The 90s: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles the Movie

I don’t know when and where I first heard of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but I do know I joined the majority of my generation in becoming obsessed with all things mean, lean, and green for the better part of four years.  I’ve always loved turtles, I wanted to keep a giant water turtle that I found outside my house when I was about 8 and my sister and I used to make paper bowl turtle toys (turn the bowl over, make it paper feet and head, color it!) at my grandmother’s house, so when a cartoon about anthropomorphic turtles came out it must have felt like a perfect fit.

The Ninja Turtles movie was the first film I remember being truly excited about.  There had been The Land before Time when I was even younger, Ghostbusters II, and Batman the year before, but Ninja Turtles ramped up to be the event of my youth.  I remember TONS of pre-release promotional material I collected, including the awesome poster (Lean, Mean, and on the Screen!) that hung on my green-painted wall for years.  And yes it was painted green because of my TMNT love…

Despite all of this I don’t remember having any expectations for the film.  I didn’t expect it to be a continuation of the cartoon, or the re-telling of the show in live-action format.  I may have been too young for such concepts.  I was expecting to see live-action Ninja Turtles and that’s just what I got.

For me, this movie was the perfect introduction to the 1990s.  Though it was made in the late 80s and based on an 80s cartoon, the film is far more 90s than 80s.  The costumes, from April’s street gear and Danny’s slacker outfit, looks like 90s clothes, even Shredder’s MC Hammer red jump suit (complete with giant, square shoulders) looks more like early 90s than late 80s.  The musical score, with a killer synth theme, didn’t have the distinctive “Final Countdown” sound that marred synth in the 80s.  In fact this is the first movie I can recall that heavily featured rap music, not just as a soundtrack item (though there was an awesome credit scroll rap track that still gets stuck in my head…) but in the background as what was on the radio that we, the kids seeing the movie, were listening to.

This song plays right after “Cowabunga!” at the end of the film.  It still plays periodically in my mental soundtrack…

I recently rewatched the film and, objectively, I can say it was a fantastic herald for the decade and is still a terrific movie.  While some might consider the background dated, to me it speaks so clearly of the time it was made and it never detracts from its effectiveness.  Yeah the foot soldiers steal 10-inch tube TVs and VCRs but in 1990 something like that would have been a kind of luxury item.  As well as something a ninja could conceivably flee on foot carrying.

Even the turtles themselves, essentially man-sized muppet outfits, are surprisingly emotional.  You believe their animatronic faces.  This is aided by the voice acting, which, in most cases (Raph’s Brooklyn accent being the outlier) came close to matching what we were used to hearing on the cartoon show.  Even Splinter’s voice became the model used for later TMNT features…though never close to as well…

The action sequences are remarkable, which is surprising as the stunt guys are wearing massive foam-rubber suits and I attribute THIS movie to sparking my interest in martial arts, which extends to this day (not the cartoon, which I’ve also seen recently and it has very little fighting I’ve realized!)

The non-turtle actors led by Judith Hoag, the best live-action April, and Elias Koteas, the quintessential Casey Jones, never seem out of place or make the very weird subject matter seem as odd as it is.  They play it believable so you believe them.  They are enhanced by a score of excellent secondary characters, Danny, Charles Pennington (April’s Boss), Tatsu (one of my favorites, “Ninja! Vanish!”), and an incredible live action Shredder.

It doesn’t just “hold up” as a good movie, it actually is a good movie.  It never has a dated cringe-worthy moment that references some long-lost, time-stamped, disposable concept.  In many ways the humor and references are more like Looney Tunes, in that they have a timeless feel or harken back to already-established icons, such as the old-school surfing terms, Three Stooges, Rocky, or the famous James Cagney “you dirty rat” misquote.

I wonder if newer generations of kind can appreciate this film for what it is. Or if music-video-style film making, flashing light imagery, and over-shiny CGI has altered the fundamental image of what an action movie should be.  To me, this is the Raiders of the Lost Ark of cartoon pop culture, a great marriage of subject, style, and execution.  And, to me, a memorable way to open the decade.

Interesting to note, this is the official trailer from the film, I actually remember seeing scenes from it, but the voices were not the same as the finished film.  Nearly every “masked” character has a different voice in the theatrical release!

Coming Soon: The 90s in Review!!

Ah the 90s… I will always consider myself a child of the 80s…but I was a teenager of the 90s. So while some of my favorite childhood memories are deeply rooted in the kid-culture of the 1980s, my adolescent memories are more firmly based in the bedrock of the 1990s.

