Property review: TMNT Vol. 1 (1987 animated series)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Vol. 1

Lionsgate Home Entertainment, 2004

Turtles fight bare bones DVD

True children of the ’80s will tell you that one of the things imprinted in their memory is what they watched on television. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were important then, and children soaked it up. So, imagine GI’s surprise when the DVDs were finally released for public consumption. Spanning nine seasons, some of the most important establishing material is found in the first season, and the DVDs provide a look at the opening five-part miniseries that launched the show. But, if you’re looking for a quality introduction to the Turtles, keep looking because this version isn’t all that great.

Photo courtesy of Amazon.com

The quality of the presentation is terrible for starters. While it’s obvious this is a show from the ’80s and broadcast quality isn’t going to be as good as say 2004, when the disc was released, it still should be better than what’s here. Then, add in quite a few graphical errors, a lack of extras on the disc and the confusing inclusion of several episodes from the 10th and final season and you have a poor mess of a DVD.

Great voice acting and a killer soundtrack help, though. It’s something when a series can draw you in because of its soundtrack and perfect casting, and the first season of the show managed that greatly. Practically speaking, the first season’s merits save the DVD from most of its negative traits.

And, we can get around it all because it’s the Turtles, and having the series on DVD greatly increases the amount of problems we’re willing to put up with just to have the series in our collection. We can’t complain that much as children of the ’80s and as superfans of the series. We just wish the quality was a little better and some of the behind-the-scenes material had been added here. That would be have tubularly awesome.

Plot: 8

Like the comics: 3

Casting: 10

Total score: 21 out of 30 or 7

What to watch

The five episodes here are the five-part miniseries that introduced the Turtles in animated television.

1. Turtle Tracks: The introduction and origin story of the Turtles. Keep in mind that this origin story greatly differs from the comics and film.

2. Enter the Shredder: The introduction of Krang and Shredder, and also the creation of Rocksteady and Bebop.

3. A Thing About Rats: Baxter Stockman is introduced and joins with Shredder.

4. Hot Rodding Teenagers from Dimension X: Krang’s partial backstory is given and Dimension X is named. Michaelangelo gains a love interest.

5. Shredded and Splintered: Shredder and Splinter switch bodies, and Splinter’s bond with Turtles is fleshed out.

HOW WE GRADE

We score the properties in three categories: Casting (or voice acting in cases of animated), plot and similarities to its source material. Each category receives points out of the maximum of 10 and 30 overall.

Property review: The Avengers (2012)

Photo courtesy of IMDB.com

Avengers assemble into a satisfying package

When GI first heard there was going to be an Avengers film made, we scoffed. “Seriously, who didn’t see that coming? And who’s going to be in it?” is literally what we proffered when we were told the news. We were initially skeptical in that we’d seen the offerings from the Marvel camp with regard to Spider-Man 3 and we weren’t buying. No way, no how. But slowly, things changed. The surrounding films were introduced and received warm reviews. The devil was in the details, as they say, and it seems the casting made the movies. Well, as luck would have it, The Avengers turned out pretty nicely. So nice, in fact, that we regret our early pronouncement and embraced the film with open arms. We even paid good money to see it twice.

Our love affair with the good folks at Marvel starts within the first five minutes as Samuel L. Jackson practically chews scenery with every move and line of dialogue. It doesn’t hurt that we are huge fans of Jackson, and thought he was the only choice for Ultimate Nick Fury. Throw in the subtlety that is Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye and the glorious deviousness that is Tom Hiddleston as Loki, and we would have been satisfied with everything that had transpired in that first few minutes.

But then, just as we thought we couldn’t be more amazed than Captain America stepping onto the deck of the S.H.E.I.L.D. Hellicarrier, in stepped the rest of the cast: Scarlett Johansson literally steaming up with the screen; Mark Ruffalo showing the tortured and vulnerable side of the Hulk and Bruce Banner; Chris Evans’ duty to his men, country and self as Captain America; Chris Hemsworth’s pained fight as Thor to redeem or stop Loki at any costs; and finally Robert Downey Jr.’s scene-stealing billionaire philanthropist playboy act as Iron Man. The parts, in this case, were strong on their own, but when combined hit every note and played every beat to perfection.

