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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles - 25th Anniversary Collector's Edition

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    Ian Jane
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  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles - 25th Anniversary Collector's Edition

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    Released by: Warner Brothers
    Released on: 7/28/09
    Director: Various
    Cast: Various
    Year: Various
    Purchase From Amazon

    The Movies:

    It's pretty awesome that what started out as a squirrely little self published black and white comic book in 1984, put out by two unknown Massachusetts natives named Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, became an internationally recognized pop culture phenomena. For a while the Turtles were everywhere - comic books lead to an animated series, a toy line, video games, clothing, books, lunchboxes, backpacks, and pretty much anything else that you can think of and it seemed like kids couldn't get enough of them, which is ironic since those early issues were not aimed towards the younger audience that has since come to embrace the characters.

    Those original old Mirage Studios early issues are pretty tough to find and still remain popular collector's items even if Turtle-Mania isn't what it was during the franchise's heyday of the late eighties and early nineties. Amazingly enough, 2009 marks the twenty fifth anniversary of that very first printing of that very first comic book and Warner Brothers has decided to bundle the four feature films into one handy-dandy Blu-ray boxed set. While 2007's TMNT animated feature has previously been available on its own, the first three films are only available in this collection, a decision that's sure to annoy those who already plunked down their hard earned cash for that disc when it was released on the format back two years ago.

    TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES (1990)

    Directed by Steve Baron and featuring some fantastic costume design work by the Jim Henson Company, the first live action feature film holds up well. When the story begins, a pretty TV news reporter named April O'Neil (Judith Hoag) makes friends with Leonardo (David Forman), Donatello (Leif Tilden), Michelangelo (Robbie Rist) and Raphael (Corey Feldman), four turtles who came into contact with some radioactive material in the sewers below New York City. Raised by a rat named Splinter (Kevin Clash) who had previously been the pet of a martial arts master and who was also infected by the material, these turtles quickly grew into walking, talking, pizza eating machines who showed an aptness for the ninja training that Splinter provided them.

    April teams up with the turtles to put a stop to the sinister Shredder (James Saito), a mysterious villain using the teenage youth of New York to run a crime syndicate from a secret hideout on Roosevelt Island. With some help from the hockey-mask-wearing-baseball-bat-swinging Casey Jones (Elias Koteas), the turtles are forced into action when Splinter is kidnapped and held by Shredder and an all out war breaks out in the city's underground where the turtles will have to fight against and army of ninja to save the city they call home.

    Say what you will, but this movie holds up pretty well. The comedy might seem corny, but it always has and the action scenes are genuinely cool, as are the puppet and suit effects seen in the picture. Basically a really violent Muppet movie, this one stands the test of time. The same cannot be said of the second film, however…

    TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES II: THE SECRET OF THE OOZE (1991)

    The second film, directed by Michael Pressman, and made a year later to cash in on the unprecedented success of the original picture, picks up where that film left off. The plot is pretty simple in that it follows the turtles as they try to figure out their own origins. The track down the radioactive ooze which caused them to mutate in hopes of figuring out their back story but unfortunately for them, Shredder is back on the scene. He gets his hands on the ooze and uses it to change himself and the turtles are once again forced to stop him before it's too late.

    While the suits might look the same, with the exception of Leif Tilden and Kevin Clash, the original cast members didn't return and the film isn't as good as a result. Kevin Nash makes for a pretty cool 'Super Shredder' but Paige Turco's April, while slightly sexier than Judith Hoag, isn't as cute or likeable. And then there's the whole Vanilla Ice thing. As most fans already know, the rapper makes an appearance in the film that, while unintentionally hilarious in a 'wow this sure is dated' sort of way, adds nothing but bad music to what feels like a very rushed follow up to a fairly enjoyable first effort. Ninja Rap indeed. Go ninja, go ninja, go.

    Also missing from this film and a big part of the original picture's 'cool factor' is Casey Jones. Our bat wielding nut job is nowhere to be seen and the story just isn't as interesting. One shining spot in the film is the character of Keno, played by one of the stunt doubles from the first film and probably the coolest action-centric plot device in the film. To the film's credit, it's entertaining enough in its own goofy way and the fight scenes are pretty decent, but this is a much brighter, gaudier kiddy picture in pretty much every way possible.

    TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES III: TURTLES IN TIME (1993)

    The third entry in the live action series, directed by Stuart Gillard, once again sees some cast changes though Turco returns as April and wisely brings Koteas back as Casey Jones. Unfortunately, it's definitely geared towards a younger audience and while the idea behind bringing the turtles back to the era of feudal Japan allows for some cool visuals, the story is a little on the lame side.

    When April monkeys around with a magical scepter she finds herself unwittingly zapped back to seventeenth century Japan. The turtles, obviously concerned about their friend, rush after her to try and save her but when they arrive they find that an evil warlord named Lord Norinaga (Sab Shimono) has got the scepter and doesn't plan on letting them use it any time soon. Of course, the turtles aren't going to take no for an answer and so they wind up in a battle against Norinaga for control of the scepter and in turn their destiny.

    This time around Jim Henson's Creature Shop was not involved in the effects work so you'll notice immediately the turtles and Splinter all look noticeably different and in many ways, rather inferior. Splinter doesn't have the same moves here that he did in the first two pictures and the turtles themselves all seem a little more rigid this time around. It's cool to see Koeas back as Jones but he's not given all that much to do and the action set pieces in this picture lack the punch that worked in earlier entries.

    There are plot holes all over the place and the Japanese setting isn't really used much outside of allowing for the use of some cool costume ideas. The story is predictable, there's no edge to the material at all, and the whole film feels very watered down and wimpy.

