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April 2, 2015 11:10 AM   Subscribe

70-pound costumes. A major studio pulling out at the last moment. Rejection from every corner. Most of the industry asking its producers, "Are you guys out of your minds?" 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles': The Untold Story of the Movie "Every Studio in Hollywood" Rejected.
posted by zarq (42 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
It's touched on in the article, but the (independent) film was made for an estimated $13.5 million. It grossed $135 million in the US. $201 million worldwide. and made another $66 million in rentals.
posted by zarq at 11:15 AM on April 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


I thought my friends and I had walked out of What About Bob? and (to protest how much we hated it) snuck into this movie halfway through, but the release dates on IMDB tell me that it must have been the sequel, The Secret Of The Ooze.
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:35 AM on April 2, 2015


Some thoughts:

I was a kid who was a rabid TMNT fan and just the target age when this movie came out, and I remember everybody being absolutely nuts about it. Parents were generally less enthused due to the mild profanity and the surprisingly dark tone, though I think the tone being darker than the cartoon helped the film hold up better than a lighter tone would.

And speaking of the cartoon, is it just presentism that has me absolutely gobsmacked that a movie exploiting what was at the time if not the biggest then one of the biggest kid's entertainment IPs in existence? It blows my fucking mind that this wasn't an animated movie produced by the team doing the Saturday morning cartoons. Having it made on the cheap as a live-action indie flick is something that I don't imagine happening today.

Watching the movie over and over on VHS always involved this Pizza Hut ad.

Also, I picked up a part-time seasonal job on the salesfloor at a big-box store over this last Christmas season, when the execrable 2014 TMNT hit Blu-Ray/DVD, and frequently worked in electronics, where the vast majority of the job is wandering the electronics and media section and helping people find the DVD or whatever they're looking for. I don't think anybody ever asked me to help find the 2014 movie. I was asked at least every couple of hours for the 1990 movie, and we were selling out of it quickly, followed by the four-pack of the first three movies and I think a feature based on the recent CGI cartoon.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:39 AM on April 2, 2015 [7 favorites]


I guess you could say they displayed... turtle power.
posted by Artw at 11:46 AM on April 2, 2015 [5 favorites]


My favorite moment - absolute favorite - is the warehouse den of hedonism Shredder's set up for the street kids/Foot Clan recruits. "You got any cigarettes?" is just the best way of showing these are Bad Kids.

On investigation, holy shit, Sam Rockwell is the head punk kid in that scene
posted by dismas at 11:58 AM on April 2, 2015 [11 favorites]




I remember William Goldman saying (in one book or another) that the buzz at the time was that everyone was passing on the movie because they couldn't see how a blockbuster could be made for $6 million. They passed because the budget was too small.
posted by Peevish at 12:02 PM on April 2, 2015 [3 favorites]


On investigation, holy shit, Sam Rockwell is the head punk kid in that scene

Holy crap! I had no idea.
posted by zarq at 12:18 PM on April 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


This article also partially explains Gallagher's dumbfounding claim (on an infamous episode of Marc Maron's WTF podcast in 2011) to ownership of the TMNT franchise. Partially.
posted by Strange Interlude at 12:21 PM on April 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


I was 15 in 1990 and arguably too old to really enjoy turtle mania, but I loved this film for the simple reason that the people behind them seemed to really care about the craft of making mutant-turtle-based entertainment. They could have slapped together 3 episodes of the cartoon and kids would have been happy but they wrote a script that took the characters in new directions and came up with something that looked and felt unique.

The film is sort-of unwatchable today due to xtreme late-80sness but it sticks out from the usual cash-in schlock.

The sequels are, of course, absolute garbage.
posted by AndrewStephens at 12:25 PM on April 2, 2015 [3 favorites]


As a kid I used to read the original B&W comics. I remember feeling so excited upon hearing that there was a cartoon coming out and then immediately being so incensed that they went with this dopey multi-color headband/mask nonsense[*]. All the Turtles wear red! Gosh! How could they screw with my Turtles like that?

