Reflections on Turtlegate and TMNT: Out of the Shadows

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In the spring of 2012, at some event that Nickelodeon was holding, Michael Bay, talking about how realistic the Ninja Turtles were going to be in the reboot that he was producing, let it slip that they were going to be “from an alien race.” This caused probably one of the biggest blasts of nerd rage that I have ever seen on the Internet, because this was one of the biggest changes that Hollywood has ever attempted for such a beloved franchise. Making the Teenage MUTANT Ninja Turtles aliens was like making Superman a mutant instead of being from an alien race. Sure, Spider-Man had webs coming out of his actual wrists at one point, and the X-Men are supposed to have more colorful costumes, but never was an origin messed with so thoroughly and by the man who directed the worst genre film in 20 years with Revenge of the Fallen.

BERLIN, GERMANY - JUNE 25: Director Michael Bay holds a Berlin bear sculpture that looks like a Transformer as he attends the "Transformers 3" European premiere on June 25, 2011 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images for Paramount)
He thinks it’s an Oscar.

Two years later, the film actually came out. Ironically, the one word in the title that the movie ignored was not ‘mutant’, but ‘ninja’. The turtles themselves were hulking monstrosities, unable to hide anywhere (at least not believably). They knocked people into walls like four green (sorry to overuse the word) hulks. And when Splinter starts telling the origin story, he tells April that he doesn’t remember where he was before the lab that mutated him. No Hamato Yoshi. No “fifteen years ago, I lived in Japan”. The absurdity of this mutant rat learning ninjitsu from a book was only the icing on the cake after cutting out Splinter’s decade and a half long vendetta against Shredder. It was cool to see him kick Shredder’s butt, even using his tail, but the drama of their confrontation was severed by the poor use of the backstory.

And then there was Shredder himself. Asian character “whitewashing” has gotten a lot of press lately after the Doctor Strange trailer, but early in the production of the 2014 TMNT film, they cast William Fichtner as the traditionally Japanese Shredder. Great actor. Bank manager from The Dark Knight. Not Asian. When the film came out, a lot of people were wondering why William Fichtner played some new character, a scientist named Eric Sachs, instead of familiar TMNT scientist Baxter Stockman. True, Stockman was black in the comics, but he was white in the cartoon, which most of this movie borrowed from.

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"I get to be Shredder now?"
“I get to be Shredder now?”

Well, Eric Sachs sounds like Oroku Saki, Shredder’s real name, which was the original plan, having Fichtner/Eric Sachs be Shredder. Paying attention to the terrible editing of this film (its’ on Hulu now), one can see how sloppily shoehorned into the movie the scenes with the “real” (Asian) Shredder truly were. It was obvious that they intended Eric to be Shredder originally and did a bunch of reshoots to change it. This included a final fight scene for Eric while Shredder is fighting the turtles that they originally wouldn’t need if Eric was Shredder and fighting the turtles. It’s very anti-climactic. The main villain of this movie, who is not Shredder, gets knocked out, and we never see him again while the Turtles fight Shredder, a character that the story did not center around at all. They could have salvaged Eric’s role in the film by having Krang/an Utrom crawl out of his stomach after he was knocked out (or in a post-credits scene). But apparently, no one who worked on this film is as creative or knows TMNT as well as I do.

“Yes! Bring us ALL the William Fichtners!”

Now, we are a month away from the sequel, entitled Out of the Shadows. We have seen a few trailers. I grew up on the 80’s cartoon series, so I am looking forward to seeing Bebop, Rocksteady, Krang and the Technodrome on the big screen (alongside an Asian Shredder). I like the new Turtle van, as opposed to the turtle van in the last scene of the last movie, where the turtles were too big to fit in it, and it looked stupid. And I like the idea of purple ooze.


Old-school TMNT fans know that originally, the ooze mutated animals. Only when the 1987 cartoon wanted to omit Splinter’s murder-filled backstory (from the grittier indie comic book) did they explain that the ooze could turn humans like Hamato Yoshi into animals like rats. And that ooze was purple. I like that they are making that distinction between the green and purple ooze in this film with Bebop and Rocksteady. And the idea of the turtles wanting to become humans so that they don’t have to hide anymore is an interesting concept, especially the way they were scolded for dancing with Vanilla Ice at the end of Secret of the Ooze.

“Vanilla ice? Seriously?”

But I’ve always felt that the best versions of TMNT (rose-colored nostalgia glasses aside) were ones that combine the serious tone of the indie comic with the humor from the 1987 cartoon, balancing it the way Marvel does with their stuff. (Example: the 1990 movie, the 2003 cartoon series, the 2012 Nick cartoon, the new IDW comics). The trailer for this new film does seem to be catering to fans of the cartoon when combining elements (again, like Marvel) does create the richer world that Michael Bay erroneously promised us that the 2014 reboot would be. What do you think? Do you have high hopes for Out of the Shadows? Did you trade in your TMNT fan card by liking the last film? Is this the one franchise that you wish they would reboot? Comment below.

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Chad Descoteaux
I am a 37-year-old science fiction geek who has loved writing ever since I was hit in the face with a canister of mutagen ooze fifteen years ago. I live in Rhode Island. I am married. I have Aspergers. I write science fiction Kindle e-books for Turtle Rocket Books (website below)...and articles about the Marvel Cinematic Universe for Monkeys Fighting Robots.


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