Why Rubber Turtle Suits Are Just the Best

I haven’t been able to bring myself to watch the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie yet.  I do not object to the movie in any way, I am not a purist when it comes to the turtles, and I don’t think that it looks particularly bad.  Bear in mind that this is a man who has a tattoo of one of the turtles on my arm.  You could say I’m a fan of the franchise.  No, I haven’t gone to see it yet because it appears to be exceptionally forgettable.  I imagine the experience playing out something like this:  I’ll go see the film, laugh a little, enjoy the fight scenes, walk out of the theater and almost immediately forget about what I just saw.  I also recognize that this is all purely speculative, as, again, I haven’t seen the movie.

I have, however, seen the original 1990 live action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  This, unfortunately, is as good as the ninja turtles have ever gotten.  The film is filled with exciting action, intelligent dialogue, and great story arcs.  It really gets everything right and set the bar almost too high.

The live-action rubber suits in the first film are fantastic.  They looked great when they debuted in 1990 and they look great now.  Sure, if you pause the high-def film now at just the right moment you can see the actor inside of Donatello’s mouth, but that is definitely preferable to creatures that clearly are not actually there and just look bad.

Again, I have not seen the new movie where the turtles are rendered using 100% CGI.  I have, however, seen the new Hobbit movies.  One of the major gripes that I, and many others, have is that there was entirely too much CGI in the films.  The orc enemies were rendered almost entirely with computer animation.  This was a huge mistake.  The characters simply are not present as they were in the Lord of the Rings movies, where the orcs were brought to frightening life using truly glorious make-up.

I understand the trend that’s taking place in Hollywood.  It’s somehow easier to create something using CGI, even though it can cost millions of dollars.  You can truly let your imagination run wild when making a movie by saying that you’ll make a creature or an effect using computer animation.  I understand that.  You can have your characters and environments do anything you can dream up using computer animation.  I understand that.  However, it oftentimes undermines the movie by not having actual physical things on film (or digital, whatever).  Especially when an actor is supposed to be reacting to and interacting with something.

Which brings me back to 1990 ninja turtles.  When Judith Hoag’s April O’Neil wakes up in a dark, wet sewer only to find herself surrounded by 4 giant talking turtles and a wizened old rat who is literally (on film and on set) touching her, it feels real and earned when she starts screaming.  She’s screaming at real creatures and they are really screaming back at her.  Cut to 2014.  Leonardo flips over Megan Fox’s April O’Neil and slams down on a ledge, and she stares up in him, filled with awe and fear.

But not really.  Again, I haven’t seen the movie.  I’m sure that lots of talented people put lots of hard work in the film and that everything looks great, but Leonardo’s not standing there in front of April O’Neil.  And your brain knows that the things on screen are not real.  Something will always be just a little bit off and your brain won’t let you forget.

1990 turtles were limited.  They had actors in the suits who couldn’t necessarily do a flip from the top of a water tower to a small brick ledge and stand there menacingly.  They had rubber weapons, their mouth movements were not always completely fluid, and Corey Feldman was a terrible choice to voice Donatello.  But they were present, believable, and visceral characters in the movie, who would interact with each other and other characters seamlessly, as CGI never can.

If you couldn’t tell, I’m a fan of the film.  Though I’m not opposed to different iterations of the ninja turtles.  I’ve enjoyed every show that has come out, though trying to watch the original cartoon is downright painful.  I recognize that Ninja Turtles 3 is just, like, complete garbage.  Even at 7 I recognized it was a dismal wreck.  I blame Corey Feldman’s return, but I digress.

I expect to see the newest Ninja Turtles movie at some point in the near future.  I don’t expect to be terribly impressed, but I’m hopeful to be surprised.  Who knows?  I may become the film’s biggest advocate.  Stranger things have happened.  However, no film has topped the original 1990 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and I expect that none ever will.  Those turtles were there, they were real, and they will always be, in my mind, pinnacle.  I’m going to treat the newest film like a Jose Canseco bat.  I wouldn’t pay money for it.

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