There is a class of movies that exist that I have seen dozens of times. They are maybe not the best films. Hell, they may be plain godawful. But they were always on or you would never switch from them once you stumbled upon them on cable. For whatever reason, I’m sure everyone has a movie that they or their friends know line-for-line, whether they ever intended to or not. I want to start exploring some of these movies, such as I did for Commando, to maybe better understand what makes these movies endure in my memory. Or at least to express some the utterly stupid random nonsense that goes through my head as I go to sleep. The movie I want to write about is the 1990 movie, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
This movie came along at an odd time for me. At the age of twelve, I was at an odd precipice in terms of development and this movie stands as a weird symbol of that transition. Through my reading of my brothers black-and-white TMNT comics, I already thought of myself as more advanced than the average consumer. I knew that the turtles should all be wearing red masks. I knew that they were actually brutal killers, employing lethal force in combat with the hated Foot. There were no robotic clan soldiers, no incompetent mutated warthog punks, and no Krang (though we did have some pretty similar T.C.R.I. aliens). I had experienced the darker, “cooler” Turtles and I had little time for the sanitized, kiddy cartoon fiction. Then this movie comes out and it’s a weird mixed bag of Turtles material. Sure, it’s still pretty tame compared to the comic, but at least it had human Foot Clan members, a Shredder not played for comic relief, and some actual story elements taken from the Eastman and Laird comics, While not a great film or even particularly loved film, I have seen it many, many times. I’m not sure why, or even how. But I feel like making some random observations about it.
1) For some reason, it’s all about Raphael. Yes, while Leonardo was previously portrayed as the level-headed leader of our heroes, the usually “cool, but rude” Raph takes center stage in this movie. Never understood that random decision to this day.
2) Corey Feldman was the voice of Donatello. This was a big deal at the time.
3) Sam Rockwell enters my consciousness. Years later, whenever I saw Sam Rockwell, I always felt he looked strangely familiar. Until the day I had my “Eureka!” moment and realized that SR was no one other than the charismatic street punk working for the Foot Clan.
4) The fact that giant anthropomorphic turtles can navigate through normal society by wearing trenchcoats and fedoras. I had a friend who attempted to wear a fedora to high school one day in an attempt to bring back a more elegant style. He was so thoroughly harassed he never attempted it again. If my friend couldn’t avoid detection with this look, how can a giant amphibian pull it off. Throughout the movie, whether its purchasing a pizza through the sewer or escaping NYC in a un-tinted windowed van, the Turtles take a supremely cavalier attitude towards detection. Yet, maybe it’s a testament to how “crazy” New York used to be that Elias Koteas’ Casey Jones character, upon getting a good look at Raphael for the first time asks something along the lines of: “Are you some kind of punker?” Yeah, he was clearly cognizant of the obscure Bogey shellcore scene of the late 80’s.
You know what might improve this clever disguise? You guessed it. Pants!
5) Strangely homicidal ending. This film remains pretty light throughout. It does have a weirdly violent ending. After our heroes finally best the evil Shredder and cast him unconsciously into the back of a garbage truck, Casey Jones murders him by casting an “aint I a stinker” expression and saying “whoops” as he activates the crushing mechanism. Then we proceed to see a remarkably bloodless suit of Shredder armor get pulverized. I’m glad murder comes so easily to you.
I could do this all night…except I can’t. So, while I have more to say on this subject, let’s leave it at this for now.