Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Different Versions of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

It was recently announced that Michael Bay, helming the next Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film, is going to change their origin from mutant turtles, into aliens. (Read it here) Apparently, according to Bay's logic, they want kids to wonder wether space turtles could really exist. Yep - alien turtles are a more realistic possibility than mutated turtles. I grant you, both are silly -- but the original TMNT origin at least tied in with the urban legend about flushing reptiles down the drain, and possibly surviving and growing in the sewers.

Unsurprisingly, Bay is doing damage control now. (Read it here) He tells people to take a deep breath and chill, saying that none of us have even read the script. (Apparently it's so awesome, we'd all change our minds! Just forget the last Transformers movie.) He also claims one of the Turtle creators is working with the film to enrich the new alien backstory. Peter Laird, who responded in a comment to the news (read here, scroll down to bottom comments section) said "Could be interesting.", but says he isn't involved in the film. (He sold the rights to TMNT to Nickelodeon to take a break from the franchise.) That leaves Kevin Eastman -- who has supposedly said he's seen the script (not that he's working on it).

Either way - it really boils down to Bay living in some kind of warped bubble where he thinks this is an OK move. I know it's all ultimately inconsequential - but I told my sister and mother about this news, and their immediate reaction was of confusion and annoyance. (Followed by laughing about it.) Neither my mother or sister are big fans by any stretch of the imagination - but they both agreed with me that it was just plain wrong.

Mind you, I don't mind alterations in the TMNT formula. The original comic was a hardcore and gritty parody on mainstream comics.

What I grew up with where the original cartoon-ifed Turtles; cheesy, goofy, and funny.

When I was very young my mother had to warn me that the first Turtles movie was darker than the cartoon show, because it took more inspiration from the original comic.

I later greatly enjoyed the more comic accurate cartoon series from the last decade, which had it's fair share of important changes to the original plots - yet never was it insulting or disparaging to long time fans.

We've also seen major alterations to the TMNT formula sink certain series. The live-action TMNT TV show had very different costumes, and added a long lost female Turtle to the group named Venus. My high school english teacher, when he heard about it offhandedly during class, said "They added another turtle? That's stupid."

You can do a lot with the TMNT formula, though. The second animated series made a major transition, sending the Turtles far into the future. It was different, but it was still the Turtles. The next series relied too much on cyber space, and also altered the animation style of the series for the worse. AGAIN - It's questionable, but not a deal breaker.

Even more - there have been countless fun excursions into different genres, different planets, parallel realities, what have you.

Wether they're Conan-like Warriors...

Have Super Powers...

Wield mystical powers...

Post Apocalyptic survivors...

Or Animated in Japan...

A whole animated movie was even based around this, having the original cartoony Turtles meet their then-modern day animated counterparts!

These wildly imaginative re-interpretations usually only went on in one issue or episode. The Turtles being aliens, of course, fits in fine with this; but not the foundation of a rebooted franchise.

The TMNT have become an American icon of independent creators making it big - and in the process their creation became a staple unto itself. The first issue originally was a parody of Daredevil and X-Men comics. It became much more than that, even to casual observers.

To play devil's advocate - is there a reason or basis for the TMNT to be aliens? Actually - yes there is. The ooze, that originally mutated them, turned out to be a by-product of a teleporter, created by stranded aliens, the Utroms, who where attempting to return home. This lead to some brilliantly imaginative stories with the Turtles in space, fighting evil empires, Triceratops aliens and whatnot.

Still, I just don't agree with the decision. It fundamentally changes the Turtles. Even if they are aliens that crash and are stranded on earth, and have to live in sewers and learn ninjutsu to survive; that scenario would rob the turtles of their connection and influence to the actual martial arts. Which, wether he's a human, or a rat who learned from a human, is taught by splinter to the turtles. The connection to martial arts has always been important to the characters.

The TMNT franchise has a rich a colorful history, with a wide variety of different interpretations. Hardcore and gritty, cartoony, animated action, Anime Super Heroes, comic book style humor, or blood and guts -- there have been a lot of different uses for the turtles. Yet this just strikes at the core of the TMNT mythos. It doesn't help matters, either, that this sounds like crass commercialism based on focus testing and Hollywood stupidity.

It's just my opinion. In all honesty - I'm more into the original comics and cartoon series that closely mirrored those comics. The upcoming CGI Nickelodeon TV show looks a little past my interest level, as it looks like its going to be more like the original cartoony animated version. A movie, at least harkening back to the original stories, would at least have garnered my interest. I loved the last CGI Movie, carrying serious emotional weight for all the characters. So, unless Bay is right - and the script really is that good, to make forget my gripes about this - then I probably will just skip the movie. I think they risk a lot of casual fans and the general public doing the same (especially with the high cost of movie tickets); my mother and sister's reaction, I'd think, will be typical of most people.


  1. Thankfully the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film has been canned. I couldn't think of anyone worse to take the Turtles on then Michael Bay.

    Loved the post, and loving your blog - pretty much speaking about all the things I love.

    Definite follow.

    1. I got some baaaaaad news from the future