Judge Dan Mancini is gonna rock 'n roll this place with the power of the ninja turtle bass.
Our reviews of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Volume 3 (published February 1st, 2006), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Volume 4 (published May 31st, 2006), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Season 6 (published April 9th, 2008), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Season 9 (published August 21st, 2011), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret Of The Ooze (published September 20th, 2002), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: 25th Anniversary Collector's Edition (published August 14th, 2009), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Enter Shredder (published July 13th, 2013), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Rise of the Turtles (published March 23rd, 2013), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Complete Classic Series (published November 26th, 2012), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Ultimate Showdown (published October 19th, 2013), TMNT (published August 13th, 2007), TMNT (Blu-ray) (published August 30th, 2007), and TMNT (HD DVD) (published August 16th, 2007) are also available.
Four turtles…four brothers: Genetically reborn in the sewers of New York, named after the great Renaissance masters, and trained as ninjas.
Around the time most of America was sitting around in stonewashed jeans and bobbing their rat-tailed mullets to the new-fangled "rap" of Run-DMC, writer Kevin Eastman and artist Peter Laird created an independent comic book called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. A parody of superhero comics, the book's quartet of shelled vigilantes were destined to occupy a place in the '80s pop culture stratosphere alongside other gaudy, prefab consumerist excesses like the Rubik's Cube, Smurfs, parachute pants, Pac Man, and Michael Jackson. The little comic book was so popular that it spawned a 1987 animated television series that aired for 10 seasons, the trio of live-action movies under review here, and all manner of merchandised goodies from toys to T-shirts. It was also responsible for making "Cowabunga!" the third most grating catch-phrase of the '80s ("Eat my shorts!" and "Where's the beef?" are numbers two and one, respectively).
In celebration of the 25th anniversary of the publication of Eastman and Laird's comic book, New Line brings us a nifty Blu-ray box set of four Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles flicks. The set's four discs come housed in a fun (though slightly irritating) imitation pizza box complete with faux grease stains on the bottom. Inside, the discs are stacked and secure in two plastic trays. They're accompanied by a mini comic book adaptation of the first movie, and eight postcards with photos of and information about the four turtles, their mentor Splinter, friends April O'Neil and Casey Jones, and enemy Shredder. There's also a reproduction of a sketch by Peter Laird of the turtles facing off against Shredder and his henchmen. Finally, there's a black knit beanie with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles logo on the front. It's a decent little commemorative package for a franchise that, let's face it, has lost most of its pop cultural cachet.
Facts of the Case
Mutated by toxic green ooze, a quartet of turtles grows to human size and human intelligence. They fall under the tutelage of Splinter, a mutated rat who learned ninjitsu by watching his human master. Splinter names the four turtles Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello, and Raphael, and trains them in the way of the ninja. Fifteen years later, their martial arts prowess honed, the four pizza-loving brothers fight crime from their hidden base in the sewers of Manhattan.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: 25th Anniversary Collector's Edition contains all three live-action turtle adventures from the early '90s, as well as the CG animated feature from 2007:
• Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
The turtles team with journalist April O'Neil (Judith Hoag, Big Love) and hockey player-cum-vigilante Casey Jones (Elias Koteas, Zodiac) to stop a massive crime wave instigated by their arch-enemy Shredder (James Saito, Eli Stone) and his Foot Clan army. Their mission becomes even more deadly when Shredder kidnaps Splinter.
• Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze
Shredder and the Foot Clan return with a plan to use the toxic ooze that created the turtles to assemble an army of mutated animals to, I don't know, destroy Manhattan or something. The turtles team with April (Paige Turco, Invincible), pizza delivery guy and martial arts expert Keno (Ernie Reyes Jr., Red Sonja), and scientist Professor Perry (David Warner, Time Bandits) to defeat Shredder (François Chau, Beverly Hills Ninja) and develop an antidote for the ooze.
When a magic scepter slingshots April (Turco) to 16th-century Japan (where everyone inexplicably speaks English), Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello, and Raphael leap back in time to rescue her. In Japan, the turtles square off against a slimy English arms dealer who wields dangerous influence over a powerful Japanese warlord. The four brothers find an unexpected ally in a British sailor with a striking resemblance to Casey Jones. Meanwhile, the real Jones (Koteas) is back in Manhattan, holding down the fort and contending with a group of samurai transported to the 20th century.
