Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie Reviews
The plot is an origins plot obviously, telling the story of how the Turtles come to meet 'April' and 'Casey', how they came into existence and their first battle with 'Shredder' and his Foot Clan. What is good about this film is the fact they incorporated elements from both the original comic book and the popular cartoon. At the same time the film was also quite dark in places and with a lot so called bad influential material such as kids being taught the ways of crime, stealing, lying, general delinquency and of course weapon based fighting. But really parents! what did you expect?.
The classic of course being the UK having a heavily cut version of the film to avoid the showing nunchaku violence, the fact the entire franchise was renamed 'Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles' and they cut the finale scene with Shredder. Germany also included cartoon sound effects to lessen the impact of the fighting, pfft! these Euro countries huh.
Myself I enjoyed this film back in the day and I still do today. I loved how the film is dark and gloomy in places, its still highly childish and dumb naturally but the essence is quite a fine line. The sequence where 'Raph' loses it after 'Splinter' is taken is actually quite scary for kids I think, a very dark moment. In fact most scenes with Raph are quite edgy really, for a kids film, I always wanted him to swear haha. The fight sequences are pretty neat and do show the actors performing some decent moves in the suits...something you don't really expect seeing how bulky they look. Of course you never see anything nasty, its all quite tame and more in line with the cartoon but its still fun.
This made possible in my opinion by a few factors. Firstly the entire film has a darkish gritty look about it, the picture quality isn't polished and shiny like some big franchises, this could be down to the fact the film was an independent film. I don't think this was intended, its just one of those happy/lucky mistakes, although the lighting is dim throughout. Secondly the Turtle suits are very good and very different from the later more kiddie friendly suits. The colour scheme is darker, the eyes are smaller, in general the faces/masks just looks slightly meaner. The later suits were brighter and with much bigger eyes (Disney eyes).
Thirdly the weapons all looked pretty realistic too, if you get a look at them, they don't look like rubber n plastic, they look surprisingly good. As mentioned the actors all move nicely within the suits too, no restrictions it seems. Fourthly I think the main villain is played brilliantly by Saito. He goes at it for real, not a hint of ham or hokeyness, he plays Shredder as if he were a real crime lord and a complete bastard. True he doesn't actually do anything accept growl all the time...'TURTLES!!!', but its the way he does it, the dude owned this role. Oh and his outfit looked sweet too, you'd think it would look cheesy but it fudging rocks!.
lastly I give kudos to the voice actors who really brought the characters to life. Never really liked the voice for Raph gotta be honest, he sounds like he's slow or something. The other three are great, really got into the Turtles vibe and made you believe, especially liked Corey Feldman contribution for 'Donatello', the guy was born to be that characters voice. In fact the whole cast does well in this film in all honesty, everyone plays it for real (to a degree) and thusly the film doesn't come across like a dumb kids film. Koteas goes a bit far in places, clearly enjoying himself, but its fun to watch him.
Its hard to say but this film is a bit of a classic now, a cult classic. The first and easily the best Turtles film but also a film that played out well for adults too, a film with giant rubber ninja turtle suits!. It helps that Jim Henson was the creative team behind the suits. The film ends on a bit of a damp spot in all fairness, anti climax really, but that doesn't hinder the overall experience. Hell even the rap song in the end credits was massive!, Turtle power baby!.
The Turtles have always had underlying themes of family and brotherhood. Possessing excellent martial arts skills, they fight only in self defense and to help those who can't fight for themselves. Beyond that, the Turtles are very much like kids, having much to learn about life and looking up to a mentor and role model in their Master, Splinter. I think the whole idea lends itself well to kids because there is so much that they can relate to, especially if they come from broken or single family homes. This film really confronts this kind of subject matter by showing a lot of homeless runaway teens, some no more than 8 years old, finding solace in the wrong place due to a lack of guidance and parents but nevertheless being tempted by the notion of belonging to a family. Even among the comedy, silly Turtle antics, and Elias Koteas' amazing performance as Casey Jones, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has a lot of heart.
It bugs me that so many parents were outraged by the dark tone of this film. Its story allows kids to escape from reality while confronting some of the harsher aspects of it. I would have loved to see more films like this one rather than Turtles in Time or Vanilla Ice's Ninja Rap.
It also wasn't until later that I knew that Corey Feldman voiced Donatello, and that the lead punk (the one who offers cigarettes, confronts Casey, Splinter, and Danny at the warehouse, and talks to the cops at the end) was played by Sam Rockwell. I like Judith Hoag, but I like Paige Turco better as April. If only Turco was in this one. Hoag nonetheless does a good job though. Koteas is great as Casey Jones, but it's a shame his character got softened up as the series went on.
Even though this is a comic and cartoon adaptation geared towards kids, it still shows some balls, and does a great job of creating atmosphere and building tension. If you suspend disbelief about the Turtles and Splinter being unrealistic, the rest of this movie actually feels pretty plausible. Shredder makes for a dark and convincing crime lord type figure, ninjas make for great menacing thieves, and the idea of using troubled kids as recruits works well in a social problems/urban issues context. Yes, that's right, there is a bit of substance in this film, and a major theme/motif is family, and the powerful bond of it. Of course this is not preachy, and it is given a back seat to turtle action, but it does mean that the film is trying for something greater, even if it is downplayed and not handled in the way an uberserious auteur would. I also like that this is a more serious film, but that there's still some humor, and it is balanced pretty nicely with the more serious stuff.
Damn I love this movie. It makes me really nostalgic for the early 90s, and, should a live action reboot ever happen (if done right, it should), I think this is the film that used be used as the main model/template. If it is to be done, make it live action, use puppets and animatronics (not CG), make it dark, make it hard edged (but still retain the humor), and for the love of God, make the turtles actually seem real and plausible, and not cartoony. That's the thing here: you actually feel like what happens, could happen.
The movie still holds up today when you watch it.