Ninja Turtle expert analyzes Michael Bay’s ‘TMNT’

Andrew Farago is a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle expert and the author of the just published “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Ultimate Visual History,” published by Insight Editions and he gives his opinion on Michael Bay’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. “


AF: I went in with an open mind and very minimal expectations, since I wasn’t a big fan of Michael Bay’s “Transformers” and I didn’t really have a feel for the movie based on the trailers (and the very minimal amount of information I’d gotten from Paramount leading up the film’s release).  Overall, I ended up having a really fun time, and the redesign of the Turtles grew on me pretty quickly over the course of the film. 

They did a nice job of capturing the Turtles’ spirit, or at least, giving us a big screen version of the Turtles we saw in the 1980s cartoon, and as a Will Arnett fan, I was glad to see him getting so much screen time.  The film’s tone was pretty similar to that of the 1990 live action film, although I’d say this one was a little bit lighter, and the action sequences were a lot faster and more intense–probably because they were using motion capture technology and CGI instead of stuntmen in heavily padded, cumbersome rubber suits.

My friends and I had a nice, long list of “the things we would change” on our way out of the theater, the way we would after just about any comic book movie.  It seems that there were rewrites and edits taking place right up to the last minute, based on some of the plot elements that didn’t quite follow through from beginning to end, and some major plot points were really up in the air as the movie wrapped up, like whether or not William Fichtner was actually the Shredder or not.  The whole thing moved along at such a fast clip that I didn’t really reflect on any of this during the film, which probably worked to its advantage.  I’m sure the sequel will be faster, tighter, and as long as they manage to fit Kevin Eastman, Vanilla Ice, and Ernie Reyes Jr. into the film, it’s onward and upward from here.

Michael Bay’s at his best when he’s dealing with spectacle.  Big action scenes, explosions, chase scenes…that’s his bread and butter.  The human element seems like an afterthought in a lot of his movies, but I think his fans are fine with that.

The big “Michael Bayism” in the Turtles movie for me was in the character design, which reminded me of his crew’s approach to The Transformers, another childhood favorite.  In each case, the main characters had a fairly streamlined design in the 1980s, and changed over to a much more complicated design in an effort to update them for the new millennium.  I got used to the new designs pretty quickly once I saw them in motion.  As one cartoonist friend, Keith Knight, said to me, “They’re mutants.  They should look weird, shouldn’t they?”

As for what he got right, it’s what Michael Bay movies always get right, which is putting something on screen that’s going to make your inner fourteen-year-old jump out of his seat and cheer.  The big, over-the-top downhill snow race and the big, over-the-top ninja sewer battle tapped into that part of me that loved everything about the original 1990 TMNT movie when I saw it on the big screen, and I never had to sit through very much plot before something else exploded or another fight broke out.  And I’ll watch Will Arnett in pretty much anything, so making him carry most of the human-driven scenes helped move the film along at a good clip.

I’m not sure how it will hold up to a repeat viewing, now that I’ve read any number of reviews and have heard from dozens of people about the various plot holes and other aspects of the film that bothered them, but it was pretty much what I expected from a Michael Bay-produced summer blockbuster version of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

What I’d love to see in the sequel is for the filmmakers to tap the crew working on the brilliant TMNT animated series that’s currently airing on Nickelodeon, or the creative team (including Turtles co-creator Kevin Eastman) from the current comic book series published by IDW, and find a really fun, really character-driven story for the second (and possibly third and fourth) movies going forward in this franchise.

We haven’t seen the movie yet (Paramount didn’t invite us to a press screening). You can still see and on the big screen. Paramount announced Thursday that the Ninja Turtles can be seen on IMAX 3-D  beginning Friday, Sept. 12, with some advance screenings taking place the evening of Sept. 11. The first 300 ticket holders at each of the advance screenings will receive one of three special collectors’ artist posters.

Farago’s book is available through, Barnes & Noble and through the publisher Insight Editions.

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