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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)
Paramount Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 12/16/2014
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 12/9/2014
You've probably heard the urban legend concerning the behind-the-scenes action on Poltergeist. While Texas Chainsaw Massacre helmer Tobe Hooper is credited with directing movie, rumors have persisted for decades that producer Steve Spielberg was actually calling the shots. As Spielberg was contractually obligated to not direct another movie that year, due to E.T., he couldn't officially call the shots. (The setting and examination of the suburban lifestyle certainly feel like Spielberg, but the film's mean-spirited nature screams Hooper.) I can't help but wonder if we'll eventually hear similar stories about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Jonathan Liebesman (who, ironically directed 2006's Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning) is listed as the director, but the whole thing reeks of producer Michael Bay. And that's not a good thing.
As Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles opens, we learn that New York City is under siege by the Foot Clan. This group has been staging robberies and creating mayhem around the city. TV reporter April O'Neil (Megan Fox), who usually covers puff-pieces, has been investigating the crimes, and she's roped her cameraman, Vernon Fenwick (Will Arnett), into helping her. While checking out on of the incidents, April witnesses a large person fighting the clan. Following up on this, she finds that it's actually a group of human-sized turtles who have been combating the Foot. The turtles -- Leonardo (played by Pete Ploszek, voiced by Johnny Knoxville), Donatello (Jeremy Howard), Michelangelo (Noel Fisher), and Raphael (Alan Ritchson) -- can talk and act like teenagers. They take April to their lair in the sewers, where she meets their leader, a rat named Splinter (played by Danny Woodburn, voiced by Tony Shalhoub), who explains their origin. April approaches industrialist Eric Sacks (William Fichtner) for help, and she learns that the Foot have a deadly plan for the City that only the Turtles can stop.
I was in my late teens when the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles made their first splash into pop-culture with the animated show and thelive-action films. I may have been a bit older than the target audience, but knowing comic books, I got the references implied by the title and I enjoyed the fact that the stories had action combined with a heavy dose of humor. I also appreciated the fact that some work -- from the original comic book -- had gone into creating unique personalities for the four turtles and that the show and movies weren't afraid to carry that over, even though some could say that Leonardo was too serious and that Raphael was too violent. I lost track of the Turtles after a while, although I did catch 2007's TMNT in the theater. While I would no longer consider myself a "fan" -- the franchise has gone through so many changes over the years, I have no idea what is happening -- I still like the characters and the basic mission of the stories.
Therefore, I, like many, was very wary when I learned of a new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles feature film being made under the supervision of Michael Bay, and the trailers didn't make me feel any better about the project. So, when I sat down to watch the film for this review, I had to put those prejudices aside. And I was pleasantly surprised that I liked what I saw. The opening credit animation sequence was very well-done. The introduction of the story and the Turtles was handled very well. The individuality of the Turtles came through, somewhat, and they were funny without being overly goofy or "hip". I did have a problem with the character design of the Turtles. They are too bulky, while their faces are too flat. During the first act, I actually found myself enjoying the film and thinking, "I can't believe that I'm going to like this movie."
And then it happened -- it turned into a Michael Bay film. Now, I'm not one of those Michael Bay haters. I loved The Rock and the man clearly has a keen visual sense. The problem is that after so many years of success, he has no idea how to censor himself and that's why we get aTransformers movie which is nearly three hours long. At 101-minutes, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is one of the shorter films to which Bay has been tied, but it still has that sense of over-blown grandiosity. The fight sequences simply go on for far too long. We get it, they're ninjas and they fight. But, given the fact that no one is going to fight to the death in this family film, show a little fighting and then move on. I'm convinced that those poor Turtles are still stuck on that snowy mountain given how long that sequence kept going. I checked out of these scenes after a few minutes -- I can't imagine what it was like for the average 7-year old. Also, the design of The Shredder is a little over-the-top. Clearly influenced by the ever-changing Transformers, Shredder has so many knives that he looks like a parody.
The other weak link in the film is Megan Fox. I thought that she and Michael Bay hated one another? Well, apparently they made up and we are the lesser for it, as she tries her best to ruin this movie. I guess she's pretty, but her acting remains abysmal and the wooden delivery of her dialogue robs what is already a far-fetched movie of any credibility. She is asked to throw out many scientific terms and it sounds exactly like what it is -- She's reading them instead of acting them. This role need someone with at least a little life in their eyes.
I went into Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles expecting a train-wreck, but instead I found a fender-bender. Unfortunately, the movie's bad-points outweigh the good ones. If the overall feeling created by the first act could have continued, this would have been a pleasantly surprising movie. Instead, the emphasis turned to mindless action, and any story or character development fell by the wayside. The Turtle voice-acting was good and the human actors, save for Fox, were fine. The CG Turtles looked good, but they didn't always blend well with the live-action footage. A sequel is inevitable, so hopefully some lessons were learned here and we'll get a smarter Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie next time.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles made me wonder if rats have prehensile tails on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no grain and no defects from the source materials. This is a dark film, but it's never overly dark and the action is always visible (two of the big action sequences take place during the day). The colors look good. The image has an excellent level of detail, as noted by the textures evident on the Turtles themselves. The depth in the 2D version is good, but the Turtles and the humans don't always look like they are on the same plane. The Disc carries a Dolby Atmos 7.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 6.5 Mbps. (Although it spiked to some of the highest bitrates I've ever seen.) The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. This is a muscular track which offers some of the most evenly sustained subwoofer effects that I've ever heard. The stereo effects show good separation, and they are distinct from the surround effects, which offer distinct, individual sounds, while also enveloping us during the action sequences. This set also includes a Blu-ray 3D where the film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains a MVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 31/15 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing no grain or defects from the source materials. The colors look good and the picture doesn't suffer form the darkness which can plague 3D transfers. But, the 3D effects are a letdown. Some shots show good depth, such as the opening scene by the docks, but much of the film still looks relatively flat. We don't get the kind of multi-plane look which we did in Paramount's recentHercules. I had expected the animated sequence to be mind-blowing, but it didn't differ much from the 2D version. The audio is the same as the 2D Disc.
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Blu-ray Disc contains several extras. "Digital Reality" (18 minutes) examines how the Turtles were created using visual effects. Liebesman and Visual Effects Supervisor Pablo Helman take us through the process from Pre-visualization to motion-capture acting to the character design to the creation of the CG animation. Along with the interviews, we get a wealth of on-set footage, test animations, and examples of how the shots were layered. "In Your Face! The Turtles in 3D" (4 minutes) looks at how certain 3D shots were designed and executed. Liebesman and Helman break down some specific scenes. This can be played in 3D. "It Ain't Easy Being Green" (7 minutes) has the four actors who play the Turtles discussing their experiences on the film and their childhood exposure to the characters. "Evolutionary Mash-Up" (15 minutes) is an odd featurette, as it looks at the biological growth of the turtles species, as well as the history of marital arts. "Turtle Rock" (6 minutes) focuses on Composer Brian Tyler, as he discusses the music and we see him at work in the studio. "Extended Ending" (1 minute) is a coda which shows April wrapping up the story with a news report. We get the MUSIC VIDEO for the song "Shell Shocked" by Juicy J. Moxie, Ty dolla Sign, and Wiz Khalifa. This is followed by "Making of 'Shell Shocke'" (2 minutes) which shows the artists at work in the studio.
Review Copyright 2014 by Mike Long