The Christopher Nolan affect strikes again! We all know what this means, even if we have never heard the term before. The Christopher Nolan affect, or the CNA as I may choose to call it, is when film makers decide the tone of the film before they even have a script. When the studio heads come out saying that they wanted to go “darker” or “dark gritty realism” on any potential project, well before they have assembled any semblance of a working team for the project. It started with Batman Begins, a film that wasn’t exactly hailed as a masterpiece (even though it was), but served as the beginning of the movement towards a dark take on Batman. One that was a little closer to the more extreme Batman comic stories than it was to the light, kid-friendly cartoon series’ and films. Then came the massive success of The Dark Knight, and it all went downhill from there. The geniuses in charge of developing DC comics properties into feature films all decided that the way to go was to show all the characters in DCU in a darker fashion, whether the character’s comic appearances warranted the “dark” treatment or not. But it wasn’t just them; everyone and their grandmother wanted to recreate the success of TDK, and they all appeared to attribute the success to Nolan’s “dark, gritty and realistic” Gotham city, complete with “dark, gritty and real” Gotham city inhabitants. But it’s gone far enough! I recently read a story over at /Film that made me sick; not because I don’t like the idea, but because I don’t like comparison implied in the article. Now, the quote that /Film’s story was based on didn’t imply the comparison, it was the writer, but still… I just don’t like everyone linking all future film franchises to Nolan’s Batman films. There. Rant over. Now we can finally talk about the team of pizza loving ninja testudines that were a massive part of my childhood…
The story here is the word that TMNT creator Peter Laird wants to reboot the film franchise, “Batman Begins” style (**shudder**). He would love to see the characters return to their comic book roots. Yes, the Ninja Turtles were comic book characters before they were movie stars, toys, or Saturday morning cartoons. It’s a bummer that so many people don’t know that. The comic book turtles were edgy, dark, and gritty, way before it was trendy to be edgy, dark and gritty. The characters were then made into 15mm lead figurines by Dark Horse miniatures. Then, a small California toy company, Playmates Toys Inc., wanted to expand into the action figure market and the rest was history. Now, everyone knows the turtles and their catch-phrases like “Cowabunga!” and their battle cry “Turtle Power!” Once the characters tasted mainstream success, there didn’t seem to be a thought to return to the characters darker roots until the franchise was rebooted in 2007 in a movie simply titled TMNT. The film took place after the defeat of the Shredder from the live action films, but the film itself was all CGI. It was considerably darker than the live action turtles films ever were, and it was a modest success. In 2008, talks began for a “sequel” to the 2007 film, and here we are. Sequel plans were squashed in favor of the ever popular reboot, and since everyone is still enamored with how Christopher Nolan re-invigorated a dying batman franchise, the TMNT series reboot is going to get the “Christopher Nolan affect.” When asked about thoughts on any future TMNT film, character co-creator Peter Laird had this to say about what he would like to see:
“I would not be unhappy to somehow see the tale of Baxter Stockman and the robotic ‘mousers’ folded into this movie, as well as some elements possibly setting up the TCRI connection for a possible sixth (or seventh) movie. But I think I’m getting a little ahead of myself there.”
Obviously, Laird isn’t looking a decade into the future when he references a six and seventh TMNT film, he is referring to the total film count, including the live action trilogy and the animated “sequel.” So, let the glorious speculation begin! Let’s start with Baxter and the mousers. Those of you who only know the cartoon or the popular (yet frustratingly difficult!) video games probably don’t know the true origins of those characters. Baxter Stockman was originally a sociopath African American scientist who created robotic machines created to seek out and destroy sewer rats. In the comic books, computer programmer April O’Neil discovered that Stockman was using an army of hundreds of mousers to rob banks for fun. In the 1987 cartoon series, Stockman was a misguided inventor who was hired by The Shredder to destroy Splinter with his mouser robots.
