Friday, June 14, 2013

Blast from the Past #649: February 8, 2005: PL notes on Imagi movie treatment first draft 12/24/04

Subj: movie stuff
Date: Thursday, February 8, 2005 9:29:56 PM
From: Peter Laird
To:   Kevin Munroe

PL notes on Imagi movie treatment first draft 12/24/04

Regarding this treatment, here's the big picture from my point of view: There are a number of things in this treatment that I think are very cool, exciting, and worthy of inclusion in the movie, but probably an equal or slightly greater number of things that I don't care for and wouldn't want to have in the movie. I will try to be as specific as appropriate as I go through, referencing specific language in the treatment, but will also make some general comments.

Here goes!

1.) Re: the following: 

"We’ll establish a TURTLES MARTIAL ARTS STYLE – a style that, while grounded in traditional martial arts, will take advantage of the physiology of the Turtles – claws, shells for offensive and defensive maneuvers, non-human movements and also giving each brother distinctive physical mannerisms and fighting styles."

Most of the above I have no problem with, and in fact think it's very cool, but the mention of "claws" gives me pause. While real turtles do in fact have claws, our mutant Turtles have never had them -- and I think we should stick with that, as including actual biological claws would be a significant design/conceptual shift that does not appeal to me.

2.) I think the different locations of Leo's "tests" as laid out in the beginning of the treatment (Act 1) are very cool, and offer some great opportunity for wonderful visuals, especially the South American setting, for at least two reasons: One, if we go with the general thrust of the plot as laid out in the treatment (and I'm not necessarily saying that we SHOULD, but IF...), it might make for a nice and effective foreshadowing of the rest of the story, and two, I think that the Turtles work really well in a jungle/deep woods setting -- a lot of neat visual stuff could be done with their green coloration blending in with the flora, their shell textures (rain dripping off them), and so on.
The one caveat I have about my comment here is that showing too many of Leo's "tests" might be too much -- and more than this South American test might turn out to be too many. For storytelling/pacing purposes, we might be "gilding the lily" by including too many visuals of Leo's different tests.

3.) The "secret identity" that Raphael has as "Nightwatcher" is interesting. I will reserve judgment as to whether or not I think it works, until I see more development of it. One BIG part of whether it will work, in my opinion, is what the actual visual (i.e. Raph's costume) would look like. I don't have a clear idea from what is in the treatment, but it would have to be very cool for it to work for me.
One thing to perhaps keep in mind is that in the new TV show, we have established Mike as the Turtle who wants to be a "superhero" or costumed avenger. (He became the "Turtle Titan" in several episodes.) His superhero thing was mostly played for laughs in the TV show, so it might not be appropriate to the angsty needs of this movie treatment, but if we think it's desirable to keep some continuity between TV and movie, it's worth keeping in mind.
Also, while in this treatment Mike is "moonlighting" as a Barney-type "Mr. Turtle" kids' party character, in one of the previous live action movie scripts we worked on we had Raphael doing something similar (in fact, I think that's where this idea originated). While it's not inappropriate to use Mike in this way, I always liked the idea of Raph doing it, as it seemed so out of character for him -- it would take all of his (limited) patience to deal with the human rugrats at these parties, which could lead to some funny bits when he loses it. It would also possibly work for the story being told if Raph needs some extra reason to get so fed up with the life he's leading that he needs some kind of big change.

4.) Most of the problems I have with this treatment are centered on the character of Joe (the museum guy), the kid (Bella) and the nature/backstory of the ancient warrior statues, and many of the following comments will deal with these.

5.) Re: the following:

"The Four Warriors have HIGH TECH ROBOTIC EXO-SKELETONS surrounding their hulking bodies."

This confused me -- I thought these were ANCIENT warriors. Where did these "HIGH TECH ROBOTIC EXO-SKELETONS" come from? Not that it wouldn't look neat, but it doesn't seem to make a whole lot of sense.

6.) Re: the following:

"Splinter returns to the room, with an ancient scroll. Tells the BACKSTORY OF THE VILLAIN – we’ll show this in a highly stylized Madhouse anime-style, or perhaps more graphic 3D style. Big epic battle scenes."

