Summary: New York City is protected by… well… Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It’s all there in the title, for once.
Ok, let’s get this out of the way:
- Yes, this was my first time watching this.
- I’m pretty sure I saw this as a kid. I may have seen this prior to the age of 6, but if I did I don’t remember.
- I don’t remember ever watching the cartoon.
- Or reading the comics.
- I remember liking the Turtles when I was younger, but can’t recall what I did know about them aside from PIZZA.
- I have not seen the Michael Bay “remakes.”
Cool. The original TMNT is like Gremlins and Back to the Future– I know enough about it, but I can’t remember the last time I watched the whole thing so I actually don’t know if I’ve seen the whole thing. It’s possible I’ve seen only bits and pieces and in my naive mind, I assumed I saw the whole thing at one point. It was a lot of fun to take the time to watch something I was so familiar with and absorb it.
There are lots of good things in the 93 minute run time. Aside from a fairly predictable story, dated music, and Fresh Prince of Bel-Air fashion, TMNT holds up to be an entertaining piece with a surprisingly full circle story with some emotional pull to it. (No, I did not tear up or cry.) It’s got enough veiled adult jokes so I can see why people don’t feel too ashamed watching what’s (technically) a kid’s movie. It’s also fast and fun with only a few things that feel out of place.
Casey Jones played by Elias Koteas, for example. While he’s fun, quippy, and has some good moments, he probably could have been taken out without skipping a beat. I appreciated that he served as more of an accessory for April (Judith Hoag) and to some extent, the roles of hero and damsel are reversed- but perhaps I’m too accustomed to female characters such as April not needing a sidekick to prove they are tough. But hey! 80’s movies! Different times. The dynamic April takes over the relatable role and the audience’s window into the new world. She has some of the best lines in the movie (“Aw, Danny, your father is going to have kittens!”) and is the perfect combination of girl-next-door, one-of-the-boys, stylish but not overly invested looks, serious journalist, and justice seeker.
I also love that she’s wearing fairly practical boots or sneakers in some sequences.
Moving on to what we really care about here: Yes, the practical effects still hold up. I’ve only seen the trailers for the 2014 and 2016 versions and I can already tell you that 1990 looks better. As the movie was led by Jim Henson’s merry gang of technicians, we can expect pretty much the best of the best. Only Splinter’s animatronic movements and close-ups do suffer from time despite how revolutionary they were upon release.
The Turtle suits completely make up for any dated technology, giving the faces full expressions and allowing seemingly full body movement. These are full body suits about an inch thick, cast in foam rubber latex, topped with what is basically a heavy helmet filled with motors. I’ve watched a lot of Face Off, so just reading the materials made me cringe. Think of wearing a memory foam mattress and then duct taping X-Box controllers to your head- there’s no possible way it could have been comfortable even just standing still. Included among the suit-problems were overheating, possible dehydration, and having to wear the suits all throughout the day, as removing them and putting them back on would take far too much time. Some of the stunts in the movie would be impressive even with two regularly dressed people, so imagining the weight of the suit, limited movement, and the overall discomfort makes the stunts and action sequences even more remarkable. The facial movements are just as smooth as one can see in the common CG used today.
This brings me to another impressive point- this movie, with all of its practical effects and fairly no-name actors (a really young Sam Rockwell shows up and Cory Feldman supplied a voice), was made for a mere $13 million, about a third the amount of 1989’s Batman ($35 million). By comparison of TMNT (2014, let’s not talk about its sequel) to 2016’s Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice (and I’m just spitballing here), that might be about $100 million to what, like $300 million? We’re not too far off with the ratio despite all the inflation. (I just fact-checked myself and I’m only off by about $25 million for 2014’s TMNT. Score!) While all four mentioned movies made at least double their budget and thus a profit, it’s really impressive that the original entities have stayed in conversation. When you see merchandise or mentioning of TMNT, it’s all for the 1990’s version; it’s still talked about as revolutionary and it’s still making some money today from new viewers due to its name still being discussed. The reboots have more or less fallen to the wayside. I chalk this up to several factors- a combination of money and technology, as well as oversaturation of the market- it’s hard to make things stand out. Also, this whole 80’s nostalgia movement that’s happening, but that’s besides the point- I had a whole row of kids sitting behind me that loved this movie.
This makes it all the more puzzling as to why a franchise known for its practical effects would move in to join the CG movement- this money could easily have been poured into the better practical effects available, or perhaps a combination of both, and that alone would have been something new and different, possibly revolutionary, while paying homage to its original franchise. I’ll have to see the full 2014 version but it’s not talked about nearly as much and probably for good reason- it doesn’t present anything different or exciting from a CG adventure featuring talking animals. I’d really love to see a movie made today in the same vein as the 1990’s version. Guillermo del Toro, make me a TMNT!
Do I feel like I missed out on a TMNT when I was a kid? Not really. In some sort of strange way, it’s not too far off from me being raised on Grease- it has some really exciting “how did they do that!?” sequences, with the adult humor, one-liners I still reference, and progressive moments for its time. I AM glad to have watched it as an adult because I really appreciate the imagination and creativity put into this film. The magic of cinema lives!