Just forget the words and sing along

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Turtle Origins

I love it when I happen into a stroke of luck, that happens to bring a quest to an end.  Just a couple of days ago, I ran into such a stroke of luck.  There's this one particular DVD I've been after.  It's been out of print for a while.  I thought about special-ordering it online, but never got around to it.  Most of my favourite DVD emporiums wanted too much money for it.  And there I was, in Canadian Tire the other day, and I found it in a discount bin.

What DVD is it?  This little gem.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Vol. 1!

Yup, this is the original, 1980s cartoon.  See, what some people may not remember is that Ninja Turtles, much like its fellow 1980s 'toon G.I. Joe, began its run with a 5-episode miniseries.  This DVD contains that 5-episode miniseries.  In this miniseries, you get to see the origins of the Turtles, the origin of the Shredder, the origins of Bebop and Rocksteady, the origins of Krang...this is where it all began.

When it comes to the original TMNT 'toon, those first 5 episodes are the ones that I am most nostalgic for.  I remember being just 10 years old, visiting my grandparents in Red Deer, who had this magical thing called "cable TV" which meant they got a heck of a lot more channels.  I was watching this new channel called "YTV" which was nothing but kids shows, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles came on.  For those who want a quick primer in basic cable history, TMNT was actually a launch title on YTV and was a mainstay in their lineup until 1991 or so.  But I digress.

What I saw was the fifth and final episode of the original miniseries, and what I saw just blew my mind.  Compared to G.I. Joe and Transformers and He-Man, TMNT just seemed so...different and original.  I couldn't help but get sucked in.

Two years later, 1989, my family finally got cable TV, and along with it, YTV.  TMNT was on every night at 6, and my brother and I often implored our parents to let us watch it instead of the boring ol' 6 o'clock news.

And then, in the fall of 1990, TMNT was plucked from syndicated obscurity and became the lynch pin in the CBS Saturday morning lineup, thanks to the overwhelming success of the live-action movie.  I remember that well, because I was still working as a paperboy at the time, and had begun reading the newspaper every morning, and there was actually a huge write-up about that in the paper about TMNT being picked up by the networks.  Following suit, CFRN added it to their Saturday morning lineup, and that's when all my friends who didn't have cable finally got to start watching it. 

There's not much for bonus materials on the DVD.  As a great contrast to the show's origins, it also contains the final four episodes of the show!  Can you believe that the original TMNT cartoon was actually in production and ran on CBS until 1996?  As I said, it kind of faded off of YTV around 1991, and I'm pretty sure CFRN stopped showing it around 1993 or so.  I remember stumbling across the final episodes on CBS when I was in high school, and only watched one or two.  For the shows final season on CBS, they decided to overhaul it and it got kind of weird.

The animation style changed.  It got all darker and grittier and Batman: The Animated Series-ish.  Shredder and Krang were permanently banished to Dimension X, and the new archenemy of the TMNT was an alien warlord named Lord Dregg.  Lord Dregg activated a "hypermutation" in the Turtles that essentially turned them all into Hulks.  Literally.  When the Turtles got angry, they would grow in size and gain superstrength.  They were also joined by a Rick Jones-like kid who was similarilly "hypermutated" and would turn into a Hulk-like creature when he got angry.  Like I said...really weird.

But yeah.  Looking into it online, pretty much off the original TMNT is now on DVD, save for those final seasons with Lord Dregg. 

After watching that DVD, I got all hungry for more Ninja Turtles.  I was recently home for a bit of a vacation, and while I was there, I finally claimed all my old VHS tapes.  If you follow me on Twitter, you know that a bit of a Friday night routine of mine is to pop one of my old movies into the DVD player and re-discover it.  For the next few weeks, the theme of movie nights will be "stuff I haven't upgraded to DVD yet."  And of course, right on top of the pile of old VHS tapes, is the first live-action film from 1990.  I popped it into the VCR and watched the first few minutes.

My God, it's been a long time since I've seen it.  I forgot it has that great, gritty, low-budget 1980s sci-fi look to it.  (Look at the first Terminator film for another great example of that look.)  I'm sure it was accentuated by the fact I was watching it on VHS.  Man, how come I haven't bought this on DVD yet?  It was released on Blu-Ray last year...apparently, on Blu, the resolution is so high you can actually see the performers inside the suits when the Turtles open their mouths. 

I know why I haven't upgraded it to DVD yet.  The original live-action film is high on my list of films where I'm holding out for a special edition packed with bonus features.  Even when it was released on Blu-Ray last year, in a highly-touted "25th Anniversary Edition," there were NO bonus features on the DVD.  What do I want for bonus features?  How about a running commentary with the film's director, Steve Barron, and the creators of the TMNT, Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird?  How about a massive featurette about the creation of the animatronic turtles?

I said this when the film came out in 1990, and I still believe it 20 years on:  those animatronic turtles represented a gigantic leap forward in animatronics for film.  Built by Jim  Henson's Creature Shop.  They were the last animatronic creations that Jim Henson personally had a hand in building before his untimely death in 1990.  Before TMNT, animatronics like that were manipulated by a massive series of cables leading to the puppeteers off camera, and the cables were cleverly hidden in the set.  When Jim Henson's Creature Shop got the contract to bring the Ninja Turtles to animatronic life, they looked at all the martial arts stunts the animatronic suits would be doing, looked at all the cables, and said, "OK, we're going to have to make all this stuff wireless."  And they did.

And while I'm putting together a wish list like this, I'm starting to love my obscure film scores.  How about if someone out there puts out John Du Prez's score for the film?  As part of that "gritty, low-budget, 1980s" look, the entire score is on synthesizers.  And while I'm ranting Du Prez's film work, I wouldn't mind his score for UHF, either.

But anyway, it's been fun reminiscing about this chapter of TMNT.  A year ago, it was announced the Nickelodeon just bought the "global rights" to TMNT, meaning they can now adapt it to every other medium.  A new movie is in development...rather than being all animated, or with animatronics, it'll be live-action, with the Turtles being animated.  A new cartoon is in development.  And a new chapter will begin.

Not bad for a low-budget parody of Daredevil that was thrown together one drunken night by a couple of starving artists desperate to break into comics.

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