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Of Turtles and Men: The Rush to Judge Movies Before They’re Made

Of Turtles and Men: The Rush to Judge Movies Before They're Made

I don’t have a problem with any opinion about any movie as long as it’s reasonably informed.  If you see “Citizen Kane” and hate it?  Fine by me.  If you want to argue that “Joe Dirt” is the defining masterpiece of the 2000s? Go for it; we all need to follow our bliss.  But for the life of me I have never and will never understand fans’ compulsion to criticize movies before they watch them.  Or, as in this case, before they’ve even been made.

The case in question is the upcoming remake of the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” by producer MIchael Bay.  Bay has repeatedly drawn the ire of Ninja Turtle fanatics — I believe they like to be called Turtools* — by announcing a series of changes to the core mythos of the franchise.  First he announced his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles wouldn’t be mutants at all; this time out, they would be aliens.  Then he declared that the film would lose half its title (a quarter of which was already factually inaccurate anyway), and be named simply “Ninja Turtles.”  That surely paves the way for the next announcement, when Bay will reveal the Turtles are now thoughtful, middle-aged men instead of brash teenagers (Scott Bakula, Andre Braugher, and Ray Romano are allegedly in talks to star**).

If these changes don’t sound like a big deal to you, that’s because you’re not a crazy Ninja Turtles fan who spends every available minute blasting Bay and his project all over social media and Internet comments sections (thus driving traffic to these websites, thus ensuring these websites keep covering this story, thus ensuring Bay continues to make outlandish pronouncements).  Those obsessive fans’ outrage sparked an admirably level-headed response from Matt Patches at Hollywood.com entitled “TMNT: Why Michael Bay Should Make Crazy Changes.”  Patches, a child of the ’80s like myself, thinks Ninja Turtle fans should embrace the new-look TMNT:

“I’ve already seen the faithful origin story, the inciting incident spurred from misplaced ooze and New York City sewer reptiles. Show me something crazy, something ludicrous, something that, on the surface, isn’t ‘TMNT’ but at the end of the day, is the friendship-founded, honor-driven ninja tale I know and love. Besides, ‘Turtles’ from the ’80s wouldn’t work: can you imagine what the 24 news stations would say about improper ooze disposal? Today’s Shredder would be a menacing business type, some 1%-er with real world overtones. Just wait until parent groups lash out at the mass consumption of pizza that the Turtles promote. Sounds silly, but by making the Ninja Turtles from another planet or reworking the situation, producers remove the need to shoehorn the checklist of nostalgia callbacks into the movie in awkward and modern ways.”

Patches’ argument is a gratifyingly rationale one.  But I think there’s an even more basic argument to be made in favor of the Middle-Aged Alien Karate-Fighting Iguanas (or whatever Bay ends up calling them).  Old dues like me who want to relive our youths can still go get the old “Ninja Turtles” movies.  Bay isn’t pulling a George Lucas.  He’s not removing the old Turtles from circulation, burning every copy, and replacing them with his take. He’s just making a new movie.  What’s the harm?

To those who claim Bay’s changes potentially destroy a beloved childhood icon: it’s time for a deep cleansing breath.  What’s the worst that happens?  Bay makes a terrible movie?  If Bay’s “Turtles” bombs, then his franchise dies after one installment, but all the renewed interest in the property leads to new releases and restorations of the old school Turtles movies, video games, and television shows anyway.  It’s a win-win, guys.  Put down the katana sword.

Maybe Michael Bay’s “NInjas Turtles” will be a mess.  Maybe “Ninja Turtles” is an incredibly silly premise that can’t really be spoiled by slightly modifying the characters from mutants to aliens.  Either way, let’s agree to withhold judgment until we see the finished film.  After that, it’s fair game.  After that, Shredder it to bits all you want.

*NOTE: They do not like to be called this.  But can we call them this anyway?  I think we can.

**NOTE: They are not.

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