It is the future and the first manned flight to Mars on space rocket Zero X is about to get underway. As the craft is assembled on the runway, little do the crew know that there is a saboteur on board, taking photographs, and when the craft takes off and prepares to travel into space, there is an emergency when the saboteur gets his foot caught in part of one crucial mechanism. He manages to free himself, leaving his boot behind, and crawls out of an open hatchway to escape, but this results in the flight crew ejecting from the Zero X and seeing the vehicle plunge into the sea, where it explodes. A meeting is called and there is one thing they have to agree on: International Rescue must be invited to oversee the next mission to ensure it all passes safely.
Written by creators Gerry Anderson and Sylvia Anderson, this was the first feature film made from the popular Thunderbirds puppet show, and came out around the same time that the series was running. As ever, the puppets were joined by intricate miniatures of various vehicles and landscapes, and as ever, these miniatures were placed in extreme jeopardy that only the might of International Rescue could prevent. The show didn't so much appeal to those viewers who enjoyed playing with model trains as those viewers who enjoyed staging crashes with their toys, and Thunderbirds Are Go didn't disappoint as far as the spectacular explosions went.
Family values are underlined with the rescue team headed by philanthropic billionaire Jeff Tracy, who oversees his sons' missions from the remote, tropical Tracy Island. All named after astronauts, Scott flies Thunderbird 1, a rocket-shaped aeroplane, Virgil pilots Thunderbird 2, a huge, green cargo aircraft, Alan is at the helm of Thunderbird 3, the spaceship, Gordon sails in Thunderbird 4, a submarine (which isn't used in this adventure - sorry, T4 fans), and unlucky John is stuck orbiting the planet in space station Thunderbird 5, which monitors the Earth for any major disasters that need assistance. You wonder, was John the black sheep of the family? What had he done to end up in space for years on end? Did he spend his free time watching the porno channels, and crying himself to sleep at night?
Anyway, it has to be said that the film isn't one of the most cohesive of the team's adventures, suffering from a stop-start storyline, but there are innovations - the sheer novelty of such an ambitious puppet show never wears off. The London agent, Lady Penelope (accompanied by the loyal chauffeur Parker) has her pink Rolls Royce transform into a seafaring vessel at one point, to chase the fleeing saboteur (never named here, but familiar as the Hood from the television series). However, once the Mars mission has successfully reached space, International Rescue are out of the picture for about half an hour of the running time.
Fortunately, as a compensation there is a charming dream sequence where Alan, upset at not joining Lady Penelope at nightclub The Swinging Star, goes to sleep and imagines his own version of a space age nightclub - in space. The action turns incredibly camp as Alan is dressed in shiny turquoise suit and top hat, while enjoying the sounds of Cliff Richard and the Shadows (also in puppet form). Meanwhile, the Mars mission have an encounter with danger - no, not the Mysterons - and hastily head back home for a more conventional end to the plot, i.e. having their arses saved by the Tracy brothers. Pity about those people's houses, mind you. Although patchy, Thunderbirds Are Go is never less than delightful, and illustrates the series' appeal that has endured for twenty, thirty, forty years. Great music, as ever, by Barry Gray, including the classic theme. Followed by a sequel and a live action version in 2004. Why wasn't Mars red, though?