What you see...isn't always what you get.
Feed your hunger (but not after midnight) with never-before-seen footage. Shine a bright light behind the creation of this unforgettable film with a pair of commentaries that reunite the original cast and crew. Swim in a pool of brand-new extras including a photo gallery, a making-of featurette.
Gremlins is a wildly original roller coaster ride of hilarious mischief. One minute your hair will stand on end, the next you'll hold your sides with laughter at the havoc these supposedly gentle furballs create when the rules are broken. One of the most fondly remembered box office hits of recent times, with sly special effects that dazzle and enchant, Gremlins is "what superior popular movie making is all about." (Richard Corliss, Time).
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."
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.