The legacy of producer Gerry Anderson goes far beyond Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet and Space: 1999, rerun, remastered, reimagined to inspire new generations, the latest of his creations to have received a makeover the Japanese anime series Firestorm which originally had a short-lived run in 2003 but was not broadcast internationally.
Now recreated by his son Jamie with the assistance of a Kickstarter campaign which raised almost £90,000, the path has been a long one between the initial proposal and the first public screening today at London’s MCM Comic Con but the twofold intention has remained intact, to honour Gerry Anderson with a production more faithful to his original concept and to make the Firestorm the absolute best it can be.
Directed by Steve Begg who also supervised the visual effects and with production design by Richard Gregory, moving beyond the traditional “Supermarionation” of the classic Anderson shows Firestorm is instead the debut of “Ultramarionation,” a technique which blends traditional physical puppets with the capability of modern animatronics but in a very familiar dramatic setup.
It is the year 2102 and the Mars Research Station is losing altitude fast, its control systems blocked by a powerful signal traced to a small island whose swaying palm trees conceal a sophisticated operation run by the organisation Black Orchid.
Fortunately, under the guidance of Drew McAllister on board Firestorm’s submarine headquarters Ocean Storm agents Sam Scott and Nagisa Kisaragi are on the case, arriving on site for a race against time to block the signal and save the crashing station, but inside there will be strong resistance from the automated defences left behind by Black Orchid.
Credited to an original idea by Gerry Anderson with additional material by Jamie Anderson and Andrew Lane, the initial Firestorm “minisode” is little more than a showcase of Ultramarionation and what can be expected should the show be picked up for a full series, a snippet of a larger story waiting to be told.
Voiced by Game of Thrones’ Gethin Anthony and Torchwood’s Naoko Mori, Scott and Kisaragi are so far in second place to the dynamic action but even in this brief adventure the expressiveness of the characters is surprising, a change of mood no longer requiring a quick cut as a solid puppet head is replaced but performed in-camera while dialogue is delivered.
With the balance of practical puppets and sets and background digitals set to a more satisfactory physicality than the early episodes of the recent Thunderbirds Are Go, Firestorm has the feel of an Anderson production, a secret quasi-military hi-tech organisation engaged in high risk operations with lots of sparks and explosions and little time to draw breath.
Inevitably, there are compromises; the piece is too short to develop the characters or the premise beyond the immediate need, the theme by Terrahawks’ Richard Harvey is gratingly over-enthusiastic and it is best not to question how the speed of light has been circumvented in communications with the Mars 3 Colonisation Operation, but it is an impressive proof of concept.
More complex than anything which could have been attempted with Supermarionation, the predictable massive explosion which engulfs the island during the action, palm trees and all, could be seen as an indication that the while the era of International Rescue will always hold a special place in the history of British television fantasy, that perhaps a new age requires new heroes.