‘TMNT’ Director and Producers on Fan Nostalgia & Honoring Source Material

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Megan Fox and the Ninja Turtles in TMNT 2014 TMNT Director and Producers on Fan Nostalgia & Honoring Source Material

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is about to hit theaters – but it’s been quite a bumpy ride to get there. Aside from the obvious technical challenge of bringing four mutant turtle ninjas to life onscreen in modern day times, the filmmakers behind TMNT (2014) have also faced a seemingly insurmountable wall of fan backlash.

Right from the get-go, when it was announced that Platinum Dunes (aka, “Michael Bay’s production company”) was involved with the Ninja Turtles movie reboot, it was quickly decided by some that this  – like Transformers – would be yet another bastardization of ’90s-era childhoods. As TMNT has gone through the marketing motions – releasing multiple trailers, TV spots and clips – there has remained an undercurrent of ire for this new film – even though the infamous Michael Bay is not even directing it.

Some people want to complain about the new character designs (the turtles have nostrils now?!) – or the new choice of accompanying ninja rap song (Vanilla Ice hates it) – but really, how much does all that matter? Especially to the young kid who didn’t grow up in the heyday of the Ninja Turtles craze, and is just coming to the property for the first time?

That’s a question for each viewer to wrestle with as he or she watches the movie – but in the case of the filmmakers, just getting people to that point of fair and even-handed judgement has been a struggle.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Character Designs Production Images TMNT Director and Producers on Fan Nostalgia & Honoring Source Material

We sat down with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles director Jonathan Liebesman (Battle Los Angeles) and producers Bradley Fuller and Andrew Form of Platinum Dunes, in order to discuss – among other things – what it has been like to work on a film loaded with this much fan nostalgia; if the illusion of nostalgia is a detriment to breathing new life into old properties; and whether or not they are getting enough credit for their love and reverence of Ninja Turtles source material.

Screen Rant: OK. I wanted to start with a question just for all three of you. You guys can break it up however you want to answer it. When adapting a property like this, one thing I find becomes kind of an issue – just even from our side, reporting it – is nostalgia and the nostalgia factor. The more I get into this, the more I realize that the nostalgia is what it is – which is a fond memory – but not necessarily an accurate one. Can you guys talk a little bit about the challenge of helping to find that balance to meet older fan nostalgia, while also launching a new property for a new generation?

Brad Fuller: I think this property is particularly challenging because the source material is not just one source material. There’s comic books. There’s the cartoons. There are the movies. Everyone brings to [our] movie their own desire to support their source material. But there is not a consistent source material.

Jonathan Liebesman: So if we update Turtles and we are picking from everything and putting it into one movie, it seems like if someone comes at this movie where they only love the 1990 movie and they are not aware of stuff that we’re taking from earlier comics or cartoons, they don’t like that. Or if there are people that love the cartoons that don’t know about the ’84 comic or the movies, and we’re taking story points from that and putting them into the movie, they may not like that. So, as Brad said, I think it’s very hard to please everybody. It seems like everyone who comes at ‘Turtles’ is coming with their own version of what ‘Turtles’ should be.

Brad Fuller: So then, at the end of the day, what we try and do is we try and sit amongst ourselves, Jonathan, Drew, myself, Michael Bay and the writers and think: “What’s the best story to tell that tries to integrate things from the past, and yet make the story feel fresh and moving forward?”

Andrew Form: But everything in this movie is from the last 30 years of Ninja Turtles…

WARNING!!! MILD SPOILER FOLLOWS
Ninja Turtles Creator Laird Talks Reboot Script TMNT Director and Producers on Fan Nostalgia & Honoring Source Material

Jonathan Liebesman: Even April naming the turtles as a kid is from comics.

Andrew Form: It seems like some people are thrown by that. But that is from the comics. We didn’t make that up. Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird [pictured above] created that.

Brad Fuller: We just put that into our version of the story.

