April 14, 2009

Happy Birthday, Gerry Anderson - thank you for the rock snakes

My first memory of going to the cinema was of being frightened by a Martian rock snake (above). My mum had taken me to see a movie that span off one of my favourite TV shows, Thunderbirds. Thunderbirds Are Go is still in my top ten, and after all this time never fails to entertain me from start to finish. During the Zero X expedition to Mars, man encounters a strange new alien lifeform that haunted my nightmares for years.

While Thunderbirds has always been derided for being entirely cast with puppet characters, and sent up recently with Team America: World Police, I've always taken it at face value, immersed in the stories. The modelwork and special effects were unprecedented for any TV show, even adult ones, for years to come. For a children's show, it didn't get any better for adventure, action and entertainment.

Thunderbirds is the pinnacle of Gerry Anderson's 'puppet years', inspiring me to watch everything he has ever produced. I have boxes of his shows, most of which are from the 1960's and 1970's. Fireball XL5, Stingray, Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, UFO and Space 1999 are the best, but all his series have endured repeated TV showings and every subsequent home video format.

Despite moving into live-action TV back in 1969, Gerry has remained firmly associated with his puppet shows. He recently leapt into the CGI world with a reinvention of the Captain Scarlet series, using motion-captured 3D computer-generated characters for a terribly overlooked and gritty series.

I could talk about his work for hours, though these pages are fairly unaffected so far. I'm not alone though - there's these new books coming out for instance. Filmed In Supermarionation goes behind the scenes on the extensive special effects work involved in the shows, and two volumes of Century 21 reprints some of the beautiful comic strips that appeared in the tabloid-sized comic TV21. Also, Gerry's shows are being remastered for HD presentation. Fanderson, the fan club, is still thriving, and new merchandise still keeps coming out for shows that are over forty years old (besides endless Japanese Thunderbirds replicas, there's also a new Stingray CD soundtrack just out).

But, for providing me with so many thrilling memories, I can only say thank you, and...

Happy 80th birthday, Gerry. Wishing you many more.

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