"TMNT" DVD Review
July 30, 2007 by Zach Demeter
When TMNT hit theaters itíd been fourteen years since weíd seen the green anthropomorphic turtles on the big screen. Considering the colossal disaster that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III was, itís not surprising that it took this long for the franchise to return to theaters (although since 2003, two cartoon series have debuted on the 4KidsTV network). Even more surprising is that this film, despite being entirely in CGI, seems to essentially be the sequel to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III, as later in the film we see elements from the past three live action films. Donít let this worry you, howeveróTMNT, even at its lowest, is a thoroughly entertaining film from start to finish.
TMNT opens with the brothers disbanded: Leonardo is off training to become a better leader, Donatello is working as IT support, Michelangelo as an entertainer for childrenís birthday parties and Raphael as the Nightwatcher, a vigilante in New York that is consistently arriving at the scene of crimes before cops can. While the brothers remain somewhat estranged from one another (Michelangelo and Donatello remain the closest), a mysterious influx of monsters infests itself in New York City and the arrivals of four stone creatures from the past begin taking the monsters out, one by one.
For the TMNT fan there is so much to take in. The expansion of Casey and Aprilís roles (as well as their relationship) is front in center in the film and the introduction of Karai in the role of the Shredder is a new addition to the theatrical series. Having followed the recent 2003 animated series I was able to follow the film without any problem, but I could audiences being surprised by the non-TV reporter April and Karai being in charge of the Foot (who clearly arenít made up of a band of teenagers in this one).
The story for the film, like past films, is really nothing that you can begin to stare at before it begins to become a bit hard to swallow (although this movie is about a bunch of ninja turtles, so it depends on how far you want to go with that train of thought), but the atmosphere of the film and animation is simply astounding. I had my doubts when I saw the trailer, as the characters looked like nothing more than over simplified 2D models turned 3D, but itís clear upon watching the film just how much work went into it. While weíve seen detail in Pixar films that would likely rival TMNT, the vastness of New York City and the detail in the film, especially during the rain fight with Raphael and Leonardo, is simply breathtaking. Iíve been watching the trend of 3D CGI replacing the classic 2D style of animation since Toy Story and never has my mouth dropped so much at textures and models since Monsterís Inc.. The mere fact I just mentioned TMNTís animation in the same breath as some of Pixarís finest goes to show just how brilliantly done this film is. The humans may be simplified in some aspects, but the turtles themselves, along with Splinter, show an enormous amount of detail and when the turtles are in motion, itís a really cool sight to behold.
Thereís plenty in the film that I can see people having issues withóboth fans and general audiences alike. I mentioned the story may be a bit too cartoonish for general audiences (though it is rated PG) and not up to ďmovie theaterĒ snuff and I found the voices of Splinter and Karai to be a bit too different from the ones Iíve been used to on the television show (the turtles were close enough matches, but the accents on Splinter and Karai were just so thick). Not to say the voice acting was sub-par by any means, itís just a different performance and when the time came for Splinterís more emotional scenes, it didnít matter what his voice sounded like because you could hear the emotion more so than the accent in the quieter scenes. Mako really did a great job with the voice, even if it wasnít what I was used to.
Another aspect of the film I noticed was the use of the turtles. Raphael and Leonardo take center stage in the film, while Mikey and Donny take the back seat for the majority of the film (we do see more of Mikey in the DVDs deleted scenes, however). I say this only because, while Raphael and Leonardo are undeniably the ďcoolestĒ of the four, Iíve always had a soft spot for Mikey and Donny, so seeing their characters downplayed was kind of a bummer. Still, none of the turtles were out of character in the least and my years of watching past turtle escapades only furthered my enjoyment of the film.
The film was a lot darker in tone than the past films as well and really followed the comic book more closely than the series or movies ever did previously. All of the turtles are much more serious in this film (with the exception of Mikey who is rarely serious) and the themes of the film are much more adult in nature (the main ďvillainĒ is a very lonely character, who Patrick Stewart voices brilliantly). I donít just say this because April and Casey are living together (first time Iíve seen that portrayed in a childrenís cartoon, I must admit), but the mood of the film is just really not one of extreme happiness.
Iíve never been a big fan of songs with lyrics being played in films, but the few that get played in TMNT never bothered me and the rendition of ďBlack BettyĒ as Raphael fought one of the monsters really helped the scene play well. On top of that, Klaus Badeltís excellent score for the film sounds dark and emotional, which is a perfect fit for the film. Itís a shame there was no individual release of the score for the film, as Iíd love to hear it isolated.