END OF SPOILERS

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We can tell you first hand that two things in those quotes are true:

  1. TMNT does contain a LOT of Easter eggs drawn from various forms of source material. (Article on that coming soon.)
  2. The issue with fan nostalgia is becoming more prevalent with each new crop of movie reboots, remakes, or adaptations of beloved source material.
Master Splinter April Leonardo Raphael Donatello and Michaelangelo in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2014 TMNT Director and Producers on Fan Nostalgia & Honoring Source Material

A New Generation’s TMNT

Whether it’s DC and Marvel superheroes, or ’80s/90s childhood icons like TMNT, Transformers or G.I. Joe, every fan has his or her idea of what that property is and should be, based on a nostalgic memory of growing up with it. Here’s the problem, though: Nostalgia is often inaccurate. Indeed, this notion was the very subject of Woody Allen’s 2011 film, Midnight in Paris; nostalgia comes with rosy glasses of limited perspective – and often, self-imposed naivete, as well.

As a grown adult, I accept that maybe selling me on martial artist reptiles, gigantic vehicular robots or a fictional version of military heroism isn’t all that important of a goal. When I look at TMNT now, I ask myself: “Would 8-year-old me find this cool?” Because when we talk about “honoring” source material, what better way can I imagine than by a TMNT movie inspiring the imagination of a young kid the same way TMNT cartoons and movies (silly or not) once inspired mine?

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Movie Ooze TMNT Director and Producers on Fan Nostalgia & Honoring Source Material

We’ll always love these silly fools.

Yet that question is seemingly being drowned out by adult expectations of a children’s franchise/merchandising cash-cow. And while Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy continues to make big money with an outlandish property (adapted to screen with many deviations from the source material, it should be mentioned), it remains a very real question of whether or not TMNT will be conversely punished at the box office, even though it arguably stuck closer to the source material.

In the end, this all leads back to a quickly emerging question in the industry: Are the hardcore fans even worth catering to, anymore?

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NEXT: Megan Fox Talks TMNT Sequels [Video]

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles will be in theaters on August 8th. Check back then for our official review of the film.

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TAGS: teenage mutant ninja turtles

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  1. Yeah everything I’ve seen and heard about this film makes me want to vomit the Turtles design is just god awfully bad Shredder looks like a transformers meets a cheese grater and honestly when I saw the first trailer I thought it was a bad fan trailer combining bits from the first 3 Transformers and the Amazing Spider-man trailer Plus Megan fox great eye candy but not a whole lot of substance. Oh and one more thing….FIRST!!!

  2. Too bad this movie is going to fall flat. I mean the latest reviews are pretty bad

    • Agree Doc, but what I cannot understand is where is SR review, all the rest are in….and all bad. Kofi, what are you waiting for? SR always has them in before the Thursday night showings.

      • They actually didn’t have the GOTG review til Friday

        • We never post reviews until Friday. And TMNT beat GoTG at the box office, so… hardly falling flat.

  3. how much plastic surgery has Megan Fox gotten since Transformers?

    I hardly recognize her face… unbelievable.

  4. I haven’t seen the movie (it’s not out until tomorrow) but my only problems, based on trailers and online articles, are the looks of Shredder and the turtles and Shredder’s ethnicity.

    BTW, Leo looks decent compared to the other 3 turtles IMO!

    • Shredder is Asian? Were you wanting the white Shredder rumors to be true?

      • “Shredder is Asian? Were you wanting the white Shredder rumors to be true?” – mab

        Yea he is Asian, specifically Japanese. Maybe you didn’t mean the ‘?’ after the word Asian but a ‘!’ instead? I was hoping that the rumors weren’t true.

    • IMO, they should all be about a foot shorter. Their extra gear looks noisy as heck too. Agree that Leo looks ok, except his size and gear. Raph even looks decent. Mike and Donny…

      • Raph is way too tall and his bandana mask looks weird, Donny looks stupid, Mikey looks like Shrek without his mask and yes, Leo’s gear doesn’t look good but his size is fine.

        • I disagree about Leo’s size, he looks like he is about 6’1″ or 6’2″. None of them should be taller than 5’8″. None of this version could sneak up on anyone. Also to harp on Leo a bit, Johnny Knoxville voicing him was just strange casting imo and the clip I saw of him leading was predictably him being a bad leader. Maybe that was a thing in the cartoons, but in the comics Leo was a good leader. The problem was Raph not listening to him and getting into trouble by not listening to Leo.