    TMNT (2007)

    So we'd go a few years without a Ninja Turtles movie after the third live action entry failed to set the world on fire, but 2007 would see the TMNT back in theaters, even if it was in animated form. Directed by Kevin Munroe, this film reboots the franchise by explaining their origins and tying their story back in to New York City where they once again find themselves having to deal with Shredder and his cronies, the sinister Foot Clan ninja soldiers.

    Using some interesting voice talent - Patrick Stewart, Mako, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Lawrence Fishburne, Ziyi Zhang, and even Kevin Smith - this revamp actually isn't half bad. Yeah it would have been nice to see the filmmaker's go back to the rubber suits and do it the old fashioned way as the animation here is a bit too clean and not at all representative of the series' independent comic book roots, but the storyline is decent enough. There's a lot of great detail in the visuals, from the character design to the lighting effects, and while the anime influence might be a turn off to some, the design work here is pretty impressive.

    The storyline moves along at a good pace and it comes close to finding that nice balance between the darker, harder edged content you see in the early comics and the first movie and the humor that the series has had since day one. April gets less screen time here and Casey Jones might have well have been left out of this entirely as he's a completely watered down version of his former self this time out but at least the spirit of the turtles and Splinter remains intact.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    The first three films are presented in 1.85.1, while the fourth in 2.40.1, each one its original aspect ratio and in full VC-1 encoded 1080p high definition. The first two films are definitely better looking than their DVD counterparts though the colors look just a little bit on the flat side, never really popping the way you might want them to. Granted, much of the pictures takes place at night or in sewers but the greens look just a bit more drab than maybe they could have. Black levels never hit the inkiness you expect from a really great HD transfer and contrast does tend to vary a bit. There's also some very obvious sharpening applied to the image. That said, there's definitely considerably more detail here than in previous releases and the image is clean and clear throughout showing only a minimal amount of natural looking film grain. The third film looks a bit better, with slightly nicer color reproduction and equally impressive detail though some compression artifacts pop up here. The three live action movies do look alright, and again, you'll notice right away that you're watching an HD transfer and not a standard definition one, but this isn't reference quality stuff.

    2007's animated TMNT looks the best of the bunch, which isn't really surprising, and it's got a noticeably brighter color palette to work off of. CGI animation generally tends to look great in high definition and this is no exception. The colors are fantastic and there's a terrific level of detail present throughout. There isn't any edge enhancement or mpeg compression to complain about and this is overall a very strong looking picture.

    The primary tracks for each of the four films is an English language Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix, though the first three films also feature Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound tracks in French and English while the fourth film feature optional Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound tracks in English and Spanish and a Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track in French. Warner Brothers have supplied subtitles in English SDH, French and Spanish.

    The first three films all sound about the same, with most of the action coming from the front of the mix with periodic rear channel action making itself known during the action scenes. There isn't a ton of ambient background noise here but there are a couple of spots where you'll probably pick up on some nice subtle sound design work if you listen for it. The levels are well balanced and dialogue is always clean and clear and there aren't any problems at all with hiss or distortion to complain about.

    Once again, however, the fourth film has to score slightly higher marks. The sound mix is just much more active and interesting for the animated film and it's got a more involved sense of directionality to it meaning you're going to pick up on more surround activity and the heavier lower end. All in all the films sound pretty good and there's nothing here really worth complaining about.

    Fans of the first three films who had hoped to see the film come to Blu-ray with some extra features are going to be disappointed to know that the only supplemental material included for those three movies are the theatrical trailers - that's it.

    All of the extras that appeared on the HD-DVD release of TMNT are carried over to the film's Blu-ray debut, but those who are familiar with that release will know that they're nothing to get too excited about, particularly because they're all here in standard definition. The director's commentary offers a bit of insight into the film's origins and what they tried to do a little differently with the most recent offering in the series but it leans towards the dry and stuff side of things and it turns out to be a bit of a chore to sit through when it had the potential to be a lot of fun. That said, it is kind of cool to see Patrick Stewart, Sarah Michelle Geller and Lawrence Fishburn show up to talk about doing voice work on the picture.

    There are five minutes or so of deleted scenes included that are marginally interesting to watch once, but they're not going to change your life and neither are the seven brief featurettes that cover the making of the picture and which feel rather self serving and promotional in nature. There is some interesting content scattered among the featurettes but we'd have probably been better off with a single documentary piece that could have maybe trimmed the fat off some of the single pieces and made for a more interesting whole.

    Then there's the packaging… This has already been the source of some controversy with fans and there's a legitimate reason for that as it's a bit off even if you do have to give Warner Brothers credit for trying. The four discs and the insert material come packaged in a replica pizza box. That's right, it's just a standard cardboard pizza box. Now there are plastic trays inside the box that hold the discs in place pretty snugly and which do offer some protection bit it would have been nice to see the movies packaged in some sort of protective case and the design, as cool as it looks, isn't all that practical. Inside the pizza case, aside from the discs, you'll find a black beanie cap with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles logo embroidered on it (which, if removed, causes the contents of the box to shift around way too easily), and a nifty reproduction of the first TMNT movie comic book adaption written and illustrated by creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird in beautiful black and white. There's also an envelope inside featuring eight postcard sized character cards and a reproduction sketch.

    The Final Word:

    Fans are going to get it anyway and it is nice to have all four films in one set, but the packaging and transfer inconsistencies hurt this release and the selection of extras or lack thereof doesn't help matters much either. It's not a terrible release by any stretch but the films' built in fan base was understandably expecting more from this collection…
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