Thunderbirds laser discs

Theo de Klerk

in 1992, the Japanese company Emotion released all 32 Thunderbirds episodes on 16 laserdiscs. These discs have been recorded for the NTSC television system which is the standard for Japanese and American tv broadcasts. This makes these discs unsuitable for the European and Australian markets where PAL is the standard. However, an increasing number of so-called NTSC-playback videorecorders and laserdisc players are offered on the market that allow the PAL audience to join in with the NTSC viewers.

Technical details

The 16 discs have been recorded in colour (as well as color), using the available two sound channels for bilingual audio. This means that the left channel contains the Japanese dubbing, which includes the Japanese title song based on Barry Gray's instrumental title theme. The right channel contains the original English soundtrack. Phew! For most of the world the discs would be pretty useless without this track. But now they are a "hot item" to get for all those Thunderbirds fans that want to have the best next thing to owning the original 35mm film prints. Each disc contains two episodes: one on each side.

Each episode has been subdivided into five to eight chapters to which the viewer can jump. Since each episode runs for the full 50 minutes, the recordings have been made in CLV format: Constant Linear Velocity. The disc will spin slower when the "grooves" at the outer edge are being read than when the center sections are read. The CLV format makes still frames impossible when the laserdisc player does not have a memory in which to store the picture. (The other format, CAV – Constant Angular Velocity – does allow still frames but allows only some 30 minutes on a disc side).

The discs are sold in 4 boxes of 4 discs each. The recommended retail price is a stiff ¥22,200 per box. When you order such a box, do keep in mind that air mail shipping may add another ¥4,000 per box, and further import duties, VAT and other taxes may further spoil your happiness. On the bright side: recently these boxes have been seen in Tokyo for as little as ¥9,000. This will be a short lived situation as the boxes are no longer in production and the low prices are clearance sale prices.

Quality

In a sense it is a pity that the material Emotion used for producing these laserdiscs is not of the same quality as the recent screenings of the series on the British BBC and European continental tv stations. These stations used brandnew 35mm prints with a rich colour saturation and excellent sound. Emotion however, must have used Japanese library prints which are OK but not as excellent as they could have been and for which laserdiscs are ideally suited. Some of the prints have washed colours and sometimes the audio tracks contain a little noise, but they are still of HiFi quality in digital audio. An occassional scratch or white spot on the master films can also be noticed.

Contents

The four boxes that contain all 32 episodes are well produced and resemble the old gramophone boxes used for multi-disc recordings. Their front covers contain airbrush painted pictures of the Thunderbirds that have a definite "Japanese" touch also found on many model construction kits of Thunderbirds machines. The backside of each box contains four small pictures taken from four of the eight episodes stored in that box, complete with a standard credit title list.

Inside the box are the four laserdiscs in plastic protection bags and an eight page square booklet of approx. 10" size. The booklets contain many photographs of various sizes and of varying quality — not unlike the many Japanese photobooks and paperbacks that were produced around the same time. The text seems to explain some of the background of the show and of other Supermarionation series — some of which were also released on laserdisc. Pages 6 and 7 always contain the episode list of the four discs in the box, complete with chapter divisions. If you don't read Japanese, they are of little help.

box 1 front

Thunderbirds – IR box part 1
Published by Emotion, Order No. BELL-533
Booklet: Supermarionation (by Gerry Anderson)
Thunderbirds (concept, characters)

1A – Trapped in the Sky
1B – Pit of Peril
2A – Sun Probe
2B – The Uninvited
3A – City of Fire
3B – The Mighty Atom
4A – Operation Crash-Dive
4B – End of the Road
(8 chapters)
(5 chapters)
(2 chapters)
(5 chapters)
(2 chapters)
(2 chapters)
(3 chapters)
(3 chapters)
box 2 front

Thunderbirds – IR box part 2
Published by Emotion, Order No. BELL-534
Booklet: Supermachinery in Thunderbirds
(all Thunderbirds and some of the pod verhicles)

1A – The Perils of Penelope
1B – Terror in New York City
2A – Edge of Impact
2B – Vault of Death
3A – Martian Invasion
3B – Day of Disaster
4A – Attack of the Alligators
4B – Danger At Ocean Deep
(3 chapters)
(3 chapters)
(4 chapters)
(4 chapters)
(3 chapters)
(4 chapters)
(3 chapters)
(2 chapters)
box 3 front

Thunderbirds – IR box part 3
Published by Emotion, Order No. BELL-535
Booklet: Thunderbirds plastic model kits

1A – 30 Minutes After Noon
1B – Security Hazard
2A – Move And You're Dead
2B – Desperate Intruder
3A – The Imposters
3B – The Dutchess Assignment
4A – Brink of Disaster
4B – Cry Wolf
(5 chapters)
(3 chapters)
(4 chapters)
(7 chapters)
(4 chapters)
(4 chapters)
(3 chapters)
(3 chapters)
box 4 front

Thunderbirds – IR box part 4
Published by Emotion, Order No. BELL-536
Booklet: ITC Films "Thunderbirds" History
(the other Anderson series – Supercar to Space:1999)

1A – The Man From MI 5
1B – Atlantic Inferno
2A – Path of Destruction
2B – The Cham-Cham
3A – Alias Mr. Hackenbacker
3B – Lord Parker's 'oliday
4A – Give Or Take A Million
4B – Ricochet
(4 chapters)
(7 chapters)
(4 chapters)
(3 chapters)
(4 chapters)
(3 chapters)
(3 chapters)
(2 chapters)