          • It happened in the TMNT film from 2007. Splinter sent Leo to the South American jungle to learn how to be a better leader.

  5. I’m not even sure when it’s out in the UK. It’s definitely not tomorrow and next week’s big release is The Expendables 3, which I’d rather watch since I enjoyed the first two.

    I guess it is a difficult thing, trying to do something with a property that’s had such a big, long-lasting fanbase but at the same time, where’s the balance between paying respect and homage and using your own ideas to make the new version stand out as something other than a rehash of something from 30 years ago?

    • Is it being called Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles over there? =P

      • Nope, same title as the US release.

        I can sort of see why they changed the cartoon’s title to that back in the 80s but at the same time, ninjas and kung fu were immensely popular in the 70s and 80s so it’s not like being ninjas made them bad role models when most of the martial arts characters before and since were led by heroic protagonists who talked about respect more than fighting.

    • Really funny that you like Expendables! I have no problem with that, and it doesn’t bother me in the least, but I have read your bashings and dismissals of some films which I consider to be categorically superior in every respect. Now I’m not trying to be insulting at all; it’s just a reminder that our perspectives can be nuanced and selective. Maybe you picked up on strengths I missed, or the weaknesses didn’t bother you as much, but those films are obviously not the pinnacle of cinema. It’s a bit like someone saying “I hate fast food, and never eat it….but I do love the occasional Big Mac.” Hard to be an elitist with that special sauce in your teeth! Anyway, no need to defend your position or anything, and no criticism intended. Just remarking.

      • No, it’s cool.

        I basically grew up watching those 80s action flicks so The Expendables to me is similar to the dream matches you get in boxing that finally happen. I can see why others would give The Expendables a hard time and they’re certainly not perfect but I guess if you grew up with their spiritual predecessors and endlessly quoted those 80s films in college like I did, it’s easy to have a soft spot for them.

        Which brings me nicely back to Turtles in a way because the people getting really angry with this new film have a soft spot for the classic Turtles they grew up with and those looking forward to it have a soft spot that stops them being able to find anything negative to say.

        It’s what I enjoy about films so much. No matter which side of the fence you stand, you still react due to a fondness of something related to it, whether your reaction is positive or negative.

        Little bit of philosophically inclined commentary for ya, haha.

        • Funny mixtures arise from expectations, nostalgia, fan “ownership” and of course rose colored glasses. It becomes a struggle at times to assimilate the noise into a mindset that makes the most of the offerings, rather than just bitterly dismantling every attempt to get our entertainment dollars.

          I can think of one philosopher who might praise Expendables for being an authentic, self-actualizing artistic creation, that genuinely succeeds at being exactly what it sets out to be. On the other hand, I can think of another who would point out that we are utterly incapable of imagining new thresholds of thought and fulfillment that we may one day achieve, and must therefor move towards greater things with the confidence that our evolving perceptions will embrace each new layer of goodness we manage to encounter. The resolution of all that in my mind is not to feel bad about cheap burgers and raucous action throwbacks, but simply to keep a broad view of the horizon and not limit yourself to merely what is comfortable and familiar.

          But you already knew that. For all the tolerance of weaknesses and overblown critiques we are capable of in our selective enjoyment of film, some of us manage a more level headed, (if still hopelessly subjective) perspective. You seem to be one of those. So even if I disagree, I know you aren’t from crazy town. High praise indeed. Cheers.

  6. According to the reviews theat’re already out Michael Bay and his band of saboteurs have done it again. I’ll definitely be waiting to watch this for free, which is a shame since I’ve been waiting for years for a reboot. Maybe it’ll get re rebooted before I’m geriatric

    • You should watch the current Nickelodeon series, it’s pretty good.

  7. It’s a lot about nostalgia and source material but give us a good movie with a good story, good acting, and just good all-around substance and that’s that. Other movies have accomplished it so don’t give excuses already if fans don’t like it. I hate to use The Dark Knight as an example because it’s so overused but that source material has been adapted and readapted a million times and we were given an all-around entertaining time at the movies.

