Title: Filmed In SupermarionationDirector: Stephen La Riviere
Plot: Documentary about Gerry and Sylvia Anderson who developed with their production team the now iconic puppetry technique known as "Supermarionation" which would used on the now legendry cult shows he created including Thunderbirds, Stingray and Captain Scarlett.
Review: If you grew up in the UK chances are that you will have watched at least one show created by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson. For myself it was an obsession with their work which began with “Stingray” with its promise that “Anything can happen in the next half hour!” and would later be followed up by “Thunderbirds” and “Captain Scarlett and the Mysterons”. Surprisingly I never put my love for these shows in the same category as the giant monster / Kaiju movies that I was equally obsessed with and which used similar model techniques, with my attention instead being held by the fantastical stories and lifelike puppetry which made you forget you were watching a puppet show.
Clocking in at almost two hours and heavy on nostalgia value this documentary sets out to chart the history of their shows and the development of the “Supermarionation” technique from the now twee looking early projects such as “The Adventures of Twizzle” and “Torchy, the Battery Boy” through to the end of the golden period for their productions which came to a close with the likes of “Joe 90” and “The Secret Service” and in doing so ignoring his later projects like “Space 1999” and “Space Precinct” which saw him move into live action projects which still contained elements of his miniature work. As such this does mean that this documentary isn’t a definitive history but instead a look at the key years in which Anderson and his team were perfecting their technique.
Despite the limited scope of the film this is still a treat for the fans with Riviere not only assembling interviews with both Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, aswell as many of the original voice actors and production team who all have a wealth of stories to share from their experiences working on the show from the evolution of the puppets through to special effects issues such as trying to find a way to make “Supercar” go underwater it seems that there is no subject left uncovered. What would have been impressive enough is only added to further by the fact that the film is narrated and presented by Lady Penelope and Parker from “Thunderbirds” which was certainly an added fanboy bonus.
While this is the kind of film which will unquestionably please the established fans, especially with the wealth of classic footage on show here. At the same time its never afraid to show the darker side of the productions with Gerry Anderson in particular frequently voicing his frustrations that he was never able to make the live action productions he wanted and how he instead channelled his ideas into the projects he would become best known for producing, while the brutal fallout from the breakdown of his marriage is thankfully skipped over outside of a passing mention he gives it which seemingly is more to do with adding to the timeline than a major plot point. The rest of the team however seem to relish the chance to discuss their work helping to balance the film out and keep things light hearted and fun without you feeling that you aren’t getting the full story.
When it comes to the productions themselves the huge amount of footage really makes the film accessible even if you’re not familiar with any of the shows while for an established fan like myself it was great to see the shows which came before “Thunderbirds” and “Stingray” such as the western “Four Feather Falls” and the more traditional Anderson productions such as “Supercar” and “Fireball XL5” which for some reason never got the same reruns the other shows did. The downside to this of course being that I now have a bunch of shows that I now want to track down as this documentary will no doubt leave you hankering to revisit some of these shows thanks to the careful clip selection only further selling their charms while the feature length adaptation of “Thunderbirds” imaginatively titled “Thunderbirds Are Go” makes it seem a lot more surreal than I remember it being.
For the fans this will no doubt be the film you’ve been waiting for and even with its weighty run time and limited scope there is still plenty here to ensure that you’re not left disappointed, especially when Riviere hits all the main favourites while digging out a few surprises along the way. This is a great slice of classic cult TV while ensuring that Anderson and his teams puppet work is never forgotten.