Friday, November 05, 2010

“Wise man say forgiveness is divine, but never pay full price for late pizza.”

1990 was Twenty Years Ago. Which just makes me feel old and arthritic just thinking about that tidbit. But there’s a bright side to this trip down memory lane, since it gives us a chance to look back at the live action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, a film that was essentially tailored to my seven year old movie going self. That’s right kids, I saw this beeyotch in theaters. Let’s see if it’s aged well.

To those of you not clued in to just how big of a phenomenon the Turtles were in the late 80s-early 90s, the premise revolves around this radioactive stuff called “Ooze” presumably a byproduct of nuclear…scientific…sciencey…things. Anyway, this Ooze is capable of rapidly (and nonlethally) mutating anything that comes in direct physical contact with it into some kind of anthropomorphic creature/monster. Because comic books, that’s why.

Anyway, it also involves the backstory of a guy named Hamato Yoshi getting killed by Oroko Saki and Yoshi’s pet rat getting covered in ooze. The rat mutates into a human-sized puppet named Splinter that’s voiced by Muppeteer Kevin Clash (the voice of Elmo) who takes up residence in the New York City sewer system. Some time later four baby turtles were abandoned and exposed to the Ooze and Splinter adopted them, taught them, trained them in ninjutsu and named them after famous Renaissance artists: Leonardo (David Foreman and voiced by Brian Tochi), Donatello (Leif Tilden and voiced by Corey Feldman), Raphael (Josh Pais and voiced by Josh Pais) and Michaelangelo (Michelan Sisti and voiced by Robbie Rist). Because comic books, that’s why.

Anyway, this all leads up to 1990, where a crime wave of theft & burglary has the city paralyzed and the police stymied. The thieves strike and vanish without a trace, and there’s only one reporter in town willing to ask the hard questions and get to the bottom of this: April O’Neil (Judith Hoag).

Yadda yadda yadda, turns out the thieves are a legion of maladjusted teens that are taken in by the Foot Clan, a criminal group of ninjas led by the Shredder (James Saito). April runs afoul of them, is rescued by the Turtles, they eventually get joined by a sports themed vigilante named Casey Jones (played by a gloriously hammy Elias Koteas) and ADVENTURE! ensues.

So the plot is complicated and out of the Turtles, it’s really Raphael that gets the most development. He’s angry. A lot. Which causes him to go off on his own and get his ass kicked by the Foot (ba-dum-tsh). After clashing with Leonardo (who’s the Responsible One), Raph ends up learning more self control and how to play better with others. It’s actually fairly well done. The cast all handle their roles pretty well and despite the really cluttered plot, it stays coherent.

Directed by Steve Barron, the film is competently shot, but the art direction does end up straddling that line between “realistic” and “cheesy” with some of the sets (like the Foot Clan’s ludicrous-but-awesome-if-you’re-seven indoor arcade & skate park). However, the movie moves along very quickly and the fight scenes are generally pretty good. The most pleasant surprise is that the special effects have largely aged well, and I credit this entirely to the Jim Henson Company for their work on Splinter & the Turtles. Again, it’s all fairly well done.

Characters created by Kevin Eastman & Peter Laird, story by Bobby Herbeck and Screenplay by Todd W. Langen & Bobby Herbeck. It manages to juggle the origin and a surprising amount of plot quite well. The characters are all recognizably so and (having never read the comic so I’m not 100% sure) but it seems to blend the catchphrase spouting style of the cartoon with the darker visual look of the comics. Which sounds like it shouldn’t work, but kind of does. The movie is not starved for one-liners and a surprising number of them are pretty good though there are also quite a few stinkers that are heavily dated to the period. And Raph screams out “DAMN!!!” at one point, which, when you’re seven, leaves an impact.

Original music by John Du Prez (UHF), and the score, while heavily influenced by digital touches, does work well and there are some eastern influenced “ninja” style cues. There’s also a licensed soundtrack that includes “This Is What We Do” by M.C. Hammer and “T-U-R-T-L-E Power!” by Partners In Kryme as the end credits song. It’s cheesy, but catchy.

While the nostalgia goggles probably helped in watching this, I have to admit I was a little afraid to revisit Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I’m glad that it still holds up pretty well on its own merits. Yes, it’s extremely cheesy. Extremely cheesy. But that’s kind of the charm of it too. It’s not great, but its definitely way better than it could’ve been.

And yeah, the dubbing on the trailer doesn't match up the finished movie. It's likely the trailer was cut before all the voice over work was done.

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