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Back to the Sewers: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3 (1993)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3 has many of the same problems Secret of the Ooze faced.  It was looking to capitalize on the turtle craze before it faded out, but now two movies set precedence of what to be expected.  However, rather than forcing itself to try and emulate the previous movies, or force a family friendly routine into a darker movie, this movie picks a tone and sticks with it, for better or worse.

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Tone

If it wasn’t obvious by my opening, the tone of this movie is very different to the others.  In lieu of imitating it’s predecessors, it goes for a more cartoon-like vibe, imitating the silliness and slapstick of the TV show more than the adult undertones of the first film.  The turtles’ look reflects this change in tone, with them appearing overall much lighter, and the lighting being very bright to give a lighter, airy feel, even in the Turtles’ sewer lair.

The story itself is more akin to old samurai movies, like the Seven Samurai, with unexpected heroes coming to foil the greater foe, while having to learn to adjust to a new way of life.  Turtles 3 has scenes of the peaceful countryside interspersed with intense action, which matches the pacing of old samurai films as well.

Overall the tone is the most light-hearted of any of the turtles movies to date, but at least unlike Secret of the Ooze they at least picked a tone instead of wavering between two conflicting ones.

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Story and Script

Presumably, the writer’s turned to a little known story of the original run of the comics that involved time travel, but the story was heavily modified to fit the theme and tone of the movie they were going for.  While this may show a great amount more work was put into this script than it’s precursor, I have yet to find any specific reference to said comic or receive clarification as to which time travel story was being referenced.  Therefore, I can’t yet give any credit on this aspect.

I can say, as I mentioned with the tone, it does seem to follow a traditional samurai movie in terms of major plot arcs.  The heroes first encounter, their struggle to gather resources, time adjusting to the their new surroundings, and the final confrontation has many aspects used in the samurai genre — even if teenage turtles is a bit out of their scope.

Nevertheless, while Turtles 3 still has about as many plot threads as Secret of the Ooze, the over-arching plot is at least easy to summarize and follow — the Turtles must find and rescue April O’Neil from feudal Japan within 60 hours or be trapped in the past.  Granted, this just serves as the basic motivation throughout the movie, but subplots build from this point, rather than just growing out of other miscellaneous plot points.

The other major plot that the turtles are unwittingly sucked into is a complex relationship between Lord Norinaga and the peasant rebellion.  Norinaga is the daimyo of the area whose son Kenshin is busy romancing the leader of the rebels Mitsu — that is until April and Kenshin have their places switched thanks to the magic scepter.  Naturally this creates some confusion, made worse when four mutant turtles, who most mistake for Japanese demons, show up looking for her.  And the turtles have to tip-toe around both sides of the conflict before they fully understand what is happening.

The “main” villain of this movie though is really the English(?) trader Walker, who is trying to play the daimyo and the rebellion against each other, and eventually feeds Norinaga’s fear of demons in order to sell his guns, cannons, and gunpowder at a huge profit.

All of these factors eventually converge into a story that should be pretty easy to tell.  Unfortunately, it’s mangled quite a bit by the script itself.

As previously mentioned, this is a much lighter turtles romp, so it tries to focus on comedy when it can.  The comedy in this movie, however, is very hit or miss.  Any pop-culture references feel very out of place or very dated (even for it’s time).  Jokes about Japanese language typically fall flat as well, especially since the turtles being ninjas ought to know a little of it.  They also have segments with the Japanese honor guards and Kenshin in New York, but these are typically short gags that fail to live up to their potential.

The climax is also a big build up to a very disappointing conclusion, that feels unbalanced.  Norinaga, who has been shown to be the lesser of the two evils, being utterly humiliated by the end.  Meanwhile, Walker, who the audience wants to see get his comeuppance,  being undone by a lucky shot from a catapult.

What’s more, the somewhat complex situation that the plot tries to cover is also littered with cliches.  The villagers are nondescript and uninteresting with only a couple exceptions.  The English traders are rude, crude, and generically villainous, but perpetually stupid to make our heroes look better by comparison.

Speaking of, let’s take a look at our heroes in a half-shell…

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The Turtles

While these are still Jim Henson Creature Shop creations, they don’t look nearly as good, for a number of reasons.  For one, these animatronic heads had to be used on both the honor guard outfits in feudal Japan, and the regular turtle suits as well,  The heads are definitely less distracting on the bulky armor of the honor guards, but simply look out of place atop the suits that aren’t wearing anything.  Secondly, the lighting in this installment is easily the worst of the three, especially in regards to selling the illusion.  The lighting is very even and bright for most of the movie, and in the open sequence in particular.  Therefore, the turtles illusion is never given a chance, as they are placed in the worst possible lighting, angle, and outfits at the onset.

