Following an exhausting, exhilarating and thoroughly enjoyable away mission at Creation's 2014 Las Vegas Star Trek Convention hosts Cam Smith and Tyler Orton, along with special guests Scott Hardy and James Chesser, regroup in their hotel room and celebrate the most memorable moments of their four-day adventure. Over the course of this giddy hour and change of observations, criticisms and geek bliss, tales of lost con love and unexpected celebrity encounters are recounted, and a tribute is held to the event's most unexpectedly awesome guest. So enjoy and start your countdown clocks to summer 2015!
In this energeticallynerdy hour of speculative discussion hosts Cam Smith, Benjamin Yong and Tyler Orton gaze into their crystal ball and attempt to predict what the future holds for the franchise we all hold so dear. Will Trek convert to a 13-episode per season format? What's the likelihood of the show picking up where the Berman era ended? These tantalizing questions, among many others, are obsessively picked apart in order to determine the best possible course for artistic and commercial success. In addition, the crew offer up their own ideas as to what they'd like to see on the next itineration, as well as explain why the prospect of a Captain Worf spin-off isn't necessarily a good thing... So join us as we take a brave step into the strange, alien world of the Hollywood TV industry and strive to make sense of it all for the betterment of Trek-kind.
Returning with another Film Flashback bonus episode hosts Cam Smith and Tyler Orton finally take on a giant of the franchise; 1982's awesomely entertaining STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN. Does the picture still hold up all after all these years? Does it have any nagging flaws? Over the course of a lengthy informal chat these topics are tackled, as well as the themes, action sequences and character beats that make the film so insanely popular. So buckle yourself in for a fun, free-wheeling supplemental show that delves boldly into this series-reenergizing tale of vengeance in the heavens.
Following the spectacular success of the inaugural Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie the only thing that could have prevented a follow-up was the apocalypse. There was much more money to be mined from Turtlemania, by golly, and New Line Cinema and Golden Harvest were understandably eager to milk Eastman and Laird’s fantastical creations for all they were worth. Fast-tracked to open slightly less than a year after the first, the $25-million-budgeted second picture saw a major overhaul of the cast and behind-the-scenes crew – notably actors Elias Koteas, Judith Hoag and Corey Feldman, director Steve Barron, co-writer Bobby Herbeck and editor Sally Menke – and, in response to backlash over the violence and edginess of the original, was envisioned as a lighter, goofier adventure more reminiscent of the animated syndicated series. The censors and parents groups may not have won the battle of 1990, but they were certainly going to win the war.
The resulting effort, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze, was a respectable hit when it opened March 22, 1991, eventually bringing in $78-mill at the domestic box-office. While a noticeable decrease in ticket sales from the characters’ cinematic debut, it’s crucial to remember that these were still the days when the law of diminishing returns was a common reality for franchises, as audiences, and frequently creative ambition, dropped off with each successive instalment (that said, James Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day would arrive just four months later and lay waste to summer movie competition; an omen of the blockbuster business model of future days to come). So, even if the telltale warning signs that Turtle Fever was beginning to break were obvious, the sheer volume of cash generated by tie-in merchandise and ancillary profits no doubt had the studio’s money men as giddy as the series’ enthusiastic young fans.
Picking up mere hours after the radical reptiles victoriously celebrated to the pulsing beat of Spunkadelic’s insanely infectious “9.95,”Secret of the Ooze sees Leonardo (Mark Caso, voice by Brian Tochi), Michelangelo (Michelan Sisti, voice by Robbie Rist), Donatello (Leif Tilden, voice by Adam Carl), Raphael (Kenn Scott, voice by Laurie Faso) and Splinter (Kevin Clash) without a home, seeking refuge in the comfortable domicile of their trusted TV news reporter friend, April O’Neil (Paige Turco). Tranquility doesn’t last long, however, as the Shredder (Francois Chau, voice by David McCharen) climbs out of the city garbage dump and sets about seeking vengeance. Reassembling the deadly Foot Clan, the vicious villain and his grunting sidekick Tatsu (Toshishiro Obata, voice by Michael McConnohie) fix their sights on TGRI, a local scientific corporation in the midst of a massive environmental clean-up effort, stealing a glowing canister of the same neon green goo that created our heroes 15 year prior. Soon, two more mutants - snapping turtle Tokka (Kurt Bryant, voice by Frank Welker) and wolf Rahzar (Mark Ginther, voice also by Frank Welker) - are tearing up the city and it’s up to the squabbling bro’s, alongside new friends Professor Jordan Perry (David Warner) and pizza delivery boy Keno (Ernie Reyes Jr., promoted up from Donatello stunt double) to win the day. Again.