It seems odd to me that Splinter would have an "ancient scroll" which dealt with an obscure aspect of South American history. Not IMPOSSIBLE, certainly, but unlikely. Unless...

... years ago, my brother Don and I had an idea we were going to collaborate on (which we unfortunately never did) which was based on the following "what if?" scenario: What if, sometime during the period when the Aztecs ruled Mesoamerica, a traveler (in our idea, a samurai) had found his way across the Pacific Ocean in some manner of craft (perhaps deliberately exploring, perhaps accidentally blown there via some great storm), and washed up on a beach in what is now Mexico... bringing with him the secret of Japanese steel, something that, if spread throughout the Aztec Empire, would almost certainly have turned history on its head -- one of the reasons Cortez was able to overpower a vastly numerically superior Aztec army was that the Spaniards had steel armor and blades, whereas the Aztecs did not (their most deadly hand weapons were edged with razor-sharp obsidian (volcanic glass) -- good against flesh, but not so good against steel). If the Aztecs had had weapons and armor of steel, they may have been able to resist Cortez's aggression, and thus the whole history of that part of the world would have been changed.

I'm not exactly sure how this could be worked into this story, but it might be fun to throw it into the mix, especially as it keeps a Japanese element in this "mysterious history" bit (which nicely dovetails with the Turtles' and Splinter's Japanese-related origin stories) and makes it more plausible that Splinter might have a scroll which dealt with this secret, almost legendary, history. It would also offer some intriguing visual possibilities -- imagine Aztec warriors outfitted with a combination of samurai weapons and armor blended with Aztec style. Perhaps it is not just one samurai who arrives in Mesoamerica, but a small army of them -- maybe a feudal warlord fleeing a Shogun's wrath. Or he could have been tasked BY a Shogun to travel across the Pacific to find new lands to conquer. And maybe it is Aztec blood-magic (fueled by human sacrifice?) that defeats this army of samurai and turns them into cursed zombie warriors or whatever.

7.) Re: the following:

"Suddenly a LITTLE GIRL – BELLA, 10 – comes to visit her Grandfather. (Joe) She’s spunky and cute as a button. Even Raph can’t help but slightly grin at her personality. Joe loves her dearly. As Joe ushers her away from the statues, Raph slips off into the night.
Nightwatcher and Joe will eventually form a relationship..."

As it stands right now, the character of the cute little kid Bella seems shoehorned in for no particular reason. Maybe with further development it will make sense to have her in the story, but right now it does nothing for me... as does the idea that Raph and "Joe" develop  a relationship. 

8.) Re: the following:

"Later that night, the Warriors return to the Museum. Dark and cool. The LEADER WARRIOR (more ornately decorated) walks to the center of the room. They all stand, heads bowed. Soon the FLOOR LOWERS BELOW THEM – shaped like part of an ancient symbol on the marble floor. Takes them to an UNDERGROUND LAIR. The floor lowers a few stories into the NATURAL CATACOMBS OF UNDERGROUND NYC… only here they are like a modern-day, hi-tech James Bond villain headquarters."

This is about where this premise started to go wrong, at least for me. I'm not digging the whole "underground James Bond-type lair" bit -- it really stretches credulity.

9.) Re: the following:

Joe is pleased as he turns to admire the diamond. We start to think that, as Splinter feared, he’s the villain and trying to resurrect the army. But then we’ll realize that Joe is the latest descendant of Miguel Valdez! But he has been gathering these elements so that he can free the trapped souls of Valdez’s army – a curse bestowed upon every generation of Valdez since Miguel centuries ago. The ceremony is in repentance for his family’s past wrongs – and now it is a chance to make good on old sins. He’s actually a good guy with good intentions! "

I like a good "twist" as much as the next guy, but I think we need to be very careful with our bad guys. Let's not get too tricky/confusing with the motivations. I think we really need to spend some serious time working out exactly WHO is evil and WHAT the reasons are for these mysterious warriors to be coming to "life" in the present. RIght now, it all seems kind of murky and confused to me. Also, we should be careful about making our main villains motivations actually seem like a GOOD thing (i.e. lifting a curse), as that makes them seem less appropriate as targets for the Turtles. And we should also keep in mind that two HUGE movies of recent vintage ("Pirates of the Caribbean" and "Return of the King") BOTH had "cursed armies seeking redemption through lifting of the curse" plot elements. If we go with a curse idea, I'd like to have it be something that would result in the UNLEASHING of evil on the world.

