Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Blu-ray Collection Review
The original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies are three films that gave me a lot of enjoyment as a child. The catchy one-liners, the likeable characters and even the Vanilla Ice led soundtrack (what can I say; I was 6 at the time). So it was with a sense of trepidation that I came to review these movies, released for the first time on Blu-ray.
My fear, as with any film fondly remembered from childhood, was that they may not have stood the test of time and that I could be viewing them through rose tinted glasses. Fortunately, even though the films have obviously aged and the quality does decline after the first film, they still remain enjoyable slices of 90’s superhero fun that can still be appreciated today.
The first film in the series is by far the best, and features a charming mix of stylised fight sequences, still funny one-liners, especially from Casey Jones (played by Elias Koteas) and a darker tone than the later films in the series. This dark tone did not go down too well with everyone back in 1990, especially Playmate Toys who refused to make any action figures for the film due to its apparent violent content. Looking back, whilst there are indeed many fight sequences, the violence is never anything more than stylised and never comes across as excessive.
The storyline is straightforward enough and centres on the origin of the Turtles and their sensei, Master Splinter, who, in true comic book fashion, were formed after coming into contact with a mysterious ooze that manipulates them into human size. Following Splinter’s teachings they become the Ninja Turtles we are all now familiar with.
Whilst some scenes do push our sense of disbelief slightly, the makers of the film get away with this by playing on the perception that New Yorkers either don’t care or simply won’t pay attention to something unless it is directly affecting them. A great scene is when Raphael goes to the movies, and merely dons an overcoat and a hat to disguise him as barely anyone, barring a taxi passenger, notices the 6ft green guy walking around.
A concern I had before watching the movies was how poor the Turtles themselves would look, and also if any of the practical effects would be able to stand up today. The suits themselves still look amazing, and it is a testament to the Jim Henson workshop and the effort they put into making them that they have held up so well. The sets are also a work of art, particularly the sewer hideout that the Turtles call home, providing a gothic yet almost homely ambience that looks reminiscent of Tim Burton's Batman.
Luckily for fans of a certain age, the original TMNT film still stands up well today, providing a great amount of fun for me, a reviewer of nearly 30 years of age, and should also do enough to entertain any newcomers to the series.
Sadly the second film in the series, subtitled The Secret of the Ooze, shows a distinct drop in quality from the first film. A change of director, a change of actress in the April O’Neil role, dropping Casey Jones’ character altogether, as well as a change in tone and a much hyped (back then) appearance from Vanilla Ice, all contribute to what is by no means an awful film, just not a particularly memorable or exciting one.
After the first film was criticised by some for its, already mentioned, darker tone and grungy portrayal of New York City, the second film attempts to lighten things up a little. Judith Hoag’s spunky & sexy portrayal of April O’Neil is gone and replaced by the far too goody two-shoes style of Paige Turco, which is a decision that sits unwell with me and anyone else who appreciated Hoag’s turn as the reporter, who refused to play the damsel in distress role. Another let down is the decision to drop Casey Jones from the film; the character did not even appear in the script this time around. He is instead replaced by Ernie Reyes Jr. as Keno, a pizza delivery guy who also happens to be an expert in martial arts, but who sadly lacks the charisma and attitude that Elias Koteas had as Jones in the first film.
Director Michael Pressman fills the movie with more one-liners and catchphrases from the Turtles - even Splinter gets in on the act - and attempts to appease studio execs and angry parents as he never once lets our heroes use their weapons in the film. Instead they fill their time watching April on the TV, cleaning her apartment and performing an impromptu dance routine with Vanilla Ice towards the end of the movie.
TMNT II still manages to provide some entertainment though, with a few one-liners hitting their mark and the overall campier vibe not completely ruining things. However, the sequel does not improve on its predecessor but has enough good reasons to make it worth a watch, even if one of those reasons is just to try and spot the Kevin Nash cameo in the movie.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III, also known as Turtles in Time is a strange and confusing film. New director Stuart Gillard attempts to right the wrongs of the second movie and gives the third film a slightly more serious tone, but at the same time keeping the dwindling quality of one liners and visual gags.