Compared to the Turtles’ genuinely engaging introductory chapter, which thrived on its basic comic-book storytelling, tight character dynamics, catchy best-selling soundtrack and bouncy energy, Secret of the Ooze is a pretty significant disappointment and, beyond the still effective Jim Henson Creature Shop work, doesn’t really hold up at all anymore. Exhibiting a crippling case of Sequelitis, shamelessly rehashing story beats (Raph storms off and is captured again!) and jokes (“I made another funny!”) to minimized effect, and slackly directed by Michael Pressman (the auteur behind The Bad News Bears In Breaking Training, making his return to the (sorta) big leagues after a near decade-long stint in TV), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II is a mostly empty experience, long on slapstick action and cornball jokes, yet short on thrills, visual oomph, imagination or narrative coherence. It’s the kind of opportunistic, poorly constructed “product” that the 1990 picture fought not to be, talking down to its kid target market – there are literally two scenes where the Turtles’ origin is recited – and offering absolutely nothing for their parents to engage with. Remember Casey Jones and April’s playful romantic back-and-forth sessions? Nothing like that here. The adult characters are pretty much MIA this time around, with the exception of Professor Perry, who isn’t so much a character as an exposition robot. Too bad the flirted-with-but-abandoned plot-twist that he had a Krang-like Utrom alien living in his abdomen never came to fruition. That would have at least made him interesting.
There’s no shortage of evidence proving that entertainment intended for children can be smart, innovative, dazzling and bold. Secret of the Ooze is none of those things. The comedic, weapon-free fight scenes – modelled on the Three Stooges, who are paid homage – slingshot between harmlessly watchable to awkwardly shoddy. It’s impossible to watch the woefully flat sequence in which the Turtles and the Foot play Keep-Away with a chemical canister in Perry’s office (a really cheap-looking set), surfing on chairs and engaging in acrobatic combat, and not feel a little sad for all involved. And what about that climactic mêlée in the oh-so-square sounding Dockshore Club? In any other movie, a scene where your main baddie gets blown out the window by a keytar would be jarring. Here, it seems like a logical progression.
A big part of the problem with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II is the utter lack of danger. Competent filmmakers can communicate stakes and the severity of an antagonist’s threat no matter the tone, genre or intended audience. Pressman ain’t the guy to try. Tokkah and Rahzar (who looks like the towering Muppet Sweetums) needn’t necessarily be made terrifying or hyper-aggressive to appear as formidable adversaries. Perhaps a touch of weird Universal Monsters otherness, or a display of destructive powers more impressive than a couple toppled telephone poles would have helped. Frankly, the creative team needed to justify the exclusion of beloved troublemakers Rocksteady and Bebop - who Eastman and Laird allegedly vetoed despite studio wishes – for these new heavies, and they sure don’t try very hard to do so. Yes, the well-known “Mama!” moment is cute and playfully undercuts the tension of the scene. Problem is, once that tension is dispelled it doesn’t ever return. Hence, their defeat in act three becomes a campy afterthought, not a true test of courage and ingenuity.
And the less said about Shredder 2.0, the better, as he’s become a neutered buffoon, weighed down by comically huge Dark Helmet-like headgear, totally robbed of menace and brutality. Even his ominous arrival in the first act is merely a blatant rip-off of the shot from Tim Burton’s Batman where Joker’s bleached hand emerges from the Gotham harbor. To be fair, though, it must be admitted that his eventual hulking Super Shredder form is suitably deadly. Now, if only something remotely cool had been done with it…
Most of the problems plaguing Secret of the Ooze can be traced to the screenplay, by returning scribe Todd W. Langen, which often makes no sense. We’re told it’s been 24 hours since the Shredder swan-dived into that fateful garbage truck, yet the Turtles behave like they’ve been going stir-crazy at April’s place for quite a while, and there are huge stacks of pizza boxes everywhere. Did they rescue Keno from thieves mere hours after barely surviving a grueling run-in with their arch-nemesis and his army of thugs?
Over on the bad guy side, Shredder, upon reemergence, shoots down the idea of rebuilding the Foot in favor of revenge (okay…), only to hold tryouts for new recruits a short while later (maybe Tatsu is really the brains behind this operation). He also determines April is the key and has embedded a particularly problematic character named Freddy (Mark Doerr) in her news crew. When did he do this exactly? During the first flick? How long has he been there?! April appears to know him fairly well, after all. Whatever becomes of this mysterious figure? He just disappears after giving April a stern message. Should we assume he was beaten up with the rest of his gang in the climax? Forget the secret of the ooze, tell us the secret of Freddy instead!
