23 May 2012

"Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie"

Among the handful of blogs I follow is The Frame. It's written by a fellow Flickcharter, Jandy. She has a sub-series called, "He Says, She Says" in which she and her husband Jonathan alternate introducing the other to a favorite movie. He previously selected Wayne's World, so he's very much my kinda guy. Anyway, today she posted about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie and it drew out of me such a comprehensive reply that, when I discovered I hadn't actually discussed it here, I decided my response was worthy of being its own post on my own blog. Go read their discussion first, though, and be sure to comment there, too. It's okay, I'll wait.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Starring Judith Hoag, Elias Koteas
Based on Characters Created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird
Story by Bobby Herbeck
Screenplay by Todd W. Langen and Bobby Herbeck
Directed by Steve Barron

I still recall very clearly my mom taking my brother and me to see this at the now-defunct Showcase Cinemas in Louisville when it opened. That was a big deal in itself, because we didn't go to see very many movies at that point in our lives, and when we did, it was almost always at the second run theaters. We got there, though, to discover it was actually sold out! The corridors were packed with kids in TMNT T-shirts and I can even recall someone being in a Turtle costume. Maybe it was something the theater arranged, maybe it was an overly zealous fan; I can't say. Mom bought tickets for the next showing and we screwed off for an hour or so before returning. I think we went to have dinner. We got mini-posters from that screening, and I had mine for quite a while. I can't now account for its fate, though.

What struck me most in the movie was how little it resembled the animated series with which I was acquainted. This story was much less slapstick-y and clearly wanted to exist in the "real" world. There were no inter-dimensional beings, for instance, and Donatello didn't have a ton of outrageous gadgets. There is a skateboard in the movie, but it's just a regular skateboard. When you're 10, these kinds of things constitute "realism." I also wondered why they didn't cast the voice actors from the cartoon for the movie, since their voices were familiar to the kids in the theater and it was obvious that the actors in the suits weren't providing their own voices.

Somewhere along the line, though, I got past my milieu prejudices and was able to acclimate to the movie for what it was. By the time we left the theater, I had happily accepted it. I bought the soundtrack on cassette, which was awesome because it included Partners in Kryme's "T-U-R-T-L-E Power" from the end credits as well as an M.C. Hammer song not found on any of his own albums ("This Is What We Do"). When I recently made a Hammer playlist, that song had to go on it. I was given the movie on VHS for either my birthday or Christmas that year (having a December birthday, I can't always recall which occasion) at both my mom's and my dad's, meaning wherever I was on any given weekend, I had access to it. I couldn't guess how many times I watched it on tape.

Years later, a friend of mine and I would often ride around in her car singing along with "T-U-R-T-L-E Power." That occasioned one of my numerous misheard lyrics discussions. I could have sworn the line is, "Step on the Foot, now they're going into retraction." (Why that made sense, I can't say.) It is, in fact, "Step on the Foot, now they're gonna lose traction."

We spent a lot of Sundays with mom at malls, because they involved a lot of walking and window shopping - a cheap way to kill a day. We were almost always given a few bucks to spend at the ubiquitous dollar stores, and one day I found the First Comics collected edition of the first four issues of the original Eastman & Laird Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic book. For a dollar, hell yeah I bought it! Very quickly, I understood that this was what the movie was based on, and it all made much more sense to me why they had made no effort to resemble the animated series. That changed with the sequels, which were much more in the vain of silliness of the TV version and after reading the first four comics I began to resent the things that weren't properly adapted.

Later, I happily bought the movie on DVD and it was the first time I watched a movie with the dubbed foreign language track. Seriously, you haven't lived until you've watched this with the French audio track. Don't even bother with the English subtitles. If you can combine this with drinking, it's even better.

In 2009, Baxter Avenue Theater hosted a midnight screening of it and my wife and I (both big fans) took my younger cousin to see it. She didn't have the same enthusiasm we had, but she seemed to like it. Like Jonathan, I was prepared to apologize for it but discovered instead it had held up quite well. I credit that to the very thing that I initially resisted: its basis on the original comic book material.

I did write about that screening (I couldn't find it initially, because apparently I didn't apply the "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" label for some reason).

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