Warner Bros. // 1990 // 106 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Chief Justice Michael Stailey // June 1st, 2012
Here they grow again.
When a studio has an unexpected hit on its hands, the first thing the execs start thinking about is "Sequel!" For six years, Warner Bros. tried like hell to milk more box office out of Gremlins, but a myriad of story ideas from a parade of production teams failed to spark any interest. It wasn't until studio president Terry Semel went to director Joe Dante and offered a boatload of cash and creative carte blanche that the prospect for a second film took root. Reassembling his partners in crime -- producer Michael Finnell, cinematographer John Hora, and production designer Jim Spencer -- and working off a story by screenwriter Charlie Haas (no relation to actor Lukas Haas), they set about to satirize everything wrong with the original film and -- as Nigel Tufnel would say -- turn the insanity "up to 11."
When we last left our heroes, Billy (Zach Galligan), Kate (Phoebe Cates), and Gizmo (voiced by Howie Mandel) had just stopped the Gremlin hordes from wiping out their Rockwellian hamlet of Kingston Falls. Barely. As the smoke cleared, Mr. Wing (Keye Luke) arrived to reclaim the Mogwai and scold these foolish mortals for their irresponsible ways. The End...or was it?
Six years later, Mr. Wing -- now operating a shop in New York City's Chinatown -- suffers a heart attack and passes, leaving little Gizmo alone and helpless in the big city. And we know what happens to Gizmo when he's alone and helpless. What he doesn't know is that Billy and Kate are now living in the city and working in Manhattan for business mogul Daniel Clamp (John Glover, Smallville). Billy is an architect on the Chinatown gentrification project, Kate is a tour guide for Clamp Tower, and Gizmo has been snatched off the streets by geneticists Martin and Lewis (Dan and Don Stanton) for their work at Clamp subsidiary Splice of Life, run by the malevolent Dr. Catheter (Christopher Lee).
With all these key players in one place, you know it's not going to end well. And it doesn't. Gizmo gets wet (thanks to John Astin), the diverse personality Mogwai spawn dine after midnight (thanks to the many food court options in Clamp Tower), the devilish but harmless creatures mutate into forces of comedic evil, and their discovery of the Splice of Life genetics lab gives them an entirely new set of skills to torment obnoxious Manhattanites and unsuspecting tourists. Fortunately, Clamp was able to seal off the building, but it won't be long before these beasties garner enough strength in numbers to storm the city. Let the games begin!
In my review of Gremlins, I discussed my appreciation for the talents of director Joe Dante and what his team was able to accomplish under such unusual circumstances. Here, fortune favored the production. Original Gremlin designer Chris Walas was off directing The Fly II, so Joe enlisted the genius of monster maker Rick Baker, whom he had worked with on The Howling. Not willing to simply rehash someone else's work, Rick was given the opportunity to create all new Gremlins, each with their own distinct personality, and the film's narrative blossomed from there.
In truth, I love Gremlins 2 more than its predecessor. Dante's passion for the vintage Looney Tunes shorts is infused in every frame of this picture, from the Chuck Jones directed opening title sequence, to nearly every Gremlin gag and sound effect employed. Yes, we have to suffer through another uninspired performance by Zach Galligan, but his role is significantly reduced, and in its place we are treated to cornucopia of magnificent character actors making small to significant contributions.
Christopher Lee draws upon his immense genre experience, delivering a mad scientist who is a self-deprecating as he is evil. Robert Prosky (The Great Outdoors) channels The Munsters' Al Lewis as Grandpa Fred, a late night horror host turned on-the-scene newsman, bringing every detail of the Gremlins' invasion to the world at large with the help of Japanese tourist turned cameraman Mr. Katsuji (Gedde Wantanabe, Gung Ho). Watanabe's Sixteen Candles co-star, Haviland Morris plays Billy's boss Marla, exemplifying the late '80s corporate climber, willing to do whatever it takes to become a Clamp executive. And the great Robert Picardo (Star Trek: Voyager), a longtime member of Dante's stable of actors, brings out his douchiest best as Clamp Tower security chief Forster. But the real hero of Gremlins 2 is John Glover, who takes the network executive character he played in Scrooged to an entirely new level. Clamp was originally written as the film's villain, but Glover's charm quickly proved he was more valuable to the story as a naively powerful man-child, blissfully unaware of what was transpiring below his penthouse tower. Thus, Clamp's team of misfits -- joined by the reappearance of Dick Miller's shell-shocked Murray Futterman -- set out to ensure these monsters never step foot onto the Great White Way.
Presented in 1.78:1/1080p high definition widescreen, Gremlins 2's first Blu-ray appearance is far more impressive than the film that spawned it. Detail is stronger, colors are sharper, and the whole picture sports just the right amount of film grain. More importantly, the Warner Home Video team has not overplayed their hand, leaving their digital enhancement tools on the sidelines where they belong. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track is far more lively than Gremlins TrueHD audio upgrade. In fact, there is so much play in the surrounds, you may actually find yourself annoyed by Dante's use of cartoon sound effects. But yet another masterful score from composer Jerry Goldsmith softens the blow and fuels this train right through to the station.
In terms of bonus features, it's just another porting over of material from the 2002 DVD releases. The collection is fronted by highly entertaining and informative commentary from Joe Dante, producer Michael Finnell, screenwriter Charlie Haas, and Zach Galligan. This one is a little slow to start (they get lost in the film and forget to talk about it), but stick with it and you'll be rewarded with more great stories. We also get 20 minutes of deleted scenes and alternate takes with commentary from Joe, many of which are referenced in the commentary itself. "The Making of Gremlins 2" is a six-minute vintage featurette crafted for media outlets like Entertainment Tonight, with the cast playing up the diva-like offset behavior of Gizmo and his Gremlins. ((Yawn)). The Gag Reel is six minutes worth of outtakes, the funniest of which are the lab animals who were deathly afraid of the Gremlin puppets. But he real treat here is a segment created specifically for the VHS release. In the film's one meta moment, the Gremlins invade the projection booth and break the film, tormenting the audience with shadow puppets and a nudie film, before Hulk Hogan comes to the rescue and gets the picture rolling again. Since that segment wouldn't play well in your family room, Dante and company shot a new sequence in which the Gremlins jam the videotape to begin their hijinks, only to be taken down in a hail of gunfire by none-other-than John Wayne (dubbed by actor Chad Everett). Very cute. The package is capped off the film's theatrical trailer.
Loaded with cinematic and pop culture references (some of which horribly date the film), Gremlins 2: The New Batch is more than a worthy successor to the crown and further illustrates Joe Dante's contributions to the horror-comedy subgenera.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (German)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Japanese)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (Portuguese)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 106 Minutes
Release Year: 1990
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Deleted Scenes
* Gag Reel
* Home Video Sequence