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‘Turtle Power’ explores history of pop culture phenomena


Aug. 13, 2014

G. Michael Dobbs
news@thereminder.com

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the pop culture phenomena that has deep roots in the Pioneer Valley. Paramount is releasing a new live action/CGI movie starring Megan Fox and a Canadian media company has made a documentary on the Turtles and their creators, Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, titled “Turtle Power: The Definitive History of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.”

The film’s director, Randall Lobb, is a high school English teacher and writer who lives in Goderich, Ontario, and described on his company’s website that a Turtle fan named Isaac Elliot-Fisher convinced him and his partner to pursue a documentary on the Turtles.

Lobb, speaking with Reminder Publications, confirmed, “I was not a Turtle fan.” He explained that he bought the first comic book in 1984 and noticed the influences of writer Frank Miller, artist Jack Kirby and Japanese aesthetics.

 “I didn’t get it,” he admitted.

During the course of making the documentary, which began shooting in December 2008, Lobb did become a fan.

“I became a fan of Kevin [Eastman] and Peter [Laird]. I became a fan of the story through them,” he explained.

In tackling a 30-year history, Lobb decided to take the approach of dealing with the “first stories:” the first comic book, the first toy line, the first animated series and the first live action film.

“I had to find a way to sort and categorize the benchmarks of this story,” he said.

What impressed him about the Turtles was “the global reach” of the story.

Lobb traveled around the United States to film the story and interviewed Eastman and Laird; company officials from Playmates, the toy company; cast and crew members from the first Turtle movie in 1990; animator Fred Wolf and the voice cast of the first animated series; the Turtles’ licensing agent; staff artists of Mirage Studios; and selected fans, among others.

At the end of shooting Lobb has 225 hours of footage – which he compared to the 175 hours of footage that Francis Ford Coppola had shot for his epic “Apocalypse Now” – and was faced with the task of editing it into a 98-minute movie.

He said he particularly has a lot of material on the making of the first feature film. He skipped discussing at any length the second or third feature films because in part of the time it would take as well as the “financially onerous” cost of rights to show clips from the films.

Lobb would also have liked to have discussed the 2007 animated feature as well as the new animated series on Nickelodeon.

“I wish I could have gone there,” he said.

What he did not want in his film was material that dealt with the estrangement of Eastman and Laird, professionally and personally. Lobb put little material in the film that addressed Laird’s decision to sell the property to Viacom – the parent company of Nickelodeon and Paramount – for a reported $60 million in 2009.

Laird was forthcoming in discussing the sale on his blog (http://peterlairdstmntblog.blogspot.com) but Lobb said he had told Mirage Studios CEO Gary Richardson, “I do not want to tell a story that’s negative.”

He noted that a search of the Internet would reveal various stories about the relationship between Eastman and Laird as well as some fan reactions to Laird’s decision to sell the Turtles.

“In any story there is some turmoil,” Lobb said.  “There were things I didn’t ask.”

His documentary is “the story I wanted to tell,” he added.

Lobb is considering another pop culture subject for his next documentary.

Review

If the word “definitive” weren’t in the title of this documentary, I probably would have walked away from viewing it with a different opinion. The problem is you can’t possible cover 30 years of a subject in 98 minutes and pretend the result is “definitive.”

Lobb’s film does cover the major bases of how two young artist managed to meet one another, come up with an idea, bring it to the marketplace and watch how it took off in directions they could never imagined. This is a great American story.

As far as Lobb was willing to go, he did an admirable job trying to cover 30 years of history. Turtle fans as well as students of pop culture will undoubtedly enjoy this film

What the film didn’t cover was how this success affected Eastman and Laird. The fact that Lobb consciously decided to avoid the subject actually isn’t fair to either Eastman or Laird.

The film benefits from access to a wide range of interview subjects as well as home video that was shot in the early days of the Mirage Studio. It would have been great for the DVD release to have had some of the material not in the film presented as extras, but inexplicably there are no extras at all.  

The film hints at the depth of the estrangement by having silent footage of a reunion between the two men that took place earlier this year in New Hampshire as the documentary’s conclusion. It showed them at a comic book show signing side-by-side as well as walking through the neighborhood where they came up with the first Turtle drawings.

It would have been illuminating to have interviewed them at that meeting, but that is another missed moment in a film that has too many missed moments.

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