    Anything that Bay touches has none of those qualities. I know he’s not directing but his stamp is all over this property and it’s a shame because these cartoons/shows/comics ALL deserve to made with the best quality for the fans. Yes, the fans. Us, who give them money. Including Fox, who tells fans to f- off.

    These people have absolutely no clue but they don’t need to. They don’t care. Interview answers are protocol to keep us interested and satisfied, in a way. It’s all about the green for them. The dollar sign rules in Hollywood.

  8. After viewing this movie myself in the prescreening its not the source material that is the problem here. The problem is writing. You compare it to guardians of the galaxy which is farther from the source material than teenage mutant ninja turtles yet is not being slammed by the nostalgia factor, but thats just the think, the source material for the guardians team they are adapting only goes back to 2008. Therefore there really can’t be a nostalgia factor because as many have said it is an obscure property. The TMNT property yes does actually follow the source material more closely, however the humor and the feel of the movie is very much targeted to a much younger audience. The movie has an 8 to 10 year old feel to it, yet its pg13, while most parents may not have a problem taking their young ones to a pg13, the fact still remains that it might still be written so lightly that young teens whom its rated for, will find it silly. Think about teenagers, they are trying to be cool, which often comes at the expense of “nerdy” or “geeky” trends. I can’t think of a single person that didn’t at one point or another deny being a fan of power rangers or even batman, until growing up beyond the real of critical peers.
    Bottom line, the movie had potential and i actually like where they were going with it. But the character development and dialogue was weak and forced, and for every 1 good laugh there were 10 failed attempts at humor. The movie just lacked the real charm and wit that it deserved.

    • So basically, it’s like everything Bay directs or produces in that it means well but ends up being hollow and meandering?

      I can’t help but feel that anything Platinum Dunes helps produce is written specifically for Bay in order to receive his company’s funding and that’s where the problem lies. The movies dumb down to fit the rest of his roster of films and at the same time, the man’s name brings such hatred and derision that a project produced by PD is doomed to be despised from the off.

      Which is a lengthy way of saying that the writers are to blame here because eventually, there has to be one film that’s written so well and has all of the acting, directing and editing up to snuff and yet is produced by PD that it destroys all misconceptions of the company only financing bad movies.

      Maybe then, people will merit the movie with love or hatred rather than instinctively pouring scorn because of the connection to Bay.

      It’s like you said though, if writers dumb down the humour to appeal mostly to children, that’s the first error. Look at films like Guardians Of The Galaxy and The Emperor’s New Groove, both of which have humour and massive appeal to children and adults of all ages. That’s what they should aim for. Adults like to laugh at something silly now and then and children are a lot smarter these days than they used to be (that might not sound how I intended but hopefully, someone knows what I’m trying to say).

  9. “The TMNT property yes does actually follow the source material”

    You can say that all you want but it still doesn’t make it true. Sorry bro but the only “source material” used in this film is the names and setting.

  10. This movie looks like garbage…but hey they don’t care about the fans that made this franchise what it is today…better to hit the ones that didn’t grow up with it. Michael Bay should really be shot for what he did to the Transformers…so depressing

  11. I don’t understand the complaints. The designs make sense, they bring individuality to each of them besides their bandanas and weapons. As for their size? Well their mutants and lift 400 lb manholes to get into their house. Make of that what you will. And then there’s people saying they just want a good Turtles movie even though the source material isn’t exactly a work of art remember you guys we watched the show when we were a LOT younger. There’s no way they could pull directly from the cartoon series and make a good movie

  12. I had a conversation with my young nephew.

    Me: Next week’s your birthday. You want me to take you to a movie?
    Nephew: Yes! Yes! What movie?
    Me: Hmm… How about Ninja Turtle?
    Nephew: (Looking puzzled) What is it about?
    Me: It’s about a group of turtles who become ninjas.
    Nephew: Why turtles? I want pandas.
    Me: (Looking puzzled) …

  13. I have to say I am a huuuge turtles fan from waaaay back in the 80′s I have all my old toys and comics and pj’s and frankly I still have a turtle pie…yeah its basically a mummy but its still there. However. I’m not hating on this. There have been so many different versions of the turtles its insane. There really big in turtles forever for example. It’s hard for me to hate on anything about turtles really when the OG movie was so terrible. It was horrible but thats why it was great. Those stupid rubber masks that you could see the performers in the mouths,c’mon guys..how is THAT better than whats coming? I say lets all give its chance before we say it’ss aweful. I mean…my 4 year old loves those old turtle movies but he knows tghere garbage. Anyone remember Venus?? seriously bad.