There's also a problem with the nature of Joe's "curse" as one of "every generation of Valdez since Miguel centuries ago". What seems to be happening here is that "every generation of Valdez since Miguel centuries ago" is "cursed" to find some artifacts. That doesn't seem like much of a curse -- in fact, it just seems like people doing good deeds trying to right a past wrong -- unless there's more to it than is said here. Are the members of "every generation of Valdez since Miguel centuries ago" plagued with hideous nightmares, visited by plagues of bodily injuries (boils, mysterious stigmata-like cuts, etc.), tormented by spectral voices, etc.? As it stands now, whatever "curse" there is seems pretty mild.

10.) Re: the following:

"Raph returns to the museum as Nightwatcher to investigate the Warrior Statues. They’re still frozen in the center of the Tribal Wing – without their cyber-accents. He approaches the statues… tense… scary and still. He doesn’t see the CREEPY HAND lift up behind his shoulder as – WHAM - Nightwatcher comes face to face with the old man Joe for the first time.  Fake scare. Joe introduces himself to The Nightwatcher. Raph questions him about the statues. We see their friendship start to grow. Joe is a really nice guy. He purposely fills Raph’s head with more stories of Warriors and Heroes – this will be a growing beat, as Raph will be swayed closer and closer to solo-heroism."

I'm not loving this whole Raph/Joe bit, as it just doesn't FEEL right to me. If there is going to be a relationship between these two characters, I think there needs to be more of a good reason for it. Right now I don't see it.

11.) Re: the following:

"The high tech exo-skeletons are reattached to the Warriors once they are lowered. Joe removes his “remote” and ACTIVATES THE FOUR WARRIORS. Through the machinery, they are given life once again. He tells them it is time for the second piece to be collected."

This paragraph sort of sums up my major problems with the stone warriors concept -- it just doesn't make much sense. Where does Joe get these "high tech exo-skeletons"? Why do they need to be put on these warriors to activate them, to give them "life once again"? What possible connection could ancient curses have to high-tech? Again, while visually intriguing, it seems like a bunch of disparate elements mushed together for no particular reason.

12.) Re: the following:

"Raph sees escape at a parking garage. But as they circle up the structure, the Warrior EXPLODES UP through each level! Mikey screams like a little girl. They end on the top floor… and Raph decides to take the chase to the ROOFTOPS OF NEW YORK CITY! "

Two major problems here. FIrst is the SUPER Warrior -- WAY too powerful! Nice visual, but essentially the story ends here if we have adversaries with this level of strength who could turn the Turtles into green pulp without much effort.
Second -- and I know we had a short bit in our CGI short that had Raph jumping a dirt bike from one building to another -- I have a significant problem with the idea of a lengthy chase across "the ROOFTOPS OF NEW YORK CITY" with Raph and Mike jumping multiple times from one roof to another. We cheated a bit with that scene in our CGI short, and doing it multiple times would be REALLY unrealistic. 

13.) Re: the following:

"Joe quickly grabs a remote, and DE-ACTIVATES the Warriors. "

Any villains which can be deactivated with a remote control are not terribly threatening. And I still don't get how ancient warriors cursed by Aztecs can be turned off with a remote control.

14.) Re: the following:

"Bella is just about to leave the museum. She sees Nightwatcher. Raph is caught –can’t move. Bella treats him like he isn’t a freak. Hits Raph hard – he’s speechless. Joe smiles. This is the reason he’s doing this. He looks at Raph, knowing that he is the final piece. "

Bella stills seems like "the cute kid" who is shoehorned into the plot so that we can have a cute kid. And I don't understand what is meant by that last line.