Of particular note were Ruffalo and Downey. It would take an entire review to point out the subtleties and nuance of Ruffalo’s portrayal of the Hulk, who had the character down to a fine science. Watching the two interact was like watching good poetry on screen. Though Downey has now had two movies to showcase his great timing and wit, it was on display here in all its glory and it was clear that he was the star from the beginning. We especially liked how both characters were dialed up when necessary but dialed down enough to share the space with everyone else. That’s a challenge for writers and directors, and Joss Whedon — who deserves just as much praise as the cast — made it work brilliantly.

Also that which deserves mention is the special effects. The Hulk looked believable, and it was accepted that Hawkeye lived up to his name. All of the characters looked and acted in character with their surroundings. Someone at Marvel must have taken notes from the Spider-Man 3 debacle, because the effects were outstanding.

If you’re among the three people on Earth that hasn’t seen The Avengers, it’s time to rectify the situation. Great casting, believable plot threads and superlative attention to detail and character history? You get that and more with The Avengers. Assemble some time to see one of the best comic book movies ever made.

Plot: 10

Like the comics?: 10

Casting: 10

Total: 30 out of 30 or 10

HOW WE GRADE

We score the prop­er­ties in three cat­e­gories: Cast­ing (or voice act­ing in cases of ani­mated), plot and sim­i­lar­i­ties to its source mate­r­ial. Each cat­e­gory receives points out of the max­i­mum of 10 per cat­e­gory and 30 over­all. The per­cent­age is the final score.

Property review: Batman (1989)

Photo courtesy of IMDB.com

Batman

Warner Bros., 1989

Batman’s exploits begin in excellent 1989 adventure

When the Tim Burton-directed Caped Crusader’s vehicle hit the silver screen, comic book movies were in their infancy. Sure, there was the Dolph Lundgren version of The Punisher and numerous Superman movies featuring the irreplaceable Christopher Reeve. But there was no big screen adaptation of arguably the next-most important DC hero: Batman. Enter the 1989 feature with big-name stars.

Nicholson. Keaton. Basinger. Those three names were omnipresent then and now. Jack Nicholson stole the show outright as the Joker from Michael Keaton’s lead. Once Nicholson makes his grand entrance as Jack Napier/the Joker, you can’t go back. Being fans of the Joker (and Nicholson as well; we affectionately refer to him as “Uncle Jack” because of a shared family name), GI wholly encourages taking this version of the clown prince of crime as an altogether awesome spin on the malevolent DC supervillain. Earlier and later takes on the Joker, such as the late Heath Ledger in the Dark Knight, were well done, but Nicholson holds a special place in our hearts as the first movie version of the character.

Keaton, despite a well-reported reluctance for his casting as Bruce Wayne/Batman, nails the part of the tortured playboy-turned-crime fighter. And though the comparisons to Christian Bale have been brought up, Keaton like Nicholson is special because he brought Batman to life with a thorough look at the inner soul of the man dedicated to avenging crime in Gotham City.

Kim Basinger rounds out the trio of leads and does an admirable job as Vicki Vale. It’s not often that someone can chew scenery with a man dressed as bat and another man sporting green hair, a menacing grin and face paint. Though we disliked the naivete of the character in the beginning, Basinger does a good job of leading you to believe in her gradual falling for Wayne as the story progresses.

It also doesn’t hurt that the chemistry between Basinger and Keaton is immediately palpable in their first scene together.

While Batman succeeds mostly because of the acting chops of its leading trio and surrounding cast, we would be remiss in not giving praise to the costume and set design. The background scenery and look of the movie is what really shines.

With the introduction sequence featuring Danny Elfman’s iconic score (later improvised upon in the equally iconic Batman the Animated Series) and Batman logo, you’re pulled into the world of Gotham from the beginning. It’s gritty and can be darkly humorous, much like Burton, but you know it’s right. Batman feels appropriately like Batman and the film is a template from which all comic book films could learn a lesson about quality showmanship.

Batman is, quite frankly, one of the best comic book films ever made. GI fell in love with the movie 23 years ago as it played in theaters and made its way home to VCRs. It’s stood the test time for film — far better than its later sequels — and stands admirably next to any of the modern-day reboots.

HOW WE GRADE

We score the prop­er­ties in three cat­e­gories: Cast­ing (or voice act­ing in cases of ani­mated), plot and sim­i­lar­i­ties to its source mate­r­ial. Each cat­e­gory receives points out of the max­i­mum of 10 per cat­e­gory and 30 over­all. The per­cent­age is the final score.

