23/06/2013

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)

Film: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Alternate title: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles - The Original Movie
Release: 1990, theatrical
Starring: Josh Pais, Michelan Sisti, Leif Tilden, David Forman
Directed by: Steve Baron
Next in the series: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II - The secret of The Ooze
IMDB page: Link opens in a new window
Description: After a spree of strange burglaries hit New York, journalist April O'Neil goes to investigate. When a group of thugs attacks her, April is saved by a very unusual group of heroes.

Hans' thoughts:

To my generation, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was a huge cultural phenomenon. They were everywhere - lunchboxes, cartoons, comic books, video games, action figures, board games, playing cards, even a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle themed band was touring around at one point. When the popularity of the series was at its absolute highest, this movie was made. Now, as I was born the year this film hit theatres, I can't say I know exactly what kids' reaction was when they heard of it. However, I can tell you that the VHS tape of this movie has been played in my home more times than I would care to count after I was old enough to work the machine myself. I have to admit though, after I've become an adult I have not seen this movie quite as frequently. So here goes:

The movie opens up with a nearly shot-by-shot remake of the first episode of the DIC cartoon show. Of course it's rewritten, both because the writers weren't completely lazy and because, well, a movie has way more time to establish the setting than a 20 minutes long cartoon episode. This is also great in another way because this movie actually spends a lot more time giving the turtles themselves distinguishable personalities. Sure, the cartoon told us what the characters were like as early as their opening theme song but in the actual episodes of the cartoon the personality traits of the characters were more of an exception than a rule. Especially the human characters are given more to do than their damsel-in-distress status in the cartoons.

The costumes in this movie is pretty well made, courtesy of
The Jim Henson Company.
The costumes in this movie look really good. They even made the turtles have distinguishable features outside of the colors of their headbands and master Splinter even looks good whereas he could just have looked like a big ball of fur, or even a dog. There's an explanation for this, these costumes are made by The Jim Henson Company, the company responsible for The Muppets, The Fraggles, Yoda in the original Star Wars trilogy and movies like The Dark Crystal. As far as I understand, the costumes (for the turtles at least) are regular padded costumes, but with animatronic masks controlled remotely. As such, the movement of the characters are the result of two seperate puppeteers having to synchronize their work for the best effect. This has various results, suffice it to say that I feel Michaelangelo comes out of this on top, with his puppeteers managing to keep the lipsyncing problems to a minimum.

As for the human characters, it's a matter of hit & miss. While I like the actress playing April O'Neil, I really wish they had given the role to a person who looked more like the character. Visually, the actors come with varying degrees of being faithful to the source material. As much as it saddens me, the weakest link in this matter is Shredder. While they certainly tried to make the design of the costume true to the cartoon version, one could argue that they should perhaps have done their own thing in this case. As for the upper spectrum of the human actors we have Elias Koteas playing Casey Jones. He both looks and acts exactly like the character. Unfortunately, this actor never went on to do anything great, which is shame because he shows real promise.

Now for the elephant in the room concerning this movie, the climax. After a pretty good set up (a gang using the troubled kids of New York as potential recruits), this movie ends up with a pretty sorry ending. This is the one thing I always hear people complain about considering this movie and I can definitely see where they're coming from. The climax is really disappointing as the battle is set up as something huge and as someone who grew up on the turtles it really saddens me to see that they didn't do this as a major fight scene. Of course, it might have been hard to do considering how heavy the costumes probably are.
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