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Darkness has settled over New York City as Shredder (Tohoru Masamune) and his evil Foot Clan have an iron grip on everything from the police to the politicians. The future is grim until four unlikely outcast brothers rise from the sewers and discover their destiny as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The Turtles – Leonardo (Pete Ploszek/Johnny Knoxville), Michelangelo (Noel Fisher), Raphael (Alan Ritchson), and Donatello (Jeremy Howard) – must work with fearless reporter April O'Neil (Megan Fox) and her wise-cracking cameraman Vern Fenwick (Will Arnett) to save the city and unravel Shredder's diabolical plan.

 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)
Common sense tells us that Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles should’ve died after they published their first black & white comic. But it lived on, became a popular cartoon, made a fortune on really weird toys, spawned a new comic, a live-action movie trilogy, a new cartoon (2004), and an animated movie (2007). Now, the Turtles and all of their friends belong to the people at Viacom, who have produced yet another new animated series on Nickelodeon and a big budget, live-action tent-pole release in theaters via Paramount Pictures. I’m hesitant to admit that I’ve followed TMNT (as fans and brevity fetishists call them) over their 30-year run and, thanks to the advent of DVD and video on-demand, I’ve even revisited some of those old shows and movies. The truly awful ‘80s cartoons aside, every incarnation has been pretty entertaining. Steve Barron’s 1990 live-action movie stands out against the fray and has aged surprisingly well (‘Cricket? No one understands cricket! You gotta know what a crumpet is to understand cricket!’), but it is the Nickelodeon show that has really captured my attention. Developed by Joshua Sternin ( Murphy Brown, That ‘70s Show) and J. R. Ventimilia ( The Critic), Nick’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is so imaginative, funny, visually engaging, and just generally good that it makes me wish that I had a child I could share it with (especially now that the writers are jamming it full of references to ‘70s and ‘80s horror movies).

Despite having such a fantastic and popular show on their hands, Viacom had no interest in brand synergy and went to Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes to produce their theatrical reboot. The choice makes sense from an studio executive’s point of view, because Bay had made Paramount billions with his Transformers movies, but the first film in that series was supervised in part by Steven Spielberg, while Platinum Dunes makes exclusively R-rated horror movies. Minus any outside influences (or interest in the property), Bay is just about the last person to usher the Turtles back to the big screen. His talents aren’t attuned to family-friendly entertainment and it’s crazy to shoehorn him into a place as the head of two Paramount kiddie properties. Besides the satirically bleak and bloody original comics, the Ninja Turtle characters have been aimed at mainstreams kids much longer than they were ever aimed at eccentric adults. Of course, Bay was just one of six producers on the film – he didn’t write the film, nor did he physically direct it. But he did help pick the guys that did.

 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)
The screenplay is credited to Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol writers Josh Appelbaum & André Nemec and Snow White and the Huntsman co-writer Evan Daugherty. I’m not bothered by most the controversial changes made to the TMNT mythology, because every iteration has altered one thing or another over the decades. I’m only really bothered by the mostly insignificant role Shredder plays in the film. Most of Japanese-centric elements are afterthoughts, reportedly added well into production after fans complained that Bay and company were ‘whitewashing’ the story’s origins. Even if there hadn’t been records of re-shoots and changes, it’s pretty obvious that new villain Eric Sacks, played by a very American white guy in William Fichtner, was originally going to don the bladed armor. Beyond cultural insensitivities, I miss Splinter and Shredder having a reason to hate each other – or the villain having any reason for doing anything, really. For the most part, I’m actually surprised how many characters have been pulled from various incarnations of the franchise, including Vern Fenwick (Will Arnett), April O’Neil’s cameraman from the ‘80s cartoon, and Karai (Minae Noji), Shredder’s adopted daughter that first appeared in the ‘90s comics. They even threw fan-favourite Dr. Baxter Stockman (K. Todd Freeman) into the background.

What’s disappointing is, no matter how many cosmetic changes are made to the lore, the screenplay is so by-the-numbers that it might have been written using a special ‘origin story edition’ of Mad Libs (which might actually explain the stuff that doesn’t make any sense). The plotting is brutalized by Joel Negron and Glen Scantlebury’s (both members of the Bay Transformers machine) relentless editing. There’s no time to absorb anything. The human cast pushes their way through repetitive, exposition-heavy dialogue as best they can, but the lack of pauses and breathing room creates a situation where they’re basically shouting at each other the entire movie. I absolutely despise the terrifying, overly-complex, and ugly Turtle and Splinter redesigns, and think the mo-cap/voice-over performances are mostly garbage (Jeremy Howard is sort of amusing as Donatello), but do appreciate their relationships and the films strong sense of family. I give the filmmakers minimal credit for ending the film on a sentimental note, even if they don’t succeed.

