To say that this year has been rough for the Ninja Turtles reboot (in terms of the general fan outlook) would be a pretty sizable understatement. Producer Michael Bay's revelation that the Turtles are being retrofitted with a pure extraterrestrial origin set off an avalanche of controversy, which only seemed to gain momentum with every subsequent public statement issued by the Transformers director.
Things quieted down a bit once the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie was pushed back from Christmas 2013 to a Summer 2014 release date. However, that period of peace didn't last, as an old script draft was leaked online - setting fans (not to mention, TMNT co-creator Peter Laird) on the warpath again, inciting Bay to once more fiercely defend the project.
However, Bay hasn't been alone in his efforts, as TMNT co-creator Kevin Eastman (who is serving in a creative consultant capacity) has likewise been attempting to put a positive spin on the situation - be it the changes to the Turtles origins or the substantial release delay, which insiders claimed was due to studio executives being dissatisfied with the script. Eastman continued to assert his commitment to Ninja Turtles recently, telling NBC:
“Three years ago, I started working on the John Fusco version, which was this awesome, awesome, awesome ‘Batman Begins’ kind of take on the first movie. It was really interesting, but it was maybe a little too edgy for what Paramount wanted. It went through a couple of different versions before Michael Bay took it over and brought in Jonathan Liebesman (‘Wrath of the Titans,’ ‘Battle Los Angeles’) to direct.”
Liebesman has indeed proven to be a competent director, when it comes to how he handles gritty blockbusters like Battle Los Angeles or pop cinema like Wrath of the Titans (no more, but no less either). However, Eastman's overall strategy for hyping Ninja Turtles is less about selling the personnel working behind the scenes, more focused on name-dropping other popular titles. That is, either those which have overcome their B-movie origins or embraced their pulpy origins - which, he says, are very much the role models for Ninja Turtles:
“Jonathan Liebesman is going to make a great film,” he said. “From what I’ve seen of the script, it’s fantastic. Michael Bay has made some great and intense movies. We’re talking about being inspired by movies like ‘The Avengers’ for scope and roots origin and ‘The Raid: Redemption’ for fight scenes and [‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’] as far as computer-quality style.”
That Eastman would identify Ninja Turtle's guiding influences as the exhilarating action sequences of the critically-acclaimed The Raid: Redemption (read our review), envelope-pushing motion-capture effects from Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and The Avengers on general principle - well, it's exactly what you would expect, coming from someone who's eager to counter the overwhelming negative press the project has been generating (though, that doesn't mean there aren't kernels of truth in these claims, either).
Here's another statement from Eastman on Ninja Turtles, which aims to further put the backstory alterations and Avengers inspiration into a greater historical context (via Examiner):
"I like to answer this by basically telling the fans first and foremost not to worry, this will be a great TMNT film. Much like many thirty year old concepts, the TMNT's have been re-invented a number of times, some were stronger than others, but if you look at what Viacom/Nickelodeon has done/allowed to happen with the new TMNT animated TV series, and the new IDW comic series, each has a slightly new and refreshed take on the "core concept," the new film with be the same, a film "well placed" in the TMNT lore the fans will enjoy. If we learned nothing else from one of my favorite Comic Book Based Films, "The Avengers," that there's a lot to be said about never forgetting that core concept and core fan-base."
To be fair, what Eastman's talking about here is quite reasonable; though, on the other hand, just because comic book properties are always being re-invented, that doesn't mean every new iteration is created equal. Still, as much as some fans will hate to hear it, the lack of concrete details about Ninja Turtles in its current form means one thing: the jury's going to be out for a while now, with regard to whether this will be a brilliant rendition of the TMNT franchise (or just a big fat failure).
Ninja Turtles opens in theaters on May 16th, 2014.
'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' Header Image Artwork via ~iangoudelock@deviatart