This shambling script-level incompetence carries over to the characters, as well. Previously, Raphael had an emotional journey, with a recognizable start and end. In Part II there are no character arcs to speak of! Ostensibly this is Donatello’s time to shine – he’s the one eager to explore their origin and plays a key role in the science stuff – though no attempt is made to develop his personality. Around the mid-point he expresses to Splinter his frustration that their birth was an accident. The wise rat sensei offers up a brief, tired fortune cookie saying and the scene ends, never to be referenced again. As for the other three, they now act out their single traits to occasionally annoying extremes (Leonardo is noticeably much whinier). As for Keno, he serves little function, outside of a sadly wasted subplot where he sneaks into the Foot’s base with Raphael, and then runs away. Reyes Jr. is a gifted martial artist and a lousy actor, popping in and out of the story to little fanfare when convenient, with minimal dialogue. Casey Jones, he is not. Even his exit is halfhearted, marked by Michelangelo quickly yelling “later, Keno dude!” over his shoulder while walking out the door to take on Shredder. Which, come to think of it, is still a more impressive send off than anything ol’ Professor Perry receives.
Movies like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Secret of the Ooze serve as a sobering reminder of how nostalgia can cloud the mind with delusion; blinding us to the obvious flaws of our personal childhood cinematic favorites. There’s some amusement to be had in once more seeing the Turtles being brought to life (and doing backflips!), or Splinter acting as a bow-and-arrow-wielding sniper, but these brief moments of amusement can’t mask what a rushed, hackneyed nothing Pressman and company churned out. Let’s remember: this is a picture that is remembered predominantly for a stilted performance of the terrible “Ninja Rap” by Vanilla Ice. It would have been far more appropriate, however, if the lyrics had instead just endlessly droned “No ninja, no ninja, no…!”
Bad-guys Beaten: 80
Most Tubular Takedown: Leonardo’s swords-in-the-ceiling kick is pretty great, but Donatello wins the movie with his sweet multi-kick/sommersault/head-kick combo during the Dockshore Club scuffle.
Pizzas Consumed: By the Turtles: 3. However, 19 slices are eaten by various New Yorkers during the opening credits.
Best duderific comic dialogue:
Donatello: “The perimeter's quiet.”
Leonardo: “Yeah, a little too quiet.”
*Donatello knocks out two Foot soldier guards*
Donatello: “Well, that was easy!”
Leonardo: “Yeah, a little too easy.”
Donatello: “Look! It's Raph!”
Michelangelo: “Yeah, a little too Raph.”
Direst duderific comic dialogue:
Donatello: “Hey, is this gonna work?”
Michelangelo: “Is, like, Schwarzenegger hard to spell?”
Sagest Splinter Wisdom: “Remember: the true ninja is a master of all things. A master of his environment. A master of himself.”
Most Menacing Villain Line: Shredder (to Tokkah and Rahzar): “Go ahead. Attack me if you will. When it is over, you will call me Master!”
Uncomfortable Adult Humor: Keno, shot down by a girl who tells him to “dream on, dweeb,” snarks back “Okay, and when I do I'll dream of someone a little thinner.” Keep it classy, kid.
Riker trombone jokes were only the beginning! In this latest ambitious blast of sci-fi geek silliness hosts Cam Smith, Benjamin Yong and Tyler Orton sing the praises of Trek's most wonderful moments of impromptu musicianship, as well as play a solemn dirge for some truly wretched off-key caterwauling. When not reveling in the powerful dulcet tones of some of the franchise's biggest stars, they find time to discuss how one terrible light-hearted moment nearly sinks Insurrection, as well as engage in a passionate, fiery debate over a certain notoriously polarizing series theme song. We have faith... that everyone will really enjoy this one!
