Monday, March 30, 2020

VHyesterdayS: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)

Today marks the 30th Anniversary of one of my favourite films of all time, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, so it only seems fitting that I take in a viewing of the only copy of the film that I have ever owned, the original VHS!

The film was infamously produced by Golden Harvest - an independent film company - with the use of Jim Henson-created suits and features a story that was actually adapted fairly faithfully from the comic source material, much to the confusion of many youngsters at the time. New Line Cinema stepped in for distribution of the film, which went on to be the highest-grossing indie movie of all time with $200M in the box office until The Blair Witch Project took the crown almost 10 years later.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was directed by Steve Barron (director of Coneheads, executive producer of the ReBoot cartoon series, and director of a load of music videos you probably remember from the 80s), and starred Judith Hoag as April O'Neil, Elias Koteas as Casey Jones, and the voices of Brian Tochi, Robbie Rist, Josh Pais, and Corey Feldman (yes, that Corey Feldman) as the Turtles themselves!

1990 was probably the height of Turtle-mania. Although the comic was first published in 1984, it was the Fred Wolf cartoon series that brought the Turtles into everyone's homes in 1987, not to mention the astronomical Playmates toyline.

As you can imagine I, like any other kid at the time, was obsessed with the Turtles, but the idea of a feature film certainly wasn't something on my radar. Then one day I saw the trailer for the film and all bets were off.

What's bizarre about the trailer is that they used a different voice-over for Shredder, but with the same lines (for the most part). Seems kind of weird, considering the incredible performance that had been delivered by James Saito.

edit: As it turns out, David McCharen voiced The Shredder in the film in a voiceover. So maybe the voice in the trailer is actually James Saito? I've been watching this film for 30 years and didn't know that. You certainly do learn something new every day!

I actually don't remember seeing the trailer first. My first memory without a doubt was the poster, which included some kind of mock-up of the Turtles sneaking a peak from under a manhole cover, also featured on the back of the VHS.

Regardless, I had to see the movie and I had to see it right away. So, when March 30th rolled around we were naturally waiting in a gigantic line that weaved out of our little three screen movie theatre and spilled in front of the neighbouring K-Mart. After waiting for what probably seemed like hours we eventually reached the hallway just outside of the box office before my soul was crushed and I found out that all screenings were sold out.

We returned sometime later - I can only assume swiftly - and I got to see the Turtles in "real life" (as far as I was concerned) and all was well with the world.

But, as any 7-year old would, I wanted to watch the movie again! And again, and again, and again! Well, thanks to good ol' Saint Nick I would have that dream, as I found this copy of the film under the Christmas tree that December!

I can't recall owning a VHS tape before this. I have some old cartoon tapes around that might pre-date this film, but I truly believe that this was my first home video ever. Considering how many times I've watched it, it's in remarkably good condition!

Even though New Line did the theatrical distribution, the film wasn't released under New Line Home Video, because it didn't yet exist. New Line would wade into the video market once they made the play to get the rights for the Nightmare on Elm Street series in 1991 (they sold the home distribution rights to Media Home Entertainment in 1985). Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was released in the US under Family Home Entertainment. In Canada, oddly enough, F.H.E. didn't handle the video, but instead it was distributed by MCA via Alliance Releasing, which typically handled a lot of Canadian VHS. That's a little strange only because I had and rented metric tons of F.H.E. tapes when I was a kid, including the home releases of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon show! Distribution rights are weird.

This film - along with the rest of the film series - has received very weird home video installments. There were the original VHS tapes and later fairly bare bones DVD releases. Honestly, they didn't do much for me, so I just never felt the need to upgrade to DVD. I always assumed at some point the Turtles would get the proper video release they deserved, but I'm still waiting. There is a DVD and Blu-ray box set, which includes the two live-action sequels and the 2007 animated film, but again with little-to-no features to speak of. Word is the German release actually contains a commentary by the director. Again, distribution rights are weird.

So, you can pick up this flick for cheap on DVD or Blu-ray at your local Wal-mart, but - as always - I would say there's a certain charm to watching these movies on VHS. Especially, if you were in the target market in the late-80s. The patina on the tape adds a certain quality to the experience that I always find endearing, and none more so than my first ever home video, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Now, break out your favourite pizza and pay tribute to one of the biggest films from your childhood for it's 30th birthday!