16 March 2009

Film: "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles"

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Directed by Steve Barron
Story by Bobby Herbeck
Screenplay by Todd W. Langen and Bobby Herbeck
Starring: Judith Hoag, Elias Koteas
Date of Screening: 14 March 2009
MPAA Rating: PG
Cinescopes Personality Type: Chosen Adventurer

I distinctly recall the frenzy that greeted this film nineteen years ago for its initial release.  I was eleven years old, and I loved the Turtles.  Most of the audience, I would suspect, expected the film to resemble the animated series that we had come to know and adore.  Little did we suspect that it would, instead, favor the original comic book series--something none of us knew a thing about, in all honesty--as its basis.  It's hard to say the film is played "seriously" when it revolves around four anthropomorphic turtles trained as ninjas, but the humor is certainly not as juvenile as was the cartoon.

The screenplay is, effectively, an amalgamation of the first several issues of the comic book series.  Splinter (the rat) learned to be a ninja from his master, Hamato Yoshi.  Yoshi fled to New York with Tang Shen, the woman he loved, rather than fight rival Oroku Saki for her; Splinter watched from his cage as they both fell before Saki's hand.  Escaping, he encountered four turtles in the sewer, coated in radioactive muck.  Before long, the five of them have anthropomorphized and Splinter has trained them as ninjas, naming them after Renaissance artists--Leonardo, Michaelangelo, Donatello and Raphael.  The story picks up some years after the fact, as a rash of thefts plagues the city.  News journalist April O'Neil (Hoag) has turned up reports that the activities bear a strong resemblance to previous robberies committed a while back in Japan.  In case you need me to connect the dots, Saki (now operating as "The Shredder") is behind them, having become a sort of martial arts master Fagin.

I was honestly surprised at how well the film has held up over the years.  Granted, any screening benefits from an audience that already loves the film, and nearly everyone laughed in unison at the same parts throughout the 95 minute long feature.  That's the kind of audience buzz that is unique to screenings of older movies, and one of the reasons I continue to delight in the Midnights at the Baxter series.  As a bonus, they arranged for us to be fed pizza from Spinelli's (included with the price of admission), and my wife discovered their concession stand's fountain drinks include Cherry Coke!

The print itself could have been better, though this is nitpicking.  Many of the dark frames looked very over-exposed, giving off a grainy, gray-ish look.  Also, there were two or three moments that "skipped."  For a nineteen year old print, it's hard to complain, though.  On a personal note, I found it especially rewarding to have introduced my 13 year old cousin to not only this film, but the Turtles in general.  Mayhaps Baxter will see fit to screen Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze soon?