This week in the Anderson Chronicles I delve into the behind the scenes happenings on a film franchise we haven’t heard from in seventeen years, Teenage Mutant Ninja turtles. Although there was an animated feature released just three years ago, I’m focusing almost entirely on the live action adaptions.
The first film in the franchise was at the time about as loyal an interpretation of a comic book to film as we had really seen. It was also hugely successful at the box office as well as amongst fans. Then there were the two sequels that followed both earning substantially less than its predecessor and in turn tattering the reputation of the franchise. It wasn’t until fourteen years later that we received the animated CGI film, which was technically somewhat of a financial success, but still came extremely short of expectations.
In 2009 Viacom’s Nickelodeon acquired the global intellectual property rights to the Ninja Turtles for $60 million in partnership with sister company Paramount Pictures for the TV, film and video game franchise which the characters have spawned. Shortly afterwards they set fast-tracked plans in place to have a live action feature film out by 2012. They brought Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes on board to produce alongside original franchise producers Scott Mednick, Galen Walker, and Marina Norman. I was never overly excited about Platinum Dunes handling the project after having butchered several horror remakes and then now deciding to go mainstream, but the inclusion of the original producers has left me with a glimmer of hope this won't be complete trash.
The most recent revelation in the production was that Paramount wasn't satisfied with the draft handed in by John Fusco, who was brought on board July of last year when the project was being handled by Mirage Studios. Then Just last week writers Art Marcum and Matt Holloway were hired for close to $1 million to re-write the reboot, they most recently finished a draft on the Highlander reboot for Summit and shared writing credit on the first Iron Man. The studio also announced they’re apparently looking at the film as a potential "huge franchise" similar to Transformers. I’m all for a new take on the franchise, and I’m even more excited about a new live action film being made, but the inclusion of Michael Bay and the comparison to transformers has me slightly weary.
There’s been endless speculation as to how they would approach a new live action film. Before the franchise was purchased by Viacom it was rumored that Legendary Pictures (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight) was developing the film with original co-creator Peter Laird, and they were going for something very similar to the original comic. In an interview with MTV Laird said the following about the project:
“The basic idea, as I understand it, is to do an all live action shoot, with Actors and stuntmen in full Turtle suits,” explained Peter Laird, co-creator of the original comic series, to MTV News. “To add expressiveness to the Turtles’ faces which would be difficult if not impossible to get with animatronics and/or puppetry, there would be ‘face replacement,’ with CGI Turtle faces superimposed on the live action performers’ heads.”
The film they were developing was said to be somewhat of an origin taken in a more realistic direction similar to Batman Begins, which successfully rebooted and re-launched that franchise form its 90’s mediocrity. The plan seemed fine and all, but at the end of the day we’re talking about giant mutated turtles that use martial arts taught to them by an also giant mutated rat to fight crime in New York City. The tone of the original film took the source material as serious as it needed without becoming too dramatic or overly cheesy like the sequels that followed.
The new film will have to attempt recreating the same magic from the first film without just retreading everything we’ve already seen. They’ll also need to stay serious enough for the original fans, but also remain light hearted and fun enough for the new younger demographic, which the film will need to be a break out success. I’d definitely prefer to see turtles similar to Jim Henson’s original design as opposed to the CGI imposed faces on live action actors like Laird had previously alluded to. But I know that Bay and Platinum Dunes lazy style of film making will no doubt include unneeded or warranted CGI and cheap special effects as opposed to anything original or practical. The only saving grace may be the inclusion of the original producers who really know what works for the franchise already.
All in all the chance of the film having a darker and more serious subject matter or tone have gone down immensely since Nickelodeon bought out the rights. In the hands of Legendary we might have seen something a lot closer to the original comics. I think all we can expect now is a campy semi-serious update with a touch of Michael Bay ridiculousness; yes this means Ninja Turtles will more than likely include explosions and shitty dialogue for no reason at all. But there is a slim chance it’ll work for what the franchise needs. I wouldn’t mind seeing something similar to Bad Boys in tone, but with an obvious PG-13 rating and everything that makes the turtles as awesome as they are. Fingers crossed that this reboot is one more epic addition to the already packed 2012 box office and not just another remake throw away film for Hollywood.