[pullquote cite=”” type=”left, right”][amazon text=Amazon&template=carousel&chan=That Film Guy&asin=B0001K2LLU][/pullquote] With the imminent arrival of the Michael Bay-produced Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, it seems like an opportune time to look back to 1990 and the original live-action film starring the heroes in a half shell. Turtlemania had taken over North America and most of the world, and the four turtles, each named after a famous renaissance artist had become a globally recognised team. Originally created for a comic book in 1984, they were quickly marketed as a toy range and latterly got a number of animated series’ and spin-offs.
Loosely based on the origin story of the comic books rather than the 1987 animated series, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles sees an army of ninjas, known as The Foot, terrorizing New York City under the leadership of The Shredder (James Saito). This plot is uncovered by reporter April O’Neil (Judith Hoag), who is threatened with violence, but saved by a team of heroic mutant turtles. Leonardo (Brian Tochi), Donatello (Corey Feldman), Raphael (John Pais) and Michelangelo (Robbie Rist) are the result of a science experiment, but escape and live in the sewers under the tutelage of mutant rat Splinter (Kevin Clash). Together April, the turtles and a vigilante called Casey Jones (Elias Koteas) take the fight to The Shredder and The Foot before they can complete their dastardly scheme.
Directed by Steve Barron, best known for working on the ground-breaking Michael Jackson’s Thriller music video, and perhaps less known for also directing Coneheads, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was released at the height of the amphibian franchises popularity. It took over $200m at the box office globally, making it at the time the 2nd highest-grossing independent film of all time.
What’s even more surprising is how entertanining it actually is. This isn’t to say it’s great, but the dark, gritty feel and paint-by-numbers plot at least present a coherent narrative. The acting on the most part is fine, with the voice actors properly addressing the two-dimensional characteristics of the turtles nicely and the action, while a touch on the violent side for children serves its purpose. The bold decision to choose a live-action rather than animated format in the days before modern CGI is bold. But the Jim Henson-created suits add a strange level of truth that even the best computer graphics still can’t recreate.
Talking like the most clichÃ©d ˜surf dudes’ from the late 80s, the Turtles are a fun bunch of characters to spend time with, especially as they occasionally break into martial arts fisticuffs, and in Leonardo and Raphael they even manage a little bit of internal politics and conflict. Although this is still a film aimed at kids, so the resolution is as plain to see as the pepperoni on their pizzas.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, should be rights have been an awful, shamless cash-in and in many ways it still is. But it’s also a mindless, fun way to spend an hour and a half.