A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 384 – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990) – March 19th, 2011

When I was young, my brother had a total thing about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. He loved them. And when I say he loved them, I think I need to be clear that we’re talking total obsession here. He was about six or seven at the time and he did eventually grow out of it, but for a couple of years there, anything TMNT-related was a safe bet. He drew pictures, focusing on making sure the turtles had plenty of muscles, watched the show, practiced his “ninja” moves in front of the television. And once we were allowed to watch this movie, oh, oh did we watch this movie a lot.

I’ve tried for years to puzzle out my parents’ guidelines to movies and television from when I was a kid. Lots of stuff was barred to me for years, but my brother got more lax rules. Anything remotely sexual in nature was cause for alarm, but violence didn’t get as much scrutiny. Bizarrely, my reading options weren’t curtailed at all, which makes me chuckle now. Anyhow, this movie was one that my mother sort of looked askance at for a while, until my brother and I saw it with the children of a friend of hers during a Christmas party. And well, if her friend was letting her kids watch it and we’d already seen it, might as well let us own it, right? So we got a copy and it became a guaranteed hit for both my brother and myself. There was a time when we knew it by heart and could recite it at will. My mother wasn’t thrilled with the smoking and violence and all, but for the length of the movie and a little bit after it, my brother and I would be in accord, only arguing over who was better: Michaelangelo or Donatello (I am and always have been a Donatello fan, as he is the geek and I am a geek girl).

After watching the newer animated movie a little while back, I mentioned wanting to get this one. I had fond memories of it from my childhood even though it had been years since I’d seen it. So we grabbed a copy and tonight when we needed something familiar and fun we popped it in. And I am pleased to report that while it does indeed have flaws, it’s still a lot of fun and I still know way more of the lines than I should after all this time. The exchange Michaelangelo and Donatello have when Leonardo and Raphael start fighting? “Fight? Fight. Kitchen? Kitchen. Pork rind? Pork rind.” For some reason that tickled us a lot and we repeated it all the time and I still knew it now. Have I said it in the past ten years? The past fifteen, even? Nope. Maybe it’s that I’ve seen this movie so many times. Or maybe it’s just that it’s got some fun writing that’s easy to remember. Lots of little quotable lines and memorable moments.

It’s not a complicated movie, despite the bizarre basis. Or perhaps that’s because of it. When you’re asking your audience to get on board with mutated turtles who are named after Renaissance artists, who talk like surfers and who eat pizza before kicking ass with ninjitsu moves and weapons? Well, that’s about as much as you’re going to ask. Plot complexity is not a priority here. We meet the turtles, find out a little bit of their personalities (Raphael is the angsty one, Michaelangelo is the goofball, Donatello is the dork and Leonardo is the steady one), get some quick plot exposition courtesy of main character April O’Neil, who happens to be a reporter, and off we go. There’s a rash of theft and burglary spreading across New York City, no one knows what’s going on, April’s trying to get to the bottom of it but is meeting some stiff resistance from her boss and the city’s chief of police.

Without getting bogged down in the finer details, there’s a gang led by the main TMNT villain, Shredder, recruiting teenagers as their new soldiers in New York. Shredder has some history with the turtles’ teacher, Splinter (giant mutated rat who taught them martial arts) and April gets wrapped up in it all, rescued by the turtles and then they all run away to her family’s farm outside of town. Because while the main focus of this movie is the turtles saying stuff like “radical” and “awesome” and talking about pizza and then fighting, there’s also a very hammer-licious plot about the importance of family, so the movie takes a time out midway through to have all the turtles think on the subject. The pacing is a little bizarre, to be honest, but the comedic interactions between the turtles, April and their newly acquired friend, Casey Jones, keep things going.

My love for this movie could totally be nostalgia, I admit. Watching it tonight it was easier to see the flaws. As a kid I do recall noting a few times where the turtles’ shells were obviously foam or rubber, I just didn’t care. And seeing the flaws tonight I found I still didn’t care. We even saw one of the most obvious and bizarrely uncovered visible film crew moments in any movie we own (he’s not even trying to hide – April just seems to have a man in an orange hat crouched by her table for no reason and no one cares!) and it just endeared this movie to me more than before. On the other hand, having a lot more knowledge of movie costumes and special effects, prosthetics and make up and action blocking, movies in general, I found a lot more to appreciate as well. Flaws aside, the turtle costumes are fantastic and it’s a lot of fun to see them in action. The tone of the movie is also fascinating to me. It’s an action movie, with serious bits, but also tosses in comedic sound cues and somehow it all works. Nostalgia, maybe. I don’t really care.

