In the 1960's, British TV producer Gerry Anderson and his wife, Sylvia, went about making a series of shows based around a highly functional set of marionettes which where built around a process called Supermarionation, a speech syncronization system designed to have the puppet's mouth move in sync with the voice actor reading it's lines.
Combining it with some of the most fanciful designs of futuristic societies, they spawned a slew of shows including "Joe 90", about a boy with the ability to be programmed like a computer to do anything, from pilot a stolen jet fighter to perform brain surgery: "Fireball XL-5", a galactic adventure onboard a massive space cruiser, "Stingray", the tales of a super sub working for the World Aquatic Security Patrol ("W.A.S.P."), "Captain Scarlet", tales of an indestructible agent in a war against unseen Martian invaders called The Mysterons, et al.
Perhaps the Anderson's most famous and popular show in the hearts and minds of it's fans is "Thunderbirds". The background is simple. John Tracy, former astronaut and billionaire industrialist, decides to use his wealth to help the world by creating "International Rescue", a secret force of super vehicles designed by an in-house genius known simply as "Brain" and manned by his sons, each a superb athlete and trained expert in their fields (It is no doubt to some that his sons would have been Xtreme sports enthusiasts given the times). Brain's creations are the Thunderbirds, a set of highly specialized rescue and response vehicles each designed for specific purposes.
Thunderbird One is a hypersonic VTOL (Vertical Take Off and Landing) vehicle used as a mobile command center. Thunderbird Two is a heavy lifter, capable of transporting pods containing rescue equipment to any location, from a subterranean "Mole" to the aquatic Thunderbird Four. Thunderbird Three is a space ship, launched from under the Tracy Island estate's pool (the vehicles launch sequences are themselves something to behold, since International Rescue is a secret organization, the deployment of the vehicles must also be the same, leading to some of the most unique ways of converting the Tracy Island compound into a launch & retrieval complex). As for Thunderbird Five, it is a monitoring station orbiting in space, listening in on the world's airwaves for the call.
A pink, armoured futuristic Rolls Royce bearing the license plate FAB-1 also come into play, as the property of one Lady Penelope, British aristocrat and undercover agent for International Rescue. Driven by a former resident of Wormwood Scrubs Prison known simply as Parker, it is bullet-proof,has an exceptionally heavy bit or ordinance under it's hood and is capable of Hydrofoil work on the water.
The way that they pull this off without it turning into a low rent kiddie show was from the contributions of such people as Derek Meddings, designer or the ships as well as the space craft and miniatures for movies like "Krull", "Moonraker", "Goldeneye" and many James Bond films. Barry Gray's scoring duties bring real tension and drama to the adventure.
Anderson was no slouch himself, creating many inventive effects shots using the highly detailed miniatures. This movie, surrounding the attempted sabotage and eventual rescue of a Mars exploration mission, displays the tools of Anderson's craft quite well. Look for another movie, Thunderbird 6, as well as newly digitally remastered releases of the original episodes on the shelves (and no, they did not digitally erase the wires). It is truly one of the best guilty pleasures from the past.
It also marked the end of Supermarionation, for with the exception of one puppet show ("Terrahawks"), Anderson's productions went into live actors, but still carried on the traditions of awesome miniatures with shows like "U.F.O", "Space:1999" and "Space Precinct".
Unfortunately,the big budget adaptation of the series, released in 2005, directed by Johnathan Frakes (Commander Will Riker of "Star Trek:The Next Generation"), was a muddled, childish piece of dreck which totally ruined the hopes of many aging fans of the original show for a decent and reverent homage to Anderson's vision, which probably explains his refusal to have anything to do with the movie.