Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie Collection Blu-ray review

This new Blu-ray set gathers together the three live-action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies in one collection. Matt takes a look...

I was invited along to Legoland as part of their bank holiday Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles weekend back in August by Nickelodeon (the show is expected to return to Nick in November). Initially confused by the ridiculous number of short people (many of whom were dressed as Ninja Turtles) surrounding me, I soon became aware that the place was being overrun by a swarm of sherbert-huffing hyperactive children.

Obviously, I was livid. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is for my generation. I tried to explain to them that they were ruining my childhood, but they were so busy enjoying theirs that they hardly paid me any notice, no matter how furiously I screamed. The Legoland staff was similarly disinterested in my distress, but they were practically children themselves.

It was an awful situation; a 30-year-old man’s childhood being ruined by actual children. Still, I enjoyed the day as best as I could by going on all the fun rides and meeting the actual Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and by eating Fruit Gums until I felt sick.

Thanks, according to the press release, to the impending new film, the first three Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies are getting a long-overdue UK release on Blu-ray. For the second time in short succession, I was faced with the ego crushing realisation that this franchise was continuing in spite of the imagined damage it was doing to my childhood memories. Not only that, but once again I was benefitting from it.

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The release of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles films is particularly exciting. We’ve previously covered the films on this site with a series of look backs that covered the first, second and third films, which are included in this new boxset, as well as the 2007 computer animated film and the straight-to-video animation, Turtles Forever. If you’ve read those pieces, you’ll likely be aware that we have something of a soft spot for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles here at Den Of Geek.

The first film is terrific. With a story from the original comics softened with elements from the popular 80s/90s cartoon, it finds a tone for the material that’s just about perfect. Serious enough that it can get away with exciting fight scenes and a villain who conveys a genuine threat, but light enough that kids can enjoy it – all coupled with a sense that the filmmakers don’t appear to be taking what is a pretty zany concept too seriously.

The story finds Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael and Michelangelo (the TMNT) venturing to the surface to engage in combat for the first time, rescuing news reporter April O’Neil from Ninja thieves. O’Neil is attracting attention from villainous ninja clan The Foot, as she believes they are responsible for a crime wave sweeping through New York City. The Turtles soon find themselves bunking with O’Neil after their lair is trashed and their father figure, mutant rat/masterful sensei Splinter, kidnapped. The Foot soon strike, beating Raphael into a coma and forcing the Turtles to retreat from the city, along with allies April and Casey Jones.

Regrouping and recovering at a farmhouse, the Turtles return to the city to rescue Splinter and to take on The Foot Clan, led by the fearsome Shredder.

Several other Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies were proposed, including a Roger Corman-produced comedy film starring well-known comics with their faces painted green. The one we ended up with was produced by Golden Harvest, the legendary company behind several of Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan’s movies, which may account for the excellent fight sequences in this film (they’re particularly good when you consider that half the participants were bundled up in animatronics, foam and headbands).

On the subject of the suits, the ones in this film, produced by the Jim Henson Creature Shop, look terrific. The faces are brilliantly expressive and the skin textures look convincing. Paired with a grand voice cast, including Corey Feldman, they give the human roles a real run for their money (alongside Splinter, voiced and co-puppeteered by Kevin Clash).

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When discussing this film, I’m always sure to cover the excellent performances from Judith Hoag and Elias Koteas as April O’Neil and Casey Jones respectively. Hoag plays the vulnerable and strong sides to the role with equal success, giving us an O’Neil who’s always in the thick of things and fighting her corner. As Casey Jones, Koteas is a cheeky, charming, bat-swinging bull, happy to charge into any fight with his trusty carrier full of clubs.

One of the most underrated comic book adaptations, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has aged nicely. It’s taut (with a runtime of 90 minutes), exciting and full of fun.

Included on the disc with this first film is the Behind The Shells making of feature. Previously released on VHS, it’s actually more of an infomercial for the second film. It’s 30 minutes and is very of its time, although there’s some cool stuff in it, including some scenes with the Turtles talking to camera and some interesting footage of the animatronic heads being demonstrated. This is a great inclusion in the set, even if it might have been better placed on the disc with the second film.

Moving onto the second film, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret Of The Ooze finds The Foot Clan reforming with an actually not dead at all Shredder at the helm. Shredder is hell-bent on revenge and is crafting his own mutants in an attempt to give him an edge in this second round. The Turtles must save the city from these hulking mutant goons, and in doing so they may finally learn the secret of their existence (without wishing to give too much away, the secret involves the ooze).