The result is something that would likely please children of a certain age, but anyone over the age of 7 will be hard pressed to find any enjoyment in this film. Where the first film, and to a degree the second, gave us the origin story of the Turtles, the third film goes completely off kilter and sends our heroes, as well as April O’Neil, back in time to ancient Japan, via the method of a MacGuffin April finds at the local flea market. The device sends her and the Turtles back while transporting five Japanese warriors forward to modern day New York.
The story is a tangled web of nonsense which over-complicates itself and generally feels like it has too much going on. The director even finds room for an ill-advised attempt at giving Michaelangelo a love interest. This is also the first film of the series where the Turtles were not created by Jim Henson’s workshop, and even though they never look terrible, there is an odd look about them now. Their heads look oddly shaped, and the strange decision was made to put random spots over their bodies which make them look as if they have some sort of infection that requires a strong ointment.
One redeeming feature of the movie however, is the decision to bring back Elias Koteas as Casey Jones. His charisma and enjoyment in playing the character is clear, and every time he is on screen he is a joy to watch. Having him play two characters though was another odd move, as he also appears as Whit, an English rogue, in ancient Japan. When we first meet Whit, April does indeed make the comparison and even addresses him as Casey. However, nothing more is made of this and it seems like the director threw the idea in there then forgot to elaborate on it later in the film.
Despite my generally negative reaction I did find some enjoyment in the movie. Seeing the Turtles in ancient Japan is a nice touch, as is Michaelangelo and Raphael’s desire to stay there instead of going to back home to New York, something the film could have elaborated on a bit more.
Unfortunately for fans of insightful extras there is barely anything of note on any of the three discs. Each disc contains a trailer for the individual films, as well as a series of stills, which are sadly not very involving. Each disc also contains, the soon very annoying, song performed by Vanilla Ice in the second movie, and makes you either reach for the mute button or quickly decide which sub-menu you wish to progress to.
The first disc does however feature a fun, if fairly short making of documentary. This making of is not new however, and seems to have been pulled from the archives as a means to fill the disc. As I say this half hour feature is not new, but it is however quite fun, as it is a further slice of 90's pop culture, featuring all of the Turtles in an apparently real interview scenario. I do believe though, that it was originally created as a means of building anticipation for the second film in the series and would likely have originally been shown on Saturday morning television to reach its core demographic of impressionable youngsters who no doubt demanded their parents take them to see it immediately. It seems a shame that no effort has been made to form any retrospective features on the disc, as getting the various actors and creators talking about these films now would surely have been a delight to see.
The quality of the picture does stand out on all three films, getting better as the series goes on. The first film in particular features some stand out shots of a grimy New York City and never falters throughout. Scenes during the day are few and far between, but the ones we do get, with a quality restoration, bring out colours and a sharpness that are lovely to behold. Some shots are, admittedly, showing their age now, but this cannot be laid at Mediumrare's door, as it is more to do with the practical effects used back then.
The audio used is clear throughout and comes with no obvious problems. The music and dialogue are crisp and fluent throughout each of the three films, and not once is anything hushed or mumbled, even the voice of The Shredder behind his giant metal mask sounds like he is standing right next to you.
As previously mentioned, it seems a shame that a greater effort has not been put into the extras on the disc, while all the hard work seems to have gone into restoring the films. A quality commentary on all three films would not have gone amiss either, returning the original actors and directors to talk over three films that formed the basis of many a childhood would have been worth the price tag alone.
A severe lack of extras is disappointing, but the chance to own these childhood favourites with a crisp hi-def transfer cannot be denied and should satiate any fan of the series.
7 out of 10
9 out of 10
9 out of 10
3 out of 10