Gremlins 2: The New Batch Blu-ray delivers great video and audio in this enjoyable Blu-ray release
The Gremlins are back, and this time, they've taken total control over the building of a media mogul. In this follow-up feature to the cult hit Gremlins, Billy Peltzer and Kate Beringer move to New York City and meet up with their Mogwai friend, Gizmo, when a series of accidents creates a new generation of diverse gremlins. Billy, Kate, and Gizmo must once again use all their experience to prevent another catastrophe!
For more about Gremlins 2: The New Batch and the Gremlins 2: The New Batch Blu-ray release, see Gremlins 2: The New Batch Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on April 29, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
No one was prepared for Gremlins 2: The New Batch. Skirting every rule, subverting every convention of franchise profiteering and, in many ways, flying in the face of good sequel-making sense, director Joe Dante's second round of Mogwai misadventures split moviegoers, critics and, more to the point, the powers that be at Warner Brothers, some of whom suddenly regretted luring Dante back with the promise of complete script-to-screen control of the project. What followed was a flurry of mixed reviews, legions of bemused moviegoers, and the death rattle of Dante's feature film career. (Warner wouldn't come calling again until 2003 with Looney Tunes: Back in Action, and little else, even films made for Universal and Dreamworks, amounted to much.) There wouldn't be a Gremlins 3 either, from Dante or anyone else for that matter, as the studio effectively put the once-wildly popular series-in-the-making out to pasture.
But The New Batch isn't a bad film. Not by any means. Ahead of its time perhaps, out of left field most definitely, but not the misfire its disappointing box office totals and polar audience reactions might suggest. Viciously skewering sequels of all stripes, taking shots at the studio merchandising machine, and even making a string of jokes at the expense of Gremlins itself, Dante's zany follow-up is a madcap, absurdist satire, and still stands as one of the more unconventional, unexpected sequels in Hollywood's storied history.
Back with a vengeance...
When last we left dear, dutiful Gizmo (voiced by Howie Mandel), the strange, furry creature was back in the care of Chinatown store owner Mr. Wing (Keye Luke) and, once again, safely hidden from the world. Sadly, tragedy soon leaves Gizmo homeless... until, that is, he comes into the possession of a mad scientist (Christopher Lee) working at a state of the art Manhattan skyscraper owned by quirky billionaire Donald Clamp (John Glover), CEO of Clamp Enterprises. As luck would have it, though, Gizmo's old friends Billy (Zach Galligan) and Kate (Phoebe Cates) also work in Mr. Clamp's building, and free Gizmo before Dr. Catheter has a chance to do any permanent damage. Not that it all goes as planned. Before you can say water, food and the stroke of midnight, Gizmo inadvertently spawns another brood of hellions that transform into a vile army of Gremlins, commandeer the Clamp Enterprises tower, and begin using Dr. Catheter's lab to conduct experiments of their own. Led by an intelligent Gremlin dubbed Brain (Tony Randall), the creatures undergo all sorts of mutations and quickly become an even greater force to be reckoned with. Now, as Brain prepares to inject his brethren with a super-sunblock serum, it's up to Billy, Kate and Gizmo to stop the Gremlins and save New York City.
In some ways, The New Batch is a picture-perfect sequel to Gremlins. Crazier creatures, more chaos, bigger stakes; Dante certainly knew what everyone wanted. In other ways, though, it betrays everything that made the first film the sinewy, mean-spirited smalltown holiday romp it was. Campier, cheesier and battier than the original, Gremlins 2 indulges in self-referential humor and gangly visual gags with an almost reckless abandon. Yet there's method to Dante's madness; or, at the very least, a laser-focused distaste for sequels and movie studios that would so willingly sacrifice artistic integrity on the altar of box office millions. And while the resulting film nearly barrels head first into slapdash parody, it never derails. Dante keeps his wits about him, and the wit flowing freely, and even takes the time to tell a proper story. Still, The New Batch plays like one giant flip of Dante's bony middle finger. I told you I didn't want to do a Gremlins sequel! I told you the first film was it. But you wouldn't listen, would you? All you could see were the returns. The dollar signs. Well fine then... I'll give you a sequel you won't soon forget...
Never mind the hit-or-miss comedy, the free-fall farce, or the seemingly endless minefield of late-80s pop culture references. Dante's gutsy, almost frightening mad-hattering blesses (and, for some, curses) The New Batch with the nutty, scattershot charm of a deranged Looney Tunes cartoon. Gremlins sprout everything from spider legs to bat wings to vegetation, a cross-dressing gremme fatale has her way with poor Robert Picardo, and Gizmo even finds time to tie a red band around his head, slap together a flaming arrow or two, and make a transformation of his own, from lovable, huggable teddy bear to a pint-sized John Rambo. Along the way, the Gremlins raid the projection booth and interrupt the film (don't worry, the Hulkster sets things right), Billy's neighbor Mr. Futterman realizes he wasn't going insane after all, and beastie after beastie gets bashed, slapped, shot, stabbed, crushed, and electrocuted to increasingly harebrained effect. The sequel doesn't surge so much as it skips from goofy episode to goofier episode, with little of the darkness or horror Dante nurtured in the original film. Gremlins 2 is a comedy first and a satire second, with horror coming in at a distant fifth. It's funny, sure. But even twenty-two years later, it isn't in the same league as the original. That said, the right hook it delivers is worth the cost of admission alone, to say nothing of the ballsy shots Dante takes at sequels, American consumerism and corporate inanity. And who could level a complaint against Gizmo? Even at its worst, The New Batch blazes anew whenever the lionhearted Mogwai lets loose his adorable little battle cries.
