Opinion: Who cares if the Ninja Turtles are neither Teenage nor Mutant?


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Ever since producer Michael Bay casually mentioned that the eponymous heroes of his new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie would be aliens, and not, you know, mutants, the internet has been abuzz with complaints and a resounding chorus of childhood-rape accusations from fans as well as folks involved with the franchise. Now, the latest word is that the film will jettison not only the whole mutant thing, but the teenager aspect of the characters as well, calling itself, appropriately, “Ninja Turtles.” And unlike the rest of TMNT fandom, I’m completely fine with it.

This latest news comes via Bleeding Cool, which has verified that the title change is definitely happening, but has yet to pinpoint why, though their sources opine that it’s likely a marketing decision. This news has thrown additional fuel on an already considerable furor over changes that Bay and director Jonathan Liebesman (Wrath of the Titans) may be making to the TMNT source material. Just last week, IFC’s Rick Marshall spoke with Liebesman, who did his best to ameliorate the fan outcry, even pointing to the fact that TMNT co-creator Kevin Eastman is actually involved in the production.

The biggest complaint about these changes appears to be that it deviates from and somehow corrupts the core concept of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. This assumes that being Teenage and Mutant is a crucial part of why the characters resonated with audiences in the first place, and as a lifelong TMNT fan, I can attest that just isn’t the case.

A little history lesson: the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were co-created by Eastman and partner Peter Laird back in the halcyon days of 1984. The original comic book series was conceived as an elaborate parody of the hottest trends in mid-80s comic books. The series’ most obvious target was Frank Miller’s “Daredevil,” exchanging Stick for Splinter, the Hand ninjas for the Foot ninjas and keeping the gritty, violent, dark world of Miller’s New York City. But TMNT also parodied the popular DC book “The Teen Titans” (teenage), Marvel’s “Uncanny X-Men” (mutants) and the growing market for black-and-white comics starring anthropomorphic characters (turtles). While the parody aspects of TMNT might have been crucial to its initial success, however, the vast majority of fans first experienced the characters in a very, very different manner: The cartoons, movies and toys.

The “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” cartoons, movies and toys kept the basics of the characters’ origins and identities, but the parodies and inside comics references were largely tossed aside – understandable given the material’s much younger demographic. Speaking anecdotally, of course, but many people who grew up with TMNT, while they might be aware of the characters’ comic book origins, don’t realize that the whole thing was an elaborate, meta-joke about what was popular in 1984. That’s because the TMNT cartoons and movies were far, far simpler, and concentrated less on parody and more on lovable, easily identifiable characters fighting an endless stream of ninjas, aliens and anthropomorphic henchmen while shouting absurdly 90s catchphrases. You know, stuff that’s totally awesome and blows kids minds.

Putting aside the actual abilities of Bay and Liebesman, if the two want to lose the most confusing, least resonant aspects of the TMNT concept, I’m completely fine with it. TMNT wasn’t a massive success because they were mutants or teenagers, but because they were Ninja Turtles, and as long as that stays in tact, I think the film has as fair a chance at success as any of the other numerous TMNT reboots – maybe even better. Additionally, I believe fan concern about the Turtles’ more identifiable characteristics getting lost to be extremely premature. To take one very specific example, anyone thinks that not being teenagers would prevent the Ninja Turtles from enjoying pizza hasn’t ever seen this full-grown man do work on a hot pie. Just because they are no longer teenagers doesn’t mean Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael and Michelangelo can’t be fun, funny, likeable characters.

I have no idea if the Bay/Liebesman “Ninja Turtles” flick will be any good. Judging from my feelings about Bay’s “Transformers” franchise, I’m guessing it won’t really be up my alley, but that has little to do with concept or anticipated changes to the original intellectual property, and much more to do with my affinity (or lack thereof) for Bay’s work. Sure, as a comics guy, I appreciate and enjoy the in-jokes of the TMNT mythos, but I think they’re far from essential when it comes to distilling down that still totally bodacious concept. Cowabunga, motherf*ckers.

What do you think about “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” becoming just “Ninja Turtles”? Do you think it damages the entire concept, or is it a lot of fuss over nothing? Tell us in the comments below or on Facebook and Twitter.

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Weird Roles

Anthony Michael Hall’s Most Rotten Movies

Catch Anthony Michael Hall in Weird Science on Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Universal/Everett Collection

Anthony Michael Hall was the quintessential ’80s nerd. We love him in classics like The Breakfast Club and National Lampoon’s Vacation. But even the brainiest among us has his weak spots. In honor of Weird Science airing this Rotten Friday, we analyze Hall’s worst movies.