There are only a few real issues I had with the film in the end. Aside from the awkwardness of Karai and Splinterís new voices and the billing of big ďstarsĒ in the film (Laurence Fishburne is credited on the back cover and he only narrates the opening of the film), the action in the film really wasnít all that impressive in the third act. The first fight with the Turtles and the monster is great, but the fight at the end with the fleet of Foot is incredibly short and lacking. Iíve no problem seeing the Foot dispatched without a fight, itís just the scene didnít nearly have as many fancy camera tricks or ninja-like acrobatics that I wouldíve expected. In addition to that, the Turtles big fight against the four rock creatures is lacking something as wellóthere just isnít enough exposure given to all four of the Turtles during the fight and we see a stronger sense of teamwork between the four when theyíre running across rooftops than we do during the fight sequences.
Still, thereís no doubt that the film isnít fun to watch. There are few films I feel like watching again after reviewing, but TMNT is one of them. Perhaps itís just for the visual aspect of it and for the scenes where we really get to see the Turtles in action, but this film is a ton of fun to watch and comes Highly Recommended.
TMNT arrives in a single disc amaray DVD case with a embossed cardboard slip, an advertising insert for other Turtle merchandise and no disc art. You may ask why thereís no disc art and I can tell you quite simply: itís a flipper. Yes, you heard me rightÖitís a flipper disc. Normally I donít have an issue with flipper discs if they canít be helped (i.e, due to storage constraints), but considering the widescreen side is only about 60% full, I donít think a fullscreen transfer of the film would have been that hard to cram onto the set. A rather annoying thing to have to deal with in this day and age, especially when there are clearly no storage constraints hindering it from being single sided.
The menus and special features on both sides of the disc are identical and only the films transfer is different. Normally transfers of childrenís movies in full screen isnít too bad, but this film was shot in 2.35:1 and putting it into a 4:3 frame is nothing short of crippling it. Itís clear why a fullscreen transfer was included, but why it couldnít be all put onto one side of the disc is extremely confusing.
Video and audio on this release is pretty good. The 5.1 track throws a few sound effects to the rear channels on more than one occasion, although the bass levels are surprisingly quiet throughout. The video does show some compression in the brighter sequences, but the film is mostly dark so we donít see too any blemishes on the transfer. French and Spanish 5.1 tracks accompany the disc, as well as English, French and Spanish subtitles, a lot of which also cover the extras on the disc (including the commentary).
There is a fair share of special features on this disc, the longest of which is, of course, the directors commentary. Kevin Munroe is eager to talk about his film on his first ever commentary track, but he tends to only repeat some of the action on screen and endlessly thank those involved with the film. There are a lot of dry spots and he does occasionally drop a cool thing or two about the film, but overall itís a rather dull track. It was his first commentary track and Iíve heard more seasoned commentary veterans sound worse than Munroe did, so I guess he can only get better with each film he directs and commentates on.
Nearly all of the special features have commentary by Munroe on them and Iím sad to say that theyíre all forced with the commentary on. There is no alternate audio-only track so the chances of hearing any of the dialogue that was cut from the film and in the deleted/extended scenes is null and void. I had hoped that the full screen side was sans commentary, but all of the extras are the same. Really a big letdown, as some of the dialogue, particularly in Mikeyís cut scenes, sounded humorous and I would have liked to hear it.
Commentary only aside, the extras are worth watching. Munroe goes into detail why the scenes were cut out or cut down and the alternate opening and endings are entirely different from what we got in the actual film. On top of the deleted scenes we have side-by-side comparisions of storyboards and CGI action (also with commentary by Munroe), as well as the online teaser and interviews with the voice talent (none of the Turtles voice actors are interviewed, only Patrick Stewart, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Laurence Fishburne are heard from the voice actors side). There are a few other short featurettes on the disc and all are worth watching if youíre a fan of the film or the Turtles.
Itís clear a lot of love and labor went into the making of the film, but this DVD release feels kind of weak in comparison. I always give a DVD release a thumbs up if it has a commentary track (regardless of the qualityóthe studio at least made the effort to record one), but the rest of the special features are a letdown, if only because I cannot hear the dialogue that Munroe is talking over. Aside from that the DVD is a decent representation of the film, although I really wish the cover art originally released in the press release for the film remained, as the one that they ended up using has the two Turtles least seen in the film the biggest on the cover.
While the prospect of a sequel is still up in the air at this point, this DVD will at least give something fans to watch and analyze in the mean time. Overall, even though the DVD features and the final product feel thrown together, this disc comes Recommended.
TMNT will be available on DVD, HD-DVD and Blu Ray on August 7th.