    • Yeah, I actually remember that short-lived Fox Kids Teenage Mutant Turtles: The Next Mutation Show. Lmao But on the real It’s sad that some people want this Movie to fail. I don’t see the Big Deal with their Designs, they Compliment each Turtle Personality. I Hope it does well enough to really get a sequel greenlit. Because who knows if there will be another Live action film, and since when does everyone Base their opinion to like something on what a critic writes half of them don’t even like comic book based movies anyway……

  14. This movie was clearly made for a new gen. I agree the turtles and shredder look aweful. Just saw it for myself and the plot is paper thin and almost the same as the amazing Spider-Man. As a guy in his 20′s I wAs looking for more of a batman begins reboot. But my 8 year old son loved the movie so it just depends on who’s eyes your watching the movie through. I can’t believe this movie cost 125,000,000. The cgi is no where close to apes. Hope it does well enough they’ll give it another try but bad enough they’ll fire everyone other than the actors for round 2. Get more serious and redesign the turtles and shredder and maybe they can salvage this thing. We def don’t need another intro movie.

  15. I just saw it today and is fantastic and fun… it had many flaws but I don’t care… I enjoyed it and the people on my theater. There was children and they had fun. Many people see movies as a pieces of art but the ultimate truth is that summer movies are made mainly for enterteinment not art. Enjoy the movie do that favor to yourselfs…

    • The problem with what you said is that opinions and tastes are subjective. What you want from a summer movie isn’t necessarily what others want from a summer movie.

      I loved the LOTR trilogy, others consider it to be dull, boring and too long. I’m a massive fan of Monty Python, the rest of my family can’t understand why I find it so funny.

      Y’know?

  16. I think the problem here is because there are many variations of TMNT, each generation expects this movie to live up to their favorite version of the franchise. For example: in the 2012 TMNT TV series, it’s Donatello not Michelangelo who has a crush on April, whiles in the old cartoons, I believe that all four of the turtles vie for April’s love until Casey Jones comes along. Another change from the Ninja Turtles source material is that: one version has Splinter go from a human to man-rat and another version has him go from rat to man-rat (IMO if Jonathan Libersman had Splinter start off as Hamato Yoshi and the become Splinter it would of made Shredder’s role in the movie more relevant and badass). All in all it’s about pleasing the fanboys.

    • However, if the director decides to turn Vernon Fenwick (Will Arnett) into a Casey Jones-like character, then we’ve got some serious issues.

    • The turtles didn’t vie for April’s love. I have no idea what you’re smoking.

  17. Why am I supposed to care what a director and producer have to say about their 18% RT movie? Screen Rant’s front-page-space would be better spent elsewhere.

  18. I liked this movie, I went to see a TMNT Movie and I see a TMNT movie, the soul is there, The Shredder ethnicity is respected, never trust a trailer. The fight were awesome, but i didnt like Splinter design and how they learn Martial arts but I guess it was Ok in the context of the movie wich I find better tan the new comics where they are the reincarnated souls of warriors.

  19. This movie has big issues. If you want to make a billion dollars the script has to be handled like a real movie not a kids movie. Don’t forget it’s adults who shell out the dough! If they don’t like it their not taking little Johnny a 2nd time or telling their buddies to go. Kids even expect more from movies today. They’ve been watching DC and Marvel movies their whole lives… Not 1990′s pop corny movies. I don’t get it.. Why do directors and producers think they have to make everything their own? I guess 30 years of designs weren’t good enough.

    • “Why do directors and producers think they have to make everything their own? I guess 30 years of designs weren’t good enough.”

