Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Wednesday Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is the first of three pretty awesome movies from the early 90s (third one could have been better). As you will know, CGI effects were non-existent at that time so the turtles were actually guys in rubber suits, with Splinter being a Jim Henson puppet. I personally think that those costumes are way better than the CGI stuff nowadays, but maybe I’m just a fan of the old school look. The film is a lot darker than the TV series that was such a hit it that it led to the creation of the movie franchise, and in every way, that makes it better.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles title card.

Review after the break.

Judith Hoag as April O'Neil
The film starts off with various establishing shots of New York City and a woman (later revealed to be April O’Neil [Judith Hoag]) explaining the crime wave that has spread throughout the city and how no one has even seen the perpetrators. Then we see a person steal a man’s wallet and he passes it off to another person, and so on, never revealing a face until the last person. This is a visual narration to accompany the audio explaining no one has seen a face. I think it’s very clever.

“Who we gonna call?” ... Ghostbusters???

I enjoy the fact that in the opening shot of April leaving the studio she’s wearing a yellow coat, a reference to the yellow outfit she always wears in the cartoon? Me thinkith, yes.
Raph's sai breaks a light.

April’s first encounter with the turtles is in an alleyway when April walks in on people stealing from her van. We are shown a sai hitting a light, then blackness until the police show up to find all the criminals tied up. We see Raphael watching the scene from a sewer as April takes the sai he threw at the light. So begins Raph’s brooding throughout the movie.

The establishing shots used in the film are fantastic. You’re really able to get a feel for where the characters are and what it’s like there.

The turtles listen to Splinter's advice
The turtles return home in excitement to explain to their master Splinter that they have fought their first battle and won. Of course Splinter, being old and wise tells them that their secrecy is of the utmost importance. For humans would not understand what life is like for them. Raph is angry that he has lost a sai but Splinter calmly says that it is lost. Raph’s anger is something that continuously comes up throughout the course of the movies, often leading them into trouble.

Splinter’s voice is heard before he is seen. This is good to surprise the audience with the fact that four mutant turtles have a rat for a master. It’s not something one would expect.

We’re shown the carefree teenage side of the turtles when Splinter asks them to meditate and they begin playing “Tequila” by Chuck Rio, only replacing the word “Tequila” with the word “Ninjitsu”.

Trench coat wearing Raph
Raph dawns a trench coat and hat and heads out to see a movie. Gotta love that look.

“Wise men say forgiveness is divine, but never pay full price for a late pizza.”

Wayne Gretzky on steroids?
On his way home from the movie, Raph encounters Casey Jones (Elias Koteas) after stopping a purse snatching. The two bash heads both in personality and in a fight.

“DAAAAAMMMMNNNN!!!!!!” – Raph’s quote of the movie.

The different ways they use lighting in the sewers is pretty cool. Candlelight, natural light through the sewer grates, lights from lamps, not much of it is lit with lighting kits. It gives the film a more realistic feel to it.

Remember that criminal from the start of the movie? The one we saw the face of? Turns out he’s April’s boss’s son. Important? I think so.

Our first look at Shredder is pretty intimidating. We’re shown a shadowy figure watching several televisions, each one with the same interview with April O’Neil, where she asks about a clan known as “The Foot”. Shredder throws a dagger at the TV and orders his men to silence her. If that’s not dark, I don’t know what is.

It’s a good thing Raph wanted his sai back. If he wasn’t following April he wouldn’t have been able to save her from The Foot. Then again, they never would have followed him to his home and captured Splinter. You win some you lose some.
The Foot

The shaky cam of Raph running in to save April is one of the few instances I think the shaky cam works. It’s like he explodes with rage. There’s a better scene similar to that later on.

When Splinter tells the origin story of himself and the turtles to April the lighting looks amazing. Everything except the characters is entirely black, and even then the characters are shrouded in darkness themselves, only parts of them can be seen. The same lighting effect is used again when he tells the story of his Master Yoshi and Oroko Saki to Danny.

Raph's uncontrollable rage.
My favourite scene of the entire movie is when the turtles return home from April’s and find that Splinter is gone. Raph pushes his way into the room and the camera spins around him, shaking, and then it spins faster and shakes more vigorously and Raph lets out a bellow of rage. I love that scene because it’s like Raph’s rage is so uncontrollable it bursts out of him in a shockwave so powerful that people up on the street can feel it.

Danny has father issues which lead him to fully abandoning his father and joining The Foot, his new “family”. Of course, this leads to him telling the Shredder where the turtles are, destroying April’s home, and almost killing Raph, but hey, he meets the captured Splinter and has spiritual conversations with him. Once again, you win some you lose some.

The turtles enjoy a nice game of Trivial Pursuit.
I’m sorry, but there’s a kid smoking a cigar. Is that allowed? Like, I mean, are you allowed to put that in a movie for kids to watch? Won’t that give them the wrong idea? Maybe I was just raised a certain way, but that seems like a bad idea.

Until Leo ruins the game.
“I am your father!” Shredder totally just stole a line from Darth Vader.

Raph’s conflict with Leonardo is something that continues throughout the films as well. They fight over what to do, Raph wanting to take action while Leo wanting to wait and figure it out. The fact that Leo is their leader is mentioned by Raph in their first fight of the film. Apparently he isn’t their leader, but just acts as one, which pisses off Raph.

And somehow Casey is able to spot Raph from several rooftops away ... in New York ... super sight? Why not, he’s pretty cool.

“All fathers care for their sons.”
Nice hat Donnie.

One error I noticed continuity wise, how did Raph get his sais back? While fighting The Foot on April’s roof, we are shown a Foot soldier throwing them over the side of the building. When the turtles are training on April’s farm, he has his sais back. When did anyone have time to grab them?

Casey Jones cuts carrots with a katana.
I enjoy the fact that Casey cuts carrots with Leo’s katana.

Splinter visits the turtles in a spiritual form telling them they have discovered the true meaning of being a ninja. His parting words seem like words that say he has died and they never shall see him again. The scene should be heartfelt and touching, but the tone of the rest of the film does not put me into that mood. Maybe it’s just me, or maybe it’s because I’ve seen the movie so many times I can quote scenes. Anyway, this scene sparks the turtle’s decision to go back to New York to stop The Foot and save Splinter.
The spirit of Splinter contacts the tutles.

Inverse Ninja Law
While fighting the Shredder, the turtles practice the one-at-a-time attack rule. A rule in films that states that no matter how many bad guys are fighting the good guy, they only take turns to fight him, never ganging up on the person. Of course in this case it would be the reverse one-at-a-time attack rule, since there is one bad guy and four good guys. In the same vein, the film is full of the Inverse Ninja Law, where a small group of hero ninjas can easily defeat waves of incompetent enemy ninjas only to have difficulty fighting a stronger lone ninja (in this case, Shredder).

East Warehouse at Lairdman Island?! I didn’t know New York had a warehouse and an island named after the creators of the Ninja Turtles Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is an awesome movie based on an awesome concept. Mutants and Ninjas and pizza all rolled up into one?! What kid doesn’t want to see that?! The film had some cool fight sequences, the lighting was particularly good, the costumes are awesome (that may just be a personal preference though), the plot is solid with few plot holes, and the film gives off an overall dark feel while still having light-hearted humour. The downside is the lack of emotions that the turtle costumes can express and the limited movements that can be done with the costumes. It’s a great family film to watch, and one that you want to go back and watch again and again.

8.5 out of 10. Cowabunga dudes!


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