There has been a fair share of 80s and 90s nostalgia in the last few years and the people of my generation reach adulthood and look back longingly and the culture we grew up in. From VH1’s I Love the 90s and Nickleodeon’s 90’s Were All That, the 1990s have had a resurgence in the last few years. I personally both love and cringe at the glory that was the 1980s and 1990s and became excited to share my personal favorite and LEAST favorite things about the second second decade I experienced.

My insightful RevPub colleague unintentionally got this ball rolling with her Clueless post, and I got to thinking about all of the great things the 1990s gave us. We’ll be discussing TV, movies, music, general culture from the era, and hopefully will be able to reach the rest of our generation in celebrating the decade that gave us the fall of MC Hammer, the creation of the first-person shooter, the re-rise of the boy band, the horrible innovation of reality TV, and the tragic end of music on “music television.”

These, like previous posts, won’t be broad history lessons but personal memories of the 90s. So enjoy, we all have different perspectives and will remember distinct memories of where we were the first time we saw DVDs, Rap Metal, or 3D Graphics!

PS: I planned to have a nice snazz-graphic ready for this post…unfortunately my wonderful Vaio went into cardiac arrest on the morning of 2/19 and is no longer with us.  New PC arrives Thursday…  Hopefully snazz-graphic will be ready by the first 90s post next week, a look at how the 90s started for me: A review of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Movie!

Life Lessons Learned from Video Games 1: Found Food is Good For You!

Like most of the American generation born between 1975-1985, I grew up in the golden age of video games.  Starting with an Atari 400, moving to an Atari 800XL, an NES, and finally settling with Sega consoles throughout much of the 90s, I became a “gamer” at an early age and remain one to this day.  Recently elitists and exclusionists have hijacked that term, but to me a “gamer” is still just someone who enjoys playing games.  Any games from the board variety, to the cellphone kind, to the newest console release.  Whether they play once a month or 24/7, whether they’re hardcore MMORPGrs with hundreds of hours logged or they just play the Sims on their PC, it’s the pure enjoyment of playing a game that makes one a gamer.  Not how high they’re ranked, how many accessories you own, or how many noobs you’ve pwned.  At it’s heart, gaming is just entertainment; it’s not life or death.  So to all my generation who live and breathe by their gear, their rankings, or their e-reputations … seriously … it’s just a game. Kick back and have some fun.

During my long gaming history I have learned a lot of lessons, lessons that apply to both the real world and the virtual world.  Real world lessons aren’t always apparent, and the games that teach them can sometimes be surprising.  Virtual lessons are more about the peculiarities of the gaming world, ways you learn to interact with a world of invisible walls and filled with store clerks who never leave their desks and repeat the same two lines over and over for all eternity.

Since this is the first post of this type, I thought I’d keep it light and start with a virtual world lesson:

If You Are Ever Injured, Seek Out Turkeys, Apples, Pizzas, Pork Chops, and Sodas Hidden in your Environment … and EAT Them Instantly!

I know what everyone’s thinking … eating found food doesn’t sound like a good idea but, trust me, I spent a lot of time playing Castlevania, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Streets of Rage 2 & 3, and Final Fight.  Found food will help you immeasurably.  A turkey found in a garbage can you’ve just smashed into a fading, dented version of  itself after breaking heads all over Metro City or a roast uncovered after you’ve whipped some brick walls of a Transylvania castle into rubble will save your life!  This is one of those lessons I’ve always questioned as I’ve played games, but it shows up again and again.  I can’t imagine grabbing food out of the trash or a crumbling castle being good for one’s constitution, but don’t take my word for it; ask Simon, Donatello, or Axel…it’ll bring you back from near death.

Castlevania Meat
There’s the delicious, life-saving food item…found by smashing open the walls of a musty evil castle…
TMNT Food
Ever been near-death beating up weird spider-things and guys with chainsaws in a warehouse? Look around and see if there’s a pizza floating in the air on a blue square! A WHOLE pizza too. Those are the best ones….
Streets of Rage 2 Apple
Taken some hits pummeling street trash through blue back alleys and baseball fields? Luckily there’s an apple hidden in a roadside sign. That’ll give you the boost you need!  Eat the apple, Axel…EAT IT!
Streets of Rage 2 Turkey
And if you’re in REAL trouble knock over the random trashcan and you may discover a fully-cooked turkey dinner complete with platter!

Now, obviously, game programmers and designers probably got a little sick of using medical kits and vague red crosses as health power ups.  It still seems strange that food as a medical restorative was and still is so popular.  In the amazing fantasy world of video games it’s one of those things we just take for granted.  But who says it can’t be applied to real life?  I say we all give  it a try.

So lesson learned.  Next time you feel life slipping away and the world (or a gang of thugs) is beating you down, break open a nearby sign, rock, garbage can, or potted plant and eat the tasty contents revealed.  Instantly.  And watch the profound impact on your health!