Following the events of the live-action trilogy, this CG animated feature finds turtles Donatello and Michelangelo out of the vigilante business, Raphael secretly fighting crime on the streets of New York as the costumed hero Nightwatcher, and Leonardo traveling the globe on a mission of self-discovery. After returning to New York, Leonardo must reunite the team and partner with Splinter (Mako, Conan the Barbarian), April O'Neil (Sarah Michelle Gellar, The Grudge), and Casey Jones (Chris Evans, Fantastic Four) to help a 3,000-year-old immortal warlord (Patrick Stewart, X-Men) send 13 monsters back to the dimension from which they came. Standing in their way is the warlord's generals, who want to assemble a supernatural army and conquer the world. The turtles find unlikely allies in the warrior-woman Karai (Zhang Ziyi, Memoirs of a Geisha) and Shredder's Foot Clan.
It would be easy to savage the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as terrible cinema (they are), but what's the point? They were designed to be long-form toy commercials aimed at preteens. That they're loaded with inconceivably bad dialogue, humorless humor, and nonsensical plots is beside the point. It's a movie series about talking turtles. Who are ninjas. And love pizza. And speak in surfer slang. You were expecting quality?
It's not saying much, but Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is easily the best entry in the original trilogy. Screenwriters Todd W. Langen (The Wonder Years) and Bobby Herbeck (Small Wonder) keep the pacing tight and deal with the turtles' origin through a concise use of flashbacks. Despite the nearly endless stream of lame gags and one-liners directed squarely at the under 13 crowd, the screenplay is structurally sound. Sure, you have to be ready to suspend disbelief, but I repeat: We're talking about a movie with talking turtles. Director Steve Barron (Choking Man) and cinematographer John Fenner (The Muppet Christmas Carol) keep most of the flick draped in shadows, which goes a long way in selling Jim Henson's Creature Shop's prosthetic, make-up, and puppet effects. The four turtles were played by actors/stunt men in suits, and their facial expressions were controlled remotely by puppeteers. Voices were supplied by Corey Feldman (The Lost Boys) as Donatello, Robby Rist (The Brady Bunch) as Michelangelo, Brian Tochi (Revenge of the Nerds) as Leonardo, and Josh Pais (Phone Booth) as Raphael. Splinter is a standard, hand-operated muppet. It's all a bit rickety even by 1990 standards, but Barron makes it work.
The down side of the movie's nocturnal setting is gobs of film grain and a color palette that is slightly muddy. The lackluster source results in a mediocre Blu-ray transfer. Grain is noticeable throughout the movie, and extremely coarse during flashbacks. Some detail is lost to black crush. In the few scenes where lighting is more natural, colors are accurate and detail is impressive, though there's never much depth to the image. There are also some noticeable digital artifacts throughout the movie, too. Still, this 1080p/VC-1 transfer is surely the best that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has ever looked on home video.
Audio is presented in a mild Dolby TrueHD mix that sounds almost identical to the standard Dolby 5.1 surround track that is set as the default option. There's also a stereo dub in French, and optional subtitles in French and Spanish, as well as English for the hearing impaired.
The only extras on the disc are a theatrical trailer and a sneak peek at Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Smash-Up for the Nintendo Wii.
Michael Pressman (Picket Fences) takes the directorial reigns for the 1991 sequel, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze. Everything in the movie is lighter, brighter, and lamer. Despite his martial arts skills, pizza delivery kid Keno is a sorry stand-in for Casey Jones (who wasn't all that compelling a character to begin with). The flick finds the turtles and Splinter living in April O'Neil's apartment. The many scenes set in daytime Manhattan are disastrous, revealing the turtle suits for the rubber monstrosities that they are. Worst of all, Splinter comes off as a very cheap, dead-eyed puppet that doesn't hold a candle to the puppetry seen in either The Empire Strikes Back or Return of the Jedi, made nearly a decade earlier. In fact, he's less lively and believable than the Muppets on Sesame Street. Where the first movie was childishly silly, The Secret of the Ooze is self-consciously silly in a way that annoys instead of amuses. From an opening sequence in which everyone on the streets of Manhattan is happily enjoying slices of pizza, it's clear that the movie is going to bask shamelessly in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as marketing behemoth. The shtick quickly grows tired.
With its more conventional lighting, The Secret of the Ooze comes off on Blu-ray better than its predecessor, though the image is still flat and lifeless. The 1080p/VC-1 transfer delivers accurate colors, an attractive grain structure, and about as much detail as the mediocre source allows.
As with the earlier movie, the default audio option is a serviceable Dolby 5.1 surround mix, with a Dolby TrueHD alternative that sounds nearly identical. Again we have a French dub (this time in Dolby stereo surround), and optional subtitles in French and Spanish, as well as English for the hearing-impaired.
The only extra is a trailer for the film.
