|Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles|
North American release poster
|Directed by||Steve Barron|
|Story by||Bobby Herbeck|
|Music by||John Du Prez|
|Distributed by||New Line Cinema|
|Box office||$201 million|
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles[a] is a 1990 American martial arts superhero comedy film directed by Steve Barron. Based on the fictional superhero team of the same name, the story follows Splinter and the turtles, their meeting April O'Neil and Casey Jones, and their confrontation with The Shredder and his Foot Clan. It stars Judith Hoag, Elias Koteas, and the voices of Brian Tochi, Robbie Rist, Corey Feldman and Josh Pais.
The film is an adaptation of the early Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics, with several elements taken from the animated series airing at the time. The turtle costumes were developed by Jim Henson's Creature Shop, one of Henson's last projects before his death shortly after the premiere.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles became the highest-grossing independent film at the time, until The Blair Witch Project; the ninth-highest-grossing film worldwide of 1990; and the highest-grossing film in the series until the 2014 reboot. It was followed by two sequels, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze (1991) and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III (1993).
As a crime wave rises in New York City, reporter April O'Neil correctly theorizes that the mysterious ninja Foot Clan may be behind the rising chaos. The Shredder, the Foot leader, orders April silenced. She is attacked by the Foot in a subway and knocked unconscious. Raphael, one of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, emerges from the shadows, defeats the Foot, and carries her to the turtles' hideout, unaware that one of the Foot is following him. Splinter, their rat master, explains to April that he and the turtles were once ordinary animals, but were mutated into intelligent creatures by toxic waste, and trained by Splinter in the art of ninjitsu. After the turtles escort April home, they find their hideout ransacked and Splinter kidnapped. They return to April's apartment and spend the night there.
Danny Pennington, the delinquent son of April's supervisor Charles Pennington, works for the Foot. After bailing Danny out of jail for robbery and truancy, Charles stops at April's apartment where Danny glimpses one of the turtles hiding. He reports this to Shredder.
After an argument with Leonardo, Raphael goes to the roof of April's apartment building, where the Foot ambush him. He is knocked unconscious and the turtles scramble to defend themselves, assisted by the vigilante Casey Jones, who had recently met Raphael. The building catches fire during the fight and the turtles retreat to a farm belonging to April's family. Raphael recovers and the turtles train while April and Casey fall in love. Leo contacts Splinter through telepathy, and the turtles return to New York to rescue him.
Danny has secretly been taking counsel from Splinter, who tells him the story of his master Hamato Yoshi's murder by a rival ninja, Oroku Saki, over the love of a woman, while Splinter was an ordinary rat. During the struggle, Splinter's cage was broken and he lunged at Saki's face, clawing and biting him. Saki threw Splinter to the floor and took one swipe with his katana, slicing Splinter's ear. When Danny learns the Shredder intends to have Splinter killed, he and Casey set him free. Splinter reveals to the other teens who have been recruited by the Foot that the Shredder has been brainwashing them to do his dirty work. Realizing this, they all resign from the Foot.
The turtles engage the Foot in battle, easily defeating every Foot Clan ninja, but upon facing the Shredder, he defeats them singlehandedly. As the Shredder prepares to kill Leonardo, Splinter appears and challenges him to a fight. Splinter names Shredder as Oroku Saki; Saki removes his mask and touches his scar, remembering how Splinter gave it to him. He charges Splinter to spear him, who ensnares the Shredder's yari with Michelangelo's nunchaku, leaving him dangling over the roof's edge. In a final attempt to kill Splinter, Shredder throws a tanto at Splinter, but when Splinter reaches to catch it, his grip is released and Saki falls into a garbage truck. Casey pulls the lever "accidentally" to activate the compactor, crushing the Shredder. As the police arrive and arrest the Foot soldiers, the teens tell them the location of the Foot hideout. Reunited with Splinter, the turtles watch as April and Casey kiss.
- Judith Hoag as April O'Neil, a reporter for Channel 3 News
- Elias Koteas as Casey Jones, a streetwise vigilante and former ice hockey player who becomes an ally of the turtles
- Jay Patterson as Charles Pennington, April's boss
- Michael Turney as Danny Pennington, Charles's teenage son
- Raymond Serra as Chief Sterns, the Police Chief of New York City
- James Saito as Oroku Saki / The Shredder, the founder of a network of runaways-turned-thieves and the main antagonist of the film
- Toshishiro Obata as Tatsu, Shredder's second-in-command
- Sam Rockwell as Head Thug
- Brian Tochi as Leonardo, the leader of the Turtles and the closest to Splinter
- Corey Feldman as Donatello, the brains of the Turtles
- Josh Pais as Raphael, the rebellious and angry Turtle
- Robbie Rist as Michelangelo, the youngest and fun-loving party Turtle
- Kevin Clash as Splinter, the Turtles' master.
