Saturday, November 26, 2016

On Rewatching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles I and II (1990, 1992)

What I said about G.I. Joe recently applies to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as well, even though I recall watching more of the series (the time slot was more convenient, among things), and having become more fond of it: my memories were faint and few, little more than what we know from the theme song of the original cartoon (perhaps the only piece of writing by Chuck Lorre for which I can claim any real fondness), and the fact that Shredder (voiced by Will Smith's Uncle Phil!) added the word "cretin" to my budding vocabulary.

I didn't finish the original TMNT series. (Frankly, I doubt I saw anything after season three.) My interest more generally had lapsed enough that I only caught the third of the live-action films on a commercial channel years after its 1994 release. And I haven't given much thought to the franchise since--entirely missing the 2003 revival (an interesting article about which you can find here, by the way), and running across only a little of the current small-screen incarnation on Nickelodeon. I haven't bothered to see the 2007 animated film, or the Michael Bay cinematic revival.

Still, when Syfy Channel recently ran the first two films in the old trilogy, I left them on.

Two things about the films jumped right out at me.

One is that the turtle suits had a charm that the new CGI turtles (well, what I've seen of them in the commercials for the newer movies) simply don't have. I certainly don't regard myself as a CGI-basher (I've been more favorably disposed toward the technology's use from the Star Wars prequels forward than most), but Dial H for Houston's description of them as looking "like The Hulk’s hobo bastard children" strikes me as essentially on the mark.

More significantly I was struck by how little bombast there was in the films--either at the level of plot or spectacle. There was no question of the world or even the city really being at stake. (In the first film Shredder's manipulating disaffected youths into committing petty street crime; in the second, he doesn't even have that much of a plan to advance himself on the road to power.) And what can be said of the plot can be said of the action--the fight choreography clean and simple (clearly predating the Jackie Chan-style frenzies of punches, kicks and blocks that became standard for Hollywood in the mid-'90s), and the scale of the battles limited, no city blocks (or cities!) getting wrecked.

I suppose that watching it back at the time of release TMNT was less flashy than my ideal Turtles movie would have been--but seeing it more recently, after the more spectacular, over-the-top approach has become so commonplace and so shopworn, the difference was actually refreshing.

It helped, too, that the moviemakers didn't take any of it too seriously, especially when making the lighter, funnier second film. (Everyone who has seen the climactic fight scene at the waterfront nightclub where a certain rapper was performing a certain song knows exactly what I mean.)

Of G.I. Joe and James Bond
Reconsidering Fantastic Four (2005)
My Posts on Superhero Movies
Just Out: After the New Wave: Science Fiction Today
Preview Cyberpunk, Steampunk and Wizardry
My Posts on Star Wars

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