Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)

I grew up with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon show; yes I’m one of those dudes who can sing the opening credits song by heart. The cartoon show was silly to the max, but my preteen heart loved it. I think we all love silly things when we are kids and the turtles cartoon show was one of the many silly things I loved. Later, I discovered the original Turtle comics done by Eastman and Laird, the original turtle creators. Now those were cool comics! Action packed sci-fi fantasy with awesome artwork, in these comics, which were the seed of what we now know as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, we were presented with a decidedly less silly (though no less fun) version of the turtles. The turtles in these Eastman and Lair comics were the true turtles. Sometimes I wish the movies would embrace that sci-fi fantasy side of the comic book a little more, but alas, the films still haven’t gotten entirely there yet. In those comics the turtles would travel to other dimensions, drive flying cars, you name it. Eastman and Lairs comics where really out there. 

I remember back in 1990, when they announced that a live action turtles film would start production, the first question that popped in my head was how they hell are they going to pull that off? The idea of talking mutant turtles seemed impossible to translate to live action in my mind. Remember, this was way back in 1990 when movies had little to no computer animation, so my doubts were valid. But surely enough they pulled it off. I remember that first time I saw the turtles on the cover of Comic Scene magazine…I was flabbergasted! They actually pulled it off! They brought the turtles to freaking life! Jim Henson and his creature shop worked their magic, and suddenly there before me, on the cover of this magazine were the four turtles, looking more alive than life itself. It was magic. And that first film still holds a magic to it for me. It’s a simple film, it only cost 10 million to make (can you believe it?) and it had this charm to it. The turtles had charisma, they had personalities. They felt real, tangible. They were there. How do these new Turtles compare to the old ones?

Well, for starters, these new turtles are entirely computer generated images, so not an ounce of what you see on screen is real, which sucks for me because to be honest, what I liked about the originals was that they looked “real”. But whatever, there’s no stopping computer generated images, they’ve completely taken over films, so I’m not gonna fight it anymore. The way they are making movies now is entire sequences are computer generated, and this new TMNT movie is the best example of that, there’s entire sequences that are computer generated! I mean, literally, entire scenes that go on and on and on without a single tangible thing on screen, it’s crazy. It doesn’t stop shocking me how much this happens in todays cinema. In my opinion computer generated images are taking away something from the art of filmmaking which used to be all about shooting something with a freaking camera. Now a huge chunk of a film is never filmed, which is a contradiction if you ask me! But when it’s well made it works, and on this film for the most part the computer animation is pretty spot on and good. So once you get past the idea that you’re not seeing actors playing the turtles, but instead computer generated images, well, I kinda got used to it. My main preoccupation was that they wouldn’t be able to transmit the turtle’s personalities and that we’d end up with a bunch of generic characters ala the Transformers films. Well, I’m happy to inform they did. Still, I felt I got more personality from the portrayal of the characters in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990).

I guess the big difference between the 90’s film and this one is the budget. The filmmakers behind this new turtle’s film had many more millions at their disposal, and it shows. By comparison, the first film is a small film, yet what made the 90’s film work so well was the chemistry between the turtles themselves and the story, which was about brotherly love, respect…the first film wins in this respect. It has more warmth, more depth, more character. This new one is all about the action and the effects, sure we get some back story, but it’s missing the heart. It failed to connect with me in that way that the first one did. I mean, how about that scene in the original in which the four brothers are mourning Splinter and suddenly his spirit appears in front of them in the camp fire? The four turtles cry and laugh together knowing their master is alive…it’s such an awesome scene with so much heart. Where is the equivalent of that on this new film? There is one scene where the turtles are about to die and Raphael goes on an emotional burst and tells his turtle brothers how much he’s always loved them, but that’s about it. We needed more heart on this new film. And for that, you need a script that goes for the heart, so I guess we could blame the script for not having that warmth that the first film had in spades. It’s why you end up liking the turtles, because they love each other in spite of their differences.    

There’s a scene on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) in which the turtles are all in an elevator and suddenly begin to make music with their ninja weapons which was pretty cool; it reminded me of the silliness you’d find in the old Turtle movies, and in my opinion this new one needed more of that as well, it needed that goofing around from the old movies. In the old movies it seemed like the turtles never stopped goofing around, on this new one the goofiness is slightly muted. Something else I didn’t really like about the new one is the look of the foot clan. On the comics and the cartoons, the foot clan always looked like ninjas…on this new movie they simply look like soldiers with machine guns? Where’s the freaking ninjas? Ninjas were an essential part of the Turtles formula! Hello we’re talking about NINJA turtles? Why take away their ninja enemies? That was a big drawback in my opinion. Instead we get  soldiers with these weird masks…this was not the foot clan I grew up with; shame on whoever made that terrible choice. I wanted ninjas in purple and black suits, but alas, somebody decided to give them an upgrade and we get these crappy looking soldiers. Ugh. And where the hell is Casey Jones? I want my Casey Jones! He was an essential part of the Turtles! They better include him in the inevitable sequel or I’m calling the geek police.

