Originally made for broadcast on the Sci-Fi Channel, this bizarre short was the brainchild of British artist and film-maker Tony Luke who, in 1988, had created the comic strip Dominator, a black and white manga influenced strip that first appeared in British rock magazine Metal Hammer. In 1993, Luke transferred the strip to a genuine Japanese manga, Kodansha's Comic Afternoon, with scripts written by 2000 A.D. legend Alan Grant and the story was eventually made into a pair of animated movies, Dominator (2003) and Dominator X (2007).
But before those features were made, Luke formed Renga Media in 1995 with Grant and Japanese anime designer Yasushi Nirasawa to make Archangel Thunderbird, a mind-bending, eyeball-searing blend of live-action and stop-motion animation. The mad plot mixes and matches influences as broad as British horror movies, anime and Luke's own comic books - scientist Dr Churchill discovers that the pre-Christian demons of mythology are all too real and threatening to over-run the world. Led by the alien demon Baal, the creatures descend on the defenceless planet and start enslaving Mankind. But Churchill, who has gone into hiding after the world's governments dismissed his theories, has assembled a fighting force of scientists and soldiers code-named Doomshield who go into battle with the demons armed with an ancient magical mechanoid known as the Archangel Thunderbird.
Equal parts Gerry Anderson, Japanese monster movies and giant-robot-anime, Archangel Thunderbird (named after the Amon Düül II track perhaps?) is virtually impossible to sum up in mere words - it's a fascinating film that will keep you glued to the screen for the hole of its meagre running time, despite the fact that you can never quite shake off the feeling that it's really not all that good. The animation is amateurish, the pace is so frenetic that it's impossible to figure out what the hell's going on and the acting (from a cast that includes Hellraiser's Pinhead, Doug Bradley, and 90s low-budget British regular Eileen Daly) is pretty shakey at best. Yet despite that, it's still a huge amount of fun that makes a virtue of its cheapness, and one certainly can't fault its energy and imagination.
And certainly there were plenty of people who fell for is threadbare charms - the first screening of the short on the UK version of the Sci-Fi Channel attracted record viewing figures for the station. That didn't help the pilot go to series, which is perhaps a good thing - its surreal charms would have been considerably diluted over time (they almost outstay their welcome as it is) and leaving Archangel Thunderbird as a scrappy, compelling and frequently quite mad curio has ensured it a very minor cult following. A DVD release is extremely unlikely so it's lucky that Luke and the rest of the Renga Media team have put it up for download (in four more manageable chunks) on their website - head over to Renga Media's website and experience the madness for yourself.