15.) Re: the following:

"Later that night, Leo is practicing on a rooftop near the sewer entrance. He sees a SILHOUETTE on the horizon, leaping toward him. Leo hides as suddenly NIGHTWATCHER APPEARS! Leo tries to approach him, wanting to know if Nightwatcher knows anything about the robberies, half-expecting him to be behind them. Nightwatcher (Raph) freezes… then bolts! Leo immediately gives chase.
Pulse-pounding chase through the streets, tops of moving cars, etc. Thick Frank Miller-type pouring rain. The two fight, brother vs. brother. Leo turns the tables and, with a blade at Nightwatcher’s throat, takes off his mask revealing RAPH!
Raph gets defensive. Leo gets mad at his brother’s petulance. They fight on the roof top. Rain pours harder. They arrive at a point with a katana at Raph’s throat and two sais at Leo’s. They calm down."

There are some neat visuals in these scenes, but not a whole lot of logic. I think Leo would know right away, just through body shape and movements, that "Nightwatcher" is Raph. And their fight is just goofy and poorly motivated.

16.) Re: the following:

"The boys are getting ready to leave for the Warehouse. Leo doesn’t say anything about Raph’s secret."

This doesn't make sense -- why are ALL of them getting ready to leave for the warehouse if they don't all know about Raph's secret? Are Mike and Don just going along, acting on blind faith that it's a good idea?

17.) Re: the following:

"Mikey and Don find the painting in a CRATE. Pry it open and see it’s a majestic painting of a rugged soldier, circa 1730 or so. Dark and moody. Leo and Raph show up as the four discover IT’S A TRAP!"

WHY is it a trap? If (as it turns out in another few paragraphs) Raph, himself, is actually the "Heart of the Warrior", and Joe needs him to complete the ritual, why go through all this nonsense? Why didn't Joe just have the Warriors grab Raph the last time he was in the museum?

18.) Re: the following:

Lights click on as Raph realizes he’s in a makeshift gladiator arena, constructed in a sealed off level of the warehouse. A door begins to OPEN. He flips to his feet and poses for battle… but it’s not the Warriors he’s fighting…
A HORRIBLE ANCIENT CREATURE emerges from the wall! It’s adorned with HIGH TECH EXOSKELETON – looks like a cybernetic Giger-designed rhinoceros. Its power is a CAMOUFLAGE PROGRAM, allowing it to hide until the proper moment to viciously attack Raph. The Warriors retreat to the darkness as the battle begins.  It’s a big destructive battle, but Raph emerges victorious using his ninja smarts… barely hanging onto consciousness.
The Four Warriors arrive in the room! Raph is too beaten to put up a fight. It looks bad for him as JOE WALKS INTO THE ROOM. He’s so happy that Raphael passed this final test. Joe tells him that he’s about to be part of something huge. Something that will allow Joe’s granddaughter to live a life of peace.
Then it hits Raph – “…I’m… I’m the Heart of the Warrior.”  Joe smiles.  He tells Raph what defines the Heart of the Warrior – he’s basically a HERO, but with such FOCUS on his end goal, that he loses sight of the world between his state and his goal. It’s a fault, “but an admirable one.”
It hits Raph that that’s what he’s become. A Warrior when he set out to be a HERO.
Raph asks what will happen to him. The Warriors drag him away as it becomes very clear that Joe had no clue that Raph was to be SACRIFICED! "

Interesting, cool visual -- but again, makes not a whole lot of sense. A "HORRIBLE ANCIENT CREATURE... adorned with HIGH TECH EXOSKELETON – looks like a cybernetic Giger-designed rhinoceros"... WTF?! Where are all these high tech accouterments coming from? This "test" seems like a pretty flimsy excuse to have another fight scene.
There's some kind of neat idea in the concept of someone's inner strength of character (in this case Raph's) being revealed as a "Macguffin" like "the heart of the warrior", but it's not really done too well here.

