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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)

They’re mean, green and on the screen

Directed by:

Steve Barron

Rating: 6/10

Running Time: 93 minutes

UK Certificate: PG

Country: Hong Kong, United States

I would have been just 10-years-old when ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ was first released on the big screen – and yes, I’ll freely admit to being one of the many kiddies sucked right into “Turtle Mania” (as I vaguely remember it being called). So, given that fourteen years have passed since then, I went to watch this re-release with a certain sense of trepidation. Would it be as good as I remembered, or the load of high-kicking hokum I’ve grown to fear it probably is?

One thing’s for sure: my memory of this being an extremely dark film is definitely accurate. Unlike the colourful but shoddily-animated cartoon series, this movie is brooding and at times even noir-ish, spending the bulk of its running time lurking in the shadows. In fact, after watching it again through grown-up(ish) eyes, I’m actually now starting to wonder how I could possibly have enjoyed this as a young ‘un. But hey – the new batch of ankle-biting Turtle fanatics who surrounded me at this screening certainly seemed to be lapping it up. Whether they actually understood what they were watching is anyone’s guess.

For those who’ve either forgotten or never knew in the first place, the four half-shelled heroes – Leonardo, Michaelangelo, Donatello and Raphael – are a prime example of what happens when you expose amphibians to radiation. They live in the sewers, stuff their faces with pizza, and learn martial arts from a giant rat in a dressing gown. In a city swamped by a teen crime-wave, they take on the role of vigilantes against an evil Darth Vader rip-off called Shredder – aided along the way by an inexplicably violent sports fanatic (Elias Koteas) and a TV news reporter (Judith Hoag).

It’s difficult not to be cynical about a film when its only real intention was (and still is, hence the re-release) to sell toys, but thanks to Irish director Steve Barron and the good people at the Jim Henson Creature Workshop, the production values here are fairly high. There are some good fight scenes along the way, the acting is decent all-round (look out for a young Sam Rockwell amidst the gang of delinquents), and the overall premise remains surprisingly fascinating (if completely dumbed down).

It would be interesting to see how a new Turtles movie might work, were it to be aimed at a more adult market and placed in the hands of a director like Tim Burton. But with that wishful thinking on my part, for now I’m happy to settle for this original version. Cowabunga dudes! Or something like that.

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It's Got: of product placement for Domino’s pizza.

It Needs: Extra pepperoni.

Alternatives:

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III

Summary

New fans and nostalgia-hunters alike should love it – but let’s just hope the same re-release treatment isn’t planned for the horrendously bad sequels.

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