As for the turtles affecting the plot well…

Raphael

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Raphael is given yet another temper-centered subplot, this would be 3 for 3 at this point.  This time, however, they do change it around by giving it some kind of resolution.  Raph destroys the turtles’ boombox at the opening because he’s tired of practicing for seemingly no purpose.  Later, while in Japan, he pulls Mitsu’s cousin Yoshi (played by Travis A. Moon) aside because he’s getting angry with his playmates.  Raph has a little heart-to-heart after realizing what Splinter had been trying to instill in him for 3 movies.  It’s not a terrible arch, especially considering Raphael’s struggles with this in the previous installments.  However, this whole development last for about a scene, and unfortunately simply isn’t handled as well as it should be.  Raphael’s bond with Yoshi is the only part that feels somewhat genuine, and is one of the few highlights of this movie.

Michealangelo

The other turtle that the script tries to develop is Michaelangelo.  This should be a lost cause, as Michealangelo spends almost a third of the movie captured or unconscious.  Nevertheless, the writers attempt to give Michealangelo an unrequited love-affair with Mitsu (played by Vivian Wu).  While this provides a complex scenario for Michealangelo, it seems out of place, particularly when none of the turtles have exhibited strong emotions of this nature before, much less with a human.  What makes it worse is that Michealangelo latches onto a person he knows he can’t be with, as it is established early in the movie that Mitsu and Kenshin are an item.  There could be some potential in this subplot, but it isn’t given any time to develop by the time it impacts the story.

It should be noted also that Raphael and Michealangelo are only given these subplots to force conflict at the 11th hour after a sub-par climax.

Leonardo and Donatello

Corey Feldman returns as Donatello, which is a waste in this movie.  Corey easily has the most speaking lines, because Donatello is in charge of most of the movie’s exposition.  Donatello is also in charge of trying to move the overall plot in the proper direction, so you at least hear more of him than in the original Turtles’ movie.  Donatello does get the only jokes I like in the movie as well, so that’s at least something.

Leonardo does almost nothing until the climax.  He’s still the leader and says leader-esque dialogue, but is otherwise forgettable.  His finishing of Lord Norinaga and dropping into his shell to avoid Walker’s cannon fire are his only highlights.

The Cast

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April is played by Paige Turco, who is given much more to do this time.  Playing the modern woman in an ancient world means much of the performance relies on Paige selling the idea.  Given the script she was working with, I’d say she succeeded.  There was never a point where I felt Paige’s performance was lacking.  At the end of the day though, we aren’t really dealing with April O’Neil specifically in this movie either.

Elias Koteas returns to the role of Casey Jones, as well as playing Walker’s underling Whitt.  As Casey, Elias is completely under-utilized, since Casey is basically baby-sitting Kenshin and the Japanese honor guards while waiting for the turtles to return.  In fact, it’s funny in a fourth-wall-breaking way when Leonardo explains to Casey that he’s basically not going to do anything all movie, leaving Casey disappointed.

Instead, the bulk of Elias’s material is given to the character Whitt, who is a darker character than the rest of this movie seems to allow.  He seems like a regular guy, but inevitably betrays the turtles and captures Mitsu in order to finalize Walker’s deal with Norinaga.  It’s never really clear what the character’s motivations are, especially when he is ultimately responsible for Walker’s demise at the climax.  This is another character with some potential, if the script decided to spend some time on it, but ultimately is forgotten.

Sab Shimono’s Norinaga is a character that is far more interesting in conception than in practice.  In the movie, Lord Norinaga is a feudal lord of an area of Japan in 1603, around the Sengoku or Warring States period.  This timing seems to imply this character is Matsudaira Norinaga who was a daimyo around that time.  However, the location of his castle, nor the events of the movie seem to support this assertion.  His name could also be an allusion to the poet Motoori Norinaga, who studied a wide-array subjects and contributed to much to the culture of Japan, much as Kenshin seems to favor.  Motoori Norinaga, however, did not live until several centuries later.  Most likely, Norinaga is a stand in for the far more sinister Oda Nobunaga who was known for trading with the West for guns and ammo that turned the Warring States conflict in his favor.  The nuances are all incorrect however; as Nobunaga was defeated by his own general turning on him, and was not succeeded by a son.  Norinaga in the movie is portrayed much more low-key than the great general Nobunaga traditionally would be, which may be the cause for finding a substitute.  Sab Shimono does perfectly fine with the script he’s given, but he doesn’t carry enough presence to be anything more than a one-note villain, a kin to Tatsu from previous movies.

