A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

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 | , , , , ,

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