Just forget the words and sing along

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Fishing in the Discount Bin - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

It's that time again!  Fishing in the Discount Bin, where I watch and blog about one of the movies I own, because I have shockingly little to do on Saturday nights.  Today, we start tackling the TMNT trilogy from my junior high years with installment #1, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  This pops up in my notes at November 23, 2013.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Movie Poster

TMNT. The last great fad to come out of the 1980s, and I fell for it, hook, line, and sinker. Granted, by the time it came along, I was in junior high, and that's the time when one is expected to start ditching such childish things. But not me. I devoured the cartoon and the comic books, and I was as involved with it as I could be. And then, when the movie came along, I was there. Begged my parents to take me opening weekend. I think they took me the second weekend. And I loved it so.

I remember, when I first watched the movie, I was taken at how...different it was from the cartoon. And now that I'm grown-up, and have done more research into the world of TMNT, I realized that while it was different from the cartoon, it was a lot more faithful to the original Eastman and Laird comics. Why was Casey Jones in the film when he's hardly in the cartoon? He's actually a major player in the Eastman and Laird comics. The whole midsection where the Foot burns down April's antique shop so the Turtles, April, and Casey hide out at April's old abandoned farmhouse? A storyline straight from the original Eastman and Laird comics. Hell, April owning an antique shop...out of the comics.

However, they did make a few changes to acknowledge the cartoons, such as making April a TV news reporter. (In the original Eastman and Laird comics, she's actually a research scientist and lab assistant to another Turtles enemy, Baxter Stockman.) And the Turtles personalities. In the original Eastman and Laird comics, the Turtles are grim avengers, meant to lampoon the grim and gritty comics of Frank Miller. The Turtles here, though, are given the jokey, kid-friendly personalities that they have in the cartoons.

Except for Raphael. While it was greatly toned down in the cartoon, the movie stays faithful to Raphael's defining characteristic being the angry rageaholic.

Speaking of gritty, that's one thing that struck me, watching it again tonight. It's got that real "low budget/made in the 1980s" grit and grime to it. See the first Terminator or RoboCop for similar examples. This film looks and feels dark and gritty. It...actually kind of works.

But after all these years, now, I can see how the characters are somewhat...simplistic. The Turtles themselves seem to be nothing but wisecrack delivery systems. We really don't get to know April or Casey as characters. They bicker in a "meet/cute" kind of way that it's no surprise when they hook up.

After all these years, though, the true stars are still the animatronic suits that bring the Turtles and Splinter to life. Done by Jim Henson's Creature Shop. They were the last animatronic creations that Jim Henson himself had a hand in building before his death in the spring of 1990. After all these years, they still amaze me. I mean, at this point in history, these were the same guys who did the Dark Crystal and Labyrinth, and the animatronic Splinter would be right at home in those films.

I'll never forget the review of Marc Horton, who was the Edmonton Journal's film critic back in the day. He likened the film to Star Wars, with Splinter as Yoda, the Turtles as Luke, Casey as Han Solo, April as Princess Leia, and Shredder as Darth Vader. Hell, with Shredder's deep, booming voice and Splinter appearing as a spirit halfway through the film.  As I watched the film over and over again, looking for the similarities that Horton pointed out in his review, it was my first exposure to the concept of a formula. 

I have this on VHS, and I held off on buying it on DVD for the longest time. This is one of those films where I hope and pray that some day they'll do a super-special edition with behind-the-scenes stuff on making the animatronics, a running commentary with the director, and all kinds of good stuff like that. However, when I saw the box set of the entire live-action trilogy on Blu-Ray in a discount bin for $15, I knew I had to get it.

But I was all over this movie when it came out. The music. I played that soundtrack over and over and over again. Watching the film tonight, I was still able to recite Splinter's speeches by heart, because they were on the soundtrack. Plus, got to love the cinematic Ninja Turtles theme.

But yeah.  What a fun, heaping piece of nostalgia tonight.

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