Thursday, September 8, 2011

"Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" a children's classic that transcends the genre

BASIC INFO:
TITLE: "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles"
YEAR OF RELEASE: 1990
DIRECTOR: Steve Barron
STARS: Elias Koteas, Judith Hoag
EDITOR: William D. Gordean, Sally Menke, James R. Symons
AWARDS: Best Fantasy Film (Nomination, Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Films, USA)
BOX OFFICE: $135,270,000 (USA)
RUN TIME: 93 min.
RATING: PG
VIEWING FORMAT: DVD

SUMMARY:
When the NYC police department cannot control a crime wave throughout the city, four mutant turtles come to rescue, with the aid of their human friends, Apirl O'Neil and Casey Jones. The turtles come to throws with the formidable enemy, The Shredder, who's past haunts not only himself, but Splinter, the turtles' guardian as well.

WHY THIS IS THE FILM OF THE WEEK:
"Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" was an incredible commercial success, becoming the highest grossing independent film in history at the time of release. The success of this film, the comics it was based on, and the continued success of the animated TV show, led to three more sequels.

Critics were not as happy with this film as the audiences though. Roger Ebert gave the film 2.5 stars out of 4 (one of the higher critical rankings) admitting that the films was as good as anyone could expect, but was still not worth much to non-fans.

What many fans loved about the film, besides the fact that it not only was true to the source material in content and tone, but that it also incorporated elements of the popular animated series, were the creature effects. Jim Henson's creature shop created the costumes. Each turtle incorporated an actor in the suit, someone to control the facial movements, and a voice-over actor to provide the voice (with Corey Feldman famously providing Donatello's). Henson himself said these were the most advanced creature's he'd ever worked with. It took 18 weeks to complete the costumes.

CRITIQUE:
This film may not be considered a "classic" in the traditional sense, but this writer is confident that any child of the 90's would attest to its staying power. Three things stick out when confirming this as a classic: good characterization, great humor, and a lasting fan-base.

The creatures, four turtles and Splinter, are all loved by the audience, even those who go in knowing nothing about their history. A short origin story shows that these mutant animals have come from a humble place, and merely want to do what's right with the power they have been given. Raphael in particular is given much screen time as the angsty teenager of the bunch. The film doesn't rush into action after his anger puts him into a near death experience. Instead, it focuses on his brothers' reactions to his pain and suffering. This is rare in children's films, and even rarer in comic book action fare.

The film is consistently funny. Slapstick is present for kids, but adults have plenty of humorous dialog to listen to throughout. The humor fits, as the main characters are teenagers, it makes perfect sense to have them continually cracking jokes.

The fan base has lasted. The sequels performed well, for the most part, and the legacy of the Ninja Turtles has lasted through numerous TV shows, cast changes, and decades. Kids continue to watch, and adults stay true to their fandom (the popular youtube channel, Reckless Tortuga, even took its name from this franchise).

All in all, this film won't change anyone's life, but it is well worth an hour and a half of their time. This writer grew up with this film, and is therefore biased. Its dark tone, consistent humor, and incredible effects have all aged well, and inspired numerous films since (does anyone really think Christopher Nolan began the "dark comic book film?"). If you've missed this one, find it soon, and grab a bowl of popcorn, it's going to be a fun ride.

MY IMDb RATING:  9 out of 10


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