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August 14, 2014

On the Ninja Turtles and Nostalgia

I never really liked Scooby-Doo.

There was a time when I sat down for a marathon of episodes -- my first exposure to the show as a wee little Voltech.  Believe it or not, I was excited for them.  And then I actually sat down and watched them, and I pretty much went “Ehhhhhhhhhhh…this is kinda garbage.”  I guess I just didn’t have the artistic sensibilities for it yet. 

But those sensibilities never did develop.  Even with the myriad spinoffs and alternate versions -- there was one about catching thirteen ghosts, which gave the series a built-in END button -- I never found myself treating the franchise as anything more than a diversion.  Just some background noise to play, or a last-ditch effort to find something on TV.  Still, Scooby-Doo has long since found both its legs and its audience, and it doesn’t matter if I’m not a member of it -- although, as it turns out, I actually think the recent Mysteries Incorporated show is pretty good.  I’ve only seen bits and pieces of it, but I could see myself watching that more than anything else.

The reason I bring up Scooby-Doo is because it’s proof of an obvious truth: the past is not sacrosanct.  Just because it’s from yesteryear doesn’t automatically make it flawless and worthy of some slot in the hall of fame.  It can qualify, sure, but there’s no reason why the old should get a seat on a golden throne just because it has a familiar name.

Which brings us to…well, you read the title, didn’t you?

Off the top of my head, 2014 has seen big-screen reboots of RoboCop, Godzilla, and --both obviously and damningly -- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  (You can count Dawn of the Planet of the Apes for being a sequel to a reboot if you want.)  One of those I know for sure is awful.  One of those barely drew my interest.  And one of those something that I’m actively trying to avoid.  But they’re hardly the only examples out there.  The anime world has seen a reboot of the Sailor Moon anime with a controversial -- in the eyes of many, derpy -- art style, and there’s been recent news of plans to make a Digimon season that brings back the cast of the original series.  And that’s setting aside the bucket loads of video game reboots.  Tomb Raider, Killer Instinct, Mortal Kombat, Syndicate, Thief, XCOM, DmC [TITLE REDACTED], and more.

It’s more than a little worrisome, if you ask me.  The implication here is that the only way to make something good nowadays is to just make what’s already been made.  It’s true that not all reboots are automatically terrible (XCOM in particular comes to mind), but it seems like there are plenty of instances where the minds behind the reboots and such get as far as the nostalgia-mining and leave it at that.  It’s all too common for them to completely miss the point of the original, or substitute it for their own (worse) interpretation.

Again, it’s worrisome.  But I don’t think it’s as big a signal of the end times as others do.

Mindless nostalgia-mining doesn’t do anyone any favors, but when it’s done well, it can be beneficial.  (Kamen Rider might not be around today if not for the efforts/quality of the continuity reboot, Kamen Rider Kuuga.)  That’s practically the rule Nintendo is built on; they can (sort of) get away with making Mario games again and again because A) they’re top-tier in quality, and B) each one is sufficiently different from the other -- barring the New Super Mario Bros. series -- to justify a new release. 

Still, the important thing is that when there are those so furiously trying to revive the past, they end up preserving it.  So when there’s news of a (terrible) RoboCop movie on the way, it rebuilds interest in RoboCop.  People might actually strike out to watch or rent the original movie, and relive the glory without the risk of supporting something that’ll only get money because of the name. 

But it goes beyond that.  When you preserve the past, you make it possible for others to observe and enjoy it.  In this day and age, it is MORE than possible to introduce a new generation to old standbys.  They can see for themselves what kids of the past once went gaga over, and maybe end up going gaga over it themselves.  If the rebooted property is distorted beyond belief (like Transformers), there’s little stopping someone from showing them the secret merit of the old show

And yet there’s more.  If the rebooted property is actually as good as, or better than the original (like My Little Pony), then it’ll be that much easier to give them a story they’ll welcome into their hearts.  Or, alternatively, they could just say “screw the reboots”, plop down with YouTube, and sift through clips and episodes just for the hell of it -- and walk away satisfied.

