Snapping at Turtles

March 23, 2007
A thought by James Berardinelli

I don't hate turtles. When I was a kid, I can remember wandering around my backyard or in the adjacent woods looking for them. I'd catch them, put them in a topless shoebox overnight (usually with a dish of water and a few lettuce leaves), then let them go the next day. (Back in the '70s, we didn't worry too much about the possible disease risks associated with such animals and I never caught anything.) But those were boxer turtles, not teenage mutant ninja turtles.

More than one person has e-mailed me asking for an explanation of my dislike for TMNT. (They are now known by the acronym because anything with an acronym is cooler than something without one.) Why do some people hate black jellybeans? Part of it is a matter of taste. The turtles (as well as the jellybeans) don't appeal to me. I have never found them to be cool or interesting or worth any time or effort on my part. There are those who swear by these four reptilian heroes; I swear at them. I'm a little too old to be in their target demographic - they became "big" when I was in college. I watched a few episodes of the cartoon TV series (but never read the comic book) and was unimpressed. My apathy changed to antipathy after sitting through three movies. What dreck (especially the third one)!

My feelings about the turtles are well enough established that the idea of my seeing and reviewing TMNT would have been pointless from the start. I felt an impulse of disgust when I heard about the project. While it's true that no review is objective and all reviews are impacted to one degree or another by the preconceptions of the reviewer, there's no reason for a movie critic to review something that he/she is predisposed to hate. In fact, it's fundamentally dishonest. Many times when I skip a movie, it's because my preconceptions for that film are strongly negative. It's not fair to the movie or to the readers for me to write about something when my mind is made up before seeing it.

Today, I elected to see The Hills Have Eyes II instead of TMNT. The horror sequel earned a single star, and one could argue that I was in a generous mood. It's possible (perhaps likely) that TMNT would have done better. Does that mean I made the wrong decision when selecting where to spend my $6? No. Even though The Hills Have Eyes II was not screened for critics (a dubious distinction), one look at its pedigree provided a false sense of security. Not only did Wes Craven produce the movie, but he co-wrote it. Craven's track record is spotty but there are few more respected names in horror. One takes that into consideration, and it enabled me to approach Hills II with a cautious sense of optimism. Ultimately, it wasn't well-placed but I didn't walk into the theater expecting a train wreck. There was no self fulfilling prophesy. What the review expresses is an honest reaction to what I believe to be a very bad motion picture.

As a critic, one of the most difficult things to do is to put aside preconceptions when walking into a theater. Often, the less one knows about a film, the better. But isolation in this age of media and publicity saturation is almost impossible, even for one who studiously avoids the pre-movie trailer barrage. Even at film festivals, virgin movie-going is difficult. There's buzz and hype for nearly everything, even a small independent film from the Philippines. So my approach is simple. In those few quiet seconds just before the film begins, I psych myself up for what I'm about to see. I put aside the negatives and think of what might go right. It helps that I genuinely love movies and that I want to be there. I don't go to anything when I don't think there's any hope. There's no point. Why subject myself to that?

That's why I will not be seeing TMNT, either now or on DVD. That's why I will not be reviewing it. And that's why there will be no coverage of any potential sequels on this site. Sorry, but these days the only use I can think of for turtles is as an ingredient in soup.