Stuart Wilson’s Walker is the only other really note-worthy performance.  Wilson is given plenty of opportunity to chew scenery, and he takes advantage of it.  Walker is one of those characters that just seems to revel in how evil he is, and so Wilson seemed to assume, correctly, that he didn’t need to play this character very subtly.  Despite being one of the worst villains in turtles history, Wilson’s performance of him is hammy enough to make it worth seeing.

Other supporting characters include Vivian Wu as Mitsu, and Travis A. Moon as young Yoshi.  Both of which aren’t terrible, but not exactly inspiring performances either.  There are several other supporting roles as well, but much like Mitsu and Yoshi, they only service as plot devices or comic relief.  This serves as a pretty big blemish on the movie as well, as there are simply too many ancillary characters that are either under-performed or under-developed, or most likely both.

Ranking – 4

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I made no bones about this being strictly my opinion.  Nevertheless, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3 is easier for me to sit through than Secret of the Ooze.  Perhaps it’s the setting, despite being somewhat inaccurate.  Perhaps it’s the stricter sense of tone and story.  Perhaps I just liked the jokes better, though not by much.

The major thing that stands out to me when comparing the two movies is that Secret of the Ooze is much more insular, requiring more knowledge of the previous movie or Ninja Turtles lore in order to enjoy it fully.  Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3 stretches outward toward a different genre instead, seemingly most similar to old Japanese samurai movies, with little actual Turtles knowledge coming into play.  Your own enjoyment may then depend heavily on which angle you enjoy more.

Unfortunately, Turtles 3 wasn’t what fans were hoping for, and the franchise would not hit the big screen for over a decade, which we will discuss next time…

Unlock Run: Subspace Emissary Great Maze parts 4 – 6

Still in the maze, surely there must be a way to nagivate it….

Part 4

Part5

Part 6

Unlock Run: Subspace Emissary Level 30: Subspace

The journey through Subspace continues… is the end drawing near?

 

Back to the Sewers: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: Secret of the Ooze (1991)

With the surprise success of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, New Line Cinema quickly moved to put together a sequel.  Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: Secret of the Ooze moves to cash in on the franchise while it was still hot, but also trying to address perceived issues with the original film.  I say ‘perceived’ because most of the issues they tried to address were those of parents with impressionable children.  What resulted was a terrible mess of a movie with a direction-less plot, poor humor, and schizophrenic tone.

The Turtles

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The first change made was to the Turtles.  Though it is less noticeable to the casual viewer, the Turtles in Secret of the Ooze have been given wider, more cartoony eyes, textured skin, and spots. The head sculpts were based off their original designs in the first movie, which is why some viewers don’t immediately recognize the difference.  Other changes involve a change to their humor, being less pop-culture referenced and more physical or annoying.  The plot does shift the focus to a different set of Turtles this time as well, which we shall cover individually.

Donatello

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Donatello is the turtle with the most changes in this iteration, which is odd considering he is the turtle most involved with the various sub-plots.  Corey Feldman was replaced with Adam Carl as Donnie’s voice.  Even though Leif Tilden still did Donatello’s suit work, it was clear this was a very different Donatello from the original film.  Donatello’s mannerisms changed to accommodate his new voice, such a clutching the strap on his belt like a suit jacket.  In addition, the character’s face changed the most drastically since his eyes were the most deep set of the four originally.  His nose was raised and the beak was rounded. so that his profile was more similar to Leonardo than before.  These changes are jarring when viewing directly after the first movie, but enough screen time is given with Donnie to help make the adjustment.

I say Donatello is the turtle most involved mainly because he seems to be the only turtle cognizant of what is going on.  On the one hand, this is good as it showcases Donatello as the more intelligent member of the team.  On the other hand, it makes the other turtles either look like dumb brutes or seem like window-dressing.

Donatello is primarily involved in the titular plot thread — seeking out answers to their origins after Splinter reveals TCRI were responsible for the canister that transformed them.  This plot thread, however, ends about two-thirds into the movie, just before the climax.  While the discovery of their origins and the inevitable disappointment of it affects Donatello deeply, it is swept aside to make room for other things.  Donatello has a deeply affecting scene with Splinter, which essentially ends with “suck it up, we got more movie to get to.”

