When I was a kid there was a sensation that rocked the nation (several in fact), but this was one lean, mean, green, and teen. You couldn’t escape it from your bed sheets to your lunch box, from you TV to your Troll book orders, it was everywhere. That sensation was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and it has never really left us. Over the past 30 years since the Turtles first hit the indie shelves as a pulp comic, on through my Kindergarten year, and up until now (my son’s Pre-K year) Turtle Power has been surging. Lately, though, the Turtles have made a rather strong push, due to their recent acquisition as a Nickelodeon property, a successful relaunch and reboot of their comic book lives, as a reimagined television show, and as live action feature film debuting today in theaters across the United States. Now, there is a log a proud tradition in the franchise of having absolutely no crossover whatsoever among different media. But…is that really true?
When I think back to that long off year of 1990, I remember a distinct level of shock when I saw the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. Besides knowing that it was, of course, the most brilliant piece of cinema to hit the silver screen since…well all of time, I knew that something was amiss all the same. You see, I had walked into that movie expecting to see this:
And what I got was this:
And for a long time as a kid, I thought that what I had experienced in that moment was the first instance of a movie company changing a well-loved property in movie form for no other reason than brash interpretation. Luckily , this interpretation was (as I already said) the most brilliant piece of cinema in the history of reality and the universe. I was able to go through the movie and its changes to the characters and stories I knew so well because, HOLY HELL NINJA TURTLES THAT’S WHY. But when I got to be a teenager myself, though neither Turtle nor Ninja (but yes mutant as all teenagers are) I was able to get my hands on a trade comic of the source material for the Ninja Turtles. When I first read the original indie comics by Eastman and Laird I was shocked to find that the Turtles were supposed to look like this:
Which immediately made me think of this as a pretty happy medium:
And those sharp, deadly weapons they brandished were not, as I had been told my whole life, used for slicing pizzas but rather for gutting their enemies into bloody parts reminiscent of the shreds on the floor in a butcher shop. Then I realized was that the Turtles on a Half Shell I saw in that movie were actually a happy medium between the expectations of snot nosed rugrats like myself and the actual source material of the entire franchise, with the surprising lean towards the source rather than the prevalent cartoon version. As I read on, I discovered that Miramax’s 1990 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie is probably the most faithful adaptation of a comic book property ever made.
In fact, most of the nods in the movie that I had attributed to the filmmakers where not actually rooted in the things I thought they were at all. For example, the battle between the Foot and the Turtles in April’s apartment and her father’s old antique store, were, in my estimation a nod to the beginning of the phenomenal Ninja Turtles arcade game that I’d played a million times at the skating rink:
But was in fact, along with that stage, a nod to the Ninja Turtles black and white indie comics, portraying an epic battle between the Shredder and his forces in April’s apartment building and her father’s antique store (elements that I thought were just made up for…I don’t know why):
More over, the scenes where Raphael got his ass handed to him were not, as I imagined, rooted in their love of Michaelangelo as being super awesome, so fuck Raphael:
But actually again, taken straight from the source material where Raph gets his ass handed to him and is knocked out.
Even the Shredder was pretty spot on:
In fact, the more and more I looked at it, I saw what appeared to be storyboards for the movie in the original comics.
It kind of blew my mind how wrong I had been, not only about the Ninja Turtles movie, but also how wrong I had been about my beloved cartoon series (or at least the 5 or 6 seasons of the show that I grew up with before it turned all batshit crazy–and if you think the premise of teenaged ninjas that are mutant turtles that fight robots, ninjas, giant animals, and brains from Dimension X can’t get crazier, you’re wrong….sooo wrong). In fact the whole thing really made me think hard about the franchise and what I considered to be canon in some of my other favorite nerd franchises. I started to think about Superman: The Movie and how much it deviated from the comics, only to redirect them years later. I also thought about sequels and how Superman 3 is not unlike Ninja Turtles 3 (a different story altogether).
In the end after all my misconceptions and epiphanies, I considered that that Ninja Turtles are just awesome. Their origin lays in a lampoon of the comics industry at the time…and how Daredevil comics specifically and the mainstream of them were obsessed with ninjas and mutants. The story goes that the same ooze that splashed young Matt Murdoch is intended to have mutated the Turtles, even. So in the end , I had to come to terms with the fact that my first experience with movies changing franchises was actually my first experience with a really faithful interpretation–and well done at that. The original Ninja Turtles movie doesn’t rely on too many special effects, beyond the obvious Muppet suits for the Turtles and Splinter, and relied instead on shadows, story, and action to deliver the plot (and also computer effects were not at all what they are today). That said, I expect that the Michael Bay produced film will deliver much the opposite, if for nothing else than a mark of the times.
I don’t have any expectation that the new movie will line up with the decent IDW comics, the amazing Nickelodeon show, or any other iteration of the Turtles that I’ve come to know because, well, that wouldn’t be in the tradition of the Turtles. Even the original film in its faithfulness had April as a reporter instead of a lab assistant to Baxter Stockman to allow for some familiarity, and cash in on the Lois Lane factor. To be quite honest, I really don’t like the design of the Michael Bay Turtles or Shredder for that matter….but there’s a history of change in design throughout the history of the Turtles as illustrated in the epic made for TV movie Turtles Forever, so I’m willing to give it a chance. Besides, despite the highly admirable faithfulness of that first movie, the franchise has little history of being faithful to itself, having more reboots than the Legion of Superheroes, so I’m pretty excited to be seeing this movie as the Turtles and me both turn 30 this month. And moreover, my four-year-old son is excited to see it too. Turtle Power, Turtles Forever.