Blu-ray Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

I’ve been a fan of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles since I was a kid, and with Nickelodeon taking the reigns on the franchise — and in doing so, creating the best iteration of the heroes in a half-shell to date (check out my review of the first season to see why) — this should be a time when fans of T.U.R.T.L.E. power are rejoicing! Instead, there’s been a lot of worry and disappointment when it comes to the big screen version of the team.

People love to hate on Michael Bay, so when his name became attached to the Turtles movie a few years ago, the childhood of millions was somehow instantly destroyed. While I’ll never understand how that’s possible, the fear began to spread all the way up until the film’s release. Was the widespread panic among certain fans just? Probably not to the degree it hit; however, this reboot of the Turtles on the silver screen certainly does leave a lot to be desired — at least for the first hour or so.

You see, I’m a huge fan of origin stories, so I’m all for not seeing Batman for a solid portion of a movie like Batman Begins in favour of backstory. Not all movies need it, but it’s great to establish characters and plot instead of just throwing everyone right into the action. Now on the same front, there’s nothing wrong with jumping right into the action either if the movie warrants it! The main problem with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is that it falls somewhere, awkwardly in between.

The first 45-minutes of the movie moves pretty slow, setting up the story behind the Foot, Shredder, and the Turtles, but mostly focusing on April O’Neil (Megan Fox) and her father’s friend Eric Sacks (William Fichtner). It just takes a long time to get to a point where we’re having fun — which is ideally what a movie like this would focus on from the start.

One of the main issues is the casting of Fox as April, as she just falls flat for a character that needs to carry a large portion of the movie. Now I’m not someone who instantly hates any role Fox portrays, but here she just doesn’t work. I mean, this is the Ninja Turtles we’re talking about, so I have a hard time believing they couldn’t find someone who could pull off the role. It didn’t even need to be someone who’s known, just someone who could handle the material. Man, the way I’m talking about it would make one think the work involved with the role could only be handled by an Oscar winner. That’s not the case at all. It just needs someone who can make us believe in the story we’re watching unfold.

Another big change is the origin of the Turtles. Early on there were rumours that the Turtles would be from space, and that really got people nervous. Well, breathe easy, as the Turtles were always of this earth; however, how they became ninja mutants has changed quite a bit. It’s a spoiler of sorts to explain what happened, so I’ll just say that the way they end up in the sewer is pretty silly in general, as I never saw a reason for them to be tossed down there when it’s all explained. It’s like it’s done just because they needed to end up there, and they wanted to connect certain things. There’s also the issue that once in the sewer Splinter found a book on martial arts, and from there he taught himself ninjitsu before training his students. It’s just a really randomly thrown together origin.

Another misfire in the casting department is Tony Shalhoub as the voice of Splinter. It’s so jarring every time Splinter talks that it’s hard to take him seriously as a ninja master — if the book actually brought him to that status. Splinter is supposed to be a wise, old master to the Turtles…someone they admire, and someone we believe holds all the answers. While I like Shalhoub in other roles, his voice really just causes Splinter to lose that persona from the first time we hear him speak.

Now to the good, and there is good to be found here! The film is 101 minutes long, and I’d say half of that is the drawn out, April-centric introduction I spoke about earlier. The final half of the film is where the fun begins! If you’re a fan of the Nickelodeon cartoon, the dialogue and banter between the Turtles that you love in the TV show starts appearing in the film. It’s like the movie really finds its groove halfway in and just enjoys itself.

The Turtles have a different look to them this time out, with the design choice to make them a bit more realistic looking than previous versions. I personally enjoyed how they looked, and liked the fact that they each had an individual style, while also all being pretty formidable heroes simply due to their size alone. And whether you like how they look or not, there’s no denying that the CGI work on the Turtles is top notch. They’ve got so much life and persona to them that they feel like a part of the world we’re watching, and not computer graphics splashed into it. This is largely in part to how far motion capture has come along, as well as the fantastic motion capture work of Alan Ritchson (Raphael), Noel Fisher (Michelangelo), Pete Ploszek (Leonardo), and Jeremy Howard (Donatello).

While it takes a while to get going, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is an entertaining movie in the end. It’s definitely not as good as it could’ve been, and there’s lots that could’ve been changed. However, once the film begins to focus on the Turtles over April, it really begins to shine on the comedic and action fronts. I’ve got faith that the sequel will fix a lot of the mistakes that this one made, at least in terms of pacing and storytelling (as I’m not sure replacing Fox and Shalhoub are options at this point), in which case there will be a lot more to enjoy right out of the gate. After all, you can’t spell Turtles incorrectly without the word fun.

Paramount rarely drops the ball when it comes to the technical side of their Blu-ray transfers, and this time is no exception! The film looks stunning, with rich, vibrant colours, deep blacks and sharp visuals all around. The audio is on the same level, masterfully transferred to really elevate the film on your home theater system. Even though the film doesn’t knock it out of the park, the superbly handled technical side of the Blu-ray gives it an extra notch.

Special Features:

Before jumping into the features on the disc, I’ll mention that the copy I received came with an extra little package connected to the disc, which held “Ninja Masks in All Four Colours!” This is true, all four colours are there. Yet there are only two masks, both of which are double-sided with two of the four colours.

While I could see parents with more than two kids being a little thrown off when they open it, this likely wasn’t the selling point for them anyway, and it’s really just a nice little bonus to go along with the movie, as there are no extra costs added.

Digital Reality – Coming in at just under 18 minutes, this is the longest feature on the disc. It covers a lot of the making of the film when it comes to the Turtles effects, motion capture, choreography, and everything that went in to making the Turtles seem as realistic as I mentioned above. Well worth watching!

In Your Face! The Turtles 3D – This feature comes in at just over four minutes in length and can be viewed in both 2D and 3D (though 3D TVs are needed for that option.) This basically focuses on shooting the film for 3D and the likes of that.

It Ain’t Easy Being Green – This feature comes in at just under seven minutes in length and sees the cast talking about their memories of the Turtles, working on set and the bond they formed together.

Evolutionary Mash-up – This feature runs at 15 minutes in length and focuses on the history of turtles, as well as ninjas, how the two eventually came together, as well as a look at the Turtles weapons!

Turtle Rock – This six-minute featurette sees the composer talking about making the score for the film and how it helps bring the movie to life.

Extended Ending – At just 46 seconds it’s not overly extended at all. It is what it says though!

There’s also the “Shell Shocked” music video by Juicy J, Moxie, Ty dolla $ign and Wiz Khalifa.

The Making of “Shell Shocked” – Wiz takes us backstage into the making of the music video.

While it won’t be for everyone, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is worth giving a shot. Granted, the film starts incredibly slow and even after it picks up the choice of Megan Fox as April hinders the film as a whole, but if the final half of the film is any indication where the sequel may pick up then that’s a silver lining of sorts that fans of the series can hold on to.

Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon Movies Present Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Directed by: Jonathan Liebesman. Written by: Josh Appelbaum & Andre Nemec and Evan Daugherty. Starring: Megan Fox, Will Arnett, William Fichtner, Alan Ritchson, Noel Fisher, Pete Ploszek, Jeremy Howard, Johnny Knoxville, Tony Shalhoub. Running time: 101 Minutes. Rating: PG. Released: December 16, 2014.

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