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A view on Blu-ray and DVD video by Leonard Norwitz

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 25th Anniversary Collectors Edition [Blu-ray]

 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie (Steve Barron, 1990)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of Ooze
(Michael Pressman, 1991)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: Turtles in Time (Stuart Gillard, 1993)
TMNT (Kevin Munroe, 2007)

 

 

 

 

 

Review by Leonard Norwitz

 

Studio:

Theatrical: Golden Harvest/Limelight/Mirage

Blu-ray: Warner Home Video

 

Disc:

Region: All

Case: Fat & Stubby Pizza Box

Release date: August 11th, 2009

Rating: PG

Video:
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1 (I-III), 2.40:1 (TMNT)
Resolution: 1080p
Codec: VC-1
Capacity: BD-25 x 4
Supplements: English 2.0 Dolby Digital @ 1080/p & 480i/p
Runtime: 93/88/96/87 min.
Chapters: 20, 20, 20, 21

Audio:
English Dolby TrueHD 5.1; English Dolby Digital 5.1. Dub: French Dolby Digital 5.1. (I-III). Dolby TrueHD 5.1. DD 5.1; Dub: French 2.0, Spanish 5.1 (TMNT)

Subtitles:
English SDH, Spanish & French (I-II). English, French & Spanish (TMNT).

Extras:

• Inserts: Comic Book, Signed Sketch, Radical Beanie, Character Cards

• Theatrical Trailers in HD w/ low bit rates

• TMNT: Commentary by Director/Writer Kevin Munroe

• TMNT: 7 Behind the Story Featurettes

• TMNT: Alternate Opening, Ending & Additional Scene

• Preview of Smash-Up Video Game

 

 

The Film:

Through the 1980s, along with the rise of the arcade video game and home versions like the Atari 2600, kids would get their kicks from comic books, toys and made for TV cartoon series. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, originally designed as a parody of superhero comics, was to become a marketing phenomenon, taking hold of preteen boys by storm. It was only a matter of time before it would find its way onto the big screen.

 


And so it did in 1990, and again in 1991 and again in 1993. Kids would continue to eat up each successive permutation, but the storylines and dialogue - if they can so be called – were getting more difficult for parents and movie buffs to swallow.

If you don’t already know – and it is possible that you missed that window of opportunity – the movie is set in Manhattan, as were the original comics, with the turtles already in their teenage prime taking on thieves and muggers. How could this be, you might well ask! The movie explains in flashback how “Splinter” the rat was once the pet of a master ninja. Splinter passes the hours mimicking the ninja moves of his master until killed by Oroku Saki in a jealous rage (the master, not the rat). Making his way to Big Apple sewer system, Splinter and a few hapless, young turtles are exposed to a radioactive substance which, in very short order, promote rapid growth and the ability to speak, with English of a sort their language of choice.

 

 

 

Hiding out in the sewers, Master Splinter takes advantage of his new role as mentor to the turtles and teaches them a code and ninja skills. The turtles he names for famous painters of the Renaissance – just another expression of the rat’s lofty ideals – Leonardo, Rafael, Michelangelo and Donatello, each distinguished by the color of their bandanna, preferred weapon and personality traits. Being teenagers now, they watch a great deal of television in their sewer living room and have picked up a few timely exclamations, like “Dude” and “Cowabunga.” They also have a passion for pizza, which they order out, a lot.

The first movie has them battling an organization of thieves led by “The Shredder.” There is something uncomfortably reminiscent of our own Aryan Nation about Shredder’s operation, as he feeds on the general alienation of human teenagers to get them to do his bidding. The odds are clearly not in the Turtles’ favor, especially once Splinter is captured. The turtles, for their part, have come out, so to speak, at least to one human (Judith Hoag), a journalist who is rescued from thugs by Rafael one night. Her boss’s son has been recently induced by the dark side, making it all the harder for good to triumph.

In the first sequel, our superhero turtles return, now with a new friend, Keno (Ernie Reyes, Jr.) Judith Hoag, who played April O'Neil, the journalist and buddy of the Turtles, is replaced by daytime soap star Paige Turco. Paige is prettier with plenty of positive energy, but I missed Judith, who was spunkier and more grounded and, if this makes any sense, more believable and balanced as the fulcrum for the turtles. Their enemy, The Shredder (Francois Chau, channeling Darth Vadar), arises from the trash heap to rejoin the relentlessly grunting Tatsu (Toshiro Obata) and his hooded Foot Gang to make things difficult for mankind and the turtles. David Warner adds a few comic touches as a toxic waste scientist – you know: the guy who explains things in radioactive monster movies. Vanilla Ice raps a little – good career move.

In Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III, first April, and then the Turtles in pursuit, are transported back to feudal Japan, where they get involved in a conflict between warlords and rebels. Elias Koteas reprises his role form the first movie as Casey Jones, appearing in both the present and the past in different roles, making for the one bright spot in an otherwise shoddy movie.

