April 4th, 2007 Film, Film Reviews, Xpress

You might have been a teenager or young adult film fan in the late 1980s and been fit to burst at the prospect of a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, in which case you’re probably pretty excited now. Someone pushed TMNT to the top of the American box office after all, and in the slower pre-summer lull of the US and UK markets it wasn’t kids still in school.

If so, you might be both concerned and excited at what Hong Kong studio Imagi are going to do with the Turtles legacy. ‘Legacy?’ non-believers ask. Absolutely — few remember how Hong Kong’s Golden Harvest studio (famous for John Woo and Chow Yun Fat action bloodbaths) put $13m up for music video director Steve Barron to play with.

He went straight to Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, who created some of the most advanced animatronics of the day and put real live turtles on screen; high kicking, wisecracking, smiling and skateboarding their way to a $200m global box office haul and making it the most successful film ever to come from outside the US.

What convinced Warner Bros another Turtles movie was a good idea is a mystery — maybe it was just the realisation that the original Turtles fans now have kids themselves.

They’ve given it the expected treatment, a generic plot about a once-every-3000-year portal to another dimension that lets monsters through to the Earth, rock and roll music, laughs, thrills and spills enough to please the kids.

What was unexpected was the effective use of CGI to tell the story. Far from gimmicky and in no way trying to resemble the cartoon of old, it looks at times as real as the guys in suits of the 1990 version, the detail and realism on screen so good you often forget its CGI.

Also unexpected is what a great director’s eye former Turtles fanboy Munroe has. Of course it’s got to have a lot of movement and motion; it’s about martial arts and action. But there are some genuinely inventive shots, inspiring transitions and effective ‘camera’ angles that not only render the proportions of the digital setting perfectly but put you on a roller coaster as you fly through the skyscrapers of New York or the sewers below.

If you don’t like the usual kids movie conventions, morals, story arcs or plotting, you’ll be part of the huge second-weekend drop-off the film’s experienced north of the equator. But if you loved the world’s most famous amphibious martial artists first time around, there’s nothing not to enjoy here.

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