TMNT: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Review
Many thousands of years ago, a great warrior waged a battle against a city. Calling upon supernatural forces, he opens a portal in which monsters pour out. The battle will be a success but it comes with a cost. His generals have been turned to stone, the monsters are running loose throughout the world and the warrior is immortal. In the present day, the four turtles are no longer family. In a South American village, the people are terrorised by a gang of corrupt generals but after thieving from a village, they are cut down by an unseen force in the dense jungle. Thousands of miles away from his brothers, Leonardo (James Arnold Taylor) is learning to be a great leader and has taken back the goods stolen from the villagers. Nearby, April O'Neill (Sarah Michelle Gellar) is investigating stories of a ghost in the forest when she comes upon Leonardo. Unfortunately, the news that she brings from New York is not good. Mikey (Mikey Kelley) is being hired out to children's birthday parties, Donny (Mitchell Whitfield) is running an IT helpline, Raph (Nolan North) is sleeping all day and staying out all night and Casey Jones (Chris Evans) is playing vigilante. Leonardo tells her that now is not the time to return. But when a statue bought by April on behalf of rich industrialist Max Winters (Patrick Stewart) causes chaos in New York, an incoming plane has an unwanted passenger aboard. Riding on the landing gear, Leonardo is returning home. With monsters, stone generals and the Foot Clan of ninjas on the loose, it's not before time...
"Turtle-y Awesome!" it says on the cover. And which publication or broadcast might that quote have come from? Accompanying two thumbs held aloft on Ebert & Roeper? A review in the otherwise threadbare entertainment section of Reptile & Amphibian Magazine? It's obviously not the News Of The World as, contrary to what you might think, it's not quite attention-grabbing enough and nor is the pun so clunkingly awful. Ninja-riffic!!! would be more their particular style. Actually, it wasn't any of those. It comes instead from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Comic, a thin little magazine that, I suspect, doesn't review very many films, games or television shows and certainly none that aren't turtle related but which goes cock-a-hoop at the sight of its favourite turtle-y quartet on the screen. With Issue #1 of the comic in front of me - I tell no lie about this! - they say of the recent Xbox Live game that it is an, "awesome 1989 classic!" Of their own comic, they say, "Two awesome comic strips!" 'Awesome' features heavily throughout, as you might expect given that it stars four giant turtles who have been trained as ninjas.
Then again, at least you know exactly where you are with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Comic. If they described this film as shit - other than that they wouldn't use that kind of language given that it's a children's comic - you can be sure that it would be the kind of awful that could cause internal haemorrhaging. You're on much less predictable ground with the News Of The World, wherein you have to carefully examine the likelihood of there being links to 20th Century Fox to see the hand of one Murdoch-owned business slapping the back of another.
I wanted to dislike this film. Like many of my age or thereabouts, I have bad memories of the original series of Turtles movies from fifteen or so years ago with actors not largely-known for their athleticism huffing their way across New York whilst pretending to be ninjas. To be fair, they always looked much more content munching on pizza than they ever did fighting supervillains. All supervillains, that is, with the exception of ex-Director of the BBFC, James Ferman, who passed away in 2002. Ferman had a well-publicised dislike of martial arts weapons and mythology - see the profile of James Ferman at Screenonline - and it was during his tenure at the BBFC that the Ninja Turtles became Hero Turtles. Not a great change, admittedly, but the cutting of a turtle wielding a string of sausages in a manner akin to nunchukas in Secret Of The Ooze was convincing in saying that while the Turtle films may not have been particularly good, neither was this country very receptive to them.
However, over the last year or so, with computer games, animated television shows and, yes, a comic magazine, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have made something of a comeback. To be fair, it does suit them. They are finally moving with the grace that one expects a ninja to be capable of. Jumping over the gaps between buildings poses no problem to them, nor is skateboarding through the sewers while Michaelangelo is finally permitted his nunchukas. They eat pizzas, skulk through cities and jungles unseen, sneak along rooftops and in a chaotic final sequence, battle a hundred or so ninjas as they rush Winters' offices. April O'Neill is much more feisty than she ever was in the old movies, there's a palpable nastiness to the villains and while you or I could probably work out the twist in Winters' motives, it should keep younger children guessing until the end.