What I’m getting at here is that nostalgic properties don’t have to exist just to try and appeal to the original, aging audiences -- especially if they have to bend themselves into grotesque forms JUST to try and suit said audience…even though that’s NOT what they remember and love about the property in the first place.  Why people think that they have to superficially "update" or "modernize" the stuff we liked just so we can feel like it "grew up with us" boggles my mind so damn much it turns my brain into a cupful of dice.  

This isn't some big revelation.  This is incredibly obvious, common sense stuff.  The properties -- no, the STORIES of the past can be passed on to those that can appreciate them.  They deserve stories to call their own.  The optimal situation would be to give them something 100% original (see: Adventure Time), but for what it’s worth, passing the torch is a good option.  Handled with care, it can be beneficial. 

Just think about it.  In this day and age you could practically trip over a new canon worth following.  When one ends, there’s another that’s just as likely to begin.  There’s some high quality stuff out there, no matter where you look.  TV, movies, video games, the works.  And there’s something for every sensibility.  I’m still blue over the fact that How I Met Your Mother is over (least of all because of my not-so-secret crush on Alyson Hannigan), but setting aside the fact that there are always reruns to relieve the magic, I’ve started getting into Modern Family.  There’s very little stopping me from watching a high-quality drama if I want one, because there are plenty of options.  And as the saying goes: even if there is no God or Buddha, there is always Kamen Rider.

Which brings us back to the new Ninja Turtles movie.

I have a hard time understanding why this thing exists.  Okay, sure, I know there’s always the “because money” reason, but beyond that…what?  Those that are looking for more Turtles in their life likely have near-instant access to the episodes of their choice (especially if they’ve got good enough memories to remember said episodes).  Isn’t the fact that the new movie is not the old cartoon(s) enough of a signal that it’s going to be a betrayal, even before you find out whose name is attached to it? 

I would say that I’m being unfair and biased about this, seeing as how -- as of this post -- I haven’t seen the movie.  Nor do I intend to.  But days before its theatrical release, the new Turtles debuted on Rotten Tomatoes at 40% on the Tomatometer.  The night before its release, at one point it dropped down to 15%.  That is one hell of a precipitous drop, and it tells me at least two things: the only reason Turtles ’14 had a “high” score to start out was because not enough critics had seen it.  And more importantly, the general consensus is implying that, to the surprise of very few, it’s really, really bad.  I know that reviews are a suggestion of quality and not a confirmation of it, but when one review after another fires off one scathing word after another, it’s a good idea to take notice.  In my humble opinion, of course. 

Megan Fox has taken some heat recently (if only from indignant forum posters) about telling off the haters.  Her argument is that even if there are people who are prematurely -- if justifiably -- writing off Turtles ’14, there are going to be droves of people who will see it, and outweigh the outcry of said haters.  Much as I hate to admit it, she’s probably right.  The ideal outcome would be for the movie to make just enough money so that those who genuinely put effort into it (armies of animators, for example) can be rewarded.  But current reports suggest that it’s going to make more than “just enough”. 

She’s probably right.  But not definitely.

There’s always the matter that, even if Turtles ’14 is a financial success, there’s absolutely no guarantee that it’s going to be an artistic or (if you’ll let me play that card) a moral success.  Current reviews paint it as a thing, and not as a movie.  It’s nostalgia-bait -- indulgent design that has a chance of succeeding because of nepotism, not merit.  But the big issue here -- the one that Fox, Paramount, Platinum Dunes and all the rest may have overlooked -- is an obvious one.

Turtles ’14 is not the only movie out there right now.  We have options.

Guardians of the Galaxy came out just a week before Turtles, and Marvel’s latest killed it -- not just with audiences, but with critics, and with the box office.  I’d think that it’s going to be in theaters for more than just a week, meaning that it’s a glowing alternative to the zeroes in a half shell.  But the takeaway from Galaxy isn’t necessarily that “you can see it instead of Turtles”, though that helps.  No, the important thing here is that there are MUCH better movies out there, and whether you’re conscious of them or not, you can see the elements that make the difference between a good movie and a bad one. 