TMNT differs from the preceding three movies in this collection in that it is entirely CGI. The timeline picks up more or less where the previous movie left off, and finds the turtles in a state of semi-diaspora. The basic plot has to do with an ancient legend that began 3000 years ago to capture alien beasts and statues of his erstwhile generals. Tensions mount as the turtles attempt to reconnect and sort out their leadership difficulties. The Foot Clan reappear led by Karai (voiced by Zhang Ziyi).

 

 


The Movies: 6/4/3/7
There is something utterly charming about the absurd sight of humans wearing turtle shells held on by a belt and colorful bandanna-like masks, presumably to protect their identities like The Lone Ranger, scarfing down pizza, making ninja moves on their opponents. The first sequel is less concerned with Yoda-like mentoring and more with wisecracks which the turtles make with just before kicking the various ass adversaries.

Unhappily, as the franchise began to take itself seriously, what charm there was gave way to mindless repetition, especially by the third movie. What was once fresh got stale quickly. Kids, so I’m told, required no such critical sense. On the other hand, TMNT is a different matter altogether. The target audience is older and with that comes a darker story, with more ambiguous characters. The animation is quite good and character design inventive.


 

Image: 3~8/5~9
The first number indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other Blu-ray video discs on a ten-point scale. The second number places this image along the full range of DVD and Blu-ray discs.

Few things are exasperating in this world of hi-def transfers than to see the less good movies receive better marks than better movies. This is generally the “fault” of the source materials, and such is more or less the case here. The first movie is decent; the second, much less so; the third, more highly resolved but oddly lit; and the fourth, very good, indeed.

A good deal of the first movie takes place in the darkness of the sewers and the dimly lit salons where Splinter and the turtles hide out. The turtles are generally nocturnal, so their forays into the city tend be at night as well. The first movie puts the noise issue to the test, and the results are, well, variable at best. Mostly, the image is simply thin and grainy. I can't say I was distracted by artifacts or other problems since the murkiness of the image took precedence. Your average decently produced DVD will look better. I didn't notice print damage, so there might have been some clean-up at work there. It is entirely possible this movie, and the first sequel – which looks a lot like the first, only worse – represent what we would have seen theatrically almost 20 years ago.

The third movie is a different kettle of worms in that the lighting is unnaturally applied so that the turtles pop out of the frame more. Indeed, color, contrast, and resolution are much better – but the results are so plastic and cartoony that the upgrade in image is entirely undone by production values.

TMNT looks good and, no doubt, could have looked better still if the bit rates were higher. When I would check, they seemed to collect around 10 Mbps. Pretty bad.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audio & Music: 5<7/4<7
There's not much to be gained for the uncompressed audio mix for the first three movies. The situation is better for TMNT, no surprise there. For the live action movies, dialogue tends to be flat and thick, the music opens things up a bit. Surround effects are minimal, but add a touch of space to the proceedings. Again, the animated film is much better.
 

Operations: 2
First a word about the box design which, except for the shape, is supposed to put us in mind of a pizza box. We can be thankful that [a] it is not shaped like a pizza delivery box and [b] that it isn’t as flimsy. But it almost is. The box wouldn’t seem so flimsy if it didn’t have so much space in it for all the inserts to fit snuggly within. But once removed – and they will be removed – what’s left is a two-inch empty space with 2 discs atop one another fixed to the inside top and bottom cover. This invites disaster. A pizza box is starting to look pretty good right about now.

 

 


The scene selection menu is unfinished in that, even though individual chapters are thumbnails, they cannot be selected. Instead, one has to count clicks for each group of five scenes, and you still might get it wrong.
 

Extras: 3
Until TMNT, the extra features are pretty much limited to the knick-knacks inside the box and theatrical trailers for each movie. Among those bits is a superb, if way too small, 65-page glossy comic book based on the movies. TMNT has quite assortment of Behind the Scenes featurettes, which I did not preview in any depth, but they seemed to have promise.
 

 

 

Bottom line: 5
So here’s the rub: Who’s the target audience for these movies now: the original audience, now 15 years older, or freshly minted youngsters? Would the first group spring for the hefty purchase price of this set just to see how silly they once were to eat this stuff up? A rental, absolutely, but actually buy it? And the second group: I worry they might be too sophisticated nowadays. But if not, the new DVD at a much lower price should suffice since I can’t imagine mom and dad glued to their seats in rabid fascination. Rather they would more likely become collateral damage as their brains are slowly degenerated into mush. Except for TMNT, none of these movies come remotely close to demo material.

Leonard Norwitz
August 8th, 2009

 

 

 

 

 

About the Reviewer: I first noticed that some movies were actually "films" back around 1960 when I saw Seven Samurai (in the then popular truncated version), La Strada and The Third Man for the first time. American classics were a later and happy discovery.

My earliest teacher in Aesthetics was Alexander Sesonske, who encouraged the comparison of unlike objects. He opened my mind to the study of art in a broader sense, rather than of technique or the gratification of instantaneous events. My take on video, or audio for that matter – about which I feel more competent – is not particularly technical. Rather it is aesthetic, perceptual, psychological and strongly influenced by temporal considerations in much the same way as music. I hope you will find my musings entertaining and informative, fun, interactive and very much a work in progress.


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