Plot: 9.5/10

Like the comics?: 9.5/10

Casting: 9/10

Total: 28/30 or 9.3

Property review: Ultimate Avengers (animated)

Photos courtesy of the Marvel Database Wikia

ULTIMATE AVENGERS

Lionsgate/Marvel Animated Features, 2006

Ultimately awesome: Avengers cartoon passes test

We should start out by saying that we’re longtime comic fans. We’ve followed Marvel’s heroes for years and we’ve read issues of the Ultimates when it debuted. There’s one word that describes the Ultimates perfectly — cinematic. From the dramatic art to the epic storytelling, the comic had all the makings of a great film. We always hoped they’d make a live-action version of it, but it’s easy to see why Marvel would choose it as the first of their adult-oriented animation.

So, how did it translate from the printed page to the small screen? Not too shabby in our opinion.

The first thing any fan of Marvel will note about this animated movie is that the dark and violent edge has been taken off of Mark Millar’s story. This is understandable since they want to market this film to the widest audience possible, but it also removes some of the plot points that made it unique.

For example, Hank Pym doesn’t abuse his wife, Janet. They bicker, but there’s no domestic abuse anywhere. Captain America doesn’t beat the crap out of Hank and break his jaw. The Hulk is also violent, but he isn’t the embodiment of the male psyche run amok. (He doesn’t want to kill Freddie Prinze Jr. for being on a date with Betty.) That being said, though, elements of that edge are still present mainly in the action scenes. The Hulk breaks Giant Man’s knee. The Wasp flies into Hulk’s ear in a memorable moment. We also see Captain America fly a plane into a German base from the spectacular opening of the comic. So, though it has been watered down to a degree, there’s still a little bit of the edge left.

The film takes a few key scenes and the overall alien invasion plot and reshuffles it around to fit the needs of people with attention deficit disorder. For example, you have memorable scenes like the Hulk’s rampage (now at the end of the story), Captain America’s opening battle and Steve Rogers’ revival. However, you also have some changes like a new action scene involving a battle at a SHIELD base, a plane rescue scene by Iron Man and the alien invasion set in New York. There are also some changes to the characters. In the comic, Iron Man had a huge staff helping him maintain the suit while in this film Tony Stark works solo and anonymously. Thor is also a little different: He’s still an activist, but this time, the Norse god is saving the whales, which is ironic since Norway is one of two countries still hunting whales. You’d think Vikings would like whale burgers.

The animation in the film is a bit different. The character designs and backgrounds look pretty good, and the characters are highly detailed and full of color. There are times when the animation is spectacular, mainly during the fight scenes, however, the quality seems to waver between a Saturday morning animation and big-screen animation. It never quite achieves the level of excellence that most adult audiences have come to expect. They seem to be aiming for anime level of quality, but it never quite reaches it. The end result seems to be just what Marvel intends — animation that is just good enough to tell the story and cheap enough that they can crank it out quickly cash in, then move to the next film.

The voice actors of this movie did a great job. Each voice seemed to fit with each character. There is some heavy star power for this project. And you feel that experience in every line and scene. Fred Tatasciore, who voices Hulk on many projects is here. He makes you think that he has always been the Hulk with every roar, scream and referring to himself in third person. Justin Gross (Captain America) is Ryu Hayabusa in Ninja Gaiden series and the Dead or Alive series. Nolan North has made his name known all over the place, notably as Deadpool in “Hulk VS.” The voice acting works great and nothing seems dry or out of place. And if you think you can make a better Thor, you should watch some of the other people try out for those parts and see if you add up to these experienced actors.

The Ultimate Avengers is a great movie for superheroes fans of all ages. There is something for everyone here: There’s a love story, someone trying to find their place in this world, a guy who wants to protect the world from the people in it, and a story of friends from different world. This is what the kids of all ages look for in a superhero story.

HOW WE GRADE

We score the properties in three categories: Casting (or voice acting in cases of animated), plot and similarities to its source material. Each category receives points out of the maximum of 10 per category and 30 overall. The percentage is the final score.

Casting: 9/10

Plot: 9/10

Like the comics?: 8/10

Overall rating: 8.6