“In today’s news, NOSTALGIC PROPERTY has been BOUGHT/GREENLIT/DEVELOPED by SOMEONE I GENERALLY LIKE and will now be made again.”
I should keep that open in a document at all times on my laptop, because I write that story about 250 times a year these days. Today, it is the Thunderbirds, a property that is familiar to 100% nobody under the age of 20, and Weta is the hook that’s got everyone writing about it. I am sure dozens of you could immediately comment under this story about the rich and interesting history of “Thunderbirds,” and you can defend it both as commercial gamble and creative foundation. I’m not saying otherwise.
I’m saying that at this point, planting a flag in another thing that occupies a certain percentage of pop culture real estate is par for the course. I just recorded a podcast with Scott Swan where we talk about, among other things, yesterday’s Super Bowl movie commercials, and he made a good point about “The Lone Ranger.” If this version doesn’t work, it is safe to say that no one will ever make a “Lone Ranger” property again, because at this point, it’s had so many chances to re-establish its place in pop culture, and the last feature film was a disaster, and this one is crazy expensive and had the biggest commercial pedigree possible and the most aggressive marketing team in the business selling it and it HAS to work. So if it doesn’t, I think it’s scientifically safe to say it never will.
Some of this pop culture has a shelf life. Some of it belongs in the moment where it existed and not outside of that moment, and trying to make it happen again can backfire. I think “John Carter” got a bum rap, but I also think it failed from day one in terms of creating a sense of excitement among audiences. They didn’t manage to convince modern audiences that there was a reason to be thrilled that “John Carter” was coming back, and that’s a big part of making nostalgia pay off.
When Disney announces they’re making “Star Wars: Episode VII,” there is a genuine excitement because people want to see that. When you announce a new TV series of “Thunderbirds,” it is an attempt to create that excitement where there is none. There is no demand for that right now.
That’s not to say it will be bad, or that people won’t watch it, or that it won’t end up being fun. Who knows? The original series is a mixed bag in my opinion, but what it represents, that entire Gerry Anderson school of puppet filmmaking, is fascinating. I love that it exists, and that so much of it seems so very personal in the style that is utilized to tell the story. Anderson’s voice is very clear in the way choices were made on all of his shows, and there is a particular mix of tedium and uber-cheerful cheese that is charming in its way.
Now Pukeko Pictures, Weta Workshop, and ITV Studios are producing 26 half-hour episodes of “Thunderbirds Are Go!”, and they should start airing sometime in the UK in 2015, using a mix of CGI animation and live-action model sets.
Pukeko Pictures is Richard Taylor and Andrew Smith, so you’re talking about some of the people who helped make Weta Workshops what they are, plus Weta, and my guess is you’re talking about people with real affection for the material. That’s part of getting it right. But even people with the best of intentions who are genuine fans of the thing they’re updating can screw it up, and at this point, we see way more of this stuff that feels like an obligatory exploitation of a property than a project that people are genuinely asking to see. And much like “The Lone Ranger,” the last attempt to bring this back was a big fat whiff, a big-screen mistake that has already been largely forgotten.
Which will this be? We’ll find out in 2015, and I’m sure we’ll hear more about this in the meantime.