Looking at IMDb shows me that the cartoon would have come out when I was 11 years old which ... yeah, sounds about right for the level of dogged determination I had in telling everyone that they were screwing this up, and they were dumb, and I wasn't interested in their stupid cartoon.

aaaaand yet somehow I was right there in the theater as soon as this movie came out, and I don't remember having any complaints about the color-coding system then, because man, my Turtles were in a Real Live Movie! And it was going to be the Best Thing Ever! and it pretty much was. I remember so desperately wanting to be Casey Jones when I grew up, this kind of dopey but totally earnest pre-grunge[**] badass who got to hang out with the Turtles. I even applied this to Elias Koteas himself, inasmuch as I bothered to learn his name. To this day I can't tell you who played April or anyone else but I sure knew who Elias Koteas was.

(which is weird because as far as I could tell he immediately disappeared from planet Earth as soon as the movie was over and I didn't see him again until 1996's Crash and I was like, "Well ... that's ... not Casey Jones.")

Point is: I was just on the cusp of being too old for the movie, as evidenced by the fact that I never did see any of the sequels. In that magic liminal time, though, this movie was pretty much the awesomest thing that had ever been on the big screen, maybe with the exception of Tim Burton's Batman. You couldn't really compare the two, though. I mean one was everyone's Batman, and the other was MY Turtles.

(* it was only a few years later when I bothered to question why they'd done the multi-color thing that I realized it was because A.) stupid pee-pants babies would be watching the cartoons and would need clues as to which character was which but more importantly B.) if they were all still wearing red then how could you be expected to convince your parents to buy you one of each toy? "You already have that karate turtle thing, sweetie." "Yes but I only have Michaelangelo and I want Leonardo! He has swords and he's like the leader of the group!" "I tell you what, we'll get out the crafts box when we get home and make some swords and then you can pretend he's Leonard instead." "LEONARDO, Mom! Come on!")

(** maybe not pre-grunge by the strict timeline of the musical genre according to Wikipedia, but certainly pre-'anything resembling grunge' had hit the Bible Belt where I lived.)

posted by komara at 12:30 PM on April 2, 2015 [4 favorites]


I've always loved the portrayal of Raphael in the movie, and identified strongly with him as a kid and a pre-teen. I think some of the writing holds up. Of course the suits still look awesome.

Also, as a kid I was always REALLY WORRIED about April's family's antique store.
posted by kittensofthenight at 12:30 PM on April 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


Here's the thing, I know I was the prime audience for this and I KNOW I watched it more than once but I couldn't for the life of me remember anything that happens in it. Seeing all the screenshots provoke no memory or response just "Oh yeah that was before the cartoon right? Did I ...see that?"
posted by The Whelk at 12:30 PM on April 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


Here's the Siskel and Ebert review... spoiler alert, they didn't like it. The one they both liked that week was Crybaby, and I think I remember John Waters saying that Crybaby didn't do well at the box office because TMNT crushed everything.
posted by Huck500 at 12:38 PM on April 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


"You got any cigarettes?" is just the best way of showing these are Bad Kids.

My favorite part of that clip is when Sam Rockwell responds by holding up a large white box that had CIGARETTES printed in large text on the side, and no other distinguishing features.

Blow the props budget on costumes, they did.
posted by schmod at 1:06 PM on April 2, 2015 [3 favorites]


I was a bit older than the target audience when it came out, but as an all-geeky-media-consuming geek, I still watched it and enjoyed it. (Sadly, as I've aged, I've become not a consumer of everything, nor a consumer of all the good stuff, but simply a consumer of *some* geeky media and pretty much nothing else. I'm down to pretty much the Marvel movies, a few F/SF novels each year, and no TV. I miss being up on everything geeky.)

The moment I'll always remember turns out to be from number 2, an exchange that I and one of my friends will still quote to each other:

Donatello: The perimeter's quiet.
Leonardo: Yeah, a little too quiet.
Michelangelo: Come on.
[The Turtles sneak forward; Donatello takes out two sentries solo]
Donatello: Well, that was easy.
Leonardo: Yeah, a little too easy.
[They see Raphael tied to a post]
Donatello: Look, it's Raph!
Michelangelo: Yeah, a little too Raph.
posted by Four Ds at 1:17 PM on April 2, 2015 [13 favorites]


For those that think the movie is a bit dated: a 6 year old thinks that pizza eating turtles that talk funny and save the day are awesome in nearly any incarnation. (He recently went to a friend's birthday party and the parents started to put on the new one and he said: "this one isn't appropriate. Can we watch the original one?" Which they promptly did! ...which earned him some special privileges later that day.
posted by Nanukthedog at 1:31 PM on April 2, 2015 [3 favorites]


