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Joe Dante
Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, Hoyt Axton, Frances Lee McCain, Polly Holliday
Chris Columbus

Don't get him wet, keep him out of bright light, and never feed him after midnight.
Rated PG.

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Dolby Surround
French Dolby Surround
Spanish Dolby Surround
English, French, Spanish

Runtime: 106 min.
Price: $19.98
Release Date: 8/20/2002

• Audio Commentary With Director Joe Dante, Producer Michael Finnell, and Special Effects Artist Chris Walas
• Audio Commentary With Director Joe Dante and Actors Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, Dick Miller and Howie Mandel
• Additional Scenes
• Behind-the-Scenes Featurette
• Cast and Crew
• Production Notes
• Trailers
• Still Gallery


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Gremlins: Special Edition (1984)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Welcome to Gremlins, one of the final vestiges of the original “PG” rating! For the first 15 or so years of the MPAA’s system, no step between “PG” and “R” existed. That meant some surprisingly racy flicks ended up in “PG” territory; for example, Logan’s Run and sada Clash of the Titans offered nudity that would never appear in a “PG” movie today.

However, copious nudity didn’t cause the creation of the “PG-13” rating - it occurred due to allegedly excessive violence and intensity. Two films directly led to the invention of “PG-13”: Gremlins and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. The latter tossed in a lot of potentially frightening material, including substantial scenes of child abuse and nasty supernatural events. While I never felt it entered “R” territory - as some folks claimed at the time - it seemed perfect for the then-nonexistent “PG-13”.

On the other hand, I think the case for Gremlins seems less clear. Clearly the movie offers a lot of violence, but the majority of it resides firmly in the “cartoony” vein. Even when humans become injured, this occurs in a way that seems straight out of a Warner Bros. cartoon.

Be that as it may, Gremlins still inspired its own little tempest in a teapot 18 years ago. Does the film deserve to be remembered as anything other than a historical footnote? You bet! Although I actually prefer its 1990 sequel, Gremlins remains a fun and lively experience.

At the start of the film, we meet the Pelzer family of idyllic Capra-esque Kingston Falls. Inventor father Rand (Hoyt Axton) travels a lot to peddle his wares, and during one trip, he seeks a special Christmas present for son Billy (Zach Galligan). In Chinatown he obtains a strange critter called a Mogwai. He gives the adorable beast to Billy and all seems well.

Unfortunately, it ain’t easy to care for a Mogwai, and the Pelzers learn this the hard way. Gizmo (voiced by Howie Mandel) gets wet, and that causes him (?) to reproduce. This creates a few new Mogwai, including the ill-tempered Stripe. These critters aren’t as gentle and even-tempered as Gizmo, and they actively try to cause mischief.

That leads to another problem when Billy inadvertently violates one of the prime Mogwai directives: don’t feed them after midnight. He does so and the Mogwai involved - Gizmo passed on the eats - go into cocoon states. When this ends, they come out as different - and even nastier - beings.

The rest of the movie follows Billy’s attempts to contain and stop the gremlins’ reign of terror. They run rampant throughout Kingston Falls and terrorize the population. Some fatalities and much comic mayhem ensue as Billy tries to take care of the situation.

No, that’s not much of a plot, but Gremlins offers a very entertaining experience nonetheless. Modern movies span genres more readily than they did even back in the Eighties, so Gremlins offered something genuinely unusual. Neither straight horror flick nor simple comedy, the movie fused those elements neatly and created a lively and amusing piece of work.

None of this would have worked without the compelling attributes of the gremlins themselves. Of course, Gizmo’s cuteness instantly attracts us - who wouldn’t want a pet like that? - but it’s the wild gremlins that make the film succeed. The movie’s first half seems entertaining enough, but it all comes across as obvious exposition. That’s not a complaint, for we needed to get all of that information before we could proceed. However, those segments lacked a great deal of spark, as it felt like the movie badly wanted to get to the good stuff.