Overall, Donatello’s changes were tolerable, and in some cases necessarily; the biggest affront was cutting short what could have been a strong character arc.

Raphael

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Raphael is played similar to his last installment, though cleaned up a bit for the kiddies.  He’s still the tough guy, and the loner, despite it causing trouble in the last movie.  Raphael in this movie is also very brazen.  When the Foot steal the last bottle of Ooze, Raphael decides to strike out and find the Foot almost immediately.  With the help of Keno, he infiltrates the Foot headquarters, only to get overwhelmed by Foot ninja.  If this sounds familiar, it’s only because this is exactly what happens in the first film.  In fact, he even has a squabble with Leonardo before he heads off, just like the first film.  The only redeeming factor was Raph’s insistence on Keno to run and get help once they are found out.  It’s possible that this was supposed to foreshadow a similar mistake Keno makes later, but we’ll get to that when we speak of Keno.

This installment really hurts Raph as a character, as he clearly doesn’t learn from past mistakes.  Aside from that, there isn’t really much else to say about him, as getting captured is his most significant contribution to the story.  The rest of the movie he’s just another mouth-piece.

Leonardo and Michelangelo

Leo and Mike get the least amount of devoted screen time in this installment.  Leonardo gets a couple scenes where he gets to express his frustration with Raphael, but there’s very little else for Leo to do this go around.  Michelangelo is again the resident goof-ball, his only real contribution to the plot is falling down an open hole into an abandoned subway (which we will talk more about when we speak about tone for this installment.)

Keno

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It’s important to segment out Keno, as he gets just as much screen time as the turtles, and even more than any of the supporting cast.  Ernie Reyes Jr performed stunt work for Donatello in the first movie, and was given a starring role for Secret of the Ooze.  His inclusion was possibly to showcase more practical martial arts, since the turtles themselves are now using the wacky/hi-jinx style of ninjitsu.  Not a terrible idea in theory.

The biggest flaw in this plan was that Keno is not an established Ninja Turtles character, so there’s less to build him off of.  Aside from being a pizza delivery guy who knows martial arts, Keno is basically a whiny teenager.  This is where I actually have to compliment the character of Danny in the first film, as even though he was the weak link in the cast there, at least he had motivation and some amount of depth.  Keno is basically a head-strong know-it-all.  In other words, Raphael if he weren’t a turtle and had no one else to play off of.

In fact, Keno has the same story arc as Raphael.  By the time of the climax, Keno has an argument with Splinter about helping the turtles fight Shredder and the mutants Tokka and Razar, and goes out alone.  The only difference is with so little screen time left, Keno barely affects the climax at all.  There’s plenty of room for that type of character to be a catalyst for growth in Raphael, but much like everything else in this movie, the potential is limited to a single scene and never brought up again.

The (Rest of the) Cast

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The only other major supporting role in this story is David Warner’s Professor Jordan Perry.  A TCRI scientist who seems to deeply regret his company’s experiments, he is captured by Shredder and forced to create more mutants for Shredder to enact his revenge.  Of all the concepts thrown at the wall in this movie, Perry seems to be the only one that is realized to any degree, due in no small part to Warner’s performance.

Perry seems fascinated by the turtles to the extent that when he first meets them all, he has to stop and express this despite them only being barely out of harm’s way at the time.  He also seems deeply concerned for the turtles’ well-being, despite admitting that their existence was an accident.  He willingly works with the turtles in order to undo the mistake of Tokka and Razar, showing more his regrets over the situation.  While there is certainly more that could be done with this character, this is one of the few characters that feels realized.  This could be because there is a character in turtle mythology that plays a similar role, all be it more bumbling — the cartoon version of Baxter Stockman.

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Professor Gordon Perry’s inspiration?

Paige Turco takes on the role of April O’Neil in this movie, and unfortunately both the actress and the character are wasted here.  April mostly acts as the link between the turtles and Keno, and gets captured only to get a message to the turtles from the Foot.  Aside from those few things, April is hardly even noticeable in this installment.

Aside from those, we have the Shredder and Tatsu returning, who are both very one-note and uninteresting; their goals in the first movie apparently abandoned for generic vengeance.  Raymound Serra shows up in a glorified cameo from his appearance in the first movie, and Mark Doerr plays Freddy, a foot ninja undercover with April’s news crew, which amounts to a way to explain plot convenience.

Oh yeah, and Vanilla Ice tries to play himself…

Story and Script

I think it’s evident by this point that there is very little actual plot going on.  Instead, there are a plethora of sub-plots and motivations, only a few of which are touched on or realized to fruition.  The only driving force in the story is Shredder wanting vengeance on the turtles and creating his own monsters to destroy them.