Is it possible to enjoy both Galaxy and Turtles ’14?  Maybe so.  But what’s important is that a good movie can show you what it’s all about -- so that when another movie flat-out refuses to offer you those elements, you can call it out.  And Galaxy isn’t the only movie that proves such an obvious truth.  Dawn of the Planet of the Apes showed us the quality and thought we can have in a summer movie when there’s genuine effort put in.  So even if there is some undiscerning Joe Plumber out there who’s willing to see any movie, what’s stopping him from seeing Apes or Galaxy first and realizing how good those movies are -- to the point where he realizes, hey, maybe the Transformers movies are a bunch of ol’ bullshit?

That’s an optimistic outlook, I know.  But I’m not ready to believe that an entire culture will just blindly feed on the artistic equivalent of gruel until the end of times.  Sooner or later this age of indulgent design is going to come to an end.  And no amount of familiar names, properties, or throwbacks is going to keep it afloat.

And that’s all I’m going to say on that.

I can’t tell you to not go see Turtles ’14.  I can’t (and won’t) judge the movie for myself, so I don’t know how bad it could possibly be.  Beyond that, everyone has their own sense of will, reason, and most of all, opinions.  I can suggest skipping out on the movie, but I can’t command it.  The choice is theirs, just like the choice is yours. 

But once again, I can at least ask you to think, and hope that others do the same.  If you want to see the movie -- or the movies to come that will try to do the exact same -- think carefully about why.  Think about who and what you’re supporting.  If you’re actually a staunch follower, then fine.  Go and see it.  If you’re on the fence, think about the reasons why you should see it and the reasons why you shouldn’t.  If the pros outweigh the cons, then go.  If you’re just going to see it because of the name of the movie, don’t.  Don’t jump through their hoops just so you can get a treat made from scrap metal.  Make your own hoops.  Decide what’s best, and what you want to say.  Think for yourself.

Think about what your past self would want.  Make the kid inside you happy before anyone else.           


  1. I had a feeling Destiny would be underwhelming. They set up such a colossal standard of a bar that they have no choice but to flounder and disappoint. The nail that sticks up is the one eta hammered down, y'know?

    My pessimism aside, the healthiest way for me to deal with the onslaught of mediocrity in entertainment is to live on Mars and pretend anything outside my little world exists. It's selfish and closed-minded, but I don't see another way of defending myself and keeping my expectations in check. And my ignoring games is better than the other method; staying up to date and bitching about everything and anything I haven't touched.


    Enjoy your shooter bananza. My experience begins and ends with Mass Effect and Shadow the Hedgehog. Though Spec Ops: The Line might need my attention for its deconstructing shooter games. Otherwise...

  2. You will NOT like Destiny if you like Borderlands. The Diablo-esque lootfest isn't in play here.

    Anyway, expect Killzone to bore you more than anything else. I think you and I really have different expectations from shooters. Everyone dismissed Infinite's combat, but it felt more natural and fun to me than almost any other shooters' combat. Might be a palate thing.

    Shooters = least liked genre for me. Third-person shooters are even worse. Anyway. . . .

    I'll be getting a Disqus account soon. I've been posting as a guest, so that's why my name ain't green.

    Try Spec Ops. I found it hypocritical and its commentary a product of serendipity more than anything, but I'd like to see your thoughts. Maybe you'll sway me.

  3. Yeah, getting a Disqus account? Hard to say for sure at this point, but it'll PROBABLY save us both from some headaches later. Presumably. We'll see.

    I've already got my thoughts on Killzone mostly down, and...well, you're half-right. I like it more than Destiny -- I think -- but that's really not saying much. And KZ has problems of its own, to the point where it's another entrant in the glorious Did Not Finish category. But I'll get to that next time.

    Actually, now that you mention it? I don't really know what my "expectations from shooters" are. Like, I have a general idea of what makes a shooter good and what makes a shooter bad, but the nuances are lost on me. (Then again, I've found that perspectives on games in general start to change when you play a lot of fighting games, Street Fighter 4 well among them.) So I agree with you when you say that Infinite got it right. I don't have any problems calling that a good shooter, even if others disagree.

