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.
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
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
We can tell you first hand that two things in those quotes are true:
- TMNT does contain a LOT of Easter eggs drawn from various forms of source material. (Article on that coming soon.)
- The issue with fan nostalgia is becoming more prevalent with each new crop of movie reboots, remakes, or adaptations of beloved source material.
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?
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?
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles will be in theaters on August 8th. Check back then for our official review of the film.