Thunderbirds, Star Trek, and Showing Not Telling

Improved graphics give us a reason to remake, but retelling the exact same story with improved graphics is the work of obsessively nostalgic fan-projects instead of new releases. Altering something fundamental allows old and new fans to enjoy wondering what will happen next.

Thunderbirds pulled that off as an incidental detail in the very first action scene. A child’s father plummets toward his death, and Virgil decares “No-one is losing their father today”, and you just know. It’s the perfect change for the series. Jeff Tracy was the commander in the original series, the powerful paterfamilias, the wise old authority figure. Removing him is the perfect plot change. The Tracys have learned his ideals but can struggle with the experience, and you’ve get a powerful plot hook to take them places trying to discover the truth of what happened.

"No time for boring exposition, too busy PUTTING THUNDERBIRD 2 INTO A SUPER-TERMINAL DIVE AND LEAPING OUT TO RESCUE SOMEONE BEFORE WE EVEN RUN THE OPENING CREDITS"

“No time for boring exposition, too busy PUTTING THUNDERBIRD 2 INTO A SUPER-TERMINAL DIVE AND LEAPING OUT TO RESCUE SOMEONE BEFORE WE EVEN RUN THE OPENING CREDITS”

Compare this to Star Trek where Spock, allegedly the smartest character in the text, takes an entire scene to carefully explain that blowing up an entire planet might have changed the timeline. Twice, because his older self did it as well. They had two different versions of the same character carefully explaining that changing the timeline might make things different instead of pointing at each other and shouting “Duh!” That scene spoon-feeding us the details took longer than spoon-feeding us the entire rubbled remains of Vulcan. We didn’t think things were going to go as before, with Kirk and Vulcan eventually Pon Farring it up in spacesuits, stomping around the cloud of asteroids which used to be a planet unable to hear the fight music because of the total vacuum.

"Also, hinging our entire plot on you just happening to wander into the exact right cave on a random world is not logical."

“Also, hinging our entire plot on you just happening to wander into the exact right cave on a random world is not logical.”

I could adore the new Thunderbirds and hate the new Star Trek for twenty more pages. So I picked out the best two and wrote them up:

The most glorious nerdiness ever made.

Speeding in the most glorious nerdiness ever made.

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The Greatest Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Movie Ever Made

People are bracing themselves for the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. The problem with watching something you loved is a kid is that you remember it awesomely kicking ass, but it ends up looking tragically silly. But turning tragic things into ass-kickers is the Turtles’ entire origin: they were pets who got lost in the sewer and exposed to toxic waste. That should have been Bambi’s mother for herpetologists. Instead it spawned an era of more cross-species love than the internet.

Well, okay, the real problem is that Michael Bay has been literally taking beloved childhood characters and making them shoot each other through the head, but fans of Turtle Power should know that their perfect movie has already been made. In 2009 Turtles Forever incarnated both the kickass and the dumbass parts of beloved cartoons by bashing the action-packed 2003 incarnation against the 1987 doe-eyed pizzavores. And it’s perfect. Because the only people qualified to truly mock ninja turtles are more ninja turtles. It doesn’t matter how stupid you think kid’s cartoons are: you don’t spend your days twirling nunchuks and eating pizza with your buddies, so you genuinely aren’t as cool.

Forever is exactly what every outraged superfan claims to want: a big-budget version which doesn’t change anything about the original. They take more turtle-piss than a cloaca, but it’s all done with love (which turtles also do through the cloaca). They’re not a quick reference but full six million dollar turtles: all the soul of the original rebuilt with far better technology. They’re actually animated now, regularly using more than one attack per fight, and that’s a fight they have immediately instead of killing time for twenty minutes until the of the episode. All eight turtles get the meet-and-greet-and-exposit over with in the first ten minutes, freeing the rest of the film for ever-increasing action.

(Source: MIrage Studios)

We ALL look at our younger selves this way (Source: Mirage Studios)

Action which never, ever stops taking the piss. Enemies demand to know who the turtles are talking to when they make wisecracks to the camera. The turtles sneaking out for pizza triggers a full SWAT response. The army actually notices when a technodrome starts rolling down mainstreet. The 80s turtles make fools of themselves of in the modern world, then the zeroes are exposed to the insanity of animated 80s, where the first thing they do on arrival is rescue the kidnapped April O’Neill. They don’t receive a message, or see a broadcast: as soon as turtles exist in the 80s they know they have to go rescue April O’Neill.

The perfect interaction is how modern Michelangelo loves them, because the 80s turtles were basically all Michelangelos. He’s you, the viewer: the more mature, more skilled grown-up who still loves hanging out with such childish heroes. You’re represented by someone who kicks ass with ninja weapons and loves laughing at the original cartoon – you couldn’t be more gloriously inserted into the fantasy if you were watching it on a skateboard.

If the turtles are cool, the villains are cooler. Because villains are always cooler. And 80s Shredder and Krang as a bickering married couple are worth the whole movie by themselves. “I’m in the middle of something here Krang!” “Oh quit nagging.”

"This is a really good movie!" (Source: Mirage Studios)

“This is a really good movie!” (Source: Mirage Studios)

The movie rolls out everything you ever wanted to see in the original, without making you wait through a two-parter to give the artists time to draw the new panels. The Technodrome, the Partywagon, even that insane blimp-glider combination that the Turtles clearly constructed to prove there were even slower locomotion options than “being a Turtle”. The plot is a paean to everything that is Turtle. Which, for a short time in the 80s, was almost everything that existed. The modern Shredder — equipped with distinctly un-80s levels of competence — swears to strike at the multiversal source of all Turtle, and his meta-attack erases the world down through inking and blue pencils to the blank page of comic non-existence.

WARNING: This means a movie about animated pets spin-kicking people is more self-aware than most people (Source: Mirage Studios)

WARNING: This means a movie about animated pets spin-kicking people is more self-aware than most people (Source: Mirage Studios)

This is where the turtles goes above and beyond. For years the turtles have had a defense against any accusations of how remakes suck, because spending years developing defenses against attacks is what martial artists do. You can’t mock TMNT for being a remake, because every Turtles series ever has been a remake or a pisstake. The movie climaxes in the world of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the black-and-white ultranoir parody of Frank Miller’s grittiest excesses.

(Source: Mirage Studios)

Our older serves will ALL look at us this way (Source: Mirage Studios)

Every mockery the modern Turtles laid against the idiotic 80s is leveled at them in turn. They’re weak, they’re sellouts, they have weird gimmicks, and it’s wonderful. Leonardo pounds the hell out of everyone while grinding out a gravelly voice-over they can hear as he hits them. The final fight is teamwork across all three generations, where the ridiculous gimmicks of the 80s are just as important as the intimidating ass-kickers, in a fight so fun the animators include a moment of giant Kaiju battle clearly and only because they could.

This movie is made with pure love. If you’re a lifelong fan worried that the new movie will disappoint you, you’re right to be worried, because it’s not made for you. It’s made for money, executives, and a flipchart in an office somewhere which said reboots were hot. Turtles Forever was made for true fans, by true fans, and is the greatest possible treat for Turtle Power.


More 80s cartoon awesomeness with