When it does and all hell breaks loose, Gremlins reaches its zenith. Created by minds who clearly watched too many Looney Tunes in their childhood - and probably adulthood, as well - the movie revels in the lunacy of the gremlins. At turns scary and hilarious, the creatures nicely span both concepts. Creature designer Chris Walas and his crew did an excellent job with the monsters, as they properly achieved the necessary cartoony balance.

The gremlins’ human co-stars fare a bit less well, especially in regard to Galligan. The other actors do reasonably well, but Galligan presents an exceedingly bland presence. Perhaps that was intentional, and it may even be appropriate. After all, the gremlins are the stars of the show, and a more forceful lead actor may have detracted from that. Still, it’d be nice to see a Billy with some personality; I never cared much about him while in Galligan’s hands.

Nonetheless, that’s a small complaint. Most of Gremlins works quite well. A flick packed with giddy cartoon violence and nastiness, it provides a wild ride that rarely slows. A definite classic within its genre, Gremlins remains a very entertaining movie.

The DVD Grades: Picture B / Audio B+ / Bonus B

Gremlins appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Overall, the picture looked good, with only a few problems on display.

For the most part, sharpness seemed solid. Some wider shots looked a little fuzzy, but those caused no serious concerns. Instead, the image remained reasonably crisp and distinct most of the time. Jagged edges and moiré effects presented no issues, and I also noticed no signs of edge enhancement. In regard to print flaws, I witnessed light grain at times, and I also detected periodic examples of grit and speckles. However, the movie usually seemed pretty clean.

Although colored lights appeared somewhat runny, the hues otherwise looked fairly positive. The hues showed some of the murkiness that often appeared in Eighties flicks, but they managed to come across as acceptably vivid and distinct. Black levels appeared deep and dense, while shadow detail showed nice delineation and clarity. In the end, Gremlins offered a pretty strong visual presentation.

Also positive was the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Gremlins. Not surprisingly, the soundfield maintained a general emphasis over the forward channels, though the imaging picked up as the movie progressed. Music showed good stereo separation, and effects displayed nice breadth and localization. At times, the material seemed somewhat speaker-specific, but the track displayed a few fine moments, such as the appropriate placement of the Volkswagen engine. For the first half or so of the flick, surround usage seemed to tend toward general reinforcement, but the action picked up when the gremlins entered the film in force. The track showed solid life during those scenes, and they even offered some cool split-surround usage.

Audio quality appeared moderately dated but it held up fairly well. Speech seemed natural and distinct, with no issues related to edginess or intelligibility. Music demonstrated somewhat limited dynamics, but the score and songs appeared acceptably vivid and lively. Effects also came across as a little thin, but they generally were accurate and crisp. Bass response popped some punch into the material; for example, the gremlins’ metamorphosis showed solid low-end information. In the end, the audio for Gremlins worked well after all these years.

Gremlins first appeared as an early DVD back in the fall of 1997. Happily, Warner Bros. finally saw fit to replace that barebones effort with a new special edition. This package includes two separate audio commentaries. We begin with a discussion from director Joe Dante, producer Michael Finnell, and special effects artist Chris Walas. All three sat together for this running, screen-specific track. I recently enjoyed the commentary for Dante’s Innerspace, and Gremlins also provided a lively and entertaining affair.

As with the Innerspace track, Dante dominated the piece, but not to a tremendous extent. All three men contributed a lot of good information. Given the heavy amount of effects required for the movie, the focus remained on technical elements, and I learned what an ordeal it was to make the flick; Walas still sounded as though he could fall into a Gremlins-related nervous breakdown at any minute.

In addition to the details of the taxing process caused by the creation of the critters, they talked about the film’s genesis and different story elements that changed along the way. Particularly interesting was Dante’s tale of how much pressure he received from the studio to cut the scene in which Phoebe Cates’ character explains her hatred for Christmas. Unfortunately, the track included a few too many empty spaces - Dante even joked about this tendency at one point - but it still managed to offer a very entertaining and informative discussion.

