Directed By: Kevin Munroe
Starring:Chris Evans, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Mako, Kevin Smith, Patrick Stewart, Laurence Fishburne, Ziyi Zhang, Mitchell Whitfield, James Arnold Taylor, Mikey Kelley, Nolan North
TMNT takes place several years after their last theatrical outing of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Their nemesis, Shredder, has been defeated, and the turtles have drifted apart. Mentor/sensei/rat-daddy Master Splinter (Mako) has sent Leonardo/Leo (Taylor) away from New York to grow as a leader. He has been living in a Central American jungle acting as a ghostly protector for local villagers. Without their leader, the other turtles drift off into solo pursuits. Donatello/Donny has been working as an IT technical support operator. Michelangelo/Mikey has been donning a large fake turtle head and performing at kids' birthday parties. Raphael/Raph has been sleeping through his days, but unbeknownst to Splinter and his brothers, he has been prowling the streets at night as an armored vigilante known as "Nightwatcher". Human turtle-friends Casey (Evans) and April (Gellar) have moved in together, with Casey continuing his own vigilante work and April using her expertise in archeology to travel the world looking for ancient artifacts for wealthy clients. The wealthy Max Winters (Stewart) hires April to assemble a group of stone artifacts and hires foot-ninjas led by Karai (Zhang) to subdue a set of thirteen monsters linked to a three thousand year old mystery. Winters' activities come to a dangerous head just as Leo returns to New York. The turtles must learn to act as a team again before it is too late to save New York…and possibly the world.
Of all of the previous versions of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in various media, this CGI production from Hong Kong-based Imagi studios is closest in continuity to the live action films from the early 90s. April is portrayed as considerably more intelligent, but other than that, the film more or less feels like a continuation of the earlier films. A lot of the sillier elements of the Turtles are pushed to the background, and the action is emphasized more strongly as a result. This is probably a good thing since the filmmakers seem to be a lot better at putting together dynamic action scenes than handling humor or character based drama. Like a lot of its live action popcorn flick counterparts, TMNT often feels like a collection of well-planned action set-pieces with an afterthought of a plot that was designed to do little more than string them together. The dramatic plot it does try to string along about the Turtles re-learning to work as a team uses the standard weak sequel approach of undoing all of the character progress from a previous film so that they can re-learn essentially the same lessons.
That being said, fans willing to forgive these faults will be treated to a handful of impressively staged turtle action scenes, including an extremely cool extended battle between Leonardo and Raphael in a rain storm that is an impressive enough technical accomplishment to make the film worth a rental on its own for fans of the series. It feels like an outtake from a classic Hong Kong action film, was apparently achieved without the aid of motion capture, and is the one scene in the movie where the technical limitations of the modest-budget CGI animation will never cross the viewers mind.
Speaking of technical concerns, the film's most impressive accomplishment is probably its virtual production design which achieves an atypically dark and gritty look similar in spirit to the first live action film. This is spoiled somewhat by the overuse of dramatic lighting gradients in what looks like an attempt to make almost every shot in the movie look like it was done at some "magic hour". When every minute of every day is like a sunset, sunsets all of a sudden do not look so special anymore. The four main turtle characters are impressively designed and rendered in the CG realm with subtle variations in appearance that make them distinct even without their identifying color masks and sashes. Unfortunately, the designs of all of the other characters, especially the humans, are pretty weak with basic and unattractive stylization that makes it seem like less thought went into them than went into the virtual sets.
One annoying bit of promotional trickery involves the voice cast. A number of name actors were hired to voice parts both large and small, and they are all listed in the credits prominently above the voice actors who play the actual lead characters. Laurence Fishburne and Kevin Smith both provide very brief cameo voice appearances as a narrator and an unnnamed guy in a diner, so do not be fooled by their prominent billing if you are a fan of either actor.
The film is presented with a 2.35:1 16:9 enhanced transfer reflecting the original theatrical presentation on one single-layered side of a DVD-10, and a 4:3 reformatted transfer on the other. Only the widescreen presentation was viewed for the purposes of this review. Cramming the 87 minute film along with almost an hour of extras and promotional trailers on each side of the disc does result in a relatively low bitrate which manifests itself in sporadic compression artifacts and less than optimal detail. Colors, contrast, and shadow detail are all very solid. The latter is important since a lot of the film consists of (digitally rendered) night exteriors.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is enveloping and dynamic with excellent fidelity for dialog, sound effects, and the somewhat generic action movie score. Modest amounts of LFE are employed to enhance the impact of certain key sequences. Surround envelopment varies in intensity, and is used most effectively in the action set pieces and for ambient atmospheric effects such as rain.
All extras are presented with Dolby Digital sound in 4:3 video unless specifically indicated otherwise below.
