3, 2002
Stuart Little 2
Who ate my cheese? It can only be Stuart Little (voiced by Michael J Fox), the super-intelligent mouse. He returns alongside his adoptive family (Geena Davis,Hugh Laurie and Jonathan Lipnicki. Melanie Griffith lends her voice to Margalo, a bird out to romance the lovable rodent. (Sony Pictures)
Release date: Summer 2002
Austin Powers 3
Mike Myers is back as the International Man of Mystery. This prequel to earlier Austin Powers films follows the adventures of the world class playboy and part-time secret agent Austin Powesr as he finds his long lost parents. Also starring Heather Graham. (New Line Cinema)
Release date: Summer 2002