Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Shell Shocked: "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)"


Old is New

      Here's something kinda new and kinda old for Cinema Won. Over the next few week, I will be taking a look at some of the major properties in a franchises by reviewing them all in a row. This may sound a lot like one of my old, failed series Movie Marathon... because it's basically the same thing. With a few key differences. Namely, the time constraints are way looser as I will basically follow the rule of "It gets down when it's done". I want to take my time with whatever it is I'm watching so I don't get sick of the franchises and the reviews don't become the only reviews I end up doing. Also, I won't just be focusing on the theatrical films of the series. This is more a way for me to explore new series and express my thoughts on them then it is an attempt to do something new. And so, as you may have guessed, the first series to hit the spot light is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!


      So, after having watched TMNT for This Month In... and having basically everyone tell me I should watch those live-action Blu-Rays that have been sitting on my shelf for the last year or so, I decided "Why not"? So, I broke out the Blu-Ray and decided to tackle the first film, which as I have heard, is the series peak. And if the first film is any indication, then I'm in for a fun time. Based on the comic book series by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is directed by Steve Barron (Coneheads) and written by Bobby Herbeck and Todd W. Langen, the film follows Leonardo (Suit: David Forman/Voice: Brian Tochi), Raphael (Josh Pais), Michelangelo (S: Michelan Sisti/V: Robbie Rist) and Donatello (S: Leif Tilden/V: Corey Feldman) as they team up with reporter April (Judith Hoag, Nashville) and vigilante Casey (Elias Koteas, Shutter Island) to rescue their master Splinter (Kevin Clash, Sesame Street) from the evil Shredder (S: James Saito, V: David McCharen). 

Totally serious. 
Yes, Turtles

      There's always something to be said about a movie that makes you like another movie a little less. Don't get me wrong. I still do like TMNT. But this movie does make that one look something one would sweep up from behind a horse. Whether or not you are in the "age set" for this movie, you should see this movie. This is how we need to treat kid's films. Seriously. Seriously! The reason this film works so well is because the filmmakers behind the film are so upfront about what the show is. There's no audience expy here. No attempt to treat the story in a overly serious manner. They don't have a human character be the star. No half-assed attempt to make the origin more straightforward. No renaming characters to something more "realistic". It's like if someone tried to change Shredder's name to Colonel Schrader. I mean that'd just be the stupidest thing ever. The film presents the story of the Turtles in the most upfront way possible. Ooze is how they mutate. The are all actors in real costumes. They live in the sewers and they eat pizza and the make jokes. And when takes this straight laced it actually works. Really well.

This Truly is Radical

      The fight scenes are all great. I mean, these are trained professionals fighting dozens of guys at once performing ninja style fight moves including acrobatics all while dressed as a giant turtle. It may be some of the best stunt work I've ever seen. And the actual sit down and have the characters talk scenes also work. The film does a great job giving not just the turtles, but ever character a time in the spotlight and as a result all of the characters are extremely likable. The turtles really do become more distinguishable through their personalities and not just their headbands. They act like I suppose real teenage mutant turtles who are also ninjas would act (When they aren't scaring the populous). The one thing that doesn't quite work though is the story. While it is always fast moving and is interesting enough, there never really is a sense of danger. Shredder, surprisingly, never really feels like that much of a threat and the film does spend a little too much time letting the Turtles sit around to really let the story build. 

It actually is this funny.
The Verdict

      Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles isn't just a kids movie for kids, it's a kids movie for all of us. No, I didn't make an inner child joke. That just be too easy. The film takes it's source material as seriously as it's fans do, which leads to an extremely fun and likable film. The characters are all likable, especially the Turtles, who I want as my friends RIGHT NOW! The fighting and stunts are all extremely impressive, as is the production value. The only downsides are the villain, who is fairly weak and a story that meanders around a bit too long to be really effective. Still, regardless of how old you are, you really should see some turtle action! Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990) gets 5 and a half stars out of 6.

Bonus Notes and Trivia

- One part not suitable for kids: Did Casey really kill that guy in the garbage truck? That's intense!

- Creator Peter Laird grew up near my hometown. Tubular!

- Was at one point the highest grossing independent film of all time.

- The Turtles high was significantly increased for the film so they'd be as tall as Casey and April.

- All of the Turtles costume actors appear in other roles. Forman is a gang member. Pais is a cab passenger. Tilden is a Foot Clan member. And Sisti is a pizza man.

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