Retro Geek Film Throwback: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Retro Geek Film Throwback: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

August 7, 2014 0 By Michael MacPherson

On the eve of the Michael Bay film hitting theatres, it really inspired me to go back and have a look at the movie that really kicked the Turtles popularity into high gear, and ironically, was the first movie I ever witnessed inside of a movie theatre. Today we are talking about the 1990 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film.

tmnt2This was the first film adaptation of the heroes in a half shell; it was directed by Steve Barron and was released on March 30, 1990. After 24 years, this film still holds up extremely well even after all this time. The film brings us the origin story of Splinter and his Turtles and also shows the first meetings of April O’Neil and Casey Jones. The film also features the Turtles first confrontation with the Foot Clan and the Shredder.

Its the brilliance of this movie that shines through, making it one of the best comic book movie adaptations going. If you look at the film it is paced perfectly and captures the personalities of the Turtles almost to a tee. Not to mention from the beginning it establishes that the Foot Clan is a threat rather than them having an origin story and building them up throughout. Casey Jones is portrayed extremely well by a young Elias Koteas, giving us all the elements of the comic book molded to the silver screen (except Turtles were given different coloured masks as to differentiate them from one another as opposed to the all red masks found in the comic book).

On Netflix there is a perfect complimentary film to this called Turtle Power which explores the history of the Turtles and the segments talking about the film are quite revealing to the times that it was made in. The film was made on a shoestring budget, and the major studios didn’t want anything to do with the film itself. The only light the creators found was in New Line Cinema who made the decision to give it the green light in the end.

The amazing thing is that when Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was released in 1990, it ended its run in theatres by making a whopping $201,965,915 million dollars against a budget of 13.5 million, which made it the second highest grossing independent film of all time. It was also the 9th highest grossing film worldwide of 1990 and was the most successful film of the franchise.

The Turtles themselves were crafted by none other than Jim Henson and his Creature Shop in London. Henson said that the creatures were the most advanced puppets that he had ever created or worked with. The creatures were first made from fibreglass, and then were remolded out of clay. They were produced as molds to cast the whole body in foam rubber latex. They were created in eighteen weeks. The stunt crew was forced to work in them in very extreme heat and while performing the fight scenes, they could really only see out a small portion of the mouth and just below the eyes. It was an incredible feat to accomplish in order to maintain the realism in the days before CGI.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles really comes as advertised; one liners, brawls, and general silliness. It is great for those who are young at heart and those who are fans of the comic book. In 1990, Roger Ebert gave the movie 2.5 stars out of 4, saying that,

[blockquote]“this movie is nowhere near as bad as it might have been, and probably is the best possible Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle movie. It supplies in other words, more or less what Turtle fans will expect.”[/blockquote]

I really think that a lot of the credit to the quality of the movie goes to Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird for not wanting to water down the high end product they developed. They really worked with the film makers to make sure that their characters stayed true to themselves and what they had been in the comics.

If you are looking to see how high the bar is set for the 2014 film, you should definitely watch the 1990 film and see what can be accomplished with practical effects and minimal budget (and much less explosions). Remember, if you have Netflix, you can also watch Turtle Power the documentary about how it all started for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.