Everything else seems like ideas that were thrown on all wall in the brainstorming stage, and rather than picking one or two to focus on, the writers just went with all of them. The turtles need to find a new home, which is found and moved into before we’re even halfway through the movie.  The turtles learn of their origin just before the climax, and once learned, it is subsequently dropped.   Keno’s story-arch is unresolved, thus Keno doesn’t learn anything.  Keno’s relationship to Raph is glanced over.  Meanwhile, everyone who isn’t specifically given a sub-plot is just standing around with nothing to do or making poorly written jokes.

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Tone

This is the biggest struggle in this movie.  It’s obvious that the team going into this were divided on whether to emulate the first movie or focus on working in cartoon show aspects.  Secret of the Ooze chooses the former, but tries to keep it appropriate for younger audiences.  The result is a mess.

The first film was filmed darker both to emulate the original comics, and to help sell the turtles’ as real walking, talking turtles.  In this film that’s all but done away with.  The dark lighting is replaced with brighter, even TV-esque lighting.  This is seen most clearly in the turtles new home in the abandoned subway station.  While it is a very lovely set, the lighting in it is ridiculously bright.The turtles can be seen very clearly, and their illusion is not sold to the audience nearly as well.

Jokes, as noted before, have been cleaned up.  The turtles don’t use foul language or reference other movies or television shows as often.  Instead, we have Michelangelo crunching on a candy bar to annoy Raphael, the turtles playing football indoors with a slice of pizza, and April trying to swing nunchuku.   While it’s not toilet humor, it is far more low affect than fans of the first film would be used to.  Let’s not forget the tacked on and pointless Ninja Rap as well.

The other aspect they took from the cartoon was one that does not translate well to the big screen — the turtles rarely use the weapons that they carry.  Leo uses his katanas once, to cling to the ceiling.  Raph holds his sais out ready for a fight, only for them to go back into his belt between cuts.  Michelangelo uses sausage links more than his nunchuku.  Donatello’s bo gets the most screen time, likely because it’s mostly just a big stick.

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Ranking – 5

The reason this installment did not come out as early as I hoped was partly due to the amount of deliberation I had on this ranking.  However, I honestly feel this is the weakest entry in the Turtles movie franchise.  The direction focused too much on trying to imitate the first movie and the cartoon, rather than finding it’s own niche.  In addition, the script spent too little time on any one concept.  While there are some minor successes here and there, there is not a single scene I can point to in this movie and say “This is where it works.”  Also, of the turtles’ silver-screen ventures, this is the one with the most dust on it.

Secret of the Ooze succeeds only in being a movie featuring Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and brings very little else to the table.  The Ninja Rap is the most memorable part of this movie, but it really doesn’t even hold a candle to Partners in Crime’s “Turtle Power” from the first movie… which is still used at the close of this movie also.

This of course means I must prepare to defend my position next time, as I take a look at the installment that was the most hated prior to the Micheal Bay film:  Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3.

Unlock Run: Subspace Emissary Lvel 28 Entrance to Subspace

It begins…

State of Smash 9-5-2014

So, less than a week until Japan receives their copies of Super Smash Brothers for 3DS.  I’m a little late on this one due to various issues, but also holding off to see if anything popped out of the woodwork this week.  Apparently not, so let’s recap.

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During the Japan-only direct, Nintendo unveiled Shulk as a playable character to go along with the announcement of the “new” 3DS and a port of Xenoblade Chronicles for it release sometime this holiday season.  Shulk as been circulating around the rumor mill for awhile, so it’s nice to finally get him out of limbo.

Shulk hails from the Wii title Xenoblade, and is yet another sword fighter.  Unlike other swordsman in Smash, however, he comes with a plethora of various modes his weapon can cycle through that change his stats.  Jump improves his recovery; Speed increases his run speed; Defense increases defense, etc.  However, each of these come at a disadvantage, such as his Defense mode having less attack power.  It’s unclear if he has an easy way to cycle through all these, or if he starts off in one particular mode or has a default with no buffs turned on.  Still, he seems to be another newcomer that leans on the more technical side, which will make him a very interesting addition to the game.

Prior to Shulk’s unveil however, we had a huge leak come pouring out.  For those wanting to avoid possible spoilers, be sure to stop reading now…

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Unlock Run: Subspace Emissary Level 18 The Swamp

Ny’s Plague Run comes to an end, with a character he learns to despise…