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In 1984, at the tender age of nine, I just couldn’t convince the cinema staff I was old enough to see Gremlins, so I had to be content with whatever merchandise I could lay my hands on—and that was a lot. I had the Marvel Comics adaptation, the official read-along book and cassette, the unofficial read-along book and cassette, the full set of miniature plastic figures, Gizmo and Stripe ‘candy’ dispensers and yes, even a pair of pyjamas. Suffice to say, I was a Gremlins fanatic, without actually having seen the picture. Thanks to home video and some questionable parenting I finally got to see the film around age ten, and went on to rent the thing every weekend for weeks just to get my fill or the furry little Mogwai and his scaly progeny.

Of course Gremlins was one of the first titles I purchased for my shiny new DVD player back in the early days, but as was the case with all Warner catalogue titles of the time, the disc was a barren affair. You can imagine my delight, then, when I heard of the region one release of a Special Edition of not only the first film, but the pseudo-sequel Gremlins 2: The New Batch. For one reason or another I never actually got around to ordering the titles for myself (too many films, so little time), but I was recently able to get my hands on these sweet slices of my childhood courtesy of some flagrant abuse of my position as region two editor. Go me!

Gremlins: Special Edition/Gremlins 2: The New Batch

Feature


The original Gremlins is set at Christmastime in the small town of Kingston Falls, Pennsylvania, home to the all-American Peltzer family. While away on a business trip the father, Rand Peltzer (Hoyt Axton), happens across an old curio shop in Chinatown. He enters looking to buy something special for his son Billy (Zach Gallagan) and, while rummaging around, discovers a strange little furry animal called a mogwai. Rand is determined to get his hands on the creature, but the elderly shopkeeper has other ideas. After a bit of haggling Rand leaves disappointed and empty handed, but before he gets too far the shopkeeper’s grandson catches up to him and offers to sell the mogwai for $200. Delighted, Rand agrees and the deal is made, but not before he is told of the three rules: never get the mogwai wet, never expose him to bright light (especially sunlight), and most importantly, never, ever feed him after midnight.

Billy is thrilled with his new pet, which he names Gizmo, and is amazed at how intelligent it is. Unfortunately an accidental spillage leads to Gizmo getting wet, which just happens to cause the furry little bugger to multiply! However, the new mogwai are different from Gizmo; they are mischievous little devils that love to cause havoc at every opportunity. By chewing through the cord on an alarm clock they manage to trick Billy into feeding them after midnight, and as a result undergo a startling metamorphosis. Now, they are no longer mogwai, but gremlins! These malevolent creatures start to terrorise the peaceful town, causing a spate of seemingly ‘freak’ accidents. Billy knows better, and with the help of his girlfriend Kate and, of course, Gizmo, he sets out to stop the Gremlin menace.

Gremlins: Special Edition/Gremlins 2: The New Batch
The sequel, imaginatively titled Gremlins 2: The New Batch, is set some years after the original. Billy and Kate have moved to the big city and are working for the Clamp Organisation (the owner, Daniel Clamp, being an obvious pastiche of tycoons such as Donald Trump), and the events of the Gremlin siege are just a distant memory. However, it’s not too long before fate brings Gizmo back into Billy’s life, which in turn leads to the emergence of a new gremlin threat as the creatures overrun the already bug-ridden Clamp building, bringing their own unique brand of chaos with them. This time the gremlins pose an even greater threat, thanks to the presence of a shady genetic engineering lab that gives rise to all manner of mutated creatures. Billy, Kate, Gizmo—and even Murray Futterman—must find a way to halt the Gremlin menace before they escape the confines of the building, spelling certain doom for civilisation.

Video


The original release of Gremlins featured an incredibly grainy transfer with more scratches than a cat factory. Thankfully Warner has seen fit to do some re-mastering for this release, although it’s still a long way off the quality of landmark restorations such as Superman: The Movie. While film artefacts like scratches and dirt and have not been eliminated, their impact has been lessened, making for a more enjoyable viewing experience. Unfortunately the image is still very soft and extremely grainy. Colour rendition is generally fine, although there are a few moments where things look a little off, and contrast is also an issue at times (with the matte paining of Kingston Falls at the beginning being a prime example). Surprisingly, black levels remain fairly consistent throughout. Thankfully digital nasties like edge enhancement are kept to an absolute minimum, and were not readily viewable on my 32” screen.