When it high-kicked its way onto silver screens on May 30, 1990 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was less a movie than a momentous event, the inevitable apex of a global craze that had been gathering steam for six years. Originally created by indie comic creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird in 1984 as an adult-oriented spoof of popular titles such as “New Mutants,” “Daredevil,” “Cerebrus” and Frank Miller’s “Ronin,” the colorful characters became an instant crossover phenomenon after fledgling Honk Kong toy company Playmates snagged toy rights and CBS began airing the syndicated animated TV series. In no time turtle fever was a very real condition infecting a generation of children, fuelled by an endless supply of action figures, video games, breakfast cereals, Mirage and Archie-produced comic books, etc., and the demand for a live action motion picture adaptation was positively frothing. The ensuing effort, a modest 13.5-million-budgeted venture between then-independent studio New Line Cinema (aka “The House that Freddy Krueger Built”) and Golden Harvest – the HK production company behind martial arts classics featuring Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee, among others – was an instantly adored success story, grossing a tubular $135 million dollars at the domestic office and just over 200-mill worldwide. No matter which way you slice it, that was a lot of green in those days.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the movie proved less popular with critics and parents groups, who dismissed it as unimaginative crass commercialism, and railed against its dark tone and surprisingly edgy action. And they were not alone. Playmates, concerned by the public outcry and fearing controversy aimed in their direction, refused to manufacture toys based on these new cinematic versions of their top-selling moneymakers. Meanwhile, over in the UK, the censors (longtime adversaries of the TMNT cartoon) took scissors to the film, removing all signs of nunchuks and toning down the half-shelled combat. But, as so often proves the case, the negative press had very little effect (in the short term, that is…), and the target audience was free to revel in the flick’s 93 carefree minutes of wisecracking, sewer-surfing, Foot soldier-stomping fun over and over and over again.
Although Tim Burton’s bank-breaking hitBatman, which arrived just one year earlier, was an obvious influence aesthetically, the film doesn’t strive to adopt that flawed milestone’s hyper-convoluted and occasionally muddled story structure – a sadly common trait in modern blockbuster scripts. Instead, it tells a remarkably economical, breezily energetic (the tight, punchy pace can be attributed to the invaluable cutting skills of Sally Menke, Tarantino’s late, great editor, making her Hollywood debut) and disarmingly sweet story of brotherly love, the bond between fathers and sons and the need for family, dressed up with roundhouse kicks and katana blades. It may not be high art, or stellar family entertainment exactly, nonetheless it remains undeniably charming, funny and often kinda exciting.
Coincidentally, it has also become something of a time capsule. Alongside the same year’s The Witches, this film was one of the final productions to be graced by the legendary Jim Henson, who succumbed to a bacterial infection just two weeks prior to release. His Creature Shop was responsible for bringing the titular anthropomorphized amphibians and Splinter to life, and it’s remarkable how life-like, endearing and expressive their efforts prove. Blending puppetry, bulky animatronics and actors in suits, the team managed the impossible by crafting fantastical creations that are convincingly credible both still and in motion, as evidenced throughout the clever fight sequences. There’s a tactile authenticity to them; they look and feel like (bizarre) denizens of our world, and, miracle of miracles, are never unpleasing to the eye or jarring. They are genuine works of movie magic, that – through no shortage of care, sweat and thought – are capable of impressive range (watch the sensitive reunion scene between Leonardo and a reawakened Raphael in a bathtub and try to disagree), and serve as a memorable final note for Henson’s astonishing career to go out on, just three short years before Jurassic Park would stomp into theatres and officially usher in the digital age.
The movie also marks the beginning of the end for cinema’s two-decade-long love/hate affair with New York City as a dangerous hub of urban decay. At the time of release, the metropolis was experiencing its highest violent crime rate – over two and half times the 2012 stats - in recorded history, largely due to a catastrophic crack epidemic, and that fear, griminess and pessimism colors much of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (never mind that it was mostly shot in North Carolina). Nowadays the film’s depictions of gloomy, foreboding subway stations, ugly crumbling buildings coated with graffiti and empty night streets dominated by roving youth gangs are wildly at odds with our impressions of the Big Apple. And though there are certainly plenty of artistic liberties being taken with this 1990 representation, it ultimately serves as an entertaining, evocative reminder of just how negatively the media and outside observers once perceived the pre-Giuliani cityscape.
While Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, thus far, seems mostly significant for signaling the end of noteworthy eras, it did help play a valuable role in setting a certain standard for future cinematic superhero tales. Despite Richard Donner’s sensational Superman in 1978 and Burton’s aforementioned Batman, the infant genre would take time to find its legs – until 1998’s Blade or 2000’s X-Men, depending on who you ask – and the picture deserves props for its low-key efficiency. Skillfully weaving its silly mythology and multiple outlandish personalities into a basic, easily accessible narrative, Barron and writers Todd W. Langen and Bobby Herbeck accomplish something of a wonder with minimal fuss. Well aware they were making a children’s flick, they admirably refuse to pander or water down the material’s overt weirdness; cleverly nailing all of the necessary details (compare the goofy, engaging exposition found in the April-narrated opening or Splinter’s old kung fu movie-toned stories to the countless frantic info-dump scenes found in current summer tentpoles) without forsaking their irreverent tone or stalling out. This is very silly stuff, and it’s nice to see it being respected, not condescended to like, say, 1987’s Masters of the Universe, which was “reimagined” as a derivative Star Wars riff. Sure, the film is naïve and a bit archaic when placed against today’s bumper crop of costumed crimefighter epics but it continues to be one of the few genre forebears still worthy of remembrance.
