Thunderbirds Are No: The Failed Remakes of International Rescue

Counting down all of the publicly known attempted remakes of the classic Supermarionation series!

Thunderbird Two on the runway.
© Carlton Television.

Thunderbirds remains Gerry Anderson’s most well-known and celebrated production, so it comes as no surprise that both he and the various rights holders to the Thunderbirds brand over the years made numerous attempts at remaking the series in both film and TV formats.

Gerry selling his portion of the rights to Thunderbirds during the 1970s didn’t perturb him from attempting to take the Thunderbirds concept in new direction, with various pitches and pilots produced in live-action, cel animation and CGI all stalling for various reasons. Cinematic remakes of Thunderbirds proved equally complicated.

With so many stalled efforts at bringing Thunderbirds back to the big and small screens, either in name or in concept, we’re counting down all of the publically known attempted remakes of the classic Supermarionation series!

PART 1

Intergalactic Rescue/Rescue 4

Gerry’s first serious attempt at bringing Thunderbirds back to the small screen was in concept only, not name. Fresh off of working together on Space: 1999’s second season, Anderson teamed up with producer Fred Freiberger to produce a new science fiction TV series under the joint working titles of Inter-Galactic Rescue and Rescue 4, though it’s commonly referred to as the former.

Inter-Galactic Rescue fused the core essentials of Thunderbirds with earlier Anderson productions Supercar and Fireball XL5. The series would have focused on the efforts of the Rescue 4 craft, a multi-functional rescue machine that patrols the north-west quadrant of space. The craft’s name is derived from its capabilities, able to convert and traverse space, air, land and sea. Concept art reveals that the craft would have been particularly merchandise-friendly, able to transform into swing wing configurations and hovercraft mode. Intriguingly enough, the concept art also reveals that Rescue 4 bears a striking similar resemblance to Thunderbird 2086’s take on Thunderbird 2 – blue as a primary colour for the craft, and lengthily yet bulky in design. Another Anderson collaborator Martin Bower produced a model of Rescue 4 for potential interested financial backers.

Amongst the characters would have been two humanoid robots named Alpha and Beta, presumably to provide some comic relief. Inter-Galactic Rescue was one of two concepts Anderson and Freiberger were shopping around American networks at the time, with Inter-Galactic Rescue pitched to NBC and Starcruiser was taken to CBS. Neither series materialised, though Starcruiser would gain a different lease of life as both a comic strip in Look-In and a model kit. Inter-Galactic Rescue however remains locked away in the archives, never to be realised. A 45-page treatment is known to exist that contains a proposal for 13 half-hour episodes. Alongside Starcruiser and Intergalactic Rescue was a concept dubbed Thunderhawks, which eventually blossomed into Terrahawks. The similarities to Thunderbirds appear to be in name only.

T-Force

In the aftermath of Terrahawks’ abrupt end thanks to its financial backers pulling out, Anderson took to work on another reinvention of the Thunderbirds concept, again without using the actual series name. T-Force would have dragged Thunderbirds into a 1980s’ aesthetic, updating the concepts of the show for a then-modern audience. The changes to the International Rescue set-up would have included I.R.’s base now being a gargantuan submarine and Lady Penelope now being chauffeured around in a pink Porsche.

Concept art found in Gerry Anderson: A Life in Pictures suggest that the series would have perhaps also shared aspects of how Thunderbirds 2086 reimagined International Rescue as no longer a family-run operation but as a more military-esque set-up. Their submarine base also bears the name ‘Oceana’, whilst a transport vehicle that looks suspiciously like this series’ equivalent of Thunderbird 2 has the name ‘Facilitator’. Foreshadowing how Thunderbirds Are Go reimagines Thunderbird 2 as being able to construct pod vehicles to meet the demands of the rescue scenario, T-Force’s take on Thunderbird 2 would have featured the same concept.

This concept art also reveals that the proposed suit designs for T-Force would be recycled almost in their entirety to become the suit designs for Firestorm, whilst Oceana and Facilitator have a strong Firestorm vibe to their design. T-Force failed to blast off when money proved difficult to source.

G-Force/GFI

Revisiting the T-Force concept in the early 1990s, Anderson injected new life into the concept with the name G-Force, later to become GFI, which stood for Gee Force Intergalactic. This was one remake that actually succeeded where others had failed in getting off the ground… somewhat. Elements of Inter-Galactic Rescue found themselves recycled here in the form of the show’s premise of ‘G-Force’ (this show’s I.R. equivalent), an outfit set up by the Ruling Council of United Planets, battling various crime incidents and large scale disasters. Operating from the secretive Star City, hidden within an asteroid, the core craft would have been a gargantuan spaceship dubbed Galaxy, which contained an automated factory that would build rescue machinery best suited to the disaster at hand.

A 13 episode series was written, or at least partially, written, with one episode actually being fully produced. Written by long-time Anderson collaborator Tony Barwick, the production quality of “Warming Warning” was deemed to be so inferior that it would have to be overhauled, but the act of re-making the episode was beyond the financial availability of the project and thus it was scrapped. GFI would have balanced cel-animation for its characters and computer animation for the mecha. Interestingly, the GFI acronym would be reborn into GF1, Gemini Force One, a trilogy of Young Adult adventure novels that Anderson has begun work on prior to his death and later realised by author M. G. Harris with a very Thunderbirds-esque premise.

From live-action to traditional animation, Gerry remained determined to fashion new perspectives for the timeless Thunderbirds concept, despite creating other and more original projects around this time, i.e. Terrahawks, Dick Spanner and the Space Police pilot, which itself evolved into Space Precinct. As the 1990s dawned however, the grandest attempt at capturing a new audience for Thunderbirds would come from Polygram and Working Title, when the ill-fated live-action Thunderbirds movie slowly rumbled into life…


CLICK HERE for the second & concluding part of this article… 

❉  Fred McNamara is a contributing writer for a variety of digital and print publications, covering comic books, films, TV and more. His work has appeared on such websites as PopMattersWhatCulture, Flickering Myth, Grovel, the Official Gerry Anderson Blog, ScreenRelish, and in such publications as Starburst Magazine, Andersonic and Comic Scene. His work has also appeared in anthologies published by Watching Books and Who Dares Publishing.

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