Helmer Frakes treks to ‘Thunderbirds’ kidpic

Original skein used puppets, models

Jonathan Frakes is set to direct Working Title Films’ long-in-the-works live-action screen adaptation of cult British TV series “Thunderbirds” for Universal.

Conceived by Gerry Anderson and produced by Anderson, Reg Hill and Jon Read, the original TV series used puppets and models in a process dubbed “supermarionation.” Plots revolved around a rescue team comprised of retired astronaut Jeff Tracy and his five sons. Assisting the family was their London agent, Lady Penelope, her Cockney ex-convict driver, Parker, and the Tracy’s houseguest, Brains.

U is aiming for an early 2003 start for the pic, which Working Title has been developing for many years, originally for Peter Hewitt to direct.

Frakes, best known for playing Commander William Riker on TV series “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” directed and co-starred in “Star Trek: Insurrection” and “Star Trek: First Contact.” The helmer most recently directed “Clockstoppers” for Paramount and Nickelodeon.

Working Title recently took “Thunderbirds” back to the drawing board to reconceive it as a family film — reflecting the original TV series’ core audience of kids under 10 — instead of as an adult actioner.

Pic, penned by Will Osborne, centers around the exploits of International Rescue, a top-secret international organization that saves people in peril.