There are a few things you’ll need to get right in order to enjoy this quite-a-lot-worse sequel. The first thing you’ll want to give it is some distance from the first film. Maybe watch this one first or have a month off, because as a direct follow-on it’s a little crushing. Then, you need to lower your expectations and maybe have a couple of beers.

Ninja Turtles 2 isn’t good. Let’s get that right out of the way. There’s plenty of fun to be had watching it, absolutely, and not in a miserable snarky way, either. But as a sequel it’s really disappointing. Unambitious, silly and soft, this marks a jump closer towards the wacky cartoon content. Director Steve Barron didn’t, return and the cast is missing the excellent Judith Hoag and Elias Koteas.

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The Turtles over-act noticeably, which is a complaint I never thought I’d have to make of men in giant Ninja Turtle costumes. Whenever they say anything, they wave their arms around like they’re performing a dance. What’s more frustrating is that these movements are actually more aggressive than those in the fight scenes. Bowing to criticism made regarding the violence in the first film, the Turtles don’t use weapons this time. In fact, their dance-like movements and their aggression-free fighting eventually become indistinguishable, as they take on the bad guys while battling the baddies to the new jack grooves of Vanilla Ice.

As previously mentioned, the great cast members are gone. Hoag’s replacement, Paige Turco, finds herself portraying a flimsier, less useful April O’Neil. Newcomer Keno, played by Ernie Reyes, is just awful. When he’s not harassing women on the street, he’s complaining up a storm to anyone who’ll listen. This isn’t a knock on the actor, as I don’t know who could have made this role work.

Where the film succeeds is with its comedy. It features some genuinely funny dialogue and the new mutants, Tokka and Rahzar, prove to be a decent source of laughs. Giant, aggressive beasts with a taste for destruction, these two physical monsters are mentally babies, taking the Shredder as their mother figure. Still, these two were originally intended to be cartoon characters Bebop and Rocksteady, a part of the film that was vetoed and altered prior to production. While some of the cartoon elements bring this film down, Bebop and Rocksteady would have been a welcome addition. The missed opportunity to see Jim Henson Creature Shop interpretations of those characters is a frustrating one indeed.

Perhaps most fun as a serving of nostalgia, with its funny, cheesy quips and its Vanilla Ice cameo and dance sequence, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II is all right, even if it comes nowhere close to the quality of the first film.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III, though, is not all right. It’s not all right at all.

The third live action film finds the Turtles in possession of a time sceptre (a nod to the comic book series, where the Turtles were taken on a time travelling joyride by apprentice timestress Renet), after April buys it at a flea market. When it unexpectedly whips April back to 17th century Japan, the Turtles follow. They must rescue April, find their way home and put a stop to a local, exacerbated by conniving English arms dealers.

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Ninja Turtles 3 is so dull. I don’t know how you decide to combine the concepts of Ninja Turtles and time travel and make it boring, but this film serves as proof that it is possible.

We get the worst rendition of the Turtles in a film (not a TV series or musical special, to be fair, but certainly film). They look terrible (the Henson company were no longer involved), with weird blotches strewn about them. The quality of the Turtles’ quips has also tumbled down several flights of stairs since the previous film. “Son of a snapper” indeed. The Turtles are the most poorly treated aspect of this film, which is weird.

It’s hard to argue that the film doesn’t feature some lovely sets and, at times, the cinematography is quite nice. Elias Koteas is back, too, which is good news, playing the dual roles of Casey Jones (who gets very little to do) and Wick (another treacherous Englishman). Otherwise, that’s pretty much it.

As far as other bonus features included in the set, we get trailers for each of the films. Unfortunately, the image quality on this Blu-ray set is disappointing. I was immediately struck that it looked different from the US Blu-ray release.  I set up two Blu-ray players and flipped between the two, and the image on the UK set is a distance behind the US. Much of the grain has been removed from the image, taking other elements of the image with it (I’m sure that Judith Hoag used to have freckles). Similarly, at times, the colours look colder.

I had hoped this would prove to be a definitive set for the films, which they’re in need of. Now I have to have the US Blu-ray boxset for the best image quality and the fourth film, the UK Blu-ray set for the making-of feature, and the German DVD of the first film for the deleted scenes and director commentary. Then there’s the currently unreleased director’s cut of the first film that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles co-creator Kevin Eastman told us about in an interview last year.

In order to see that, I think the Turtles are going to need to become even more popular with children, which, as I discussed, is somehow retrospectively ruining my childhood. Oh dear.

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie Collection is out on Blu-ray now.

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2 out of 5