“Four turtles. Four brothers genetically reborn in the sewers of New York. Named after the great Renaissance masters and trained as ninjas. They battled many creatures and foes before defeating their arch enemy, The Shredder. But, now a greater evil is poised to destroy their brotherhood. An evil born 3000 years ago.”
What started as a low budget comic has grown into quite a sensation. The Turtles are everywhere. There are cartoons, books, comics, movies, and thousands of toys. They’ve been translated into just about every language in the world. The 1980’s and 1990’s were alive with Turtle power. With yet another film now in the works, the Turtles are about to make a comeback. While the characters might not have started with the 80’s cartoon series, that’s where it made its greatest leap in popularity. The show ran for over a decade, a rare record for cartoon shows of the era. Then came the inevitable movies. Three of them in all during the live action phase. The Turtles were part actor and part animatronics Jim Henson creation ala the Disney/ABC Dinosaurs television series. The fourth was a recent (2007) CGI film. All four are collected here for the first time in high definition Blu-ray in a rather righteous collection. The case is a pizza box, and each of the four discs resemble different kinds of pizza. There’s also a bit of swag to be found in the spacious box. You get character cards featuring shots from the live action films, a signed black and white sketch, a comic book detailing events from the first film, and a “radical” beanie for your head. It may be a bit corny and somewhat impractical, but it beats those crazy eco cases that are getting way too popular in the industry.
The Turtles were once just ordinary turtles until they fall into a sewer and discover a strange man living there. The five encounter a strange green glow that transforms them forever. The turtles are transformed into human-like turtles with great strength. The man becomes the rat, Master Splinter, who trains and guides the development of these four turtles. The names of the characters were taken from famous artists of the Renaissance. Leonardo was, of course, taken from Leonardo Da Vinci. He took blue as his color, wearing it as a mask and armbands. The colors are really there so you can tell the characters apart. Another distinguishing characteristic is the weapons they master. For Leonardo it’s the sword-like katonas. Leonardo is the responsible member of the group and generally acts as their leader. Michelangelo was named for the famous painter of the Sistine Chapel, among other great works of art. Leonardo wears orange. His weapons are the nunchaks. Michelangelo is the party animal of the group. Raphael was named after the famous Raffaello Santi, best known for his Vatican works, The Madonnas. He wears red and is the surfer cool member of the pack. His weapons are the same as Marvel’s Elektra. They both are masters of the tri-tipped sai. Finally, Donatello was named after the Florentine sculptor known for crafting crucifixes. He wears purple (obviously a Vikings fan). He’s the tech savvy guy in the group and manages the various gadgets. His weapon is a simple bo staff. Together they join forces to kick some serious bad guy butt. Splinter’s arch nemesis Shredder was the main villain, but the turtles would encounter everything from evil robots mutant insect people. It’s all in a day’s work for the young warriors, as long as they have a steady supply of pizza to keep up their strength.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles:
“We’re talkin’ major pizza attack here, dudes.”
The Shredder and his nefarious gang, The Foot Clan, are responsible for a massive crime wave on the streets of New York City. Covering the story is Channel 3 ace anchor and reporter April O’Neil (Hoag). Suddenly she finds herself saved by the four Ninja Turtles and brought to their underground lair. Also fighting the wave of young criminals is the young vigilante Casey Jones (Koteas). He wears a hockey mask and fights using twin hockey sticks, complete with not very witty hockey puns. Together they work to bring down The Foot Clan and defeat the evil Shredder.
This one’s very much an introduction of the characters, but isn’t an origin story. While Splinter does recount the story, it is not a part of the film. It does deal with the turtles meeting April and Casey. There’s a ton of cuteness factor weighing in here owing much to the Jim Henson created turtle costumes/puppets. The turtle voices were highlighted by the appearance of genre favorite Corey Feldman as Donatello.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret Of The Ooze:
“Hey, Dudes. Cowabunga says it all.”
It turns out that the ooze that mutated the turtles was developed by a mega-corporation called TGRI. Shredder wants to get his hands on the ooze so that he can create his own mutant army and dominate the world. He manages to steal the very last container of the stuff and creates two monsters. The turtles swing into action once again helped by April, this time played by Paige Turco, but without the help of Casey. They finally get their showdown with The Shredder and his monsters at, of all places, a Vanilla Ice concert.
