- BD-50 Dual-Layer Disc
- Region Free
- 1.78:1 (Original aspect ratio: 1.85:1 )
- English: Dolby TrueHD 5.1
- English: Dolby Digital 2.0
- French: Dolby Digital 5.1
- German: Dolby Digital 5.1
- Italian: Dolby Digital 5.1
- Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1
- Spanish: Dolby Digital 2.0
- Portuguese: Dolby Digital 1.0
- Commentary with director Joe Dante, producer Michael Finnelli and special effects master Chris Walas
- Commentary with Dante and cast members Phoebe Cates, Zach Galligan, Dick Miller and Howie Mandel
- Behind the Scenes Featurette
- Additional Scenes
- Theatrical trailer
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Warner Home Video / 1984 / 106 Minutes / Rated PG
Street Date: December 01, 2009
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Reviewed by High-Def Digest Staff
Tuesday, December 01, 2009
Having grown up with 'Gremlins,' it's hard to think of a time before it was released on an unsuspecting world. Joe Dante's film, which liberally mixed elements of slapstick humor with horror violence and a kind of small town Spielbergian sweetness (he was the producer, after all) must have been an absolute shock to the system. It's this kind of wild hybridization that has made the film endure after all these years (when I saw the tag "25th Anniversary Edition" on the box, I almost fainted).
In 'Gremlins,' Hoyt Axton plays a kindly inventor who, looking for a gift for his son, purchases a Mogwai from a vaguely mystical Chinese knickknack shop. As the movie begins, voice over warns us that there are a few things, if you have a Mogwai, that you must remember - don't get him wet, don't expose him to bright lights, and never, ever feed him after midnight. Follow these rules, and you're in the clear.
This, obviously, doesn't happen. The Mogwai is brought back to small town Kingston Falls, where Axton's son Billy (Zack Galligan) immediately bonds with his new pet, naming him Gizmo (future 'Deal or No Deal' host Howie Mandel gives Gizmo his distinctively chirpy voice). Billy has a crush on the sweet Kate (Phoebe Cates, just adorable), his coworker at the bank. Other small town color is provided by character actors Dick Miller (in the role of a xenophobic war veteran) and Glynn Turman (as a high school science teacher). Rounding out the cast was 1980's mainstays Corey Feldman as Billy's young friend (a weird holdover from an earlier version of the script, when Galligan's character was much younger) and Judge Reinhold as Billy's nemesis.
Of course, things don't go according to plan. Gizmo gets wet, which produces mischievous little versions of himself (the leader, who has a stripe going down its back, is just named Stripe). Those furry little fiends end up eating after midnight, which transforms them into scaly, even-more-mean-spirited monsters who quickly bring the small town to its knees. At Christmas, no less!
Director Joe Dante was hired on the strength of his werewolf film 'The Howling,' which also had a fine understanding of the balance between horror and comedy. It was a movie that producer Steven Spielberg loved (he hired Dee Wallace to be the mom in 'E.T.' after seeing it), understanding that the tonal tightrope act was essential to 'Gremlins.' Here, with a bigger budget and a cast of rowdy animatronic creatures, he brings the mayhem to a huge scale. Dante loves old Warner Bros. cartoons, and that gleeful sense of anarchy can be felt in every frame of the film.
Of course, 'Gremlins' was not without its critics. Many parents were outraged at the level of violence and it (along with Spielberg's own 'Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom') were responsible for bringing about the PG-13 rating. In the original script, which lore has it was composed by future 'Harry Potter' director Chris Columbus as a writing sample while he was still at NYU film school, was even bleaker, with scenes involving the gremlins eating the family dog and a sequence where Billy's mother's disembodied head comes bouncing down the stairs. In particular, the parents groups and the film's producers (including Spielberg) and studio wanted Dante to cut a scene where Phoebe Cates recounts a traumatic Christmas memory. Looking back, this remains one of the film's most vivid and affecting moments. While the knee jerk reaction was expected, the movie seems firmly planted in the land of the cautionary fable, and the cartoonish quality of the violence makes it way more palpable.
If you've never seen 'Gremlins,' then you really must. It's a great, totally fun film that has stood the test of time surprisingly well. Dante is an underrated filmmaking master, and the sequel that followed, 1990's 'Gremlins 2: The New Batch', is an even wilder film and one of the decade's true masterpieces. 'Gremlins' delivers all the goods, at a time before computer generated effects - it's that kind of gorgeous, handmade quality that makes 'Gremlins' a charming, classic relic of a forgotten age.
The VC-1 1080p transfer (1.78: 1 aspect ratio) on this 50GB disc is a marked improvement over previous home video versions of the movie, but it isn't reference quality by any stretch of the imagination.
