a critiQal film review TMNT (2007)

Plot: Tech-industrialist Max Winters (Stewart) is raising up an army of ancient monsters, and only Leonardo (Taylor), Michelangelo (Kelley), Donatello (Whitfield) and Raphael (North) can stop them! With the help of old allies April O’Neil (Gellar) and Casey Jones (Evans), the Turtles are in for the fight of their lives as they also will have to face the mysterious Foot Clan, who have allied themselves with Winters.

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901 words (Est. Reading Time 4m 30s)

This weekend, we weren’t sure what we were going to do. We hadn’t yet returned the last three DVDs we got from Blockbuster® (heck, we hadn’t even watched Primeval yet) and, since relatives were in the neighborhood and were possibly planning to stop by, we hadn’t gone to our local store to pick up any more either. But, as we were sitting by the TV about to eat dinner, I started flipping through the On-Demand channels…and came across TMNT. Since we both wanted to see the film, we ordered it and sat down to watch while we ate. Would this latest re-incarnation of the Turtles be worth our time…or would the movie be awful enough to actually miss those cheesy old 90’s Turtle flicks?

For “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (TV) fans like us, Sarah Michelle Gellar’s voice is instantly recognizable as April O’Neil in TMNT. She’s an ex-intrepid reporter now apparently a female Indiana Jones-type figure without the whole bothersome “this belongs in a museum” set of morals. Thankfully, however, her voice is the only instantly recognizable one of the bunch, and, since she isn’t one of the Heroes On The Half-Shell, it’s not too much of a nuisance.

But, maybe the filmmakers realized that from the start. Since her voice is one of the first voices the viewers hear, the filmmaker might be making a statement: these aren’t the cheesy Turtles older kids remember from the live-action films and they aren’t the Saturday Morning Turtles either. These are a new re-incarnation of the characters, so get used to it. By shocking the audience with April O’Neil sounding nothing like she ever has before, these filmmakers slam that point home – yet do it without jeopardizing the loyalty of the fans.

As for the Turtles (and Splinter) themselves, their voices in TMNT are much different than any of their previous re-incarnations – but they aren’t instantly recognizable as celebrity voices either. Splinter actually takes on an Asian hint to his voice, making his voice seem fitting for the first time in any re-incarnation. Ziyi Zhang, whose acting – and voice – skills far exceed her age, is perfect as the voice of Kairi, bringing both the accent and the girlishness to a character that, despite her ties to the Foot clan, has always been a likable character.

Gone is the Shredder (the Turtles long-time foe, for those viewers new to the world of Ninja Turtles), however, and he is sorely missed, with newcomers Winters and his cohorts unable trying to fill in the gaps in TMNT. Maybe the filmmakers knew that without Shredder, there was going to be a huge gap – and they didn’t think one baddie would be able to fill ol’ Shred-Head’s shoes, so they filled the film with as many baddies as they could come up with – 18 to be precise, not counting the Foot Clan.

Unfortunately, quantity doesn’t replace quality, and that’s clearly shown in TMNT. While each baddie seems interesting enough, an hour and a half running time barely has time to explore one or two bad guys, much less 18. Instead, the film ends up being snippets of one bad guy after another, with most gone from view without more than a few seconds of screen time. With 13 monsters, plus 4 stone warriors and Winters himself, this could have been split up into a TV series, aka the one based on Lilo & Stitch (2002). But, that wasn’t the case, and most of the enemies are barely even comprehended as a threat before they are gone, never to be seen again.

The CGI aspect of the film, however, is right on the mark. After seeing TMNT, it showcases the Turtles so well it’s a wonder it hasn’t been tried before now. This is how the Turtles should have been portrayed from the get-go. Of course, after seeing this film, the cartoon seems a bit childish with it’s “hand-drawn” characters. And as for the 90’s movies? Well, let’s just say the cartoons (especially the newer version) already made those cheese-fests look like the “Teletubbies” (TV) of the Turtle world…

With animation so good it makes the Turtles come alive more than anything else ever has (including the aforementioned “live-action” films), and voices that finally get everything right for the major characters, TMNT seems like an A+ film. Unfortunately, those voices, while right on the money, do take some getting used to, so the viewer will be distracted at the start, and it will take them longer to get past that and really get into the film. After that, you’re down to just over an hour – and the bad guys are thrown at you fast enough to make your head spin…but don’t really do anything to get you caring anything about them. This lack of potent enemy hurts the film – but the internal Turtle struggle is entertaining all on it’s own.

Not the best CGI film ever, but TMNT should be a positive sign for fellow Turtle fans. This film is a marked improvement over any of the previous films or cartoons featuring the Turtles, and stays closer to the darker comic book roots than anything else to date (with only the newer cartoon version coming even close). Stick around, because it looks like these Turtles aren’t quite done yet – and, after TMNT, their future in films is finally looking like it’s going to be worth seeing.

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