19.) Re: the following:

"They’re confident they’ve stopped the theft of the Heart of the Warrior. Then Don discovers something – multiple layers of the painting. Either scraping off a layer or by using some special camera, he can see paintings of other warriors in the past – each one traveling further and further back in history. Like they were chronicling something…
Splinter and Leo realize at the same time… “…Raph is the Heart of the Warrior”. Everyone’s faces fall… bad things are about to happen. They just delivered the final piece."

I'm totally confused by this. How does the fact that Don uses some technique to see multiple hidden layers in this painting have ANYTHING to do with a realization by Splinter and Leo that "Raph is the Heart of the Warrior”? I mean, for one thing, they don't even know where Raph is! Mere moments ago, Leo was theorizing that Raph must have "just slipped away selfishly". There seems to me to be NO connection whatsoever between what is shown in the painting(s) and what is happening with Raph (whatever that is, and at this point, none of them know!).

20.) Re: the following:

"They know what they must do… The boys gather a full arsenal of weapons - different than the ones they normally use as well – a mixture of old-fashioned ones with newer inventions from Donnie."

Again, logic problems. HOW do they "know what they must do"? And why does that involve betting together a bunch of different weapons? (Not that I am opposed to the idea of the Turtles using different weapons -- in fact, I'm in favor of it -- but it should be for a good reason. As far as I can tell right now, all they know is that Raph is missing. How does that translate into equipping themselves with all kinds of different weapons?

21.) Re: the following:

"Big ceremonial scene as we see the Four Warriors have transformed the main area of the Met to an Ancient Tribal Palace… only powered by high tech equipment in the absence of magic. A large CEREMONIAL DOORWAY ARCH is in the middle of the room. Its core is an ancient stone sculpture, but it is supported and hardwired by millennium-era technology. Again, bridging that gap between mysticism and modern day."

I'm still totally in the dark about this "high tech" bit and why these ancient warriors are involved with it. I know it would look cool, but it just doesn't make any sense to me.

22.) Re: the following:

The Turtles get out just in time to see the Museum crumble to the ground.
The Four Warriors emerge as well. Throw their arms up, as if to command an army. Then… behind them… a HOLE IN THE GROUND… as THOUSANDS OF STONE SOLDIERS POUR OUT OF THE HOLE! They scurry like the scarabs from The Mummy along the street, sides of buildings, everywhere. Ready for attack! Chaos.
After a tense standoff, the three Turtles and Splinter take on the army. We finally see a large scale battle between the Turtles and a HORDE of creatures, attacking all at once! "

Several things here. I think it's perhaps a BIT too much to have the museum "crumble to the ground" -- for one thing, I don't see WHY it would. 
I think the image of the hordes of soldiers emerging like the scarab beetles in "The Mummy" is cool (obviously one of the things that can be done so well in CG), and in fact it put me in mind of a great scene from an old Jack Kirby comic -- I think it was "New Gods" -- wherein the evil Mantis leads hordes of insect-like humanoids who crawl up the sides of buildings.
I think this kind of thing -- huge army against five heroes -- only works if we have a logical and compelling way for the heroes to defeat the army. We should be very careful not to make this seem silly.

23.) Re: the following:

"We discover that Joe is being kept alive by his own EXO-SKELETON, hidden under his clothes. He’s spent the past decades trying to stay alive and end this curse for the sake of Bella. He ends up taking off his own exo-skeleton support system and placing it on Raphael – bringing him back to life!
In his dying breath, Joe clutches a photo of Bella. He tells Raph to “finish this”… not just for her, but for the world. Raph knows what he must do. He’s not a warrior… HE’S A HERO.
Raph steps out in the streets filled with mayhem. He looks like half-Turtle, half-Terminator."

I fail to see how an exo-skeleton can bring Raph back to life. I mean, just a few paragraphs ago, he was killed. Dead. This is starting to get really goofy. And while the image of a Turtle Terminator is somewhat intriguing, in this context it makes not a whole lot of sense.

24.) Re: the following:

"During the battle, Mikey keeps on getting calls from their Temp Agent Mitzy who is convinced they’re moonlighting for someone else. “I can hear your party in the background! Are you working for Jeannie Templeton?! Why that conniving little…”"

I have to say that this bit had me reaching for my barf bag.

