“The designs are i nspired by a darker pl ace”
You can’t keep a good Ninja Turtle down, as Joseph McCabe discovers with the new reboot
Beneath their rigid, unchanging half- shells, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have proven to be among the most adaptable of pop- culture icons. They’ve been indie comic book heroes, Saturday morning cartoon comedians, action movie heroes, videogame avatars, rock ’ n’ roll stars and pizza pitchmen. So in a less innocent world than that of the late ’ 80s, when their live- action film franchise was launched, it’s unsurprising that Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo and Raphael have adopted a meaner look for their new Michael Bay- produced reboot.
“The designs are inspired by a darker place,” South African director Jonathan Liebesman admits to SFX when we sit down to speak with him in Beverly Hills. “From Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s original comics. But that’s more of a visual thing. The tone of the movie is much more like the cartoon or the other movies.
“When I started on the film I did feel like I wanted it to be a darker thing,” Liebesman tells us. “But when we were shooting, when we were watching scenes, the stuff that was playing better was the more fun, charming Turtle moments. That’s what Michael said he wanted. It started to become evident that that was the way to go. So we started crafting the movie to become that. That was a long process. That was a two- year process of watching the movie over and over and moving it into that direction.”
Liebesman is joined today by his producers, Andrew Form and Bradley Fuller, best known for their Bay- helmed production company Platinum Dunes. The two are no stranger to reboots, having crafted 21st century takes on horror classics like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and A Nightmare On Elm Street. But they say the transition from chillers to children’s fare wasn’t a totally unnatural one.
“When we started the company, we never thought we were gonna make eight horror movies in a row,” says Form. “We loved making Texas Chainsaw and the movie worked and people liked it. But from day one when we started the company we would have loved to have made a Ninja Turtles. We’ve loved these big fun movies. We’ve worked with Michael for 14 years, we’ve watched him make all those movies, the Transformers – we loved those movies. So when we heard that Viacom had the rights to Ninja Turtles, Brad and I went to Michael and said, ‘ Listen, what you did with Transformers, we gotta do with Ninja Turtles. We gotta bring these guys back. These characters are so loveable and amazing and they’ve been around for so many years. With the motion- capture technology, let’s go for it.’ He thought it was a good idea, and luckily Paramount, after a couple of months, said, ‘ Yes.’ Then we grabbed Jonathan and made the movie.”
Libesman – who’d worked with Form and Fuller on their prequel The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The
Beginning – brought with him a love of the original Turtles films.
“the rule was that every thing had to come from the comic books”
“I like doing movies I would want to go and watch. It’s as simple as that. With Ninja Turtles, I had seen what Michael had done with Transformers and when these guys approached me, I was already a Turtles fan as a kid. I didn’t know the Transformers mythology, but I knew the Turtles mythology. So I couldn’t make something that wasn’t true to that. I knew the cartoon and the movies, and then, subsequently, Kevin Eastman and Brad and Drew showed me other different origin stories. With everything we did, the rule was that it had to come from one iteration of the comic books.”
Though a pre- Platinum Dunes draft of the script featured para- dimensional Turtles and an alien incarnation of their enemy Shredder, the filmmakers recruited screenwriter Evan Daugherty to bring things back to basics.
“We worked with Kevin Eastman from day one,” adds Form. “There have been so many amazing characters over the last 30 years, it was like: just use ’ em, they’re amazing. Of course we had to decide who we were going to put in this movie. We always knew it was gonna be the Turtles and Splinter. But which villain to use, which protagonists...”