Nickelodeon's latest animated incarnation of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles---a franchise more than 30 years old at this point---continues its successful run with Earth's Last Stand, which begins to wind down the series' fourth season after Beyond the Known Universe got it off to a promising start. It picks up as our time-traveling heroes hunt down the last piece of a black hole generator to save their home planet---not to mention Master Splinter (Hoon Lee), who died at the hands of Shredder (Kevin Michael Richardson) just before they left---from a second destruction.
My only complaint about Earth's Last Stand (and it's partially because of the show's broadcast timing) is that the outer space drama depicted on the front cover is over and done with after the self-titled second episode, which aired all the way back in April. It feels like an awfully quick resolution in context, made slightly worse by the fact that "Earth's Last Stand" figuratively hits the resent button while suggesting that we haven't seen the last of characters like Fugitoid (David Tennant), Lord Dregg (Peter Stormare), and Triceraton leader Mozar (Michael Dorn). Is it a cop-out? Kind of, but that half-season diversion at least gave TMNT a break from the usual landscape and all-too-familiar villains while stretching its legs a bit in the character design department. Kind of like Retreat!, but better.
TMNT (the show, not the characters) took a summer break after "Earth's Last Stand", shifting directions dramatically---some would say "getting back to normal"---when it picked back up in August with "City at War". From here on, we're back on Earth full-time with the newly-"resurrected" Splinter back in action and April officially promoted to kunoichi. "City at War" and the last four episodes in this collection ("Broken Foot", "The Insecta Trifecta", "Mutant Gangland", and "Bat in the Belfry") are decent enough entries overall, with some ongoing personal drama---introduction of the beautiful witch-like Shinigami, the rebuilding of Shredder, Leonardo secretly breaking ranks---mixed in with what feel like traditional stand-alone elements, such as the reappearance of a few B-level villains (Hun and the Purple Dragons, Don Vizioso) and familiar faces from ancient TMNT lore like Wingnut and Screwloose.
As a whole, these five episodes can't help but feel like a half-step backwards after the ambitious Beyond the Known Universe, but they're by no means disappointing compared to most earlier collections. The fact that TMNT is still enjoyable as its fourth full-length season winds down is a minor miracle: the 1987 series had long since spiraled into full kiddie mode by that point, and the 2003 series barely made it past 100 episodes before reverting to "The Lost Episodes" and Fast Forward. For now, the dangling carrot of Shredder's new form and April's official promotion at least changes some of the dynamics, even if the show's overall novelty is starting to wear off a little. As with most earlier TMNT collections, Earth's Last Stand arrives as a one-disc package with great A/V and no extras.
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in an anamorphic 1.78:1 aspect ratio, my only (never-ending) complaint about TMNT 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 and solid black levels. 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 detailed alien character designs are nicely rendered. Aliasing and banding are definitely present (and honestly, they're almost expected on animated DVD releases), but the latter can be especially distracting on several occasions. From top to bottom, fans should still be happy...but again, I know I'm not alone in wishing for this show's long overdue bump to 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, just as with previous volumes of the show on DVD. TMNT regularly features plenty of subtle (and not-so-subtle) atmospheric touches, from the spooky echoes of underground life to alien battles and 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. Overall, it's an effective mix that helps to sell the series' frantic, exciting pace. No optional subtitles are included, though Closed Captions are offered.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
Seen above, the menu interface is colorful and easy to navigate with a static advertisement beforehand. Episodes are no longer divided into several chapters, which is definitely a little annoying. This one-disc release comes in a clear keepcase with double-sided artwork, a slipcover, and a Raphael Zipper Pull
. It's already on my lunch bag.
Earth's Last Stand is an entertaining continuation of a great series that, despite its strengths, still can't help but feel like a half-step down from Beyond the Known Universe. But there's plenty of good drama, exciting action, a handful of new and returning characters and, most importantly, a few planted seeds to help ensure that this season ends with a bang (although we probably won't get another DVD collection until late Spring---only three new episodes have aired since "Bat in the Belfry", with the remaining four beginning in February). For now, Paramount's DVD package is pretty much business as usual, with great A/V quality (still no Blu-ray option) and no extras. Recommended.
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.