Gremlins: Special Edition/Gremlins 2: The New Batch
Being the newer film, you’d expect Gremlins 2 to have a superior transfer to that of its older sibling. Well, you’d be right. Things are much, much cleaner this time around, with only the occasional speck on the print. The image is also a little crisper, and colour rendition a little more accurate than the earlier feature, and while there’s still a fair bit of grain in the picture it’s nothing like the amount found in Gremlins. Once again the absence of excessive digital tinkering is welcome, but there is some edge enhancement present (you do have to look for it though).

Oh, I should probably mention that both films have been slightly altered from their theatrical ratios of 1.85:1 to the widescreen TV-friendly 1.78:1 ratio. Not really necessary, but in all honesty I doubt many will notice the difference.

Audio


As with the previous release, Gremlins includes a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, along with optional Dolby 2.0 Surround for those lacking multi-channel set-ups. The 5.1 track is fine for the most part; in fact I’d say it actually fairs better than the video. The frontal array does a good job with the various effects, periodically delivering a few neat pans and the like, but the dialogue does occasionally sounds a little muted. Surround utilisation is limited to Jerry Goldsmith’s score until the gremlins arrive on the scene, but then there are plenty of creepy noises and manic cackles to convince you to check behind the sofa. Bass is slightly wimpy, but then there are few opportunities for the LFE channel to do its thing anyway. It’s certainly not a reference quality track by any stretch of the imagination, but it does the job.

Gremlins: Special Edition/Gremlins 2: The New Batch
Speaking of Jerry Goldsmith’s score, I’d almost forgotten how much I loved it as a kid (long before I paid any attention to directors and composers). The score still sounds just as great today, especially the fabulous main theme. I also defy anyone to come away without humming Gizmo’s trademark little song, which is cleverly interwoven with the score.

Gremlins 2 also features a Dolby Digital 5.1 track (with optional 2.0 Surround), although for the first twenty five minutes of the film only the score has any real presence in the rears. However, as soon as the new mogwai arrive the rears kick in with some suitably crazy effects, and when the gremlins themselves make an appearance the track really comes to life. There’s actually a lot more going on here than in the original film, mostly because the expanded location allows for more crazy antics such as exploding microwaves and full-on musical numbers. Dialogue is clear for the most part (although a lot of it was obviously looped), but I felt that the score sometimes got lost in the mix. The track also suffers with the same lack of ‘oomph’ in the bass as the original film. Overall this is a reasonably competent effort, but still a long way off the standards set by reference titles.

Extras


The original DVD release of Gremlins was a bare-bones affair, so this Special Edition didn’t have a lot to live up to. Thankfully Warner has delivered a reasonably impressive collection of supplemental material. First up we have a commentary track with director Joe Dante, Mike Finnell and Chris Walas, which focuses on the technical side of things. The commentary moves along at a good pace, with few pauses and some nice interaction between the participants. Often these tracks can end up being driven by one person, so I was pleasantly surprised by the steady flow from all three commentators. There’s some very interesting stuff to be gleaned here, especially relating to the early, darker drafts of the screenplay and how Gizmo’s role was altered and expanded on the ‘suggestion’ of Steven Spielberg.

Gremlins: Special Edition/Gremlins 2: The New Batch
The second commentary track features director Joe Dante, voice actor Howie Mandel and actors Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates and Dick Miller. The track is fairly enjoyable, mostly thanks to the presence of Galligan and Dante, who seem to be the only participants with any real recollection of the production! They recount plenty of interesting stories, although there are lengthy periods of dead air throughout. This is mostly down to the fact that Cates, Miller and Mandel contribute very little to the proceedings. Still, it’s worth listening to the commentary for Galligan alone, as his enthusiasm is incredibly infectious.

‘Behind-the-Scenes’ sounds grandiose, but is really nothing more than four static pages of text—hardly anything to get too worked up about in my book. Much better are the ten minutes of deleted scenes, or ‘Additional Scenes’ as they’re labelled here. The first is the abandoned opening to the film, where Rand Peltzer visits a store owned by a mad Chinese woman who tries to sell him all manner of useless junk. Next is a scene in the bank where Billy awkwardly compliments Kate, before being scolded by the manager for being late and wearing a clip-on tie. A very short scene showing Billy’s love of drawing comes next, followed by a strange little scene with the priest, Father Bartlett.

Another scene in the bank comes next, this time as Billy and Kate sneak into the managers office and discover Mrs Deagle’s plans to build a chemical plant in Kingston Falls (if you listen carefully you can hear a TV announcer talking about this at the end of the theatrical release). The next scene features Stripe watching a group of Christmas carollers, and this is followed by a short, but humorous scene with the Futtermans. The final deleted scene is probably the most famous (it was actually included the Marvel Comics version of the movie and some cable TV showings), and takes place in the bank after the gremlins have attacked. We discover the fate of both Mr. Corben (who died an ironic death) and a slightly deranged Gerald. If you so desire, you can listen to the deleted scenes with commentary from Dante and the cast.