Weird Science (1985) 56%

A low point for John Hughes, Weird Science is way too wacky for its own good. Anthony Michael Hall’s Gary and his pal Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) create the “perfect woman.” Supernatural chaos ensues. The film costars a young Bill Paxton, floppy disks, and a general disconnect from all reality.

The Caveman’s Valentine (2001) 46%

This ambitious drama starring Samuel L. Jackson couldn’t live up to its rich premise. Jackson plays Romulus, a Juilliard-educated, paranoid schizophrenic who lives in a cave. Hall co-stars as Bob, a rich man, who wants to see Romulus play the piano. The plot centers around Romulus investigating a murder, but with so much going on, the movie never quite finds its rhythm.

All About the Benjamins (2002) 30%

Ice Cube plays a bounty hunter who teams up with Mike Epps’ con man to catch diamond thieves. Hall plays Lil J, a small-time drug dealer. It’s definitely a role we’ve never seen Hall in, but overall the movie isn’t funny or original enough to justify its violence.

Freddy Got Fingered (2001) 11%

This showcase for Tom Green’s goofy gross-out comedy is often hailed as one of the worst films of all time. Green plays Gord, a 20-something slacker, who dreams of having his own animated series. Hall is Dave Davidson, a CEO of an animation studio who eventually helps Gord find success. Too bad Tom Green wasn’t so lucky.

Johnny Be Good (1988) 0%

Hall plays against type as Johnny Walker, a star quarterback. Robert Downey Jr. is his best friend and Uma Thurman plays his devoted girlfriend. Despite the support of a future A-list cast, the movie lacks central conflict and charm. Or, as TV Guide put it, “Johnny be worthless.” Ouch.

Catch the “Too Rotten to Miss” Weird Science this Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Season 6: Episode 1: Pickathon

Binge Fest

Portlandia Season 6 Now Available On DVD

The perfect addition to your locally-sourced, artisanal DVD collection.

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End of summer got you feeling like:

Portlandia Toni Screaming GIF

Ease into fall with Portlandia‘s sixth season. Relive the latest exploits of Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein’s cast of characters, including Doug and Claire’s poignant breakup, Lance’s foray into intellectual society, and the terrifying rampage of a tsukemen Noodle Monster! Plus, guest stars The Flaming Lips, Glenn Danzig, Louis C.K., Kevin Corrigan, Zoë Kravitz, and more stop by to experience what Portlandia is all about.

Pick up a copy of the DVD today, or watch full episodes and series extras now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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Byrning Down the House

Everything You Need to Know About the Film That Inspired “Final Transmission”

Documentary Now! pays tribute to "Stop Making Sense" this Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Cinecom/courtesy Everett Collection

This week Documentary Now! is with the band. For everyone who’s ever wanted to be a roadie without leaving the couch, “Final Transmission” pulls back the curtain on experimental rock group Test Pattern’s final concert. Before you tune in Wednesday at 10P on IFC, plug your amp into this guide for Stop Making Sense, the acclaimed 1984 Talking Heads concert documentary.

Put on Your Dancing Shoes

Hailed as one of the best concert films ever created, director Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs) captured the energy and eccentricities of a band known for pushing the limits of music and performance.

Make an Entrance

Lead singer David Byrne treats the concert like a story: He enters an empty stage with a boom box and sings the first song on the setlist solo, then welcomes the other members of the group to the stage one song at a time.

Steal the Spotlight

David Byrne Dancing
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Always a physical performer, Byrne infuses the stage and the film with contagious joy — jogging in place, dancing with lamps, and generally carrying the show’s high energy on his shoulders.

Suit Yourself

Byrne makes a splash in his “big suit,” a boxy business suit that grows with each song until he looks like a boy who raided his father’s closet. Don’t overthink it; on the DVD, the singer explains, “Music is very physical, and often the body understands it before the head.”

View from the Front Row

Stop Making Sense Band On Stage
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Demme (who also helmed 1987’s Swimming to Cambodia, the inspiration for this season’s Documentary Now! episode “Parker Gail’s Location is Everything”) films the show by putting viewers in the audience’s shoes. The camera rarely shows the crowd and never cuts to interviews or talking heads — except the ones onstage.

Let’s Get Digital

Tina Weymouth Keyboard
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Stop Making Sense isn’t just a good time — it’s also the first rock movie to be recorded entirely using digital audio techniques. The sound holds up more than 30 years later.

Out of Pocket

Talk about investing in your art: Talking Heads drummer Chris Frantz told Rolling Stone that the members of the band “basically put [their] life savings” into the movie, and they didn’t regret it.

Catch Documentary Now!’s tribute to Stop Making Sense when “Final Transmission” premieres Wednesday, October 12 at 10P on IFC.

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