25.) Re: the following:

"The Leader Warrior is furious. He and his three partners MELD TOGETHER to form a Mighty Joe Young-sized creature. They square off against Raphael. Leo tries to help Raph, but then stops himself. Raph says he can handle this. So for the first time, Leo steps back… just as a good leader should every now and again.
…as Raphael proceeds to rip this creature apart limb from limb. In a final blow, the Warrior Creature is blasted into a thousand pieces, red light shooting out of it!

ON STREETS – One by one, the thousands of soldiers FREEZE WHERE THEY ARE. All is quiet. Until…
Slowly at first, a swirling begins in the sky. Then a BRIGHT LIGHT shines down upon the darkened city. Then… one by one… we see the most beautiful sight of all… the souls of thousands of soldiers leaving their stone prisons and ascending into the afterlife with their loved ones. In the spirit form, we see the Soldiers as the men they once were. The Curse of Valdez finally broken."

One of the things I really dislike in modern movies is the introduction of some special powers or abilities (for either hero or villain) that are not even hinted at throughout the movie, coming out of left field at some late point in the story just to solve some plot point or set up some new action sequence. This transformation of the Warriors is one such thing. 
And although it's sweet -- and I'm a sucker for sentimentality as much as the next guy -- the whole "redemption of the army through the destruction of the Warriors" bit seems like yet another "deus ex machina" solution to the central problem of the plot, coming out of nowhere, with no set up.
And I also find it hard to believe that, even with an exoskeleton (even one of those "it wasn't made for you, probably doesn't fit, and you don't know how to use it -- but somehow you can put it on BY YOURSELF within minutes and have it transform you into a Turtle Terminator"-type exoskeletons), Raph can tear this Mighty Joe Young-sized multi-Warrior thing limb from limb.

26.) Re: the following:

"And finally, Raph’s body is lifted into the air. Blue swirls around him. His exo-skeleton is ripped off! The spirits of thousands of warriors shoot through him as he is GIVEN LIFE AGAIN."

This is wicked cheesy. And let me see if I get this right -- all this time Raph was fighting inside his new exoskeleton, he was still DEAD???!!!

27.) Re: the following:

"They run over and see a NEWSCAST. The reporter talks of the strange phenomena that occurred today and the damage to part of downtown. She continues by showing a BLURRED SECURITY CAM PHOTOGRAPH of FOUR SILHOUETTES leaping through the air. Weapons clearly outlined. It’s THE TURTLES. Witnesses talk about strangers helping during the strange ordeal."

Given that this final battle took place OUTSIDE in the center of New York City, I think there would have been a heck of a lot more than one blurred security camera photo of the Turtles. This is a problem, and we should try to keep the Turtles from being exposed in this way... UNLESS that exposure is an important part of the plot.


Okay, now that I've read this thing through a couple more times, I have to say that my initial feelings about it have not changed. There are some interesting concepts, and in general the characters of the Turtles and Splinter are pretty much right on, but the story as a whole is not one I care for. I think there are way too many logic and plot holes. I like the idea of incorporating ideas from Mesoamerican culture/history, as that is a rich vein which has not even begun to be tapped in any significant way in the movies... but the way it is done here is lacking.
I also confess to a lot of ambivalence about Raph as "Nightwatcher". There is something interesting there, but also something really cheesy.

-- Pete


  1. Is it just me or does Bella remind you of Angel or the pizza guy from the secret of the ooze. Also in that last one do i sense the beginning of Turtles Forever?

    1. "b>Melanie, there are definitely some similarities there, though I am not sure they were intentional. -- PL

  2. Is this what you'd execute (to the letter) if the rights were yours?

    1. I'm not sure I understand your question. -- PL

  3. Hello, Peter.
    Was this film made to be a continuation of the other live action films or this films is set on his own universe?
    At the end Kevin said it can be both canon and non/canon, but th emedi shows it as part of the other live action films.
    Who has the power to say if this film is canon or non canon regarding the other films? You and kevin as the creators of the ninja turtles? Kevin Munroe, the writer/director? Viacom as the new owners of the franchise?