When the disc is first spun up, the viewer is confronted with several skippable trailers and advertisements. First up is a 16:9 enhanced advertisement extolling the benefits of Blu-Ray and HD-DVD discs. Next is a letterboxed trailer for the film "The Last Mimzy" coming soon to DVD, an advertisement for the Gametap video game service, a letterboxed trailer for the upcoming theatrical release "Fred Claus", an ad for the TMNT console video game, an ad for the "Street Grindin' Ninja Turtles" line of toys, and, finally, a DVD trailer for the animation releases of "Tex Avery's Droopy", "Space Ghost and Dino Boy: The Complete Series", and "Birdman and the Galaxy Trio: The Complete Series".
The extras menu proper offers up a full-length audio commentary from writer/director Kevin Munroe that is also available as a subtitle track for the deaf and hard of hearing. The track was recorded a couple of weeks before the film's release, and offers a fairly comprehensive overview of the film's evolution and production. Munroe's comments are primarily technical in nature, and often excessively complimentary to his collaborators. He apologizes for sounding self-serving in his praise for the film at one point explaining that he wanted to properly credit the hard work of the huge team which contributed to the movie, not just himself. In addition to the nuts and bolts technical material, he does talk quite a bit about the evolution of the story over the films production history.
Next up is an "Alternate Opening for the Movie" which runs three minutes and one second. It starts off with a comic-art-style prologue showing what the turtles have been up to prior to the film followed by an extended chase sequence with Raphael in his "Nightwatcher" vigilante costume. It includes audio comments from Munroe that are not optional.
"Alternate Ending Temp/Scratch Test" runs one minute and sixteen seconds, and is in the form of a rough layout animatic. It includes a significant plot development between Casey and April that was abandoned for the finished film. It includes audio commentary from Munroe that is not optional.
"Mikey's Birthday Party Full Sequence" runs three minutes and sixteen seconds and is fully animated. It features an extended version of the sequence from the movie where Donny is working with Mikey in his birthday party mascot venture and Mikey has a comic daytime encounter with another motorist forcing him to behave like he is not really a driving turtle. It includes audio commentary from Munroe that is not optional.
"Raphael's Rough House Fight Test" runs one minute and 41 seconds and consists if early test footage of Raph and Leo fighting rendered in black and white with colored masks and sashes to distinguish the otherwise identical turtle models. It includes audio commentary from Munroe that is not optional.
"Monsters Come Alive" is a two minute and 50 second storyboard to film comparison piece for a scene in the movie where Casey and Raph observe stone creatures and foot ninjas capturing and subduing a monster. It shows that a lot was changed from the storyboard to finished film process. It includes audio commentary from Munroe that is not optional.
"Donny's Digital Data Files" is a featurette running one minute and 56 seconds that focuses on the technical animation tools developed for the movie. Interview participants include Producer Paul Wang and Munroe.
"Roof Top Workout" is a deleted sequence in storyboard form that runs five minutes and 34 seconds. The turtles pair off to play Ninja Tag, but Leo and Raph have trouble working together as a team. It includes audio commentary from Munroe that is not optional.
"Still Wanna Fight Temp/Scratch Test" runs three minutes and nine seconds and consists of a deleted fully animated Casey and April scene and an alternate version of the scene where Casey confronts Raph in his Nightwatcher costume. It was deleted for time and to increase foucs on th main plot. It includes audio commentary from Munroe that is not optional.
"Additional Scene: Splinter Gets Cake" runs two minutes and eight seconds. It starts out with a black and white rendering of the sequence where Donny skateboards back to the turtles' lair after working the birthday party and leads into a full color sequence where Donny returns with some leftover birthday cake for Splinter.
"TMNT: Internet Reel" runs three minutes and 52 seconds and is essentially an extended trailer that was used to promote the film on-line.
"TMNT: Voice Talent First Look" is a five minute and four second featurette that is highly promotional in nature with various interviewees praising the film including Patrick Stewart, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Lawrence Fishburne, producer Thomas K. Gray, Munroe, and Wang.
The film comes in a standard Amaray-style case with an insert promoting various toys and TMNT related swag. The case is inside a carboard slipcase that exactly duplicates the artwork and text on the hard case cover insert. As mentioned above, the disc is a double sided single layered DVD-10 with a 16:9 enhanced 2.35:1 presentation on one side and a 4:3 pan and scan presentation on the other side. All of the extras are repeated on both sides.
While I would not recommend this film as an introduction to the Teenage Mutant Ninja "Turtleverse", fans of the live action films from the 90s will no doubt want to at least rent this CGI franchise re-boot out of curiosity. They may even be satisfied by a few of the more impressive action sequences, references both subtle and obvious to the earlier films, and a fairly generous helping of extras with copious comments from writer/director Kevin Munroe. The video presentation is somewhat hampered by a modest to low bitrate due to the film and extras being squeezed onto a single-layered side of a DVD-10.