Saturday, April 14, 2012

reflections on turtlegate

Before the first Sam Raimi Spider-Man movie came out, there was news on the Internet that Sam Raimi was changing one aspect of the Spider-Man character.  When Peter Parker got bitten by the radioactive spider, he was going to gain the ability to shoot webs out of his wrists.  "Hasn't he always spun webs out of his wrists?" you ask because you have never read a comic book and your only point of reference to Spider-Man prior to 2002 was the cartoon in the 70's where he roomed with Iceman and that was a long time ago.  "Well, yeah," a comic book geek would reply.  "But he built a machine to attach to his wrists.  In the comics, they didn't come out of his wrists organically.  They changed that for the movie."  Then, the comic book geek would get a dirty look and you'd be like "whatever" and you'd be right.  Giving Spidey organic web-shooters did not change the character at all, Spidey was still a high school nerd who becomes a superhero and makes nerds, geeks and dweebs in the audience cheer for him.  I DO like how they are giving Spidey back his regular web-shooters in the reboot (summer 2012) AND that they are having him date Gwen Stacey first (like in the comics), which I found a far more offensive change than the web-shooter thing.  But despite the fact that I was cool with it, the Internet is usually abuzz with hateful posts when they change the slightest little thing from the original subject matter.  For the record, I didn't care that they put flames on Optimus Prime in 'Transformers'.  He was still the same character.  He was voiced by the same guy from the cartoon.  The things that were horrible about the sequels had nothing to do with Optimus Prime having a flame decal on the side.  He was still a great character and the best part of two terrible sequels.  The reasons that 'Green Lantern' was a terrible movie had NOTHING to do with the fact that his costume was computer generated (an idea I actually liked), something that bloggers were complaining about.  It was the story and the acting and everything else that movies are about that made GL suck.  Comic book fans will cite 'The Dark Knight' as being one of the best comic book movies ever made, DESPITE the fact that they completely changed something that has been a staple of Joker's character for years, the fact that he fell in acid.  Chris Nolan completely ignored that, but the movie was SO awesome that nerdy bloggers who usually complain about stuff like that didn't even notice that the Joker was an anarchist in clown makeup.

As you can see from the above examples, changes to the 'mechanics' of a comic book character are okay in the name of giving the movie more realism (no yellow spandex on Wolverine), as long as the character is not changed.  As long as the Joker is still a murderer who laughs at his own antics, Optimus Prime is still the highly-respected leader of the Autobots, as long as Wolverine is Wolverine, as long as Spider-Man is a nerdy kid who gets superpowers (unlike that bad 1970's TV show where he was an adult) and as long as Han Solo shoots Greedo first in cold blood under the table because he was kinda shady before he fell in love with Princess Leia.

Which brings me to the matter that is the subject of this essay, 'turtle gate', as it is being called.  Citing the above examples, I can say that fans of comic book adaptations DO tend to complain about things that are not important to making a good superhero movie.  Their complaints are only legitimate if the change alters the character dramatically.  So, when Michael Bay made an announcement about the new Ninja Turtle movie and said that they were "from an alien race", every comic book fan that was staring blankly at their computer started to run the TMNT backstory in their mind, from the cartoons, the comics AND the movie (which was a mix of the comics and the cartoon).  "Wait a minute?  Did he say that they ARE aliens?  I mean, I was hoping they would have some aliens in the movie, cuz they have better special effects now and there were aliens in the comics, but...huh?"  Every TMNT fan started wondering why Master Splinter was not mentioned, as his involvement in the turtles' origin is why they are ninjas to begin with.  "Is he going to be an alien too?  Another planet of rat people, somehow involved with Turtletron (or whatever)?  Are they going to take him out completely?  What of his connection with Shredder and the Foot Clan?  Is Shredder going to be in it?  Is Shredder like Darth Vader now?  Darth Vader with spikes?"  Michael Bay's assurance that the turtles would LOOK awesome visually and his mention that he was working with one of the original creators of the Ninja Turtles did NOTHING to stop the nuclear bomb of hateful posts from fans who KNEW what a big change this alien element would be.  As you can tell, I follow comic-book movie news and I have NEVER seen anything like this.  Not just a few whiny comments about Spidey's wrists, angry posts from people who have a legitimate cause for complaint, as this is a much bigger change than a costume or a flame decal.

When Peter Laird wrote some obviously sarcastic comments on his blog about how 'brilliant' the new alien idea was, it was obvious to real fans which one of the turtles creators Michael Bay was working with (Kevin Eastman). "Kevin's work is always awesome!  He does the new IDW comic!  It's really good!  They're still mutants in that comic!  Has Kevin Eastman sold us out??? Peter Laird doesn't like the idea!"  Michael Bay's assurance that they would still act like teenagers, even though Paramount Pictures had shortened the name of the movie to just 'Ninja Turtles' (cutting out the 'Teenage' AND the 'Mutant') did nothing to make fans ignore the worst part of this whole controversy...."they're making the Ninja Turtles' ALIENS???"

Enter Jonathan Liebesman, the director of the Ninja Turtle reboot, who addressed the controversy in an Internet video by saying that he was glad that Ninja Turtles has such an enthusiastic fan base, following his comments about being in a room with Kevin Eastman working out the details by saying "I'm not saying that what Michael said is what the movie is..."  He also mentioned how he is a big ninja turtle fan and how "real fans" would know that the ooze came from aliens.  "Yes, you idiot!" screamed every TMNT fan in the world. "That's what we're mad about!  The OOZE came from aliens!  NOT The turtles!!!  Just tell us they are MUTANTS again and we'll go back to bashing DC's New 52!!!"

Having a man who was NOT responsible for ruining the Transformers comment on the controversy seems to have calmed things down amongst blogging TMNT fans.  I would love to have Professor Xavier's power to read minds when Liebesman said that to find out what he was really thinking.  "I don't want to tick off Michael Bay because he's producing this movie, but we're milking this controversy for all the press we can get and yeah, he misspoke, the OOZE is alien!  We'll announce that later, but right now, Michael Bay is making me be cryptic.  He's a jerk, seriously!"

As I am writing this, I am hopeful that Bay misspoke and that they will announce (soon, I hope) that the turtles WILL be mutants.  I, for one, welcome a big-budget TMNT film where the turtles look super realistic and FIGHT aliens (like the Utroms...maybe the Triceratons in a sequel).  This may blow over, but after this, even though it altered Han Solo's character, Greedo shooting first doesn't seem like a big deal.

UPDATE: A few more comments have been made about this film by co-TMNT comic book creator Kevin Eastman.  He has said a few things about how the new film should be faithful to the original subject matter ("or we're gonna get killed")  Both he and Liebesman point out that the Turtles have always had alien origin in that the OOZE came from space, but they talk about it like THAT and making the turtles aliens themselves is the same thing.  "Yeah, what's the big deal?  They've always been from space."  I maintain that the fact that Master Splinter has not been mentioned by any of the news about this movie is the most alarming thing of all.