Wednesday, September 5, 2018

SepTMNTber - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie

When I found out the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was coming to movie theaters, I was beyond thrilled.  I had missed the Transformers movie in theaters, but I was old enough to see TMNT on my own. But when I heard the movie would be live action with actors in turtle suits – holy crap, that was on a whole new level.  I couldn’t even imagine what other cartoons would look like in live action; surely, there could never be a live action Transformers movie.
The movie opens with a skinny redhead with tight curls who called herself April O’Neil.  I didn’t know who this woman was, but she was no April. They even tried tricking us by putting her in a yellow raincoat.  I’ve since groan on her performance, but as a pre-pubescent boy, I was totally disappointed.

But what kid really watched this movie for the human characters?  I wanted to see real life Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles running through the sewer and kicking butt.  Even just hearing them beating up the Foot Clan as they fought in shadows was good enough for me, since I got to see the Turtles just a few moments later in the sewers.  And holy crap, did they look awesome!
Jim Henson Creature Shop created the costumes, which included fully-articulated heads.  Eyes rolled around, eyebrows furrowed, mouths opened and closed, and the lips flapped in multiple places.  These were definitely not the kind of costume you’ve ever seen before. The Turtles moved as if they were alive, like the suits didn’t impede the actors inside at all.  Their skin was mottled and marked with way more detail than the cartoon had ever shown.
Another thing that was never in the cartoon were swear words, so when I heard Raphael say, “Damn!” I was stunned.  Sure, I had heard that Spike said shit in the Transformers movie, but since I hadn’t seen it in theaters and it was edited out of home releases, damn was still sacred, as it was said by Ultra Magnus right before his death, so for Raphael to say it just for losing a sai, and to scream it later, was a big deal.
I can’t say if it showed up in the comics, but for me it was the first time seeing Raphael so angry.  Not only is he cussing up a storm (relatively speaking), but he’s openly fighting with Leonardo, even pushing him around.  His temper gets him in trouble, too, being ambushed by the Foot Clan and almost killed. Raphael’s attitude became the focal point in this movie, along with Leonardo for clashing against it, which unfortunately marginalized Michelangelo and Donatello.  Mikey got a few good pizza jokes, especially his late delivery proverb, but the movie’s more grounded reality means Donnie didn’t get a chance to show off his technical genius, besides trying to fix April’s van.
Another big change to the movie is the Turtles’ sensai, Splinter.  Instead of being a human turned into a rat, the movie flipped his origin, making him a pet to Hamato Yoshi that had watched his master die.  Just like the cartoon, it doesn’t really spell out how he made it into the sewers, but having watched his master teach, he still learned enough to train the Turtles after their mutation.  I never understood why they made the change, besides maybe the additional depth Yoshi’s death gives us, but we did get some great animation of a rat teaching 4 baby turtles high kicks out of it, so I don’t mind.
Rounding out the allies is Casey Jones.  I don’t remember him showing up in the cartoon much, but he got a huge role here as a both Raphael’s rival and later as April’s love interest.  Not that I ever wanted April to have a love interest, but for some reason they threw that in. He’s played to perfection by Elias Koteus and even wears his trademark hockey mask a few times while wielding cricket bats and hockey sticks. He even later commits manslaughter! Yay!

Since the movie makes strains to ground the story in reality with only the Turtles being the stand out fantastical element, Shredder is the only recognizable enemy. No more Krang or robotic foot soldiers, no Bebop and Rocksteady. All he has is a gang of street punks learning martial arts and a big bald dude with a limited vocabulary. At least they keep his costume kinda faithful, especially with the helmet. Another great thing they kept from the early episodes is Shredder kicking the Turtles' asses. The final fight scene in this movie is downright awesome with some great choreography and the Turtles being completely outclassed. It's not until Splinter shows up and Shredder sees the rat that had mangled his face that Shredder loses his composure and is defeated.
As a kid, I didn't understand most of the changes that were made to the Turtles and their world, but I didn't have trouble accepting it.  But one thing I honestly hated is the change to April's boss, from funny Burne Thompson to boring Charles Pennington and his idiot punk kid, Danny.  Both of these characters were terrible and I hated them.  I don't even have a rational hatred for him, but man, I just do.  Danny was easily the worse of the two, since he obviously didn't appreciate how awesome the Turtles were.  Come on, Danny!  They're giant Turtles, show some real awe or something!
Overall, this movie succeeded at the incredible feat of bringing the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to life.  Some sacrifices were made bringing it to the movie screen, but the one thing that really mattered was Jim Henson's Creature Shop's work, and I could really believe the Turtles were real. They moved and spoke and smiled and fought like we expected, and most of all, they kicked shell.

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