During that commentary, the participants rarely discussed the cast. That would be a major oversight were it not for the second track. It features Dante along with actors Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, Dick Miller and Howie Mandel. All five were recorded together for this running, screen-specific piece. The track started off well and managed to remain interesting from start to finish, but it did peter out somewhat as it progressed.

Dante and Galligan dominated the commentary, but not to the exclusion of the others. Miller offered little information; it got to the point where Mandel kiddingly harassed him about his silence. Mandel mostly tossed in wisecracks, many of which were actually fairly funny. Cates took more of a “speak when spoken to” approach, but the presence of an off-microphone helped get more information out of her. A light tone manifested itself throughout the piece; on one occasion, Dante even half-jokingly disparages a Galligan story with the remark that no one cares about it.

Not all of the actors commentary was quite so potentially surly, but it seemed wonderfully free of happy talk; I can recall almost none of the usual “that was great” nonsense. The participants added a lot of nice material about the movie. They discussed their casting and their experiences on the set, and this made the track quite informative and entertaining most of the time.

On the negative side, Dante repeated a few stories. This didn’t happen frequently and it didn’t really bother me, but I thought I’d mention it. More problematic were the occasional empty spots. That tendency grew as the movie progressed; although it never became severe, it seemed much more distracting in the second half of the film. Actually, one pause during the first act proved illuminating; Galligan did an impression of actor Glyn Turman, and due to the blank spot, I heard Turman speak and could appreciate what a dead-on mimic Galligan was. Pauses aside, the actors commentary for Gremlins offered a largely entertaining and informative program.

Next we discover a collection of Additional Scenes. The package includes eight different segments, and these run as one 10-minute and 27-second piece. Happily, the quality of the clips seems very good. Usually deleted scenes appear scratchy and flawed, but these non-anamorphic 1.85:1 bits are fairly distinct and clean. As for the content, none of the scenes is terribly compelling. Since I’m a fan of the film, I’m happy to see them, and it’s interesting to see what happened to Gerald. Otherwise, nothing special occurs here, though “there’s more to life than macaroni” may become my new motto.

The “additional scenes” can be viewed with or without commentary from Dante and the same crew heard on the actors’ track, though I’m not sure Mandel still stayed in the room. These remarks add some good notes about the scenes, even if Galligan and Cates can’t remember when they shot some of them. Dante lets us know why the material failed to make the final cut, and we hear some good anecdotes along the way.

From 1984 comes a vintage featurette. This six-minute and 15-second piece shows shots from the set and sound bites from Dante, gremlin designer Chris Walas, executive producer Steven Spielberg, and actors Hoyt Axton, Phoebe Cates and Zach Galligan. Those elements don’t offer much information, but the material on the set seems reasonably interesting. There isn’t much depth here, but the show appears worth a look.

In the Cast and Crew area, we get biographies for a few participants. We encounter short listings for director Joe Dante, writer Chris Columbus, and actors Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, Hoyt Axton, Polly Holliday, Frances Lee McCain, and Judge Reinhold. Despite the brevity of the entries, I did learn some cool tidbits. I didn’t know that Reinhold received an Emmy nomination for a guest role on Seinfeld, and I also wasn’t aware that he was a fellow UVa student. (That means I know of two film folk from UVa: Reinhold and director Tom Shadyac.)

Behind the Scenes adds some more text. We find four screens of fairly mediocre production notes that don’t tell us much. The Gallery includes 30 stills. Most of these feature production photos, but some storyboards appear as well. Lastly, the trailers domain provides three ads. We get the original clip for Gremlins as well as a reissue promo and a trailer for Gremlins 2: The New Batch.

After 18 years, Gremlins remains a frantic and fun piece of work. It nicely mixes horror, action and comedy and packages the different elements into one entertaining piece. The DVD presents positive picture and sound along with a fairly solid set of supplements. Folks new to Gremlins should definitely give this new release a look, and fans who already own the old DVD will probably want to upgrade to this nice set.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.3584 Stars Number of Votes: 53
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