Continuing the franchise's downward spiral, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: Turtles in Time is Howard the Duck bad (except without the creepy, inter-species love story). The time-hopping storyline is both gratuitously stupid and needlessly convoluted. A kids' flick about evil 16th century British arms dealers? Seriously? Turtles in Time is in desperate need of a memorably cartoonish villain like Shredder. Instead, it plays like a culturally illiterate homage to Kagemusha—or an awkwardly executed parody of Japanese period films. Either way, it's a poor excuse for a children's movie. Much of the flick takes place in daytime exteriors, exposing every seam on the prosthetic effects, which look cheaper and less expressive than in The Secret of the Ooze. Splinter still looks like a hand puppet, but this time a hand puppet operated by a kindergartner. On the plus side, Elias Koteas returns as Casey Jones. Too bad the script never quite figures out what to do with him.
Turtles in Time looks pretty solid on Blu-ray, displaying a depth and vibrancy of color absent in the previous pictures. Digital artifacts are few and far between. Once again, the transfer is 1080p/VC-1, framed at 1.85:1.
Audio options include indistinguishable Dolby 5.1 and Dolby TrueHD tracks, as well as a French dub in Dolby stereo surround. All three tracks are acceptable presentations of a limited source. Subtitle options are the same as on Discs One and Two.
A theatrical trailer is the only supplement.
After Turtles in Time, it would be 14 years before the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles made it back to the silver screen. TMNT is superior in every way to the live-action trilogy that preceded it. Though still aimed squarely at children, its martial arts action is epic and fast-paced in a way that the previous movies couldn't touch. Shots are artfully framed and beautifully lighted. Perhaps more important than the movie's energy and visual design, though, is its emphasis on character. In the live-action movies, the turtles tend to be indistinguishable from one another. They're each wise-cracking teens with essentially the same personality and slightly different voices. The conflict between Raphael and Leonardo invests TMNT with actual character conflict, even if that conflict is fairly clichéd. The movie has a surprisingly effective emotional core that drives the requisite ludicrous plot. Writer-director Kevin Munroe did a fine job of honoring both Eastman and Laird's comics and the live-action trilogy.
Fitting its more epic scale, TMNT is framed at 2.35:1 and delivered on Blu-ray in a 1080p/VC-1 transfer that, not surprisingly, blows away the other three films. Color, depth, and detail aren't the best I've seen from CG animation, but they're still close to spectacular. The Dolby TrueHD audio mix is also beefy and impressive, showing a marked improvement over the vanilla Dolby 5.1 surround alternative.
Extras for TMNT are identical to those that accompanied the 2007 stand-alone Blu-ray release. Kevin Munroe serves up a feature-length audio commentary. "TMNT Voice Talent First Look" (5:04) is an electronic press kit style behind-the-scenes featurette. "Mikey's Birthday Party Full Sequence" (3:16) is an extension of Michelangelo's introduction in the movie, fully animated and accompanied by a commentary by Munroe. "Raphael's Rough House Fight Test" (1:41) is a roughly animated test sequence featuring Raphael and Leonardo fighting. "Monsters Come Alive" (2:50) compares storyboards with final animation. "Donny's Digital Data Files" (1:57) is a technical animation test for the modeling and movements of the turtles. "Rooftop Workout" (5:35) offers a comparison between storyboards and rough gray scale animation of a sequence that was eventually cut from the film. "Still Wanna Fight? Temp/Scratch Test" (3:11) is a fully rendered deleted scene involving Casey and April.
In addition to the commentary and featurettes, the disc contains alternate opening and closing sequences for the film, as well as a deleted scene (rendered in gray scale) called "Splinter Gets Cake." There's also a trailer for the film.
All of the video featurettes and deleted scenes are presented in standard definition.
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise isn't fun for all ages, but today's preteens are as likely to enjoy it as preteens of the early '90s did. Adults who haven't seen the movies in a decade or so and are looking for a quick fix of nostalgia may be disappointment (if not flat-out horrified) by what they find. If you're inclined to sit down to roughly six hours of turtle adventures, these Blu-rays are the best way to do it.
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Scales of Justice, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Perp Profile, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Studio: New Line
Distinguishing Marks, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Scales of Justice, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret Of The Ooze
Perp Profile, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret Of The Ooze
Studio: New Line
Distinguishing Marks, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret Of The Ooze
Scales of Justice, Turtle Mutant Ninja Turtles III: Turtles In Time
Perp Profile, Turtle Mutant Ninja Turtles III: Turtles In Time
Studio: New Line
Distinguishing Marks, Turtle Mutant Ninja Turtles III: Turtles In Time
Scales of Justice, TMNT
Perp Profile, TMNT
Studio: New Line
Distinguishing Marks, TMNT
Review content copyright © 2009 Dan Mancini; Site design and review layout copyright © 2014 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.