In terms of story, I did like a few things, but despised others. For example, I thought it was very cool how they managed to mix April O’Neil into the turtles past. That was a golden move, now she’s not just a curious reporter; she was actually involved in the birth of the turtles and in their ultimate salvation. In the old ones she was just this nosy reporter who befriended the turtles. So that was cool. There’s these flashback sequences that were extremely similar to the flash black sequence in the 90’s film, where we see just how the turtles grew into who they are now, we get to see how Splinter helps them grow and become ninjas, teaching them the ways of Kung Fu. Unfortunately the whole plot about the big bad corporation trying to contaminate the city with a contagious toxin, just so they could sell them the antivirus and make gazillions felt old hat and warn; all too similar to the plot for The Amazing Spiderman (2012). Actually it’s almost exactly the same exact plot device! Even the whole ending of the film takes place on a rooftop trying to stop the virus from spreading, just like in The Amazing Spiderman (2012), hell,  on both films everything ends with a huge antenna falling down towards an unsuspecting crowd of New Yorkers! So don’t expect much in the way of originality because if you’ve seen the Amazing Spiderman, then you’ll feel like déjà vu with this new Turtles film in terms of story.

But overall, it’s an entertaining film. It’s got action, it’s got comedy, Splinter is a bit more kick ass and stern then the mellow guru one from the other films. Shredder is this giant cyber samurai…but I felt they didn’t flesh out Shredder enough. Again we fall into the classic modern filmmaking technique of not giving us a memorable villain. Sure he looks cool with all those blades and the shiny metal suit, but where’s the fire? Where’s the insanity? Nowhere to be seen, instead, Shredder feels more like a tool on this one, again, like in so many modern films (like for example the new Robocop) they take away the mad villain and replace him with a villainous corporate suit; which is so blah, so less fun. So, final words this is a satisfying Turtles film, I just wished more of it had actually been filmed. I prefer the puppet wizardry from the originals; I’m old school that way I guess. Still, it’s not a bad turtles movie, it entertains and it has exciting action sequences. It just needed a few things: the real foot clan ninjas, Casey Jones and some tangibility to it. 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) Rating: 3 out of 5
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990) Rating: 4 out of 5


Iron Criterion said...

Great review. It was a decent movie, just a bit more meh we compared to the original. I think nostalgia plays a large part in that, though.

I especially agreed with your comments on giving up fighting the relentless progression of CGI.

robotGEEK said...

I'm soooo glad you touched up on how a good chunk of films these days are using CGI entirely, where "nothing" is actually shot. It bothers me to no end. I keep thinking "If they're going to do that why not just make a fucking entire CGI movie then?". Why bother trying to make a live action film then?

Great review man. I'm in no hurry to see this. I love the original, and I don't want this film to sour that for me. Maybe when it finally hits DVD, but not anytime soon.

Franco Macabro said...

Iron Criterion: Yeah, it's true, nostalgia wins the day for me, but at the same time, it's true what I mentioned about the original having way more heart and warmth to it, and the turtles are more alive...simply because they are actually there, on set. They are actors playing the ninjas..they are physical entities filmed by the camera as opposed to an animated computer image.

RobotGeek: yeah, it's crazy man! I mean, why dont they just make the whole damn thing animated? I'll tell you why...monsters and creatures lend themselves to animation...but it's a whole lot more difficult replicating a human through's something they haven't mastered yet no matter how hard they try. They use CGI doubles, because usually you see them from far away, but on a close up, no matter how hard they try....CGI cannot make a convincingly realistic human.

Yeah, it was a fun ride, Id wait for it on dvd. Kids are devouring this one though...I smell a huge franchise...I'm thinking these films will be around for a while. I only hope they get better...I'm sure at some point we'll see Casey JOnes and the real foot clan on future films.

Thanks for stopping by!

robotGEEK said...

Francisco, what did you think of Liebesman as the director? I personally love his style, which is surprising since I'm not a fan of shaky-cam at all. But I feel he utilizes it well and was excited to hear he would be helming this film. Though from what I hear, he leaned more towards the Michael Bay school of filmmaking this time around, which is to say lots of close-up action and you can't tell what the hell is going on. True??

Also, exactly a year later, I finally tackled Johnny Mnemonic based on your recommendation. Here's my take on it:

Franco Macabro said...

Well, to be honest, Liebesman as a director doesn't have a "style" that I'd call distinctive, I can't tell his films apart from other directors save for maybe the extensive use of CGI which he does a lot of on this one.

The CGI is good, I personally did understand what was going on onscreen just fine...didn't have a problem with it like I did with the Transformer movies.

I was just checking out your Johnny Mnemonic review, funny you should mention it! I'll comment on it later...cause I gotta go take a class now, but glad you caught up with it, I'll comment on it over at your blog.

Occo said...

Hollywood films nowadays tend to have budget less than 1M or more than 100M. It seems that films like the old TMNT are sort of rarity nowadays (not to mention the FX)...

Franco Macabro said...

Occo: Low budget films are still made, they are usually comedies...or shaky cam horror films like The Last Exorcism.


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