I was a kid when this came out but I had kind of the opposite experience of Komara's, up thread. I was only vaguely aware of the comic books but was very invested in the animated show. I called foul when they gave Splinters back story as him always being a rodent who studied under Hamato Yoshi before mutating (as is what happens in the comics) and not that he was Hamato Yoshi who had mutated into a half-man/half-rat (as is the case in the TV show). So many other things bugged me too: the tone wasn't as jokey, there were no robot footsoldiers, no Bebop, Rocksteady, or Krang, no Technodrome, etc.

This was maybe the first time I was burned as a fan by a different mediums interpretation of a fictional narrative that I cared about. I later enjoyed some of the comics and figured that the movie was mostly based on those. Now, I'm learning that the writers wanted to make a hybrid of the two, which makes more sense (the surfer talk and some of the jokes), and was probably a rather practical decision now that I'm an adult. Over time I've grown from angered over different peoples interpretations of my favorite stories, to accepting of them, to currently, where I'm just fairly apathetic about such things.

The movie had some high points for me though. I always enjoyed the tenderness and somber tone of the scene at the cabin and April's journaling. Also, I still like to this day the joke that Four D's is making reference to (but I thought it was "Yeah, a little too Donatello." I don't know, I haven't seen it in years.)
posted by coolxcool=rad at 1:49 PM on April 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


I was in the target demographic when the cartoon and movies came out. I find it interesting, in retrospect, that the strangeness of the premise never even occurred to me. They're giant, pizza-eating anthropomorphic turtles that are ninjas—sure, why not? Like a religious fable, it was such a ubiquitous part of the culture that the premise asserted its own normality, becoming completely invisible to rational thought.
posted by dephlogisticated at 1:55 PM on April 2, 2015 [8 favorites]


I think it has to do with the fact that when you're a kid, it's much easier to take the world as it appears. I remember shelving some action figures and thinking they were dumb, then glancing over at the TMNT stuff and going "oh yeah, but those make perfect sense, right?" Because we encountered TMNT as children, it's got kind of a back door past the part of our brain that evaluates whether things make sense or not.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:14 PM on April 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


I was too old to really get into the Turtles (I was in college when the original comics came out, and although I appreciated it for what it was--I recognized the franchises it was spoofing/riffing off of--I dropped it after a few issues), but I'm sure that I would have been all over it if I'd been several years younger.
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:20 PM on April 2, 2015


I just rewatched this movie last week. It holds up fine. I also just re-read the first twenty or so of the original run, and am about nine issues deep into the latest run.

The new run of TMNT is excellent. I mean, really really strong. It manages to update the storyline and darken it without going grimdark and without losing the fun that helps define TMNT. It's smart, goofy, exciting stuff. It is the best version of the turtles I've seen so far (the original run is marred by a lot of the truly awful standalone stuff they did).
posted by Bookhouse at 2:40 PM on April 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


"The new run of TMNT is excellent."

Aw now why'd you have to go and say that? I have too many comics to read as it is ... but I might as will pick up the first few issues, right? Just to see.
posted by komara at 2:48 PM on April 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


[...]my friends and I had walked out of What About Bob? [...]

KIDS TODAY WHY I OUGHTTA. (I mean seriously. "Death therapy Bob. It's a sure cure!")

I find it interesting, in retrospect, that the strangeness of the premise never even occurred to me.

The comic book was actually intended as a parody of other 90s comics. From Wikipedia:
Using money from a tax refund together with a loan from Eastman's uncle, they formed Mirage Studios and self-published a single-issue comic book that would parody four popular comics of the early 1980s: Marvel Comics' The New Mutants, which featured teenage mutants, Cerebus, which featured anthropomorphic animals, Ronin, and Daredevil, which featured ninja clans dueling for control of the New York City underworld.

The Turtles' origin contained direct allusions to Daredevil: the traffic accident between a blind man and a truck carrying radioactive ooze, a reference to Daredevil's own story, (indeed in the version told in the first issue, Splinter sees the canister strike a boy's face). The name "Splinter" also parodied Daredevil's mentor, a man known as "Stick." The Foot, a clan of evil ninjas who became the Turtles' arch-enemies, likens to the Hand, who were a mysterious and deadly ninja clan in the pages of Daredevil.
posted by JHarris at 3:02 PM on April 2, 2015 [3 favorites]


...a large white box that had CIGARETTES printed in large text on the side, and no other distinguishing features.

