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Teenage Alien Ninja Turtles? A look at Michael Bay’s comments and the ensuing backlash

Brad McHargue

March 20th, 2012

To the dismay of many, it was recently announced that Michael Bay and his crew at Platinum Dunes would be rebooting the TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES franchise, with director Jonathan Liebesman sitting behind the camera. Given his past efforts with remakes and reboots, most cried foul at the news, especially when word broke that he intends to alter the TMNT origin story to make them aliens. Speaking at the annual Nickelodeon upfront presentation last week, Bay said:

"When you see this movie, kids are going to believe one day these turtles actually do exist when we are done with this movie. These turtles are from an alien race, and they are going to be tough, edgy, funny and completely loveable."

For the uninformed, the ninja turtles are the result of four ordinary turtles becoming covered in a green goo colloquially referred to as “ooze,” resulting in their mutation into anthropomorphic turtles with a penchant for pizza and the word "cowabunga". It is soon revealed that the ooze was created by a group of aliens known as the Utroms. Naturally, changing their origin story from mutated turtles to aliens has drawn a lot of ire.

Before you outright condemn the man, you could give him the benefit of the doubt. Ignoring the absolutely ridiculous first part of his statement, it’s entirely possible Bay misspoke, or at the very least simply didn’t know what he was talking about. This is highly unlikely, but since this is the Internet, waiting for context or clarification before calling for Bay’s head is not an option, so we’re going to have to take his comments at face value. As such, many have been up in arms over his words, while others have taken to defend him.

On Badass Digest, noted pugilistic journalist Devin Faraci wrote a brief piece on the news, stating:

"It seems to me that Michael Bay is actually correct when he talks about aliens being involved. Because if you were a real Turtles fan, you would know that TCRI, the place from whence the mutagenic ooze came, was actually a secret base for alien Utroms. And the Utroms were represented in the cartoon show by Krang, the little pink squishy guy in a big robot exoskeleton. Which means that Krang is probably the baddie in this movie. So maybe the film is skipping the accidental mutating and making the Turtles mutated by TCRI, or maybe he's talking in a bigger picture sense in that the whole film is about the Turtles discovering their origins - which is the original storyline of the original Mirage Comics version."

In Volume 1 of the original comic, the turtles eventually learn that the ooze that mutated them was alien in nature and, in the process of their investigation, are sent across the galaxy wherein they fight aliens. If all of this is included, then Faraci and others so obsessed with bringing up the alien connection are, in a bizarre, roundabout way, not far off from the truth in saying that Bay is correct about aliens being involved. We can take this even further and, in defense of Bay’s statement, claim that he was referring to Volume 4, wherein the Utroms have returned to earth peacefully, prompting the Turtles to live among humans disguised as aliens.

If the latter part is true, then Bay simply misspoke, or rather forgot to clarify his statement. If the Turtles are in fact meant to be aliens in the new film, then Faraci’s defense of Bay is unfounded. In every incarnation of the franchise, the turtles are anthropomorphized via a mutagenetic ooze; they’re simply not aliens, no matter how you choose to interpret Bay’s statement.

Shortly after I began this article, Bay responded to the complaints on his message board Shoot for the Edit:

“Fans need to take a breath, and chill. They have not read the script. Our team is working closely with one of the original creators of Ninja Turtles to help expand and give a more complex back story. Relax, we are including everything that made you become fans in the first place. We are just building a richer world.”

Fair enough, though he still doesn’t address the idea of making the turtles aliens or in any way clarify what he may have intended to say. I’m not saying that it’s going to be bad, or that Bay is destroying my childhood – hell, I don’t care one way or the other, and until someone makes a Mighty Mutanimals movie, I probably won’t - I’m just saying that, although Bay’s idea may in fact turn out to be a mind-blowing epic film featuring alien turtles and cyborg foot soldiers and a talking brain in a giant robot suit, he’s still going to alienate some fans when it’s so easy not to.

As with any argument, some will invariably say “Why should anyone care? As someone on Twitter said, “Didn't some other asshole change part of the origin of a comic book character? Oh yeah. Sam Raimi in SPIDER-MAN. Bay should have learned!?” Yes, Raimi did change a number of elements concerning Spider-Man’s initial exploits; it’s called creative license. Yet Spider-Man’s origin – being bitten by a radioactive spider – remained unchanged. It doesn’t matter what events unfolded following the bite, just that Peter Parker became Spider-Man due to being bitten by a radioactive spider and subsequently gaining its “powers.” How upset do you think people would be if Raimi had changed how Peter Parker became Spider-Man?

While the crux of the argument is the turtles’ origin, many fail to take into account how this change could affect other key aspects of the TMNT universe. Ignoring the fact that by changing the turtles to aliens you’re effectively eliminating the “mutant” aspect of their character, what becomes of Splinter, the turtles’ rat sensei who came to be when he was mutated by the very same ooze that mutated the turtles? Or the Shredder? Throughout the comics, cartoons, and movies, Oroku Saki serves as the foil for Splinter and the turtles, and in one incarnation is directly responsible for their mutation. While it would be great to see Krang finally come to life on the big screen, omitting Splinter and the Shredder in favor of an entirely new origin story, or, conversely, altering everything that made them what they were in favor of some alien explanation, would incur some serious fanboy wrath.

When it comes to adapting comics, drastically changing the origin of a central character is anathema. How the character develops from issue to issue all ties into their origin, and by changing this you’re in effect changing what initially hooked the legion of fans in the first place. In the case of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, their origin helps to inform many of their future exploits, and changing it could result in an entirely new story, one that bears little resemblance to the source material from which it’s being adapted. It serves no purpose, and in the case of Michael Bay, seems to be nothing more than an excuse for some huge outer space explosions.

A lot of this may be conjecture and most of what I know of the characters I gleaned from various sources on the web and the recesses of my memory, so please take my opinions with a grain of salt; but as Bay said above, I haven’t read the script, and he may very well be crafting an amazing film. But so many people long to see their favorite characters and stories come to life on the big screen, and given the amount of available source material, the decision to change something so vital to a story that remains virtually unchanged throughout the characters’ numerous incarnations is one born of selfishness and disrespect to the fans Bay claims to respect so dearly.

In the end, even if you disagree with everything said above, it simply doesn’t matter if you don’t care, because some people do, and that should be respected.

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