'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' Trailer Proves Michael Bay Got It Oh So Wrong — VIDEO
Every once in a while — say, when I hear about plans for the forthcoming remake of The Birds , or am reminded in any way of the crash-bang clusterfuck that was the modern-day Transformers franchise — I find myself dredging up my copy of the Team America: World Police soundtrack and skipping ahead to the ballad "Pearl Harbor Sucked" in order to croon along to its mournful bridge: "Why does Michael Bay get to keep on making movies?!" Today was absolutely one of those days, as it marked the release of the trailer for Bay's Megan Fox-led Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles adaptation, due out on August 8 — which, judging by these two minutes of dramatic voiceover and quick-cut combat underlaid by suspenseful scoring, is going to blow, hard.
Right off the bat, there are plenty of reasons why this movie seems like a terrible idea: For one, the traditionally Japanese character of Shredder will be played by a white actor, because apparently Bay learned nothing from the backlash against The Last Airbender . (Much love to William Fichtner, but still.) Not to mention that the turtles themselves look like slightly deranged, antennae-less Shreks when rendered in CGI. Still, my objection to this Bay-helmed soon-to-be trainwreck is even more basic — namely, that the somber, "Real heroes aren't born, they're created" conceit of this film is, from the ground up, patently insane.
(Note: This argument is coming from a girl who had a TMNT fanny pack strapped proudly across her handlebars long after either the Turtles or fanny packs were cool — so brace yourself for some sincere nostalgia-laced indignation.)
In the first place, it's important to note that studios have tried this before — and rather recently at that: Warner Bros' sleekly titled and full-CGI TMNT, which came out in 2007, featured the vocal talents of Sarah Michelle Gellar as April O'Neil and Sir Patrick Stewart as villain Max Winters — and still managed to flop spectacularly in critics' eyes. (It currently holds a measly 34% on Rotten Tomatoes.) Their recurring chorus? That the film took itself far too seriously, trading in the franchise's trademark silliness for wall-to-wall action sequences — a strategy that is, in my humble opinion, all but doomed to fail.
Because lest we forget, perhaps owing to their state of perpetual adolescence, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are essentially the Shaggy and Scooby of the crimefighting canon. They love pizza and skateboarding and nunchucks; their catchphrase is "Cowabunga!" If they weren't trained in combat, they would almost surely be the dudes from Workaholics (and the dudes from Workaholics agree). Sure, much of the hijinks stem from hard-partier Michelangelo — the Shaggy-and-Scoobiest of the bunch by far — but even the straighter-laced Leonardo enjoys the occasional slice. Plus he's still, y'know, a giant katana-wielding turtle named after a Renaissance painter.
I mean, it's not surprising to learn that the series started off as a parody of popular Marvel Comics franchises — a quick sketch by artist Kevin Eastman to make his writing partner, Peter Laird, laugh. Humor and self-satire are laced into the Turtles' origin — which is not to say they can exist only in a constant state of pratfall gags, but it does point to why it feels so awkward to watch them tasked in this new trailer as straightforward "heroes," flung sidelong into Humvees as trombones surge or over-the-shoulder squint-staring into the broody distance. Without at least some nod to the inherent campiness of the premise, the Turtles just don't make sense — or, at the very least, lose out on so much of what made them great (did I mention the skateboarding?).
In my humble opinion, when it comes to filming our beloved "heroes on the halfshell," it's not going to get much better than the series of fully live-action films made in the early '90s — and yes, "fully live-action" means that there are four dudes walking around in giant foam turtle suits. Of course, part of the joy of these adaptations (*cough* which are all available on YouTube *cough*) is the so-bad-it's-good factor, as perhaps best expressed by the fact that the Turtles' mouths are so clumsily puppeted, they barely sync up with their lines. Still, technological lags aside, I would argue that these now primitive-seeming attempts are infinitely superior to anything Bay's apt to produce, especially when it comes to sticking with the spirit of their source material.
For example, in an iconic scene from 1991's TMNT II: The Secret of the Ooze (which, let the record show, I owned on Laser Disc), the Turtles try to best their accidentally-mutated foes by tricking them into eating antidote-filled donuts. Yes, donuts — a whimsical junk-food-based scheme that fits the goofy milieu perfectly. Bay, meanwhile, specifically slammed his third Transformers movie for its "goofiness" and promised to make his next extra "slick"; I doubt we can expect any such donuts from his take on the Turtles. (Unless they're, like, some sweet tire-skid donuts made in bitchin' Ferraris, man.)
So, in addition to Bay's newly released trailer, I'm offering up that of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles from 1990 as a point of comparison. See for yourself — and consider signing my forthcoming petition to keep Michael Bay far away from any further beloved '80s-'90s childhood icons. I swear, if they give him anything Power Rangers-related, I QUIT.
Images: Paramount Pictures