Oh, that was totally a thing. It's also why I feel compelled to make Prefatory Remarks before showing Repo Man to younger people.
posted by MrBadExample at 3:21 PM on April 2, 2015 [3 favorites]


In case anyone was wondering, I watched the latest movie on a plane ride early in the year from idle curiosity, and - astonishingly - it was even worse than I expected, which is frankly incredible, esp given the presence of William Fichtner. It failed even at being shit, if you know what I mean. It was the worst movie I've watched in a few years.
posted by smoke at 3:47 PM on April 2, 2015


On investigation, holy shit, Sam Rockwell is the head punk kid in that scene

Holy crap! I had no idea.


He's so great in it. Especially his climactic scene near the end, when Casey Jones and Splinter are trying to set him on the right path and Rockwell looks right at Jones and says "We have allegiance to THE SHREDDER."
posted by joechip at 3:50 PM on April 2, 2015 [3 favorites]


Oh, that was totally a thing. It's also why I feel compelled to make Prefatory Remarks before showing Repo Man to younger people.

Holy shit, someone could make a killing bringing back the beer that simply comes in white cans that say "beer".
posted by emptythought at 4:14 PM on April 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm very happy to hear that the voice for Raph came from inside the costume and not from a voice actor at a later date.

Very happy.
posted by RolandOfEld at 4:31 PM on April 2, 2015


They passed because the budget was too small.

Still a thing. Moreso now than ever.
posted by Sys Rq at 5:31 PM on April 2, 2015


Lots of creative people, myself included, look at a movie and say "Man, if I had done this movie I could've done better." That may or may not be true, but then you read something like this and see just what had to happen to make a movie like this that in hindsight was such a sure thing, and how many things could have gone wrong, and how the sequel had four times the budget and was roughly one fourth as good (and the latest movie had almost 21 times the budget and saying it was a twentieth as good is pretty charitable)...

Well, long story short it's probably amazing anything good ever gets made by anyone. Also, Sam Rockwell is a treasure.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 8:30 PM on April 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


Over time I've grown from angered over different peoples interpretations of my favorite stories, to accepting of them, to currently, where I'm just fairly apathetic about such things.

I've mentioned this on mefi before, but the recent movie Turtles Forever is surprisingly good; it came out toward the end of the 2009-ish cartoon series, and featured that series' turtles discovering an alternate universe version of themselves: the 1980s cartoon turtles. The movie's weirdly postmodern, as it makes canon the idea that every version of tmnt is a different universe, so crossovers could potentially still happen at any time. Given how good the recent cgi Nickelodeon series is, I'd love to see them open that premise back up.
posted by Greg Nog at 12:26 AM on April 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


I might pick up the latest TMNT series, if only to see Usagi Yojimbo (published for a while on Mirage) move as only he can.
posted by bouvin at 12:44 AM on April 3, 2015


Pope Guilty: Also, I picked up a part-time seasonal job on the salesfloor at a big-box store over this last Christmas season, when the execrable 2014 TMNT hit Blu-Ray/DVD

I completely misread that and I was going to take issue until I realized you weren't talking about the criminally under-watched 2007 CGI movie (simply called TMNT), which, while not as good as Turtles Forever, is still heads and shoulders better than any of the live action movies.

Last year's movie really was terrible.
posted by infinitelives at 12:28 PM on April 3, 2015


As a kid I used to read the original B&W comics. I remember feeling so excited upon hearing that there was a cartoon coming out and then immediately being so incensed that they went with this dopey multi-color headband/mask nonsense[*].--komara

komara, you might be interested to know that there's a TMNT cartoon out their where they accidentally go through this space/time portal, and end up in the cartoon world of the previous TMNT franchise. The turtles meet each other and try to deal with the differences, then all end up going through another portal, end end up in the black and white comic world, with the original turtles drawn in the original style!
posted by eye of newt at 1:59 PM on April 4, 2015


I looked it up and the cartoon I was thinking about is actually a movie, that has already been mentioned by Greg Nog: Turtles Forever
posted by eye of newt at 2:27 PM on April 4, 2015


Last year's movie really was terrible.

