The novelization of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja is the type of book that I would have loved as a kid. It’s not because it is terribly well written or engaging. The novelization is a pretty straight forward adaptation of the movie. The biggest fault it has is that is it too straightforward. It’s little more than the script with added scene descriptions. What I would have been interested in as a kid is that the book was apparently based off of an earlier version of the script and includes scenes that were cut from the film.
The movie is actually a pretty faithful adaption of the independent comic books that started the whole turtle craze of the late 80’s and early 90’s. It’s weird for me to write this given the subject matter, but both the comics and movie were more realistic than the TMNT cartoon that was airing when the film came out. The realism of the film may have been more out of necessity because the budget for the movie was not huge. So the more outlandish elements from the cartoon like Dimension X and the crazy mutant villains were never seen on the silver screen until recently. Back then, TMNT was not an entirely proven franchise thus resulted in the movie being independently financed and made outside of the major studio system.
With the plot involving four humanoid turtles that learn ninjitsu from a mutant rat that fights an evil ninja clan full of juvenile delinquents, I can’t see why a major studio wouldn’t take a chance to make this film. A mysterious mutagen was dropped in the New York sewers, four baby turtles and a rat were affected by it. They began to mutate to be more humanoid and addicted to pizza. Luckily, Splinter, the rat, was the pet of a ninja master and he had studied martial arts from his cage. So, he raised the four turtles as his own sons, he also taught them ninjutsu. He named the turtles after Renaissance painters and gave them each different colored masks to wear. My theory on the masks is they would help Splinter to tell them apart from each other because I don’t think they are meant to protect their identities.
Writing all of this out as an adult, it does sound pretty silly to me. As a kid though, I didn’t question the logic in any of this. It was easy not to question it because the personalities of the turtles were so strong and likable. Leonardo leads, and Donatello does machines (That’s a fact, Jack!). Raphael is cool but rude, and Michelangelo is a party dude. It really didn’t matter what the story was about as long as the turtles were having fun and we were having a good time with them.
The rest of the plot of the movie revolves around the turtles befriending a news reporter, April O’ Neil, who is trying to expose the cause of a recent crime wave created by evil ninjas. The bad ninjas are the Foot Clan, and they are led by the badass looking Shredder. The Shredder is basically just a ninja master covered in knives, but he makes it work. He is training teenage human punks to be ninja thieves for reasons that aren’t fully explained. He also shares a past with Splinter and his master. There is also a hobo vigilante who wears a hockey mask that helps the turtles fight the Foot.
The deleted scenes that I mentioned range from mild to wild, but all would have been neat to learn about back then because the footage of these scenes has only been discovered in recent years and posted to the internet. Deleted scenes were a rarity back in the VHS days. Occasionally, a director’s cut of a movie would be released with added scenes, but it wasn’t until when DVD became mainstream that deleted scenes became a standard bonus feature. When the original film was released on both DVD and Blu-Ray, they both didn’t have any deleted scenes and no version released as of writing this has these scenes on them.
One of the first deleted scenes is early in the story after April is attacked by some ninjas and the turtles save her for the first time. The failed ninjas return to Shredder, and they are made an example of in front of the Foot Clan by getting their butts kicked by him. The failures were in street clothes during this fight. Having Shredder fight four human teenage boys, and not turtles, may have been the reason this scene was cut.
The other deleted scene is an alternative ending. April takes some sketches that she had done of the turtles to a comic book publisher to try to sell him on the idea of a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle comic book. I think this is a fun scene that pays homage to the turtles’ pulpy beginnings, but it probably wasn’t the right note to end the film. The publisher tells her that the idea is just too far fetched as the turtles appear behind him snickering from the shadows.
Lastly, there is one change that I couldn’t find any footage of it to verify that it was actually a deleted scene. The scene is also referenced in the comic book adaptation of the film which leads me to believe it was at least in the script at some point. In the movie, Splinter’s owner, Hamato Yoshi, was killed by Oroku Saki, the Shredder, over the love of a woman. In the novelization, Yoshi killed Oroku Nagi over the love of a woman. Nagi was the brother of Oroku Saki. Saki swore revenge and became the Shredder to hunt down and kill Hamato Yoshi and his wife. This version of the story is closer to the original comic books, but like the film, most versions replace Nagi with Saki.
Aside from a few interesting changes, the movie is still the best way to enjoy this story. The practical effects and martial arts are meant to be seen and not read. So, do yourself a favor and order your favorite pizza then watch the movie next time that you need some fun because that is what these heroes in a half shell can provide. Turtle power!
Novelization by B. B. Hiller
Screenplay by Todd W. Langen & Bobby Herbeck
Characters created by Kevin Eastman & Peter Laird
Publication Date: March 1990