As for the story, it's not particularly memorable but it is exciting and readies the movie for plenty of action. There's something about the stars aligning, of the opening of a portal and of monsters running loose, which must be stopped. So far so much like Hercules, in which Hades released the monstrous Titans to conquer Mount Olympus following the alignment of the planets. However, that's not really the point of the film, just as there are very few who watch the Saturday morning cartoon for the quality of the writing, so this film reduces the characters, the villains and the story into a series of bust-ups between villains and the turtles. Granted, these characters are no more developed than the original sketches that appeared back in 1984. Michaelangelo is still the archetypal teenager, all pizza, videogames and skateboarding, Leonardo is the reluctant leader, Donatello the brains and Raphael the rebel but inasmuch as their masks are coloured differently so to separate them, so too are their characters drawn for a very young audience. However, that only serves to benefit the film. After CG animated films like Shrek The Third, Shark Tale and Madagascar, all of which catered for an adult audience as much as one consisting of children - David Schwimmer's hypochondriac giraffe...I'm looking at you here! - it's good to have an animated movie that plays it simple, straight and entertains by the sheer number of ninjas that fight it out in TMNT. With four of them being turtles, it's all the more entertaining.
For the most part, this is a decent if ordinary transfer of the film onto DVD. Certainly, the picture is clean, the colours, particularly the dark shadows in New York and the rich greens of the South American jungles, are handled very well and with the film coming direct from a digital source, there are no obvious flaws on the print. However, there is one outstanding scene when it looks great and that is a rooftop fight between Leonardo and Raphael in the rain that has the water splashing off their skin. Everything is clear, the detail is remarkably good and it is, even for a picture in standard definition, a pleasure to watch. Unfortunately, the rest of the film doesn't look quite as good but, then again, the chunky feel of the characters perhaps makes this intentional.
The DD5.1 audio track is also pretty good throughout. There isn't a great many times when the action in the rear channels is obvious but their use is consistent throughout the film, being most obvious for ambience or audio effects but sounding clearest during Leonardo's approach, the rooftop fight and Casey'n'April arriving in the nick of time. Aside from that, the audio track ensures the dialogue is always clear, that sufficient space is given to the story and that the frequent moments of action are interrupted by brief periods of quiet as the film gathers itself. Finally, there are English subtitles for the main feature and the extras but not for the commentary.
At first glance, there does look to be a lot here but once you begin watching all of the material on the disc, you realise that much of it is alternate footage to what is in the film or are storyboards for rendered footage. The main bonus feature is an Audio Commentary by Writer/Director Kevin Munroe and it's clear that he came to this film with a real liking for the story and the characters as well as wanting to entertained his audience without even talking down to them. And if that's clear in the film, it's also clear on this commentary, which sees the writer/director solo but filling the track with some technical bits and pieces but preferring, instead, to deal with the story and how to look anew at a bunch of already well-known characters.
The alternate footage/storyboards begins with an Alternate Opening (3m02s) that consists of storyboards and sketches but with a fixed commentary by Kevin Munroe that describes why it wasn't chosen. This is followed by an Alternate Ending (1m17s) that uses some very rudimentary CG to close off the film on the rooftops. With an alternate ending and opening, it's on to an Extended Mikey's Birthday Party (3m16s), which sees Michaelangelo dressed as a turtle and entertaining a bunch of school children armed with foam nunchukas. This is a lot better than the edit of the scene included in the film, which is made funnier by a passing motorist looked incredulous at Mikey talking to himself in his modded Camper Van. However, a Kevin Munroe commentary means that the dialogue isn't always clear. The same can be said of Raphael's Rough House (1m41s) that uses basic CG to highlight a fight between Leo and Raph.
This continues with a storyboard vs rendered footage feature in Monsters Come Alive (2m50s) before hearing about some of the background technologies in Donny's Digital Data Files (1m57s). After that we're back with storyboards and ninja tag in Rooftop Workout (5m35s) before we get to see two fully rendered scenes that were cut from the film, something that Munroe still feels a little disappointed about. The first explores the relationship between April and Casey in Still Wanna Fight (3m12s) while the second is Splinter Gets Cake (2m09s) in which Mikey hands his sensei a piece of birthday cake that he adds to an already impressive pile. Finally, there is Voice Talent: First Look (5m04s), which sees Sarah Michelle Gellar, Patrick Stewart and Laurence Fishburne talking about their roles in the film. No animated feature is complete with this and while I normally have a good moan about its inclusion, it provides a welcome break from the storyboards and early renders of CG that makes up the rest of this set.
I don't mind what Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Comic has to say on this film, nor that it's stuck to the cover of the DVD. My five-year-old son doesn't much care what I say, nor anyone else, but if the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Comic says this film is Turtle-y Awesome then, as far as he is concerned, it is. So I wanted to dislike this film but ended up enjoying it far more than I ever thought I would. If you have any liking for the Turtles, you'll like it very much. In fact, you might, as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Comic did, even find it turtle-y awesome.