They’ve TAINTed the Turtles!!! Artistic License vs. Fandom

Not much time for posting right now, what with The Melville Boys going into the theatre next week (people in Toronto, buy your tickets now!), but had to weigh in on the whole “teenage alien ninja turtles” fan-rage thing that’s going on right now with a few of my thoughts on the subject.

To begin with, these (see above) are the turtles I grew up with.  “Secret of the Ooze” was one of my favourite childhood movies, and it covers the whole origin story pretty thoroughly.  Industrial accident, dangerous mutagenic properties, kung-fu rat, sexy news girl, and a little bit of the old early-90s style environmentalism that touched so many children’s shows and movies of my youth.  So you can bet that when I heard that Michael Bay was planning to turn the turtles into alien invaders (so, the initials are TAINT now?  Like how you’ve TAINTed my childhood joy with your re-writes?) I was first skeptical (they can’t be doing that!), and then furious (oh dear gods they’re actually doing that?)

Now, I try to be open-minded when it comes to updating the classics.  There are some things that require changes in order to transfer to a different medium (ie, turning “The Hunger Games” into a movie required cutting scenes and characters from the book, just for the sake of time and clarity, and changing the narrative from first-person to third-person, for the sake of camera angles).  There are some things that become dated and need to be done away with in a re-working (ie, various versions of Star Trek have updated the technology in different ways to make it look more “real” to a more tech-savvy audience).  And there are times when you just want to change the style in some way to tell the story differently (ie, the new Batman movies have huge stylistic changes — arguably because what had been done before had, well, already been done).  But for any change to be accepted by an already-existing fanbase?  It has to be justifiable.  Yes, you’ll always get those rabid fans for whom Kirk is the only captain, and he can only be played by Shatner.  Closed-minded?  Maybe, but those people are the ones who’ve already found what they love about the series, and they don’t need anything new.  They’re happy to re-watch the same 79 episodes over and over again, ad nauseum, and more power to them for it.

Okay.  I get bored of him after a while, but then, Picard was always my captain.

But I digress.


For most fans, the new is not automatically anathema, and this is where many writers, directors, producers, etc. seem to get themselves confused.  Because while the media loves to present the conflict as a bunch of stuck-in-their-rut fanboys against a bunch of change-for-change’s-sake, canon-means-nothing creators …. well, we all know how the media likes to polarize a situation.  The reality is much more shaded and complex, with both sides having their definite merits (as well as their definite drawbacks).

Firstly, without changes and series’ being re-booted periodically, things would lose their relevance quickly (how many of us would still identify so strongly with a Batman born in the 1920s?  Or a WWII-era Captain America?)  Sometimes things need to be changed, as people’s sensibilities do:  for example, with the Cold War over, the remake of “The Manchurian Candidate” had to be significantly different from the original in order for a modern audience to find it believable (and to cut out a lot of the racism present in the original, which by 2004 was seen as unacceptable).

Secondly, reboots and re-imaginings of things give us a lot more material — a lot more stories — to enjoy.  Even if the original of something was really good and has remained enjoyable and relevant, somebody else can often take that source material and do something just as enjoyable with it (Batman’s a great example here:  I have trouble actually choosing a “favourite version” of The Batman because there are so many good ones out there).

click for the "full" version of this, which is pretty awesome


At the same time, though, changes need to be made with respect towards what has been done before.  If you’re taking a story beloved by millions, that has been worked on by many artists before you?  You can’t just up and change things however you may please, because even if you own the copyright, the story does not belong to you.

That’s one of the beautiful things about art, you see.  The process of creating a thing, of taking an idea and bringing it to life?  That’s only half of the artistic equation.  The other half is the audience.  How a piece is viewed and received has a deep effect on both the meaning and the message of that work.  This relationship between art and viewer is most obvious in my realm, theatre, where the audience is actively present in the room and their responses to what is happening on the stage will change the show in subtle (or sometimes not-so-subtle) ways.

Now, obviously there are times when an artist has to simply disregard an initially negative fan-reaction in order to create their personal vision.  In order to create something new and interesting, sometimes you do have to break canon.  But it’s not a decision to be made lightly.  Fans, even the less-than-rabid ones, do not lightly let go of their attachment to something which they have lived and loved — and this is not a bad thing.  Human empathy is one of the reasons we have been so successful as a species, and it is why art can be so powerful:  when we see something truly well-crafted, we don’t just watch it, we actively participate in it.  Artists who accuse fans of being “too entitled” are disregarding the very thing which can make their work a resounding success.

So, what does this mean for the turtles?  Unfortunately, Michael Bay’s track record (ugh, Transformers, don’t even get me started on that one) is not good with re-booting classic, beloved series’.  I doubt that he has the necessary respect for the source material that is required in order to make such a drastic change be a successful one, and he’s certainly done nothing in the days since this shitstorm hit the Internet to reassure.  Had he immediately come out with a great reason forwhy he was changing the canon?  My interest might have been piqued.  As it is, I don’t know if I’ll even bother to watch this in theatres — it might be one of those things that I only watch later, at home, out of morbid curiosity.

But then, perhaps it will surprise me, and I won’t mind the TAINTed turtles so much after all.  Not holding my breath or anything, though.


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