    But you know what? I think that the Ratchet and Clank games -- at least based on my time with Tools of Destruction -- actually NAILED what it means to be a shooter, at least for me. There's a greater emphasis on mobility in that game, and learning how to dodge factors in. You form your battle strategy based on what guns you've got, as well as your own unique play style. The pace is leisurely, but it lets you think and better digest what's going on. And of course, it helps that the whole thing doesn't go into DERP DE DOO BROWN AND GRAY mode.

    Hmmm. Maybe shooters and fighters aren't so different after all. I'll have to think on that for a while.

  4. You know what, though? If we're being totally honest here, I feel kind of bad about taking shots at Destiny (har de har har).

    Don't get me wrong. The beta didn't do much -- or anything -- to win me over, and I have even less interest in playing the game than I did just a couple of months ago. But on the other hand, I didn't see ALL the content of the beta. I didn't do ALL of the things...or much of anything, compared to some. So there's this sense that I'm not getting the full story here. Maybe somewhere down the line, I'll check out the game a little closer -- watch footage on YouTube, or consul my brother -- but right now, this experience has left a bad taste in my mouth. I'm the Eternal Optimist, damn it. I want to believe.

    On the other hand, playing as Destiny's equivalent of a mage begs the question: if I'm some kind of "warlock" -- itself a unique spin on me being a robot cat zombie -- then why do I even need to bother with guns? Also, why would The Traveler and his little robot buddy resurrect me at Level 1 when the threat to the universe is encroaching right the hell now?

    ...Now I don't feel so bad.

    Anyway, the ShootStravaganza is going to keep on going, whether I like it or not. And truth be told, there IS at least one game that's actually pretty good; thus far, it's the one game that's not only a good shooter, but also comes the closest to justifying next-gen consoles. I can tell you right now that IT AIN'T KILLZONE, but it's coming.

    ...Also, this whole thing is probably going to culminate in me playing Battlefield 4 at some point, so I think I'm going to have to start mentally preparing myself now. And by now I mean EIGHTY YEARS AGO.

    It's the only way to be sure.

  5. I'm definitley not a Scooby Doo fan, but I can tell you that Mystery Inc. is without question the best thing to happen to the franchise. The on going story arc is complex, involving with loads of intersting twists and turns. All 52 episodes are on Netflix so I highly recommend checking it out.

    As for this new TMNT movie, I was unsure of it when the trailers were released and Megan Fox being a part of it didn't make me feel at ease. There actually exists a multiverse in the Turtle world, which allows for multiple versions of TMNT. Once I remembered that, I got past their freakishly huge appearances. It can be easy to fall into the hype and buy into all the praise and big box office numbers. Heck, I almost did. But when I heard that Megan Fox was all over the place in the film, to the extent that the Turtles themselves can't even be the main selling point, I knew I could go without seeing this one. The 1990 TMNT film is still all kinds of awesome, so I can look to that for my film Turtle fix. Heck, I even enjoyed the 2007 movie even it it center way too much on Raph.

  6. 52 episodes? Wow. No small number, that. Well, it might be worth a look one of these days. If I remember right, there may be an episode that features bikers fighting against dinosaurs. Otherwise known as: the stuff that rainbows and unicorns are made of.

    Interesting that there's a TMNT multiverse, though I can't say I'm that surprised. They've probably had more than their fair share of interdimensional travels over the years, so it's not all that far-fetched for multiple entries to exist...to an extent. See, I'm under the impression that this movie is a reboot -- and it's one that's OK with either ignoring all the canon that came before it, or stomping it down to make their own. Granted that'll come down to how people perceive it, and whether or not they'll section it off behind barbed wire and chain-link fences. We'll see.

    "But when I heard that Megan Fox was all over the place in the film, to the extent that the Turtles themselves can't even be the main selling point, I knew I could go without seeing this one."

    See, now THIS is what makes me so angry, all of my organs get stuck in my throat. Making a TMNT movie should be the easiest damn thing in the world, especially now that people have the hindsight and knowledge from past movies and episodes and whatnot -- and learned from them -- to put in the best bits while removing the worst. I cannot even begin to fathom why anyone would think that the thing people were clamoring for in this movie, the title characters that so many people once adored (and maybe still do adore), should be less important than the human character...who apparently is not all that interesting in this new movie.

    Cripes. It's like everyone who worked on the movie was from Bizarro World or something.