Much as I adore the original Gremlins, its dim and dreary VC-1 encoded Blu-ray presentation wasn't the revelation I was hoping it would be. I'm happy to report the same can't be said of the sequel's 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer, which took me by surprise and surpassed my meager expectations. Colors are loud and lively, with vicious reds, rowdy greens, electrifying blues and sinister, pitch-black shadows. Contrast is strong and consistent throughout, skintones are usually dead on (save a few exceptions), and delineation is satisfying, even though cinematographer John Hora tends to frequent far darker realms than Dante. Detail steals the show, though, with frighteningly fine-tuned textures, a crisp field of tasteful grain, and clean edge definition (without any ringing to speak of). Just look at Brain's scales and spikes, Mohawk's spindly spider legs, Gizmo's fur, the veggie Gremlin's roots and leafy skin, even the intricacies of Billy's drawings. It all looks great, despite the fact that heavy shadows sometimes press in and obscure delicate details. There's a bit of crush, of course, albeit nothing that really detracts from Dante's vision or the integrity of Hora's original photography. It helps that artifacting, banding, aliasing and other anomalies are nowhere to be found; only the film's more complex visual effects show significant age, and there's little any presentation could do about that. All things considered, I was elated upon seeing the fruits of Warner's labor.
Warner's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track is a blast and a half too, with plenty of slapstick confidence and zany precision to be had. Dialogue -- human, Mogwai or Gremlin; panicked, sing-songy, or garbled and guttural -- is clear, engaging and nicely prioritized in the mix, and there isn't a line, hum or growl that misses its mark. LFE output is firm and forceful, embracing the erupting chaos, exploding beakers, gunshots, spider chases, and Gremlin attacks with spunk and surety. It isn't as powerful as it could be, but it's more than suited to the task at hand. The rear speakers deliver as well, with dozens of beasties darting across the already fully functional soundfield, a convincing cadre of chattering Gremlins hijacking the projector in the back of the "theater," all manner of objects being hurled from speaker to speaker, and every shade of madness and juvenile insanity in between. Directionality isn't spine-crinking, but it is involving; pans are supernaturally smooth, but they are silky; Jerry Goldsmith's score doesn't quite invade the room, but it fills up the soundfield with playful ease. Ultimately, while The New Batch shows some signs of sonic age, its lossless mix has a tight grip on the fuss, furor and foolishness the Gremlins bring to the table.
Audio Commentary: Director Joe Dante, writer Charlie Haas, producer Michael Finnell and actor Zach Galligan start at the film's animated Chuck Jones opening and plow their way through the chaos of the Gremlins tower siege, joke by joke, jab by jab, mutation by mutation. Dante dominates the conversation, but the others offer unique insight of their own, touching on the unconventional nature of the sequel, the desire to do something more than repeating the first film, the drastic shift in tone, casting and performances, and more practical matters like developing the special effects, bringing the Gremlins to life, and upping the ante however the filmmakers could.
The Making of Gremlins 2: The New Batch (SD, 6 minutes): Even Christopher Lee slums it in this corny stab at a tongue-in-cheek mockumentary. Gizmo curses and flashes his true colors -- which earns a solid laugh -- but, other than that, this vintage misfire isn't nearly as entertaining as the film itself.
Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary (SD, 22 minutes): Labeled "Outtakes" in the main menu, this collection of deleted scenes includes a few gems but mostly reveals how bloated the film's first act could've been had Dante not been more judicious when cutting the film.
Gag Reel (SD, 6 minutes): The sequel's gag reel gets off to a rocky start -- a monkey is legitimately frightened by a menacing gremlin puppet, something the crew apparently finds hilarious -- and never redeems itself. The flubs and crackups hit their intended target, but every time the gag reels cuts back to that poor little monkey, it takes on a sinister edge that isn't very funny at all.
Alternate Home Video Sequence (SD, 3 minutes): An alternate scene created for the film's home video release in which the Gremlins hijack the movie, channel surf, and take on John Wayne in a gunfight.
Gremlins 2: The New Batch was and will continue to be called a failure by many a filmfan, but that doesn't mean it was or remains a failure. The sequel works on Dante's wild-n-wacky terms as both a satire of sequels and as an unpredictable follow-up to one of the biggest hits of the early '80s. The Gremlins faithful will remain split, critics will continue to divide, and The New Batch will forever be the unconventional, under-appreciated surprise it was and is. And Warner's Blu-ray release? With an excellent video transfer (that should erase any memory of its DVD counterpart), a solid DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track, and a decent selection of (dated) extras, it's even better. Better than Gremlins? As a Blu-ray release, yes. As a film, no. The New Batch doesn't surpass the original, but its high definition debut is far more impressive. Just don't get it wet, leave it in the sun, or... well, watching it after midnight is permitted, I suppose.
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Warner Home Entertainment will bring Gremlins 2: The New Batch to Blu-ray next summer. This madcap sequel to the 1984 horror-comedy finds Billy (Zach Galligan, Waxwork) and his Mogwai Gizmo (Howie Mandel, Gremlins) stuck in an ultra-modern New York City skyscraper ...
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