USA/Hong Kong. 1993.
Director/Screenplay – Stuart Gillard, Producers – David Chan, Kim Dawson & Thomas K. Gray, Photography – David Garfinkel, Music – John DuPrez, Visual Effects – Perpetual Motion Pictures (Supervisor – Jeffrey A. Okun), Special Effects – Special Effects Unlimited, Creature Effects – All Effects Co (Supervisors – Eric Allard & Rick Stratton), Production Design – Roy Forge Smith. Production Company – Golden Harvest/Gary Propper.
Paige Turco (April O’Neal), Stuart Wilson (Captain Dirk Walker), Sab Shimono (Norinaga), Elias Koteas (Casey Jones), Vivian Wu (Princess Mitsu), Henry Hayashi (Kenshin), John Aylward (Niles), Travis Moon (Yoshi)
Michaelangelo (Performer – David Fraser, Voice – Robbie Rist), Leonardo (Performer – Mark Caso, Voice – Brian Tochi), Raphael (Performer – Matt Hill, Voice – Tim Kelleher), Donatello (Performer – Jim Raposa, Voice – Corey Feldman)
April O’Neal gives the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles the gift of a sceptre. However, the sceptre proves to be a magical time-displacement device that throws April and the Turtles back to feudal Japan of 1603. There the Turtles become the unexpected saviours of a group of defenceless villagers being threatened by the local warlord and an English arms smuggler.
This was the third cinematic spin-off of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles phenomenon – following Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990) and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze (1991). However, by 1993, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fad was on the wane and, as a result, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III feels like it is trying to milk the last dregs of a trend.
In the second Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film, the martial arts action had been heavily bowdlerised after the Moral Minority reaction to the first film. Here that has been welcomely restored. Even so, the production lacks the energy that the first and even the routine second film had. The barrage of California surfer-speak has become more irritable than amusing and the Turtles themselves are stuck with too much buffoonery and unfunny popular culture in-referencing.
There is disappointingly little to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III – the average half-hour episode of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1988-91) animated tv series was funnier, had more solid plot and a better grip on the Turtles as characters than anything in the film. What it direly needed is some of the invaders from Dimension X and villainous brains in exo-skeletons that the animated series had – once the film here gets the Turtles back in the past, the plot is lazily photocopied direct from The Seven Samurai (1954). Even then, the story runs out about halfway through and the rest of the film consists of much running back and forward between the various factions, loosely connected by the transparent McGuffin of the sceptre.
One positive aspect of the film is the fine photography – especially an opening scene with riders emerging from a flaming red sunset. The period costumes are designed in scarlet reds, which strikingly contrast with the dun, dark brown textures of the castle and village.
A fourth live-action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film was bandied around for a time but did not emerge due to poor box-office returns from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III. The Turtles were subsequently revived in the live-action tv series Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation (1997-8), which had the novelty of introducing a female Turtle Venus de Milo, but this was highly unpopular and lasted for only 26 episodes; a further animated series Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003-9); and the animated film TMNT (2007). Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) was a live-action reboot from producer Michael Bay and director Jonathan Liesbesman and was followed by a sequel Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows (2016). This was followed by a further animated crossover film Batman vs Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2019) and a further animated tv series Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2018- ), which led to one film spinoff with Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie (2022). Turtle Power: The Definitive History of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) is a documentary about the Turtle phenomenon.
Within genre material, director Stuart Gillard has also made the Disney tv movie Return of the Shaggy Dog (1987), the Mars mission comedy RocketMan (1997), the monster tv mini-series Creature (1998), the Disney Channel films The Scream Team (2002), Twitches (2005) and Twitches Too (2007), the tv movie remake of The Initiation of Sarah (2006), WarGames: The Dead Code (2008), the tv mini-series adaptation of Philip Jose Farmer’s Riverworld (2010), the tv movie Avalon High (2010) and the tv movie Girl vs Monster (2012).