The TMNT franchise has been alive and (mostly) kicking for more than 25 years...and whether your first exposure was through the comic books, the 1987 animated series, the feature-length films or otherwise, Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird's iconic green ninjas have enjoyed a plethora of pop culture portrayals. Like many kids of the 1980s, it was tough for me to resist the franchise's charms but I wouldn't consider myself a lifelong fan: I pretty much quit cold turkey when the awful third live-action movie hit theaters. Since then, my only exposure to the franchise has been revisiting bits and pieces on DVD, as well as the flashy but underwhelming 2007 CGI film. So, having never seen an episode of the 2003 animated series, I approached Nickelodeon's new 2012 CGI TV show blindly and with an appropriate level of caution.
It wasn't warranted, because both Rise of the Turtles and Enter Shredder (the first two volumes of this 2012 series) pretty much knocked my socks off. This reboot cherry-picks the best elements from the original 1987 series and omits much of what annoyed me during later seasons, especially its shift towards an even younger target demographic. This time around, our four heroes feel more like rowdy, competitive brothers than ever before. The laughs are genuine, fights are more intense, continuity is followed and hey, even Splinter seems more like an authority figure than a kindly but frail sensei. Both previous volumes served up a combined 12 episodes of action, adventure and comedy; this latest release, Ultimate Showdown, picks up speed with the final 12 Season One episodes on two discs. It arrives just in time for TMNT's Season Two premiere in just a few short weeks and, frankly, couldn't have come soon enough. Simply put, it didn't take me longer than two or three viewing sessions to plow through 'em all.
TMNT's renewed sense of continuity and serialized storytelling is more evident in these 12 episodes, especially as the stakes are raised for the double-length finale "Showdown". Several new and familiar characters are (re)introduced along the way, including The Rat King, The Pulverizer (a rabid teenage fan of our heroes), Metalhead and more. April's role in everything is finally realized, several new threats are introduced and more elements of Hamato Yoshi's "origin story" are brought into the light. Refreshingly, there's very little dead weight during this batch of episodes, especially as this first season comes to a close. Only "The Pulverizer" (both the character's introduction and the episode itself) didn't impress me as much as the others, though his fate during "Returns" is actually pretty effective. For the most part, Ultimate Showdown includes a fantastic run of episodes that ends this debut season with authority.
Episodes Include: "I, Monster", "Alien Agenda", "The Pulverizer", "TCRI", "Cockroach Terminator", "Baxter's Gambit", "Enemy of My Enemy", "Karai's Vendetta", "The Pulverizer Returns", "Parasitica", "Operation: Break Out" and "Showdown (Parts One and Two)"
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in an anamorphic 1.78:1 aspect ratio (which the packaging actually gets right this time!), my only nagging complaint about TMNT: Ultimate Showdown is that the series still hasn't been made available on Blu-Ray. Other than that, this stylish production looks quite good from start to finish, boasting a moody color palette, solid black levels and only a bit of banding and aliasing along the way. Image and texture details are also very strong for a standard definition release, as little touches like scuffs and dents on the Turtles' shells and the metallic sheen of Shredder's helmet are nicely rendered. From top to bottom, fans will be happy...but again, pretty please for Season One in high definition!
DISCLAIMER: These compressed screen captures are strictly decorative and do not represent DVD's native 480p resolution.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is also terrific, though it's odd that an optional 2.0 downmix wasn't included. Either way, TMNT regularly features plenty of subtle (and not-so-subtle) atmospheric touches, from the echoing dampness of sewer life to the steely clang of weapons striking one another. Dialogue is typically anchored up front and crisply recorded, while the sporadic music cues are dynamic but not overpowering. No optional subtitles are included with this release, though Closed Caption support is at least offered.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
Seen above, the standard menu interface is basic but easy to navigate. Oddly enough, I didn't detect any chapter breaks this time around (not even for the beginning or end credits), although a handy "Play All" option is at least offered. This two-disc release arrives in a clear, hinged keepcase with a matching slipcover and Turtle-themed interior artwork. A loosely-related TMNT "Lego" Comic Book
is also tucked inside. I never understood the appeal of these Lego mash-ups, but it's here if you're interested.
Nothing we haven't seen before, but at least there's some
effort here. Disc One serves up four more "Mutation of a Scene"
storyboard comparisons with rough, unfinished animation (see above for titles), while Disc Two offers more chapters of the Digital Comic Book
introduced during the previous release
and a Trailer
for a TMNT
video game. All this stuff is mildly interesting, but I'm surprised we have yet to hear from the creative team and voice actors. Even for "kids' shows", such bonus features aren't unusual.
Unlike the original broadcast, Season One of the new TMNT animated series was wrapped up quickly on DVD...and although an immediate full-season set would've been preferable, it's nice to see twice the episodes here for just $5 more. Paramount's two-disc package is similar in quality to the first two volumes, serving up a fine A/V presentation but only a few mildly interesting bonus features. Though I'd imagine some might want to hold out for a complete season set (preferably in Blu-ray!), there's finally enough material here to award the new TMNT a passing grade. Firmly Recommended for new and established fans alike, especially if you want a quick primer before Season Two's upcoming premiere.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.