- David McCharen as Oroku Saki / The Shredder
- Michael McConnohie as Tatsu
- Martin P. Robinson as Leonardo (facial assistant)
- David Forman as Leonardo (in-suit performer)
- David Rudman as Donatello (facial assistant)
- David Greenaway as Raphael (facial assistant)
- Josh Pais as Raphael (in-suit performer)
- Kenn Troum as Raphael (in-suit martial arts stunt double)
- Mak Wilson as Michelangelo (facial assistant)
- Michelan Sisti as Michaelangelo (in-suit performer)
- Kevin Clash as Splinter (puppeteer)
- Rickey Boyd as Splinter (facial assistant)
- Robert Tygner as Splinter (assistant puppeteer)
All four actors who played the in-suit turtles also appeared in cameos, with David Forman (Leonardo) as a gang member, Michelan Sisti (Michaelangelo) as a pizza delivery man, Leif Tilden (Donatello) as a messenger of The Foot and Josh Pais (Raphael) as a passenger in a taxi. Pais was the only actor to portray a Turtle on screen and provide his voice.
The script is based mainly on the early Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics, including the stories of the turtles' origins, rooftop battle, sojourn to the farmhouse, and battle with Shredder. Elements were taken from the 1980s animated series, such as the Turtles' colored bandanas and love of pizza, elements of Michelangelo's character, and April O'Neil as a television reporter instead of a lab assistant.
The film's budget was $13.5 million. Much of the production took place in North Carolina, with a couple of location shoots in New York City during the summer of 1989 to capture famous landmark areas, such as Times Square, the Empire State Building, and the Hudson River. Filming in North Carolina took place at the North Carolina Film Studios, where New York rooftop sets were created. Production designer Roy Forge Smith and his art director, Gary Wissner, went to New York City four months prior to filming and took still photographs of rooftops and other various locations. While in NYC, Smith and Wissner were allowed to explore an abandoned Brooklyn subway line, as they could not gain access to a city sewer, but the structure of the subway had the same principle as a sewer. They also went to a water tunnel which had large pipes running through it.
After design sketches were created, the construction team used the studios' backlot to create some of the sets. There were problems with the manholes that led to the turtles' home, in that an eight-foot square room had to be constructed beneath them, but found water at about five-feet, and thus had to pour concrete into the underground rooms to keep the water out. In order to make the sewer authentic, a tide-mark was given, and it was covered with brick, plaster and stucco paint to give the walls a realistic look. The turtles were created by Jim Henson's Creature Shop in London. Jim Henson said that the creatures were the most advanced that he had ever worked with. The creatures were first made out of fiberglass, and then remolded out of clay. They were produced as molds to cast the whole body in foam rubber latex. The work at the Shop was completed within 18 weeks.
Many major studios, such as Walt Disney Pictures, Columbia Pictures, MGM/UA, Orion Pictures, Paramount (whose parent company Viacom would acquire the TMNT property in 2009), and Warner Bros. turned down the film for distribution; they were worried that despite the popularity of the cartoon and the toy line, the film could potentially be a box office disappointment, like Masters of the Universe was just a couple years prior. The film found distribution roughly halfway through the initial production, via the then small and independent production company New Line Cinema, which had been known for distributing low budget B movies and arthouse fare.
According to Brian Henson, the film was finished in post-production largely without Barron. Editor Sally Menke, who later edited many films by Quentin Tarantino, was removed as production company Golden Harvest did not like her work.
Live Entertainment Inc. announced that the film would go to VHS via its Family Home Entertainment label on October 4, 1990. The suggested price was $24.99 per cassette. Pizza Hut engaged in a $20 million marketing campaign tied into the film (despite the fact that Domino's Pizza was used as product placement in the film itself). Items included advertising in print, radio and television, and several rebate coupons.
The UK version removed Eastern fighting weapons like the nunchaku, using alternate shots of Michaelangelo in order to conceal his nunchaku weapon, or omitting the show-off duel between Michaelangelo and a member of the Foot clan. Also, the scene of Shredder in the garbage shred was heavily edited and the Turtle Power song was edited to change the word 'ninja' to 'hero' as per the UK television series. The unedited version was released on DVD in 2004 in the UK.