      To play devil’s advocate, it’s based purely on wanting to express your own artistic vision and stamp your own thing onto a long-standing property, as well as avoiding the potential complaints about using the same designs instead of trying to be braver and mix it up a little and having something original in the design.

      Just look at how comic book characters have evolved over the years, especially Batman and Superman, who have been around for 75 and 76 years respectively.

      • @Dazz

        Exactly. It’s so hypocritical when people ask that about filmmakers. Comic books are the ULTIMATE form of evolving story. Comics change, retcon, and reinvent (then erase reinvention later) all. The. Time. How movies based on comics can be faulted for doing the same is baffling.

  20. Poor excuses Rant:

    This attitude of summer movies can be bad as long as they are fun is idiotic. Guardians of the Galaxy and Avengers are not only fun, but more fun because they are not terrible. They have better jokes, acting, directing, and plot. Being fun is not an excuse to get away with being bad. Plenty of fun entertaining movies out there (that are not cash in’s on nostalgia) that are great.

    Blaming the source material is another poor excuse. “Transformers are just a toy commercial you can’t make a good plot with that.” Wrong! The new animated series and the comics (I am talking current, not 80s, before you scream nostalgia glasses) make great stories. There is no such thing as bad source material only bad writing, bad directing, bad acting, etc… Marvel has recent success with a talking tree and raccoon. They beat the challenge.

    Core elements being pushed a side is why these movies turn out horrible. Turtles are supposed to be Teenagers, not 30 year old looking hulk trolls. Shredder is a Ninja master, not a guy in a robot suit. Foot Ninjas should look like ninjas. Should not use guns. Guns draw attention. If you are claiming modern like many do, then the Turtles should have guns too, because they also modern ninjas. But then that makes them soldiers not ninja. See where I went with that?

    This…it was not made for you, it was made for a new Generation, is another poor excuse. The new comic and animated series are doing well with fans both new and old. You could make the same claim that Pixar movies are made for kids, not for adults. Plenty of adults appreciate the masterful animation and story telling of their films. A good movie, even a kids movie, can be appreciated by both older and new generations. A good movie is a good movie period. NO lame excuses.

    All I see are bad excuses for defending bad films. Turtles should be the easiest to get right. A story of ninjas, vengeance, and teenage turtles trained in Ninjitsu to protect themselves from an outside world that will fear them. Japanese Ninja master vs Japanese ninja master, no guns, no megatron looking edward shredder-hands, turtles that rely on skill, not mass and size, fantasy, and scifi elements. At the very least I want a good movie.

    –nerd rant over!

    • I wish I could upvote this.

      • Me too, brilliantly stated.

        Instead (and because up and down voting can and is abused on the sites that use it), I’ll just give my thanks for saying that.

    • Movie is approaching $60 million opening and has a 64% audience rating on RT – sooooooo…. Maybe the difference between a good and bad movie is subjective?

  21. I just have to make this comment, and fans critize me if you must, but i am a die hard fan of the Ninja Turtles, since I could wet my own pants. I seen this movie 2 times yesterday, and the first time I wasnt really sure about it, but then I realized part of that was my own doing because of exactly what this post relates too… My own skeptism because of rumors, so I decided to check it out again… and I have to say, this movie really is a good movie, the direct connection that happens between april and the turtles and the story itself, and all the times the movie relates back to original movies and VIDEO GAMES, and giving megan fox a second chance, I was actually extremely impressed with the movie, being a die hard fan of them, you keep an open mind about the movie you will come to really like it.

  22. Film makers of this movie NAILED IT. All this complaining that has been going on has now become beyond pathetic. As a fan of the first cartoon and the first 2 movies, I thought they did their jobs and hit the nail on the head with this new incarnation. Everything after secret of the ooze has not been my cup of tea, up until this movie. THANK YOU PLATINUM DUNES AND JONATHAN LIEBESMAN! Can’t wait to see it again, and then the sequel hopefully with my favorite warthog and rhino.

  23. Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird didn’t create the idea of April naming the Turtles as a kid. That’s from the new comics which Laird had nothing to do with. Oh and she didn’t name them as a kid in that, she was an adult.