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Turtle Power – The Definitive History Of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (DVD Review)

Turtle PowerDropping just after the weekend the new movie releases, you’ll be able to travel back in time and start from square one with Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s inception of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  I was a Ninja Turtle maniac back in the late 80s and early 90s.  This release got me pretty pumped as there’s not much in the way of video features or featurettes on aspects of this franchise.  Plus, while I was a huge fan back in the day, I was so young as to not have really dug into the production or history of them.  And in my older age, all I’d really done is brush through some Wikipedia stuff if I was curious.  So, here it was the DEFINITIVE history on the heroes in a half shell.  That’s a pretty profound statement to make.

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Film 

Turtle Power takes a look back at Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, two comic artists with a silly idea that became a phenomenon.  Within just a couple years their lives where flipped and turned upside down.  They had created one of the largest phenomenon with kids you could possibly imagine.  Turtle Power focuses on the rise of the turtles from the page, from the animation to the toy stores and onto the big screen.

I think this documentary should maybe have been retitled.  Maybe something along the lines of the “Definitive History of the Turtles late 80s/early 90s Phenomenon” or “Definitive History of Kevin Eastman, Peter Laird and the Ninja Turtles”.  This documentary does a fantastic job of taking us back through the history of the turtles and every step of the way up til the second movie.  However, once it gets to Secret Of The Ooze it feels like a guy behind the camera was giving the “wrap it up” hand sign and they had rush to a finish.  There is so much more I was looking forward to hearing about that either wasn’t covered or was quickly brushed over.  If you want to hear about the video games, you get about a 3-4 minute quick take from some web show with guys talking about every early game incarnation.  The sequel films get just a little mention, and anything that came after the comic reboot from Peter Laird in 2001 is largely ignored.  They don’t talk about the live action TV series, 2003 cartoon, the 2007 film TMNT or the most recent cartoon series on Nickelodeon.  The history of the Turtles pretty much ends with Peter Laird’s sale of the rights to the franchise.

Now that my little quibble is out of the way, let me say that what is provided on this documentary is incredible.  There is a lot of VHS footage from the 80s through every step of the way that had been documented accompanying the story.  Every artist from the early days of Mirage Comics is there to help tell the story.  From the photos and home videos, this looked an absolute blast to be making Turtle comics in the 80s.  I’m unsure when some of these interviews took place as Peter Laird has two separate interviews during the documentary where he looks noticeably different.  Kevin Eastman looks like he’s aged quite well, but at the end with the footage of him and Peter Laird reuniting 30 years after the first issue, he looks really old.  Something that got me wide eyed; also appearing in interviews are Michael Ian Black and Robert Ben Garant who actually landed their first acting gig playing Ninja Turtles as part of the promotion for the Coming Out Of Their Shells tour.  They would go to the town the band was playing dressed in full costume and do interviews and appearances in town to promote the concert.  Yes, the do cover the rock show in this pretty thoroughly.

An exciting segment of the film involves the history of the cartoon and how they had to first secure toy rights, then the cartoon miniseries was used as basically a commercial for the toys since the comics weren’t kid appropriate.  And there’s a lot of interesting back and forth between the toy company and animation (Chuck Lorre was originally hired to write, but passed).  To add to the fun, EVERYONE who did voices on the original cartoon is back to give their story.  This includes the late James Avery, who was actually looking pretty lean and mean at the time of this documentary.  Its a lot of fun to watch them do the voices and talk about how jumbled the casting was and to see which people actually did multiple voices.

Finally us in the US have an interesting segment on making the first Ninja Turtle movie.  The producer, director Steve Barron, Brian Henson, Ernie Reyes Jr and star Judith Hoag revisit the film.  There’s also a lot of onset footage as well as puppeteering test footage on there as well.  This is all incredibly fascinating.  Its also revealed that because of time constraints and budget, Brian Henson actually wound up directing a lot of the film’s action sequences.  There were a lot of technological achievements in film done on this feature and they shed light on that.  And in putting something to rest, Brian Henson mentions that his father was hesitant on taking the job because of the material, but he was never dissatisfied with the film or regretful of it.  Its actually quite the opposite, Jim Henson was very proud of the film.  He talks of him and his father driving past theaters on opening weekend with big smiles on their faces as they saw the lines go for blocks.

That’s a little taste of the things you can expect from this documentary.  Being spoiled by such franchise documentary masterpieces as Never Sleep Again and Crystal Lake Memories, I desired much more.  It offered me the “definitive” history, and I expected the full thing.  But in terms of the covering the creation, rise and phenomenon, it does everything you could ask for.  I just wish a little more was said on the sequels and video games.  In the end, this story does get a little bit emotional, but I think winds up in what I imagine was a happy occasion.  Any fan of the Ninja Turtles should see this for sure.

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Video 

Encoding: MPEG-2

Resolution: 480i

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

Clarity/Detail:  For what this is, being a documentary and a DVD, it looks pretty good.  The interview segments with little motion are the most impressive.  Things downgrade a tad with clips, but it looks all right.  Detail is light, but that’s due to it being a DVD.  There’s a lot of vintage clips of varying video qualities, but nothing is distractingly bad.

Depth:  Pretty flat image with some little instances of good depth during toy sequences.

Black Levels: Blacks are very rich and some minor crushing is present.

Color Reproduction:  Colors are bold, especially when it comes to the turtles.

Flesh Tones:  Lifelike and consistent.  Some solid detail is present.

Noise/Artifacts:  There is some interlacing present at times.

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Audio 

Audio Format(s): English 5.1 Dolby Digital

Subtitles: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese

Dynamics:  I have no idea why this is 5.1.  Its a lot of interviews with very minimal audio from features and stuff that would require 5.1.  A 2.0 track would have been more than sufficient for this.  5.1 seems like it wasted someone mixing it’s time (but hey, they got paid I’m sure).  While this is a compressed track, it does what it needs to do and everything sounds clear and solid.

Low Frequency Extension: If this was active for any of it, I missed it.  Couldn’t tell.

Surround Sound Presentation: Just a little extra volume from some music cues and clips but that’s it.  Nothing really here.

Dialogue Reproduction: Compressed sounding (yeah I’m spoiled by lossless 🙂 ), but clear, front heavy and audible.

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Extras 

This whole documentary is an extra in itself.  Maybe we could have had some extensions of topics that got brushed over, but then again, maybe they didn’t have as much.

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Summary 

This was a really great journey to go back and learn even more about a childhood obsession of mine.  I really liked getting some unrestrictive interviews from those involved with every step of the way too.  There seems to be no bad blood and a lot of fond memories for those times.  Some are even still working on the Turtles comics and cartoons to this day.  If you’re a Turtles collector, this is a must have (wait for the price to go down though).  If you liked them back in the day, check it out.  I don’t think anyone would really have a bad time watching this or not be engaged throughout it’s duration.

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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