The German theatrical voice-dubbed version is identical to the UK version, i.e. it omits the usage of the nunchaku. Furthermore, the German dubbing audio track contains several "cartoon-like" sounds in order to soften the violence of the fight scenes. Although the German dub of the film was released with unedited pictures on DVD, the German dub audio version with the "funny noises" was still kept, because they were permanently merged into the German voice-dubbing audio.
In 1990, the film was released to VHS and reached No. 4 in the home video market. The film was released to DVD in Region 1 on September 3, 2002; it includes only minor special features, such as a trailer and interactive menus. The film was also released in the MiniDVD format.
On August 11, 2009, the film was included in a special 25th anniversary box set (25th anniversary of the original comic book, not the movie), released to both DVD and Blu-ray formats. It also contained Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III, and the animated release, TMNT (2007). No additional features, other than theatrical trailers, were included. In Germany, a "Special Edition" was released on March 12, 2010 with additional features, including an audio commentary by director Steve Barron, an alternate ending, and alternate takes from the original German release, where Michelangelo's nunchaku had been edited out. Warner Home Video released the film along with Secret of the Ooze and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III as part of a "Triple Feature" on Blu-ray in June 2012, minus the fourth film TMNT. Warner Home Video released the film separately on Blu-ray on December 18, 2012.
The film opened in the United States on March 30, 1990, and was number one at the box office over the weekend, grossing more than $25 million, the biggest opening for an independent film at the time. The film turned out to be a huge success at the box office, eventually making over $135 million in North America, and over $66 million outside North America, for a worldwide total of over $200 million, making it the ninth highest-grossing film of 1990 worldwide. The film was also nominated for awards by The Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films.
The film received an approval rating of 40% on Rotten Tomatoes, based on reviews from 50 critics. The website's consensus states "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is exactly as advertised: one-liners, brawls, and general silliness. Good for the young at heart, irritating for everyone else." It is the highest rated of the series. On Metacritic, it has a score of 51 based on reviews from 21 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".
On the film's initial release, Owen Gleiberman, writing for Entertainment Weekly, gave the movie an F rating, finding that none of the four turtles or Splinter had any personality, but felt that a young audience might enjoy the film, noting that the reviewer might have "gone for it too had I been raised on Nintendo games and the robotic animation that passes for entertainment on today's Saturday-morning TV." Kim Newman wrote in the Monthly Film Bulletin that he found the characters reminiscent of the early 1970s Godzilla film series, describing the turtles as "loveable monsters in baggy foam rubber suits" who "befriended lost children and smashed things up in orgies of destruction that somehow never hurt anyone," and that the turtles "drop the occasional teenage buzzword but are never remotely convincing as teenagers, mutants, ninjas or turtles, leaving them stranded on the screen as big green Muppets with different coloured headbands."
Both Gleiberman and Maslin praised the work of Jim Henson's Creature Shop, with Maslin stating "without which there would have been no film at all". Variety praised the film's tongue-in-cheek humor and the "amusingly outlandish" martial arts sequences. Roger Ebert concluded that the film is "nowhere near as bad as it might have been, and probably is the best possible Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle movie. It supplies, in other words, more or less what Turtle fans will expect."
Maslin of The New York Times criticized the cinematography, stating that it was so "poorly photographed that the red-masked turtle looks almost exactly like the orange-masked one." Variety described the film as "visually rough around the edges... sometimes sluggish in its plotting". Ebert stated that the "most interesting part of the film for a non-Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle fan is the production design", which he described as a "low-rent version of Batman or Metropolis."
Variety, the New York Times, and the Monthly Film Bulletin all noted the Asian villains of the film; Variety described "overtones of racism in its use of Oriental villains", while the Times' Janet Maslin stated "The story's villainous types are Asian, and the film plays the yellow-peril aspects of this to the hilt." Newman noted a racist joke in April O'Neil's response to the Foot Clan, "What's the matter, did I fall behind on my Sony payments?", finding that the film expressed a "resentment of Japan's economic strength even while the film is plundering Japan's popular culture." Ebert felt there was "no racism" in the film.
Following the huge success of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles at the box office, several films were created. A year later, The Secret of the Ooze was released in theaters, and was a commercial success. In 1993, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III was released in theaters, to a smaller box office take. After a 14-year absence from theaters, a fourth film, TMNT, was released in 2007, though unlike the trilogy, this was a CGI animated film. 7 years later, a reboot, also with the title Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, was released in 2014, and a sequel titled Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows was released in theaters on June 3, 2016.
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