Puppets always seem to look wonderful in high definition, with the detail really coming through, and that's no different here. Gizmo and his ilk are brought to life with exacting detail - every hair and scale is lovingly seen.
The movie suffers from that early-1980's softness, but that doesn't really deter from my overall feelings about the transfer. The softness has somewhat been muted, giving the look a more lush look than it's had probably since its initial release. There is a persistent level of grain that's never distracting, although there are a few blips (having to do with the print they chose to master) that are distracting. Still, I'd take this over some heavily processed version of the film (there is no evident DNR here).
Black levels are good, but could be a bit deeper, skin tones are nice, and there aren't any technical issues that get in the way of enjoying the film (artifacts etc). So is this transfer going to blow you away? Probably not. Does it still look the best its probably ever looked? Yes indeed. If you love this film, you'll appreciate its singular look and won't be hung up that it doesn't resemble a Pixar movie.
Better than the video is the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track. The emphasis here is on the atmospherics of the surround sound, both with the cuddly Gizmo and then increasing as the other gremlins get out and wreak havoc.
Dialogue sounds strong and clear throughout, mostly front channel, and the music (both the wonderful score by Jerry Goldsmith and the collection of songs, many of them holiday favorites), sound really wonderful.
This isn’t the most nuanced track in the world, although the surround sound does sound good. Some have complained of a slight hiss in the background of some scenes, which didn't register unless I had the volume turned all the way up. Overall, this is a huge improvement over previous home video releases, in terms of sound quality and clarity, and I can't find a whole lot to complain about here.
There are also audio options in English Dolby Digital 2.0, French Dolby Digital 5.1, German Dolby Digital 5.1, Italian Dolby Digital 5.1, Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 and Portuguese Dolby Digital 1.0. The subtitles are in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish.
The extras are all ports from the previous special edition release, with no new material and nothing in HD. This is a shame, as Dante is always an engaging personality and I'm sure his thoughts on the film, even a few years later, would be appreciated. Also, playback on the disc is Region "free."
- Commentary with director Joe Dante, producer Michael Finnelli, and special effects supervisor Chris Walas This is the more technical commentary of the two provided on this disc, but it's still quite engaging. Dante has a million stories to tell, and his co-conspirators jump in with helpful information when needed. Walas in particular adds insight into the pressure of the movie, the design challenges (they colored Gizmo to look like Spielberg's dog), and the challenges of having Gizmo in the entire movie (at some point in the earlier script, he changed into one of the scaly bad monsters). Walas didn't come back for the second movie because he was too busy directing 'The Fly II' for Fox. Good move. This commentary is highly recommended.
- Commentary with Dante, Phoebe Cates, Zack Galligan, Dick Miller, and Howie Mandel This commentary is even better than the other one! This partially has to do with Galligan, who has an uncanny knack for anecdotal stories, and partially to do with the way that Dick Miller (ever the grumpy old man) and Howie Mandel (just hilarious) jump in. (Cates is pretty quiet.) At one point, Mandel talks about how tough it was getting into the suit every day, and I died laughing. When Mandel actually breaks out the Gizmo voice - forget about it. This is essential, hilarious listening.
- Behind the Scenes Featurette (SD, 6:21) This is a brief behind-the-scenes look at the making of the movie, what we would now consider part of an electronic press kit. Still, it's quite charming and it's nice to see everyone young and vibrant. By all accounts, the film's production was an absolute slog. On the technical commentary track, everyone talks about how they more or less were on the brink of a nervous breakdown by the time the movie finished, so to see everyone in a good mood is probably a rarity. Despite its brevity, I'd say this is worth checking out.
- Additional Scenes (SD, 10:26) You can watch this with or without the cast commentary (with the same participants listed above), which is the preferred way to watch this. There are a couple of scenes included here but nothing of note - the death of a supporting character, a silly subplot about an evil land owner wanting to turn the town town into that nebulous 1980's threat a toxic waste dump, and the answer to the long standing question 'What happened to Judge Reinhold in the second half of the film?' These are worth watching, though, especially with the commentary.
- Trailers (SD, 4:42) Included here are the theatrical trailer for 'Gremlins,' the trailer for the re-release of 'Gremlins' (which happened the following summer), and the cool and very early-1990's teaser trailer for 'Gremlins 2: The New Batch.' These are worth watching, for sure.
There are no HD exclusives.
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Joe Dante's madcap 'Gremlins' is a classic, plain and simple. With improved A/V and some very worthwhile special features (even if they aren't new or in HD), make this a no brainer. If you're a fan of the film, find the nearest Target and pick up your copy of "Gremlins.' I just hope that 'Gremlins 2' comes soon - and isn't so hard to find! Highly Recommended.