 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)
The script is dumb enough to deep six any director’s efforts, but Bay and company really hedged their bets by hiring Jonathan Liebesman, the director behind two of the worst horror films of the previous decade, Darkness Falls (2003) and Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (2006), and a unintelligibly ugly alien invasion abomination called Battle: Los Angeles (2011). Few working directors overuse bad special effects and dizzying virtual camerawork more than Liebesman. The perpetually drunken imagery (it must have been awful in 3D) makes sense during the introductory sequences, where the title characters are hidden from view, but quickly becomes nauseating and frustratingly obscures any sense of geography or structure. Even a seemingly well-choreographed, snowbound escape sequence that are brimming with super-slow-motion ‘button’ shots is utterly incomprehensible. In opposition, the new Nick show features fantastic martial arts choreography, blocking, virtual camera movement, and editing, all of which are often grounded in a live-action tradition. It’s pretty sophisticated for a show that is otherwise unhindered by reality (the showmakers revel in Anime-inspired emoji reactions and abstract background patterns) and a refreshing reprieve from the over-cutting and wiggling camerawork seen in most special effects-driven summer blockbusters.

 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

Video


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was shot using Arri Alexa Plus digital HD cameras, then converted to 3D in post-production. This 2D Blu-ray is presented in 2.40:1, 1080p HD video and is limited only by the film’s hideous appearance. Liebesman and cinematographer Lula Carvalho have taken steps to make their movie align stylistically with Bay’s Transformers movies, including the Dutch angles, shifting camerawork, and super high contrast imagery. Any dark edge or shape is crushed into impenetrably thick, black pools and highlights bloom and stretch over the anamorphic lenses into blinding flares. Wide-angle details are often lost in the fray or smudged, due to shallow focus, but those that escape the ugliness are broad and clean, without any edge enhancement issues. Close-up textures are more consistently crisp and complex. The palette is extreme to the point that nothing ever appears normal. Skin tones are baked by red and orange gels and backgrounds glow with fluorescent blues, sickly greens, and a constant stream of neon key lights. The perpetual darkness, pressed contrast, and general smokiness does cause significant noise issues throughout the film, all of which I assume was present in the theatrical presentations.

 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

Audio


This Blu-ray marks Paramount’s second Dolby Atmos-ready soundtrack, following September’s Transformers: Age of Extinction release. Again, I do not have the compatible Atmos software, so this review pertains to the Dolby TrueHD ‘mix-down.’ The mix is typical for type with lots of dynamic range and directional involvement. The battle sequences are punchy (excuse the pun) with chunky impacts, swishing movements, and clanging weaponry. Whenever the Shredder is involved, the track takes on a livelier sci-fi slant and a pretty consistent bass murmur. The big highlight is the escape from the villain’s lair, which includes lots of machine gun fire, deflecting bullets, crashing cars, and the slushy rumble of giant turtles sliding down a snow-covered mountainside. The dialogue coming out of the mouths of CG creatures sounds pretty unnatural, but is at least consistent. Dialogue-heavy scenes feature considerable environmental ambience as well.  Brian Tyler’s symphonic score isn’t particularly original (what Brian Tyler score is?), but does a decent job propelling the film forward with Transformers-esque hero themes.

 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

Extras


  • Digital Reality (18:00, HD) – An inane discussion about ‘re-imagining’ the characters as ‘bad ass’ (a phrase Liebesman uses at least six times) and the motion capture/digital effects processes. It includes pre-vis images and effects breakdowns.
  • In Your Face! The Turtles in 3D (4:20, HD 3D and 2D) – A quick look at the post-production 3D processes.
  • It Ain’t Easy Being Green (6:50, HD) – Interviews with the cast about their childhood experiences with the original TMNT cartoons and discussing their work on the film.
  • Evolutionary Mash-Up (15:00, HD) – A kid-friendly educational piece about real turtles and historical ninjas.
  • Turtle Rock (5:40, HD) – A look at Brian Tyler’s music.
  • Extended ending (00:50, HD)
  • "Shell Shocked” Music Video (3:30, HD)
  • Making of “Shell Shocked” (1:30, HD)


 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

Overall


This Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot is awful. The filmmakers have their heart in the right place a couple of times, but, even completely separated from any other version of the story, they’ve made a mostly unwatchable movie. The writers institute superficial changes to the characters/mythology that don’t make their generic script any less predictable, the CG character designs are nightmarish, the performances are mostly terrible, and the action is mostly incomprehensible, thanks to hideous camerawork and terrible editing. Paramount’s Blu-ray is limited by the super-high contrast imagery, which crushes details and causes quite a bit of digital noise, but does feature a strong Dolby TrueHD-friendly Dolby Atmos soundtrack. The extras are mostly fluffy advertising material.

Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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