Gremlins: Special Edition/Gremlins 2: The New Batch
A short (six minute) featurette comes next, and takes us behind-the-scenes on the set of Gremlins with director Joe Dante. Some of the cast and crew also show up to talk about the picture, with Hoyt Axton, Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, Chris Walas and one Steven Spielberg all doing their part to sell the film. While it’s not going to knock your socks off, this 1984 featurette is a nice little trip down memory lane. Rounding off the bonus material we have a still gallery, featuring around thirty or so images, some reasonably detailed cast and crew info and theatrical trailers for both Gremlins and Gremlins 2: The New Batch. Not a bad collection of extras overall, but I’d have liked some retrospective featurettes and interviews with those involved.

Gremlins 2 doesn’t receive quite as much attention as its predecessor, but that’s not to say that the disc is barren—quite the opposite. Firstly, there’s a commentary track from director Joe Dante, actor Zach Galligan, writer Charlie Hass and producer Michael Finnell. The opening statement that Gremlins 2 is perhaps one of the most unnecessary sequels ever produced should be all you need to hear to prepare you for what’s in store. Dante proceeds to inform us that Warner Brothers gave him virtual carte blanche to make the movie he wanted, so desperate were they for another big success, and he used the opportunity to create one of the most unconventional big-studio sequels ever.

Just over twenty minutes of ‘Additional Scenes’ follow, all with optional commentary from director Joe Dante. He explains that a lot of the material was cut for pacing reasons, particularly some of the extended footage of the climactic sequence, but to be perfectly honest none of it is particularly integral to the plot. Perhaps the most amusing scene involves Christopher Lee in an obvious homage to his most famous role, but we also get the extended version of the opening Bugs and Daffy cartoon, a few extra scenes involving the character played by Robert Picardo (the EMH from Star Trek: Voyager) and some more footage of Grandpa Fred. All of the deleted material is presented in anamorphic widescreen and ranges in quality from very good to quite poor.

Gremlins: Special Edition/Gremlins 2: The New Batch
‘The Gremlins Files’ is an interactive feature spread across three static pages. Using your DVD player’s remote it is possible to highlight various elements on the pages, which in tern lead to more information on that particular subject. Some of the items also have a ‘show me’ link, which will take you to the relevant scene from the movie. It’s a nice idea, but the execution leaves a lot to be desired. There’s just not enough information contained in the three short pages to make the whole endeavour worthwhile.

A six-minute gag reel follows and succeeds in raising a few smiles (mostly courtesy of Robert Picardo), while the short ‘Behind the Screams’ featurette is perhaps one self-parody too far. The entire film is a spoof, so watching a featurette in which Gizmo and the Gremlins have supposedly ‘taken over’ the set didn’t really do it for me. Still, it has more footage of Phoebe Cates, so it’s not all bad. Some extremely limited cast and crew information is also included, but it amounts to nothing more than a single static page of credits. As I said, it’s extremely limited.

Finally, the disc includes the alternate ‘John Wayne’ sequence that was used in place of the ‘Hulk Hogan’ technical difficulties footage on the home video release of the film. This is accessed by way of an extremely easy to find Easter egg, but just in case you have trouble the instructions for uncovering it are linked in the review summary to the right of this page. The scene in the film is much better than the home video version, but it’s nice that it was included all the same.

Gremlins: Special Edition/Gremlins 2: The New Batch

Overall


I very much enjoyed this little trip down memory lane. Prior to receiving this DVD set it had been some time since my last viewing of Gremlins (probably as long ago as my review of the region two release) and I’m happy to say that I still enjoy the film immensely to this day. Gremlins 2, on the other hand, was somewhat of a disappointment when I first viewed it during its theatrical run and subsequent VHS release, but my advancement in years has afforded me greater appreciation for what Dante was trying to accomplish. It’s a great send-up of not only the first movie, but of consumer culture in general, packed with in-jokes and references to popular culture. And as the director pointed out, it’s probably one of the most bizarre pictures ever to come out of a major studio with its self-mockery and tendency to break of the fourth wall.

The DVD releases for both films are fairly respectable, although some way off of the standards set by Special Edition releases of films considered more ‘worthy’ by the studios. It’s a real pity, as a little more care and attention could have transformed these titles into something really special. Perhaps one day we’ll get proper Special Edition release of the films with completely restored transfers, some decent behind-the-scenes material and all-new interviews, but until then you could do a lot worse than pick up these discs. Seriously, two films starring Phoebe Cates—what more of an incentive do you need?


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