Action Adventure

A Blu-ray Review with Extra Cheese: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

December 16, 2014Ben MK

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Born to raise shell...

Kermit the Frog may find it hard being green, but the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles don't seem to be phased by it one bit. It's been thirty years since Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird first introduced the Turtles to comic readers, and these heroes in a half shell are still going strong, with several television series and feature films under their belts. Their latest big screen adventure arrives courtesy of producer Michael Bay and director Jonathan Liebesman, and though it marks a return-of-sorts to their comic book roots, there's also no shortage of the humor Turtles fans have come to know and love.


The Film As we learn in the stylish, Frank Miller-esque animated sequence that opens the film, the Turtles — Leonardo (Johnny Knoxville), Donatello (Jeremy Howard), Raphael (Alan Ritchson) and Michelangelo (Noel Fisher) — began their lives as four run-of-the-mill amphibians who, along with a typical household rat named Splinter (Tony Shalhoub), find themselves transformed into anthropomorphized versions of their former selves, as a result of an experiment involving a mutagenic green ooze. Laying low in the sewers of New York City, where Splinter raised them as his own and trained them in the art of ninjitsu, they've been biding their time until Splinter declares them ready to go above ground and take on the evil Shredder (Tohoru Masamune), whose Foot Clan has been terrorizing the Big Apple.

Enter April O'Neil (Megan Fox), a feisty television reporter who's fed up with doing the "foam and froth" stories she's continually being handed by her boss (Whoopi Goldberg). Much to the chagrin of her lovelorn cameraman, Vernon (Will Arnett), April's been intently following the trail of crime left by the Foot Clan, in the hopes that it will lead to her big break. But when her sleuthing lead her straight to the Turtles, she unwittingly becomes entangled in Shredder's nefarious scheme to wreak havoc on the city.

The script by Josh Appelbaum, André Nemec and Evan Daugherty reinvents April as the daughter of one of the two scientists behind those mutagenic experiments, making her a key player in the Turtles' backstory. Not only were the Turtles and Splinter her childhood pets, but she also saved them from certain death when her father's lab went up in flames fifteen years earlier. Meanwhile, the other scientist, Eric Sacks (William Fichtner), now sits at the head of a multi-billion dollar conglomerate and has spent the better part of those fifteen years trying to recreate the mutagen. And when he learns that the Turtles have not only survived, but are thriving, he hatches a plan to recover his research.

Like the recent live-action adaptations of G.I. Joe and Transformers, the film tries to balance a sense of nostalgia for the property with the rush of adrenaline that accompanies such a modern reimagining. Gone are the old, full-body Turtle suits crafted by the legendary Jim Henson's Creature Shop; these new Turtles are a quartet of six-foot-tall green giants, rendered entirely with CG and state-of-the-art motion capture technology. As a result, they're now as nimble as Spider-Man but as physically imposing as Batman.

Their individual personalities are a huge part of what makes the Turtles such endearing characters. And not only do those personalities shine through — with Leo ever the stoic leader, Donnie the brainy science geek, Raph the macho surly type and Mikey the wise-cracking joker — but they completely outshine all of the human characters as well. That's not to say the latter aren't up to par, but it's wonderful to see that the cutting-edge special effects haven't reduced the Turtles to a soulless mass of pixels. In fact, quite the opposite is true.

Otherwise, the action is generally what you might expect from Bay and Liebesman. Although the early battles with the Foot are executed with moderate restraint, things quickly ramp up from there, with the high points being a dizzying chase down a snowy mountainside (involving a semi-truck and a small army of Humvees, no less) and a confrontation with robotically-enhanced Shredder atop the roof of a downtown skyscraper. In short, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles definitely belongs to the same family tree as Michael Bay's Transformers, but the spectacle works, playing to the characters' cartoon/comic book roots.

Audio/Visual Fidelity Available as both a 3D and a 2D Blu-ray combo pack (the latter of which is reviewed here), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' flawless A/V presentation is sure to leave viewers shell-shocked. The film has a colorful comic book aesthetic that's captured beautifully by Paramount's hi-def transfer. From the high-contrast black, white and orange inks of the hand-drawn opening sequence to the vibrant yellow of April's jacket and the blue, purple, red and orange of the Turtles' masks, hues are uniformly strong and robust, without compromising the more subtler elements of the color palette, like fleshtones. Factor in the infinitely deep blacks and the razor sharp detail inherent in the image (highlighting, for example, every imperfection on the Turtles' skin and the individual whiskers on their master, Splinter) and it adds up to one gorgeous-looking image, with not a single blemish in sight. On the audio side, the disc's Dolby Atmos soundtrack is equally impressive. But even those who lack the necessary equipment to enjoy "full, multidimensional sound" are in for a treat, as the default Dolby TrueHD 7.1 audio is superb, rendering everything from the film's action-packed effects to the brass and taiko drums of composer Brian Tyler's score with aplomb (not to mention plenty of room-shaking LFE).

Special Features Paramount's 2D Blu-ray release includes DVD and iTunes/UltraViolet digital copies of the film, as well as 56 minutes of HD extras. First up is an 18-minute featurette titled Digital Reality, which focuses on the CG technology employed to bring the Turtles to life and features interviews with key VFX personnel as they touch on such topics as pre-vis, performance capture, fight choreography and visual realism. Next is In Your Face! The Turtles in 3D, a 4-minute segment on the film's use of 3D, specifically the techniques, the shot compositions and how it was used as a storytelling tool. Then there's It Ain't Easy Being Green, a 7-minute look at the four actors who donned the motion capture suits to portray the Turtles. Evolutionary Mash-Up is a 15-minute piece about the evolution and history of both turtles and ninjas, with hosts Dr. Greg Pauly (Curator of Reptiles & Amphibians, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County) and Michael Matsuda (Museum President, Martial Arts History Museum). And the 6-minute Turtle Rock is a look at the film's orchestral score, guided by composer Brian Tyler. There's also a 46-second Extended Ending, a 3-minute "Shell Shocked" Music Video (performed by Juicy J, Moxie, Ty dolla $ign and Wiz Khalifa) and a 2-minute Making of "Shell Shocked" (which really amounts to rapper Wiz Khalifa professing how much of a fan he is of the Turtles).

The Bottom Line There are two types of moviegoers who will gravitate to this new Turtles film — those who grew up watching the pizza-loving foursome's movies and TV show in the '80s and '90s and today's kids, who are too young to even remember the previous film franchise — and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles caters to both, subtly reinventing the iconic characters for contemporary audiences while paying ample homage to Eastman and Laird's original creations. Paramount's Blu-ray release, on the other hand, only caters to one type of viewer: those who prefer their movies with a heaping serving of kick-ass audio and video plus a side order of fun and informative bonus features. And for Turtles fans, that amounts to a little slice of Heaven.  Ben Mk

Disc Breakdown
The Film  —  
Audio/Visual Fidelity  —  
Special Features  —  

* Reviewer's note: Portions of this Blu-ray review were adapted from my original review of the theatrical release, published on August 8th, 2014.

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