Published on April 10th, 2014 | by Kyle Burgess0
Michael Bay vs. Ninja Turtles Fans!
Director Michael Bay pisses off the Internet (and one fan and Feedback Society member) by messing with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in his reboot.
Following the release of the first trailer for Michael Bay’s reboot of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the Internet erupted. Beyond the story feeling somewhat unfamiliar, the Turtles are easily mistakable. They are grotesque, don’t have noses (but have lips), and wear an abundant amount of accessories more familiar on the beach than to ninjas. What resulted was the viral display of one fan’s Photoshop skills, altering a frame of Michelangelo to look more traditional. Viewers were asked to vote on which Turtle was better, his or Michael Bay’s, and they commented in droves.
This isn’t the first time Bay has drawn the ire of we the Turtle fans long before the first screening. His initial concept was to make the Turtles into aliens. Herein lies the problem with reboots and film franchises in general. While a filmmaker brought onto a project is the new guardian of the property, they sometimes feel the need to make it their own, perhaps to cement themselves into the lexicon of genre. Every great property was initially successful because of the framework of the story that the fans grew to love. For any new filmmaker on a franchise to be successful, they need to be original, sure, but they still need to follow the framework.
The Turtles’ formula is pretty basic. There are four turtles, all brothers. Mutagen ooze accidentally mutates them into a humanoid form. They are raised by a mutant rat, Splinter, who is skilled in ninjitsu. His mortal enemy, Shredder, a human, is a crime lord, an evil ninja with many sharp blades strapped to him. He too is a trained ninja who leads a clan of disciples known as The Foot. The Turtles and Splinter are good. The Shredder is bad. From there, drop the characters into Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey and you have a framework.
It’s pretty wide open. Tell it from any new angle you want, but don’t mess with the framework. Want to make it realistic? Great. Take a Michael Crichton approach and tell a science-technology story about the secret of the ooze. Do you like aliens? Go ahead and explore the Neutrino’s, Krang, or Rock Soldiers from Dimension X, or make up some new alien allies for good and evil. Just don’t mess with the formula. The Turtles are mutants. It says so right in the name. It’s not Teenage Alien Ninja Turtles, or Teenage Mutant Geisha Turtles, or Octogenarian Alien Geisha Hamsters. You get the point.
Part of the sacred framework is not just the story, but how the characters look and feel. Donny is a nerd. Leo is an aspiring leader. Raph is moody and independent. Mike is…well, he likes pizza. It’s also the look. Since the very first comic panel, the Turtles have looked virtually the same through three TV series and four films. They are lean, athletic, and look like Ninja Turtles. Their appearance in the current Nickelodeon show doesn’t stray far from the original because it works, and it’s what we as fans have come to expect.
For Bay to drastically alter their appearance is confusing to us as fans. It’s somewhat analogous to Joel Schumacher adding nipples to the Batsuit. It fulfills no other need than to allow the producer to leave their mark. The old saying, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ fits perfectly. Here is the ego of a film producer becoming larger than his subject.
There is no doubt this movie will make a shell-load of money. The benefit of working on a reboot is a built in fanbase. If Bay wants sequels and legendary status for his interpretation of the Turtles though, he will have to do it with support of the fanboys and fangirls. We’ll need to see the movie before passing judgment, but taking the core of the Turtles out of his interpretation is the quickest way to lose the fans. And it looks like he’s already heading in that direction.