Of course, it’s also just a good, lively time at the movies. Nicely blending the gritty, pop-culture-skewering toughness of Eastman and Laird’s Mirage Comics adventures and the wackier Saturday morning cartoon into a consistent, unified whole, Barron and crew’s endeavor succeeds significantly on the strength of its personalities. Few would credit our butt-kicking brothers with having multi-dimensional personalities, however damned if the writers don’t milk their single notes, and intentionally dorky verbal sparring sessions, for everything they’re worth (with the possible exception of Donatello, who feels a little lost function-wise), never breaching into the realm of insufferableness. Raphael, all pent up discontent, attitude and frustration, remains the most compelling – who couldn’t, at some point in their younger years, relate to his impotent anger – and is the only turtle with a recognizable character arc, yet doesn’t stand in the way of everyone getting their own big moments to shine (gotta love Michelangelo’s show-stopping pre-clash nunchuk demonstration, or Leonardo leading a meditative fireside séance with Splinter’s Jedi force ghost).
The amiably vanilla Hoag, saddled with the thankless, albeit crucial, role of remaining a neutral presence and selling the illusion of her foam and latex costars, brings enough pep and warmth – sort of a Margot Kidder lite - to ground everything in (magical) reality. It’s too bad she didn’t stick around for the sequels, honestly. She’s especially engaging opposite Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ secret Han Solo-ish weapon; rascally, rough-around-the-edges Elias Koteas as the cricket bat-swinging Casey. Fashioning an attention-grabbing performance from B-movie material, the character actor slyly runs away with every single one of his scenes (note his silently comedic shrug upon encountering a chained up Splinter) and leaves you wanting more. Though he wound up going the less conventional career route, with intense turns in pictures such as Cronenberg’s Crash, Malick’s The Thin Red Line and Egoyan’s Exotica, his star-quality charisma is impossible to deny here.
So what doesn’t work quite as well anymore? For starters, the threat of the Foot Clan now seems oddly inconsistent. Given their seemingly tightly-honed operation, and the ease with which they track down and nab Splinter, it’s a little dubious that it takes them so long to confront the turtles. And why doesn’t anyone try to pursue them once they escape to April’s cottage in the woods (do none of these delinquent kids drive? What about Tatsu? No Shreddermobile?!)? For all of the script’s strengths, occasionally the logic falters. Because he’s such a magnetic presence, it’s easy to forgive the lack of motivation behind Casey Jones joining the cause, although we probably shouldn’t. And, as enjoyable as the pop-culture references can be, there are some serious groaners on display. Arguably the worst offender is Raphael’s rooftop A Streetcar Named Desire Stanley Kowalski impression, which transpires during a key emotional point in the story, and just couldn’t fall flatter.
That said, quibbles aside, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles hasn’t lost its ability to trigger small bursts of adrenaline straight to the brain once the killer soundtrack kicks into gear and the fists start flying. Sincere in its cheerfully shallow aim to wow legions of kids with cornball humor, hyperactive hijinx and martial arts mayhem, director Barron and his team deliver enthusiastically and single-mindedly, injecting enough adult-friendly humor along the way to bridge the demographic gap. Almost two-and-a-half decades since making the leap to celluloid, these dudes continue to abide. Righteously.
Bad-guys Beaten: 118
Most Tubular Takedown: Mikey and Donatello’s crowd-pleasing nunchuk demo/flying bo staff double hit combo.
You wanna get nuts?! Let's get nuts! Join Cam Smith, Benjamin Yong and Tyler Orton in this brand new madcap, daffy installment in which they attempt to comprehend some of the craziest WTF creative decisions in the history of Star Trek. Wanna hear about puppet-wielding man-babies, or sinister circus clowns played by members of Spinal Tap? We gotcha covered! And, just to add to the fun, the trio analyze the bizarre love life of everyone's favorite Klingon security chief, as well as finally deal seriously with the ramifications of Ferengi cross-dressing. Pull up your space-bootstraps, cuz you're in for one mighty kooky ride!
Even hosts as tough as Cam Smith, Benjamin Yong and Tyler Orton get scared every now and again. In this chilling and spooktacular episode the trio recount their most unsettling Trek experiences, and revel in the horror of some of sci-fi's most revolting and disquieting television hours. Along the way, counselor-based desserts are discussed, as well as the awesome deadliness of DS9's most beloved Cardassian. And, as an added bonus, the discussion culminates in an extended discussion on the potential format of the franchise's next journey back to the small screen. Enjoy! If you dare...