I assume that going back to the comic roots means that they will lean more towards the comic Baxter Stockman as opposed to the cartoon series incarnation, though it could always be a mixture of the two, or something completely different, sticking to the comic roots but still being something different from what we’ve seen before. I’d be inclined to believe that the characters would be something new, but following a rough outline laid out by the TMNT comics. I’d love to see mousers appear in the film. They make for great “henchmen” and could keep the film full of action without having to add another villain to develop and take screen time away from the important characters. I’ll highly recommend you check out the TMNT comics. They are a pretty gread read anyway, so I think you’d like it, whether or not you are curious about the new film.
Speculating a little further, we could potentially see the return of Foot Clan master Shredder. It’s also likely that we’d eventually see Casey Jones, Bebop and Rocksteady, and eventually (greatly depending on the tone of the franchise) maybe even Krang. I hope not, as I’ve always thought of Krang as a lame cartoon villain as opposed to a legitimate film villain. Some of the other secondary characters that I would personally find fun would be Leatherhead and the Rat King. Leatherhead(an infant alligator found in the sewers by TCRI and exposed to a mutigen similar to the turtles) because the character is very ambiguous; at times he has faced the turtles in combat while other times seemingly having a good relationship with them. It would be nice to see the character introduced as an ally to the turtles in one film, with the character eventually shifting to villain in the next. It would be an interesting back story that’ll lead to a great, multi-dimensional villain. The Rat King is another character along the lines of Leatherhead, being both ally and foe to the turtles. There is the added bonus of being able to play up the character’s apparent psychosis, which would fit in nicely with the darker themes they want from the next film. Both Leatherhead and Rat King are characters from the comics that also made the transition to the animated series, something few turtles comic villains did, so there would be something for comic fans and something for animated series fans, and they could easily develop the characters for appearances in the newer incarnations of the cartoon series’.
Finally, I just wanted to touch on what really made the comics different from the animated series, and what it could mean for the new film. The comics, as previously mentioned, were considerably darker than cartoon or films. The comics were filled with violence, often times being considered gratuitous violence. The character design were not exactly family friendly, as many of the characters were drawn by various indie artists over the length of the comic series, many of whom attempted to use the comics as a means of jump-starting their careers. Another affect of the many different teams working on the comics was that there were constantly changing, decidedly different “feels” to the comics, often giving the series a disjointed, anthology like feel. Now, ideally, all of these would be taken into consideration when attempting to reboot the franchise. First and foremost, as much as I hate the comparison, I think that a darker take on the franchise is the right way to go for the future of TMNT. Kids love the cartoons, the toys, and the animated movies. But none of them were a box office success.
There is a whole generation of 18-25 year olds who have a connection to the characters from the “old days”, so there is a key demographic that the “darker” take would appeal to. Then you’ve got the teens and pre-teens, most of whom would not be likely to see the lighter films, but (along with the 18-25 yr olds) would be likely to see a dark and gritty take on the characters they know so well. Give the film an extra splash of violence, something you wouldn’t get in the previous PG films, and slap a PG-13 rating on it, and you’ve got a film that will be so different from previous TMNT films that it just might be a success. Also, I’d love to see the film have a very stylistic “indie” look, similar to some of the best issues of the comic. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I want to see Mark Millar’s take on TMNT, but it would be nice to see something with contrasting colors, from vibrant lights to shadowy darks, and edgier character design.
This might be a bit of a fan rant here, but I really believe that some of these ideas, woven into a new turtles film, would make for a special film. I grew up loving the turtles. I had the action figures, hundreds of them! I played the frustratingly difficult video games on Nintendo and Super Nintendo. I had the clothes, I watched the cartoon, and I loved those live action movies. Now, as a grown man with young kids of my own, I find myself still very interested in seeing the turtles on the big screen. Maybe I won’t be able to take my kids to see it in the theater. But if it’s done well, it’ll be something I’ll enjoy now, and be happy to enjoy with my kids, once they turn 13. I’ll be crossing my fingers and holding out hope that Peter Lair and the rest of the people involved in this project churn out a truly unique Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie.