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On March 30, 1990, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles hit the big screen, with the comic book adaptation becoming a surprise hit, at the time the top-grossing independent film ever. The Hollywood Reporter’s original review is below:
This film debut of the carapaced comic-book heroes features solid animatronic effects and a straightforward approach to superhero adventurism that should appeal to young Ninja Turtle fans, who should be pleased to see the terrapins brought so faithfully to the screen.
However, a long-winded plot, broad characterizations and barely adequate fight scenes will prevent Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles from generating any breakthrough business. The movie should end up a limited box office success.
The turtles are four abandoned house pets, who, after being exposed to radiation, have grown to human size and developed the personalities and appetites of teenagers.
Walking on two feet, the four — called Raphael, Michelangelo, Donatello and Leonardo — have also learned the martial arts under the tutelage of a similarly overgrown rat that houses them in a subterranean room off the sewer and subway tunnels of New York City.
The film’s plot involves the foursome’s battle against a mysterious crime ring called The Foot, organized by a samurai-costumed Japanese warrior called The Shredder (James Saito), culled from teenage boys alienated from their parents.
The four are aided by television news reporter, April O’Neil (Judith Hoag), and a tough-talking vigilante, Casey Jones (Elias Koteas), who likes to take on hoods while wielding hockey sticks, bats, golf clubs and the like.
The turtle costumes are designed by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, and though only vaguely described, are apparently combinations of costumes and computer-driven animatronic heads. Splinter, the rat, is entirely a puppet.
Josh Pais, Michelan Sisiti, Leif Tilden and David Forman, who inhabit the costumes, are lithe and acrobatic performers, though they do somewhat less fighting than one might expect from a Golden Harvest action picture.
The faces are mobile and expressive, although the only way to really tell the four apart, aside from their dubbed, soundalike voices, is by different colored masks.
Given such a simple good guys vs. bad guys plot, the filmmakers have resorted to a lot of padding, with flashbacks (shown as poorly transmitted television pictures, something of an eyesore) and reflective moments taking up time that could have been filled with more action sequences.
The movie nearly comes to a complete standstill during one long sequence when the crime fighters retreat to a country home to lick some wounds. And the one subplot that could have been milked, about a young friend of O’Neil’s who falls in with the gang, is handled indifferently and fails to supply much in the way of a youthful identification figure.
The film’s design does a good job of capturing the turtle’s sewery lair, through more routine settings, particularly city streets, don’t project much atmosphere. — Henry Sheehan
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