Our review of Gremlins (Blu-ray), published June 1st, 2012, is also available.
What you see…isn't always what you get.
The original Gremlins has the dubious distinction of being one of two films to get the PG-13 rating instated (the other one being Steven Spielberg's Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom). For Gremlins, the reason for the new rating change was the now-infamous microwave scene—and if you don't know what I'm talking about, it's time for you to come out from under your rock. In 1984, director Joe Dante (The 'Burbs, Innerspace) and producer Spielberg concocted a twisted Christmas monster movie featuring a cute little teddy bear-like creature and hundreds of mischievous lizards terrorizing the small town of Kingston Falls. Starring Zach Galligan (Waxwork) and Phoebe Cates (Fast Times At Ridgemont High), Gremlins: Special Edition eats its way onto DVD care of Warner Home Entertainment.
Facts of the Case
By now you all know the three rules:
Poor Billy Peltzer (Galligan) didn't heed the rules, and now the small town of Kingston Falls has got hell to pay in the form of little green monsters known as Gremlins! When Billy gets a little creature named Gizmo as a gift from his well-meaning father, he thinks he's found the perfect little pet. Unbeknownst to Billy and his family, the Mogwai multiply with water and become terrorizing gremlins when exposed to an after midnight snack! Suddenly one Mogwai becomes five, and five become gremlins, and five gremlins hit the local pool and…well, you do the math! As the nasty little beasties wreck havoc upon Billy's town, he and his girlfriend (Cates) must find a way to stop the Gremlins before it's too late!
You've just gotta love Joe Dante. Granted, the guy doesn't make perfect movies. Sometimes they're flawed, though more often than not they're a wild ride filled with oddities and creatures that are both scary and awe-inspiring. I guess in a way you could think of Dante as the poor man's Tim Burton. While his worlds and creations may not be as original or awe-inspiring as Burton's, Dante still knows how to churn out a good yarn packed with old fashioned cinema fun. If you're between the ages of about 25-30, you're probably floating in my boat when it comes to nostalgia. I loved this movie when I was a kid, though I was initially afraid of it (I am not ashamed to admit it—when I was a kid I was a big, plump weenie). When I finally saw it on VHS, I thought it was one of the greatest movies on God's green earth.
And Gremlins is a lot of fun. Here's a movie that's just giddy with its own sense of skewered bad taste. While the movie never goes totally over the deep end in its depiction of voracious gore or violence, it does wallow in the mayhem caused by the monstrous antagonists. The movie was originally marketed towards kids and teenagers (Cute dolls! Cool T-shirts! Custom mugs!), though it will appeal to both children and adults alike. Maybe kids see the Gremlins as a reflection of themselves, taking out their rebellious anger on the local citizens of Kingston Falls. Maybe adults view the film as a way to let out some pent-up youthful anxiety and frustration by watching the little devils go berserk. Or maybe Gremlins is just a plain old hoot from one frame to the next.
The movie was produced by über-wonder Steven Spielberg, and his paw prints are all over the flick. While the film's budget wasn't astronomical, it was ample, which in turn produced some pretty neat effects. The gremlins themselves are a wonder to behold—slimy, scaly, and mean, these little demons are the stuff that nightmares are made from. Although the monsters are scary, they are never too cruel or evil. Dante throws in a good dose of humor when needed, especially during a scene where the gremlins sing along to Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. Just thinking about that scene warms the cockles of my heart.
The performances in the film by the humans are all memorable and grand. Polly Holiday as the dastardly Mrs. Deagle gets a lot of mileage out of sneering at and lambasting everyone in her way (and of course she gets her just desserts by the gremlins in the most exceptionally evil of ways). Zach Galligan and Phoebe Cates make a cute if often bland couple, and Dick Miller as the babbling Murray Futterman is his usual charming self. '80s fans will rejoice at Judge Reinhold popping up in an extended blink-or-you'll-miss-him role and Corey Feldman as Billy's young buddy Pete. Add to the mix composer Jerry Goldsmith's playfully exuberant music score, and you've got yourself a Rockin' Ricky good time!
Gremlins was released in what I consider a magical movie era. 1983 to 1986 was a great time for filmgoers—Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Back to the Future, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, and Return of the Jedi were all grand, entertaining films of their time that still stand up today. I'd easily lump the original Gremlins into that group. It's mischievous, funny and exciting. And don't forget magical.
Gremlins: Special Edition is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. A few years ago Gremlins was originally released on a bare bones DVD edition that certainly didn't win any new fans. Warner has done right by releasing this new "special edition" along with a new 2001 transfer. Aside of a few minor quibbles, this is a very attractive transfer that sports bold, bright colors and solid black levels. While there's a few imperfections (including some dirt in the image and a few instances of edge enhancement), overall this is a nice effort by Warner that should please fans.
The soundtrack has been remastered into a newly created Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround remix in English. The soundstage for this film isn't very wide—while there are a few directional effects to be found, overall this was a fairly low-budget movie that sported a low-budget soundtrack. Then again, I wasn't really expecting much in the way of sound when I popped Gremlins into my player, so I was pleased with what I heard. All aspects of the soundtrack are free and clear of any excessive hiss or distortion. Also included on this disc are Dolby 2.0 Surround soundtracks and subtitles in English, French, and Spanish.
Finally! A special edition of Gremlins! Fans who have been waiting years for this won't be disappointed at the amount of extra features offered on this disc. The supplements start off with not one but two commentary tracks! The first is with director Joe Dante, producer Mike Finnell, and effects man Chris Walas, and the second features Dante and cast members Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, Dick Miller, and the voice of Gizmo, Howie Mandel. What a treat both of these commentaries are! Dante, Galligan, and the whole crew are a real hoot as they go over everything from the creation of the gremlins to razzing each other mercilessly about almost everything under the sun. It's always fun to hear a commentary track that's one part goofy and one party informative—and with Gremlins, you get two tracks for the price of one!
Next up is a behind-the-scenes featurette from 1984 that, sadly, doesn't give us much insight into the production of the film. There are a few interesting interviews (especially with Dante and a seemingly smug Spielberg), though overall this is a brief and very fluffy feature. Ten minutes worth of additional footage/deleted scenes are included with optional commentary. It was a lot of fun to see some of the stuff that ended up on the cutting room floor, though these aren't scenes to write home about (and poor Judge Reinhold's part was nearly cut out entirely).
Wrapping up the extra features are some pretty thin production notes (when are they not?), a small still gallery, some filmographies on the cast and crew, and trailers for Gremlins, Gremlins 2: The New Batch and the reissue of Gremlins.
Gremlins is an indelible movie from my childhood, and it's nice to see Warner give it the treatment it deserves. It may not be a perfect disc, but it should be enough to satisfy even the hungriest Gremlins fans. If you enjoyed the first film, picking up this and Gremlins 2: The New Batch on DVD should be a no-brainer!
Gremlins: Special Edition is free to go…just not after midnight! Case dismissed!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Commentary Track by Director Joe Dante and Actors Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, Dick Miller, and Howie Mandel
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