It’s been nearly a year since Michael Bay revealed the premise of his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot, igniting a firestorm of controversy among devotees of the franchise: “Kids are going to believe, one day, that these turtles do exist. … These Turtles are from an alien race, and they are going to be tough, edgy, funny, and completely lovable.”
Anyone familiar with the comic book or subsequent cartoons (virtually anybody under the age of 40 who grew up with television) knows the original Turtles are transformed from regular Earth reptiles into Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles after hanging out in a puddle of ooze. Those mutant turtles get rescued by a mutant rat named Splinter, and the whole gang runs around fighting the evil the Foot Clan and Shredder.
However, that’s not the story audiences will see when the reboot – directed by Jonathan Liebesman under Bay’s watchful eye – finally arrives in theaters in June 2014. It’s been suggested the Turtles’ personalities may be different. In an early script, typically brooding Raphael cracks a bunch of punny jokes (a role normally reserved for Michelangelo). Even the film’s name, simply Ninja Turtles, has been a point of contention. While Bay insists Paramount Pictures chose to drop “Teenage Mutant” from the title, the switch doesn’t help his case with hardcore fans.
Perhaps no one is more uncomfortable with these changes than TMNT co-creator Peter Laird, who has used his blog as an outlet to criticize everything from the recent casting of Megan Fox as April O’Neil to the changes to the Turtles’ origin in an early draft — at first giving it a lukewarm reception, and then stating that anything nice he said about Bay’s production was “sarcasm.” Meanwhile, Laird’s former collaborator Kevin Eastman, praised the reboot, saying, “it’s easily the best Turtle movie yet.”
Laird is hardly the first comic creator to balk at the way his ideas have been adapted. Alan Moore has famously objected to big-screen versions of his work, from 2001’s From Hell and 2003’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and 2005’s V for Vendetta to 2009’s Watchmen, so much so that he demanded that his name be excluded from the credits of the latter two, as well as 2005’s Constantine. He also doesn’t accept any money from the adaptations, opting instead to have payments sent to his collaborators.
It must sting to see creatures and people and mutants you invented splashed onto posters for films that manipulate those creations in ways you never intended, or never approved. But TMNT is too large a cultural juggernaut to be halted by one man (or even one man’s most loyal fans). There are toys to sell, Slurpees cups to brand, new generations of kids to lure to the franchise. Bay has done that already with Transformers, and there’s no doubt Paramount Pictures sees dollar signs everywhere those Heroes in a Half Shell go.
But for Laird, this doesn’t appear to just be a money game. (Although he has made a lot of money from the property, selling the Ninja Turtles to Paramount’s parent company Viacom in 2009 for $60 million.) He lovingly tends to his fans on his blog, answering obscure questions about characters and revealing behind-the-scenes information about the production of the animated TMNT series. He’s clearly still engaged with these characters, these plots, this little world that he concocted with Eastman.
But what’s a fan to do? Despite all the changes, there’s the chance that Bay’s film won’t be half bad. In fact, it could be pretty good. V for Vendetta and Watchmen were pretty good. They were by no means as shockingly awesome as the original books, but they didn’t really try to be. Bay doesn’t aim for faithful adaptations — he aims for big things to blow up really loud. If there has to be a TMNT for a “new” generation, isn’t it better to put our beloved Turtles to the back of our minds? Avoid those heart-wrenching moments of familiarity that might bring back the feel of your living room rug as you watched TV propped up on your elbows, sitting closer than Mom allowed. Let go of your crush on April, which led to a lifelong subconscious quest for a cute redheaded girlfriend. Let go of picking your “favorite,” guessing who’d win in a fight, screaming “kowabunga!” on the playground. Let go, relax, and allow Bay’s cinematic fireworks to blink out those weird queasy feelings one by one by one.