This movie appeared to abandon all of the things that made the first such a success. The voices were all different. This one also brought out a too heavy dose of camp. There are far more sight gimmicks and witty one liners than actual fighting. Even the dramatic climax takes place under the most insane and outlandish of circumstances. It was certainly a step back for the franchise.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: Turtles In Time:
“Some were good and some were very bad.”
A magical lamp transports April and the boys back to feudal Japan where they protect a village from some bad guys. The series continued to suffer, and the franchise ended with this one.
“It was in that time that a warrior king named Yoatl led a brotherhood that fought side by side with one purpose: to conquer all the kingdoms of the world. Nothing could stand in their way as they left a trail of destruction behind them. In his quest, the warrior learned of a constellation known as the Stars Of Kikan. Every 3000 years the stars would align, opening a portal to a world of unknown power. He became immortal but at a price. His brotherhood was turned to stone. And upon the portal’s opening 13 monsters were released into our world.”
The Turtles have split up. Michelangelo is now Cowabunga Carl and entertains children at parties. Donatello works as a computer help desk phone support geek. Raphael is now a midnight vigilante dressed in crazy armor. Leonardo was sent to South America for training but decided not to return. He roams the jungles as a phantom that takes care of bad guys. When April is in South America to collect stone warriors for a client she runs into Leonardo and tries in vain to talk him into returning home. When April returns with the statues, she discovers that they are the stone brotherhood and that her client was the warrior king. The 3000 years is almost up, and now he’s going to open up the portal again. But is he trying to destroy the world, or make up for his mistake?
This is a film very much unlike the previous three. It is no longer live action, but a full length CG animation film. It looks and feels more like a video game. The graphics are highly stylized. It’s almost a mistake to bundle this film with the others. The look is quite stark when you’ve just finished watching the 1990’s films. There’s a lot more action and more stylized fighting and gadgets. It has all the trappings of a Saturday morning superhero film. It really was difficult for me to adjust myself to this film. It was that much of a shock when watching them all together. The release is highlighted by the voice of Patrick Stewart as the warrior king.
“The warrior king was left to eternally walk the Earth unable to die or forget his horrible mistake. And the monsters that were unleashed continue to plague mankind to this very day.”
One must consider the franchise as a whole. The toys, cartoons, films, and, of course, the comic books that started it all. TMNT leaves open plenty of room to continue the series, but I hope they cut back on the stylizations and get back to the show’s rather simple basics. Whatever your feelings about these films taken together or as individuals, this is a rather nice collection.
Each episode is presented in its original aspect ratios. The 1080 presentations are each brought to you by a VC-1 codec. Obviously there is a huge difference between the live action films and the CG version. The first three almost have a television film quality to them. The prints aren’t really that great and show some wear. Colors are a bit muted. Detail is nice, but the films really weren’t made for such level of inspection. There are a lot of flaws visible under the new high definition transfers. The final film looks too much like a video game cut scene. There is little to no contrast and the colors look manufactured. There is a focus issue that is common with some of these stylized CG productions. The print is far cleaner, as a digital from digital transfer should be.
The Dolby Digital TrueHD 5.1 mix on each of the films works well for dialog but little more. I found the sound to be quite harsh in the 1990’s films. There is just a raw scratchiness that actually gets quite annoying. This is not present on the final film, but even that movie lacks any serious dynamic range. It’s an overall poor audio presentation for a Blu-ray release. I should mention that the films each default to simply Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes. You have to select the uncompressed audio each time you play the films.
The first three films have only standard definition trailers.
TMNT Voice Talent – First Look: (5:04) SD Meet the voices behind the characters, mostly Patrick Stewart and Sarah Michelle Gellar. The piece mostly offers up some insight into plot and characters.
Extra Footage: There are a few scenes in various forms from story boards to fully rendered.
It’s a flashy release but doesn’t really give you a lot of choice if you just want any particular film. I don’t see the individual Blu-ray releases anytime soon. The Turtles as a franchise isn’t going anywhere, however, and like all franchises that have survived the test of time and many incarnations you have to expect to take some bad with the good. This Blu-ray release does bring our favorite pizza eatin’ reptiles into a new age of home video. “Yes dudes and dudettes, major league butt kickin’ is back in town.”