Billed as the “definitive documentary about the culturally iconic puppetry and animation technique devised by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson”, “Filmed in Supermarionation” follows the AP Films studio (later Century 21) from its early work on the “Watch with Mother”-ish “Adventures of Twizzle”, through the phenomenon of “Thunderbirds”, and into its eventual decline and ignominy (AKA “The Secret Service”).
There are stories, reflections and explanations from a huge number of talking heads. So many in fact that it’s sometimes difficult to keep track of who everybody is. The captioning could be better, but it feels mean to offer any criticism of a product that’s so full of affection. Troy Tempest, Thunderbird 2, the Mysterons – all names so familiar to generations of children. You can’t fake the excitement that races through a 25-year-old boy’s heart when Thunderbird 4 dives onto the screen.
Lady Penelope and Parker are on hand to offer bridging narration, while Brains pops up to explain the various technological breakthroughs of AP Films. The archive footage is plentiful and impressive given it’s from a time before DVD extras, and the clips are well chosen. Gerry Anderson’s recollection of almost asphyxiating his business partner while getting aerial shots for “Supercar” is intercut with footage of Mike Murray and Doctor Popkiss struggling to pull their marvellous vehicle out of a nosedive. The shows are allowed to comment on their creators as much as the other way around.
Of course there were limitations to puppetry, and they’re discussed at length, but it was in pushing against them that AP Films broke through to new ground. “Thunderbirds” was the perfect storm of creativity: one of the best premises in TV history, fantastic staging (the rocket comes out of the pool!) and, in Barry Gray’s iconic march, one of the strongest themes ever written for film or television.
The work of the Andersons and their team of puppeteers, directors and actors was groundbreaking – and the film will not let you forget that. It reminds you why these shows had such an impact on so many, and refutes the easy assumption that it’s because of childhood naivety. “Filmed in Supermarionation” is a witty, inventive and warm account of a truly creative team.
“Filmed in Supermarionation” is out on DVD now.