March 19, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)

March 19, 2011

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

I have a story that goes with this movie for me. Oddly enough it is a story about NOT watching the movie rather than about seeing it. This movie premiered on the day that my high school senior class chose to ditch. It was a tradition that on a particular prearranged day every single senior would fail to show up for school. (We all ended up getting mandatory detention as a result and a day spent cleaning up the school.) On this particular Senior Bag Day my entire class met outside Park Street station in downtown Boston and then I… went home and went to sleep. As a result I didn’t end up taking part in any of the group activities and hijinks that my classmates got up to that day. I wasn’t there in Brookstone when Joe King broke a pool table (which reportedly resulted in a much harsher ban on unaccompanied teenagers in the store.) And I was not there when a huge cadre invaded a theater on opening day for this movie. I kind of regret that – but I did really enjoy sleeping in.

We threw this in tonight because we needed something light hearted and familiar. I will admit that I haven’t seen this movie as many times as Amanda has, but I’ve seen it before and of course you couldn’t really get through the nineties without being at least somewhat familiar with the turtles. I recall reading some of the original black and white indie comic books way back in the day. I’m pretty sure somebody in my small D&D clique had them. Marcus maybe. Or maybe Andy. Anyhow I remember reading turtles books before there was a syndicated cartoon series or a trio of live action movies and many many years before the recent CGI attempted reboot of the franchise (which we already reviewed earlier in our project.) So as with most kids my age I knew who these radical teenagers were long before I saw the movie. It was the out-of-touch adult population who were generally perplexed by TMNT and puzzled by its success.

The appeal is simple, really. These are four happy go lucky teenagers who love pizza and skateboarding, who happen to be mutated turtles, and who also happen to be ninjas who fight hordes of evil ninjas in the streets and sewers of New York City. What’s not to love? It’s all right there in the title. Pizza. Lame jokes. Slacker turtles. Ninja fights. This movie has exactly what anybody would expect from a TMNT movie.

The plot of this movie is a rehash of well rehashed material. It covers how April O’Neil and Casey Jones met the tubular foursome of turtles with ninjitsu training. It has flashbacks that explain the origin of the turtles and their master Splinter. It introduces Shredder and his Foot Clan ninjas and sets everything up so the turtles will have to overcome massive hordes of Foot soldiers before their final confrontation with Shredder. Nothing particularly original. And yet it is still fun to watch. Because of the magic of the turtles themselves being realized on the big screen in a fast paced live action movie.

It’s the technology, pupeteering and performances of the people behind the turtles that gives this movie most of its enjoyment for me these days. I can only imagine how insanely laborious it must have been to film this movie. The turtles are full body suits worn by performers who are rendered almost completely blind by the head pieces they wore. The heads are filled with radio-controlled servo motors run by teams of puppeteers. It’s the same system used for Hoggle in Labyrinth and would later be used for the dinosaurs in the Dinosaurs television series. It’s amazing enough that with five or six people working each character the teams at Henson Creature Works were able to get such realistic looking performances from their puppets but then this movie throws in lengthy fight scenes. Sure the faces don’t need to be articulated for most of the long shots but that doesn’t take away from the fact that the performers in the suits had to do a whole lot of stuntwork inside heavy foam and latex suits with very little vision. Blocking simple scenes of them crossing a room would be hard enough – it boggles my mind that they were able to do all these fight scenes as well. Real life Zatoichi times four.

So, yeah, I mostly watch this movie now for the wizardry involved in bringing it to the screen. Even when it came out the plot was nothing special and the jokes were all complete groaners. But maybe that’s also part of the appeal. TMNT was never really all that hip, because catch phrases and an attachment to pizza isn’t really hip to start with. But there was a kind of camp to the franchise which this movie revels in.

My one other comment would be that I wonder a little if anybody has considered a new reboot of the franchise showing us these same characters as they would now be today. I was in my late teens when this movie came out, so I’m roughly contemporary with the turtles of the movie-verse. Which would mean that they, like me, would be approaching forty now. I’d like to see Middle-age Mutant Ninja Turtles is what I’m trying to say.

March 19, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment