Review: ‘Filmed in Supermarionation’

Strings firmly attached…

Featuring:  Gerry Anderson, Sylvia Anderson, Jamie Anderson, David Graham

Directed by:  Stephen La Riviere / Written by:  Stephen La Riviere and Andrew T. Smith

What’s it about?

A documentary charting the history of the classic Gerry Anderson puppet television series…

In review

Based on his book by the same name, director/co-writer Stephen La Riviere’s feature-length documentary presents a fascinating and in-depth look at the birth (and eventual decline) of the numerous iconic British children’s television series created by Gerry & Sylvia Anderson during the 1950s and 1960s.  That the various series were produced during those periods doesn’t really matter as thanks to television re-runs and home video releases during the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s they have captured the hearts and appreciation of children (and adults) generation after generation.

‘Hosted’ by Parker and Lady Penelope (with voice artists David Graham and Sylvia Anderson reprising their respective roles from Thunderbirds), Filmed in Supermarionation features newly recorded interviews from surviving Anderson collaborators including co-creator/producer/voice artist Sylvia Anderson, puppeteer Mary Turner, director David Lane and voice artists David Graham (Supercar, Thunderbirds), Shane Rimmer (Thunderbirds) and Matt Zimmerman (Thunderbirds).  Sadly, Gerry Anderson himself passed away in 2012 but thankfully La Riviere’s documentary incorporates footage from an extensive archive interview without which the documentary would be sorely lacking.

Filmed in Supermarionation provides an overview of the various Anderson puppet-based series from conception to production and a look at the evolution of the puppetry and progression in effects technology and production values with each subsequent series, from humble yet accomplished beginnings in the late 1950s with Four Feather Falls and Supercar to the true birth of the ‘Supermarionation’ format in the early 1960s with Fireball XL5 and Stingray (the first Anderson series to be filmed in colour) to the huge global success of Thunderbirds in 1965 and beyond.

Even with a 2 hour running time, there’s an awful lot of ground to cover and if there’s any real flaw to Filmed in Supermarionation it’s that some elements are not dealt with as extensively as others.  There is heavy focus on the production of Thunderbirds, which is understandable as it’s the most iconic of all Anderson series and widely regarded as the pinnacle of his success yet it’s a shame that so little time is spent discussing subsequent series Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons (particularly as this introduced the more life-like and correctly proportioned marionette design) and even less on Joe 90 and the final Supermarionation production, 1968’s often overlooked The Secret Service.

It’s also disappointing that although there is significant discussion of the ground-breaking model work and special effects from effects director Brian Johnson, there is only some brief archive interview footage of effects supremo Derek Meddings.  That being said, Meddings’ contribution to the television and film industry is rightly acknowledged and Johnson does demonstrate the secrets behind some of the visual trickery employed when creating the action and model effects sequences for the likes of Thunderbirds et al.

Despite some of these minor flaws, Filmed in Supermarionation is still a well-produced and extensive piece of nostalgia via it’s mix of newly recorded interviews (and ‘scenes’ featuring Parker and Lady Penelope) and archive interview footage as well as footage from the actual series themselves that re-affirms the iconic stature of the worlds of Gerry Anderson.

The bottom line:  Filmed in Supermarionation is an intriguing and nostalgic look at the creation of some of the most-loved and iconic television series of all time and is essential viewing for fans of the imaginative worlds of Gerry Anderson.

Filmed in Supermarionation is out now on Blu-ray and DVD from Network.

'Supermarionation' - a term that has forever engaged the imagination and continues to thrill audiences the world over is explored in the extensive documentary 'Filmed in Supermarionation'.

‘Supermarionation’ – a term that has forever engaged the imagination and continues to thrill audiences the world over is explored in the extensive documentary ‘Filmed in Supermarionation’.

What are your thoughts on Gerry Anderson’s various ‘Supermarionation’ series?  Leave your comments below!

2 thoughts on “Review: ‘Filmed in Supermarionation’

  1. i really wanted to see this film and after reading this I want to even more! Was such a huge fan of Andersons works especially Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet! Have to be honest though I never really got into Joe 90 and didn’t even know there was one called The Secret Service! (Learn something new everyday)! But would most certainly love to see how some of the special effects were pulled off – they really knew had to blow you away! It was almost like watching a 45minute blockbuster thriller every week except using puppets to replace actors! Got to hand it to Gerry Anderson (and the cast and crew of course) that his creations certainly did touch the hearts of many generations so it would be good to view this film so I could rekindle that epic enjoyment! Excellent review too!!

    • It’s definitely worth checking out on DVD/Blu-ray. Totally – each epsiode of Thunderbirds was like a mini-movie, however Captain Scarlet was always (and still is) my favourite Supermarionation series, the more life-like puppets aside the series had a much darker and more adult tone and the fact that the heroes didn’t always win made it more interesting.

      Must admit I do have a soft spot for Joe 90, nowhere near as good as Thunderbirds or Captain Scarlet but decent production values/design and some good spy thriller action! The Secret Service is largely unknown, it’s definitely the weakest Anderson series but is still entertaining, if a little odd given the almost surreal mix of puppetry and live-action!

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