The weirdest thing related to this to me, is that the game also sucked.

Hear me out. I know a lot of movie tie in games are crap, but this was like taking all the best ingredients for a good pizza and still making a soggy bland pile of crap. They didn't try and make it 3d! it was a side scrolling beat-em-up that looked like it worked exactly like turtles in time, simpsons arcade, etc. The style of it and the gameplay looked spot on. It looked like it was setting itself up for a starfox 64 style of too-easy slam dunk

I remember being really excited when i saw demo videos of it at PAX the last year i went, and there being just a big enough line i didn't even get to play it. I just assumed it was good. It actually looks fun if you just watch a video of it.

But it's awful.

How did they do this? They could have essentially rehashed turtles in time or the original arcade game with nicer graphics and instantly had a great game. Hell, people still play the crap out of the old games. The arcade near my house nearly always has several people on the machine and people cued up.

It was actually so bad that they cancelled some of the ports of it. And then they made another similar game that was also crap.

It was bemusing on the level of the new my bloody valentine album.
posted by emptythought at 9:32 PM on April 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


emptythought, you have an arcade near you?? With good games in it and a decent player base? Where do you live, Narnia?
posted by JHarris at 10:54 PM on April 5, 2015


(Oh I see. Seattle. I was practically right.)
posted by JHarris at 10:54 PM on April 5, 2015


Portland has a better one.
posted by Artw at 11:08 PM on April 5, 2015


Yea, i was referring to john johns game room in seattle. We also have add-a-ball(which is basically the best place ever), the various bigger full tilt shops, the hit or miss but amazingly epicly gigantic last remaining sega gameworks arcade*, the back room at shorty's, and some upstarts like gamma ray that already have a good selection and keep piling cabs in. And then there's Dorky's in tacoma, which is epic.

Portland has ground control, which is pretty sweet... but its in a bit of a weird location(to me, at least) and i wasn't that wowed by anywhere else. To be fair though, you could pretty much make the same comment with add-a-ball in relation to seattle.

What i will say about add-a-ball though, is that no other currently-existing arcade i've been to in any place i've visited as an adult replicated that run down, scummy, yellow tinged will never quite be clean with any amount of scrubbing feel of the by then decrepit 70s or early 80s arcades i went to as a kid, or the big arcades in the back of bowling alleys. The decor, vibe, and even smell is just perfect. They also have those really oddball game-of-chance electro mechanical type machines that no other place i've seen bothers with, that every scummy half assed arcade with the rigged claw machine had right next to the donkey kong with the fucked up sound subsystem that just blared static half the time.

*which USED to be cool... when i was like 14... over a decade ago, but inexplicably stays open in some of the most prime real estate in town with a HILARIOUSLY dated 90s interior and window displays featuring cheesy CRT tvs that look like a cross between a set from hackers and something on G4 or techtv in the early 2000s. They constantly have the latest sega machines, and regularly get bizarre current japanese cabinets like this. Every couple years they try some new thing. Oh, we have a restaurant now for corporate events! Oh, lets turn one corner of our gigantic billion square foot space that has like 5 store fronts on 2 streets in to a sports bar! And it soldiers on, with what must be punishing overhead. I don't get it, at all.
posted by emptythought at 4:04 AM on April 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


that every scummy half assed arcade with the rigged claw machine had

This is all a big derail of course but the thread has largely died down, so--

Doing some research lately, I have discovered, partly from reading crane game manuals online and partly from a pair of articles on Kotaku and io9, that this rigged aspect is an actual feature of some machines, operator adjustable.

Some games set the power to a level that's only barely capable of lifting a prize (adjustable by operator), but once in a while will randomly decide to give a game "bonus power," also adjustable, that can pick up more things.

I've also seen a manual that all but states its machine tries to use reflexing to aim for a certain percentage of games won, randomly determining before play whether this game is "winner fate" or "loser fate," according to how many prizes the game has dispensed so far. Both fates have an operator-adjustable claw power, with the loser power kicking in some (also adjustable) number of seconds on the way back to the chute.

At some claw machines around here we've seen the low claw power so weak that it doesn't hold the claw shut at all, the claw will just open, dropping any prize, on its way back.
posted by JHarris at 4:52 AM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


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