The new "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" seemed, for me at least, to arrive out of nowhere. It had been a few years since the last movie and I didn't pay much attention to the movie's development cycle. So this is my first exposure to Kevin Eastman's Ninja Turtles in a long time, other than the fact that my five-year-old son absolutely loves them, and I always seem to have the annoying theme song from the eighties cartoon permanently playing in the back of my head.
This new version certainly stands out for a couple of reasons, even if you aren't a fan of the series. For starters, it is a little more adult friendly than any other versions before it, and secondly, this time it is completely computer generated animation, and well animated at that. And is directed by newcomer Kevin Monroe whose previous experience is developing the video game "Freaky Flyers", which sounds fun.
The film starts off with some narration, as we watch our Turtles gracefully jump across the rooftops of New York City. The narrator (Laurence Fishburne) gives very little as far as back story, simply stating they fought many enemies and somehow defeated their ultimate foe, Shredder, in the previous stories. The film then switches to an epic battle taking place three thousand years ago, where a great evil poised to destroy the Turtles brotherhood has taken shape. A warrior king named Yoatl leads a brotherhood of four warriors (and millions of soldiers) to conquer all the kingdoms of the world. Nothing can defeat these fighters as they plunge through battles reminiscent of the recent "300" and of course "The Lord Of The Rings". The voice continues to tell the story of how the stars of Kikan align every three thousand years, opening a portal to a world of unknown power. The first time this portal is opened, Yoatl becomes immortal at the price of turning his four warriors to stone and unleashing thirteen monsters from the other side into our very own world. The creatures unleash chaotic terror and mayhem onto his soldiers, destroying them, so Yoatl is left to walk the earth knowing the mistake he made will haunt him forever, not to mention the havoc unleashed by the 13 creatures. This movie wastes no time setting things up.
Almost three thousand years later we find ourselves in the jungles of Central America, where Leonardo (James Arnold Taylor) is caught up in adventuring. April O'Neil (Sarah Michelle Gellar) has sought him out him to catch up with him and to tell him what his brothers have been up to in their sewer home in his absence. Some years have gone by, he has lost track of his three turtle brothers, being far away from New York City and all. Donatello (Mitchell Whitfield) is involved in tech support via phone, Michelangelo (Mikey Kelley) has become a parody of himself and does kids parties, and Raphael (Nolan North) sleeps all day and by night is a motorcycle riding vigilante who calls himself the Nightcrawler, who cruises the night in full body armor looking for evildoers and getting into trouble.
From here the story revolves around a wealthy tycoon named Winters (Patrick Stewart), who employs a secret renegade terrorist group previously employed by Shredder. They are to help him track down some mysterious guests, along with the help of Four Generals who had been turned to stone centuries ago, only to be brought to Winters via April and her boyfriend Casey Jones (Chris Evans), who were employed by WintersCorp to find the ancient statues.
Many battles follow, as the Turtles become unwittingly drawn into a dark conspiracy they can't help but try and stop, along with spiritual advice and leadership from their Zen Master Rat Guru Splinter (Mako). The action scenes are extremely well done and the trademark sarcasm still comes through clearly as the Turtles reunite once again to conquer evil. While I am certainly no fan of TMNT in any incarnation, this project was very well done, and actually well written, as far as I'm concerned. While I felt it was time wasted, at no time did I think the project was ill-conceived. This has to be the finest Turtle's adventure ever. As far as rejuvenating the franchise, I wonder why they felt it necessary? The timing seemed a little strange, but fans of the franchise won't be disappointed by this version. This seems like a silly idea that just got bigger and bigger over the years, and what a marketing machine. Well, it's all lost on me, I'm one of those non-fans who thinks the whole franchise is completely ridiculous if not downright stupid, but I can admire how well done this version is, and highly recommend it to fans, otherwise it is obviously a waste of time for anyone else.
On to the video portion of this review. I was actually very impressed with the visual integrity of this release. I didn't expect it to be so dark, this film is filled with shadows and back alleys and low lit rooms, and let me tell you it is handled very well. As far as testing the limits of HD-DVD, this one certainly does, and it passes with flying colors. The detail is exquisite and very sharp, all of the background of their messy New York City abode jumps out with a staggering clarity, every tiny detail of the skylines and battle scenes shines quite clearly, this release is a winner in the picture department. Like I mentioned, it can de dark at times, yet all of the black levels take on an integrity all their own and many times it is quite three dimensional. This is as good as I expected, being a digital to digital transfer. Still it is safe to say that you will be blown away, even if the subject matter turns you off as much as it did me.
And, what do you know? We are actually treated to a Dolby True HD track and let's just say I was utterly impressed. This is one of the better tracks on the market, because all of the battle scenes sound simply amazing. When Michelangelo skates through the sewers to the Turtles secret pad, we can easily differentiate the different textures of metal and stone the wheels of his skateboard glide upon, this track brings out clarity like you simply wouldn't believe, not to mention the awful music played throughout the film (I mean the songs, not the excellent and fast paced score). The surrounds are always very active and the subwoofer gets a great workout. This is about as good as it gets, soundwise.
The special features are all in standard definition. Thankfully, they are quite brief. The commentary is only useful if you are into computer animation and extremely technical things. It is really not very entertaining. It features writer/director Kevin Monroe. We also have an interesting alternate beginning where it is Splinter instead of Fishburne doing the voice over. Also an alternate ending that is quite dull. Both of these are unfinished animations, so they don't look very good. We also have one deleted scene, which is a minor scene and runs about a minute. 'Side By Side Comparisons of Storyboards and CGI Action' is exactly like it sounds but dose give the viewer a glimpse into unused extended footage that was never used.
'Donny's Digital Files' is only a couple of minutes long and details the actual digital creation of our main characters' bodies in developmental stages. 'TMNT Voice Talent First Look' is another one of those self-congratulatory pieces where everyone seems so thrilled to be working with everyone else. Yawn. I hope everyone was happy on the way to the bank. And finally, a trailer from the internet. I think computer animated films have enough problems keeping a story from appearing cold or lifeless without a bunch of overly technical special features to explain that everything we are watching is created in a cold lifeless cyber world. It really seems to kill the magic, I would really rather not know how they did it. I am truly not a fan of special features on computer animated films, luckily these were short and relatively harmless. Oh wait, we also have the DVD version on the flip side, which may come in handy, unless your child has an HD-DVD player in his/her room, which would be cool, I guess. This may be the only time I have ever actually used a Combo Format release so extensively, making it well worth the purchase.
To sum things up, this is the best looking and sounding film that I've ever not really enjoyed, but fans of the franchise have a special treat in store for them with this best-ever depiction of mutated turtle ninja badness. They won't be disappointed.