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The character Leonardo from ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.’
‘TMNT’ may shell-shock ‘Guardians’ at box office ‘Turtles’ swing back onto big screen

LOS ANGELES, Aug 7 (RTRS): The teenage mutant heroes in a half shell are battling their way back to movie screens with teen crushes, insecurity, rage and a hankering for pizza in a franchise reboot for a new generation. “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” based on the 1980s comic book series that led to a television show and then a film in 1990, features four turtle brothers trained as fighters. In the 2014 version out in US theaters on Friday, the amiable Turtles named after Renaissance artists are brought to life with new performance capture technology. The restless teen Turtles are fighting the criminal Foot Clan as nighttime vigilantes, but as Foot Clan leader Shredder’s evil plans threaten to obliterate the population of New York, the Turtles must leave the safety of their sewer lair to save the city.

Characters

Viacom-owned Paramount Pictures acquired the rights to the “Turtles” in 2009 and relaunched the “Turtles” TV series on Nickelodeon in 2012, bringing in a new youth audience to the characters. The film’s budget is estimated at $125 million by IMDB.com, and is projected by BoxOffice.com to earn $39 million in its opening weekend. Reimagining the Turtles was a job entrusted to George Lucas’ Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) team, which developed performance capture software to make the superheroes as photo-realistic as possible in the production led by Michael Bay and directed by Jonathan Liebesman. The four relatively unknown actors that played the Turtles — Noel Fisher (Michelangelo), Pete Ploszek (Leonardo), Jeremy Howard (Donatello) and Alan Ritchson (Raphael) - wore helmets rigged with high-definition cameras capturing every facial movement.
 
“You want to make sure you entertain the individuality of every one of those characters,” said Pablo Helman, the ILM visual effects supervisor behind the film. “They’re all completely different from each other, but they’re brothers and they all feel they don’t belong in this world. That’s also why they’re so big, it’s a really good way to say they’re too big for the world in which they live in.” Megan Fox, best known as the love interest in Bay’s “Transformers” films, plays intrepid reporter April O’Neil who becomes a close ally of the Turtles, and the object of Michelangelo’s teen infatuation. The actress called herself a “superfan” of the franchise and said she enjoyed not being a damsel in distress. “(April) never has to be rescued by a man in this movie, she’s only rescued by the Turtles,” Fox said. “I didn’t at any point have to be sexualized in this movie, there’s no weird, gratuitous shot, and I think that’s the first time I’ve ever had a part like that.”
 
Message
Fox is joined by Will Arnett, who plays Vern Fenwick, April’s inept cameraman who has a big crush on her. The actor said he believed the Turtles brought a new superhero message for its audience. “A lot of other superhero movies are about one singular guy, this lone wolf,” Arnett said. “This is about these guys together forming one unit, and I think that’s what separates it.” ‘TMNT’ is a slight favorite to knock Disney and Marvel’s breakout space adventure “Guardians of the Galaxy” out of the top spot at the box office this weekend, in what could be one of summer’s closest popcorn smackdowns.
 
The kiddie crowd will lift Donatello, Raphael, Leonardo and Michelangelo narrowly past Quill, Drax, Gamora, Groot and Rocket Raccoon of “Guardians,” say the analysts, with both films likely to top $45 million for the weekend. That would be more good news for the struggling summer box office, which reversed a seven-week slump last weekend, but it’s still running about 18 percent behind last year. There are three other wide openers: the found-footage tornado thriller “In the Storm,” the Helen Mirren foodie drama “The Hundred-Foot Journey” and dance romp “Step Up All In.” None of those are expected to threaten the leaders, however. Word of mouth could play a major factor in determining who winds up on top, and that’s the best argument for “Guardians.”
 
Great reviews and strong word of mouth propelled it to an August-record $94 million debut last weekend, about $20 million above pre-release projections. Most of this summer’s No. 1 films have taken second-week drops in the 60 percent range, with the exception of the “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” which the critics loved. The reviews for “Guardians” have been just as strong, so a second-week drop like the 50 percent that “Apes” fell seems likely, which would put it at $47 million. “Guardians” has been very impressive since its big opening weekend, posting the summer’s biggest hauls for a Monday ($11.7 million) and Tuesday ($11.9 million).
 
Reboot
Paramount’s Michael Bay-produced ‘TMNT’ is reboot of the film franchise that launched in 1990, when the wise-cracking reptilians were at their peak in popularity. Sequels in 1991 and 1993 didn’t come close to the $135 million domestic and $66 million from overseas that the original “Turtles” did, so this represents a gamble for Paramount. The $130 million production budget ups the ante, and makes a strong overseas showing critical if “TMNT” is to turn a profit for Paramount, Bay’s Platinum Dunes and Nickelodeon Movies. The popular kids TV show on Nickelodeon has helped the Turtles stay relevant with the young set, and the toy sales remain significant. There has been a dearth of family movies this summer, and the degree to which the PG-13-rated “Ninja Turtles” connects with kids will have a lot to do with its fortunes. The fact that “Guardians” skewed somewhat older — more than half its first-weekend audience was over 25 — could help there, too. “Ninja Turtles” is tracking for an opening between $45 million and $50 million, and a late blitz of TV advertising could push it higher.
 
It was leading “Guardians” in advance sales at Fandango on Wednesday, and pacing ahead “G I  Joe: Rise of the Cobra,” which opened to $54 million in 2009. It’s also surging on social media, with more than double the Facebook likes of “The LEGO Movie” and is just behind it on Twitter. There are not a lot of reviews yet, but the ones that are posted haven’t been kind. If crowds at the Thursday night previews and on Friday are similarly underwhelmed, it could cut into the “Turtles” take. Lukewarm word of mouth might not matter to kiddies, but could make a difference with adults.
 
“Speaking as someone who grew up on the Turtles, I get the feeling there is a lot of curiosity among 20 — somethings,” said BoxOffice.com assistant editor Shawn Robbins. “Whether it’s go-to-the-theater curious or wait-for-Redbox curious we’ll see, and word of mouth could affect that on Saturday and Sunday.” A scenario in which “Turtles” wins Friday and “Guardians” pulls ahead over the weekend wouldn’t be shocking. “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” will be in more than 3,700 locations, including about 350 Premium Large Format locations. “Guardians” will retain all of the IMAX theaters that delivered an August-record $11.7 million, or roughly 12 percent of the grosses, in its first weekend.

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