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When a man brings home an adorable creature from Chinatown as a Christmas present for his son Billy, the shopkeeper's sage advice -- no snacks after, no water, mood lighting only -- goes unheeded. As a result, devilish green creatures with a million vices take over the small town on Christmas Eve.
For more about Gremlins and the Gremlins Blu-ray release, see Gremlins Blu-ray Review published by Dustin Somner on September 30, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: Zach Galligan, Hoyt Axton, Frances Lee McCain, Phoebe Cates, Polly Holliday, Corey Feldman
Director: Joe Dante
» See full cast & crew
Gremlins Blu-ray Review
Gremlins is beginning to show its age...
Reviewed by Dustin Somner, September 30, 2009
The 1980's seemed to be the decade of the horror-comedy. Released on the same date as the original Ghostbusters film, Gremlins blurred the lines of family entertainment in its depiction of evil little creatures that descend upon a sleepy suburbia town with a murderous rampage. At the time of its initial release back in 1984, I was one of the few kids at school who wasn't allowed to see Gremlins in the theater with my friends. In fact, the closest I came to Gremlins exposure, was a stuffed Gizmo toy that my grandparents bought as a Christmas present. My folks weren't sure about letting any Gremlins related memorabilia in the house (assuming it would open the door to more belly-aching about not being allowed to see the actual film), but they conceded and let me keep the Gizmo toy. Flash forward 25 years, and I'm now given the honor of revisiting the cinematic classic on a format that's capable of matching the technical quality my friends experienced at the time of the film's original theatrical run (go figure). At least this time I didn't have to ask for my parent's permission.
Travelling inventor/salesman Randall Peltzer (Hoyt Axton) comes into possession of a strange furry little creature known as a Mogwai during a visit to Chinatown. He intends to present the pet to his son Billy (Zach Galligan) as an early Christmas present, but is told to passes on strict instructions that the owner of a Mogwai must follow three simply rules in caring for the creature. First, it's imperative that he keep the Mogwai out of sunlight and away from bright lights; second, it must never come into contact with water; and third, it's never allowed to eat after the stroke of midnight (apparently time zones don't play a factor ). Billy agrees to the list of conditions relayed by his father and quickly forms a bond with his cuddly new pal named Gizmo. Everything seems fine initially, as Gizmo settles into his new life with the Peltzer family, but it doesn't take long for Billy to make a couple of stupid mistakes that compromise the three ultimate rules. First, he spills water on Gizmo, causing him to spawn several new Mogwai with their own unique personalities. Next, he mistakenly believes it's prior to midnight, allowing the newly spawned creatures to feast of a plate of fried chicken. Eating after midnight has the dangerous effect of turning the cute little creatures into slimy green monsters known as Gremlins. Before the night is out, Billy's quaint town will be turned into a playground for the nasty green creatures, and the townspeople will have a Christmas Eve they'll never forget (provided they survive).
I'm not sure exactly why, but I seem to enjoy Gremlins less and less as I grow older. It still stands as a nostalgic entry in the horror-comedy genre, and I appreciate the crossover effect of staging the film around the Christmas holiday (giving us the opportunity to watch it around Halloween or Christmas), but there are simply too many elements that don't stand the test of time. First off, the Gremlins are effectively nasty little monsters, but they rarely seem dangerous, leaving the viewer with only fleeting moments of tension. The comedic aspects seem to overwhelm the horror elements, but they honestly aren't funny enough to sustain entertainment value based on laughs. I still enjoy the bar scene with Gremlins engaging in all manner of lewd activities, and the crew of carolers are a hoot, but I think I've lost my youthful ability to simply accept the fact that nobody grabs a gun or a baseball bat (until the closing minutes of the film). It also seems preposterous that you'd simply leave five oozing cocoons in your bedroom while you head out for the day. I'm pretty sure the typical reaction would be to call in the FBI, or at least lock them in a closet.
Complaints aside, Gremlins is still a fun trip down memory lane, and should be viewed as an inventive stab at stepping outside the boundaries of Hollywood conventions. Steven Spielberg has always demonstrated a willingness to take chances on productions that others would likely scoff at, so I have to give him credit for buying the rights to the story, and green lighting the film under his fledgling studio. The other big name worth noting in the production, is writer Chris Columbus, who went on to write the screenplay for Goonies in the following year. He's also known for directing the Home Alone films, Adventures in Babysitting, and the first two Harry Potter films. I'm mentioning the pedigree of talent behind Gremlins because it helps explain part of my appreciation for the film as an adult, despite the reservations I mentioned earlier in the review. I know there are plenty of folks out there that place the film on a pedestal for different reasons than I have, but I've been more impressed with the doors that were opened due to the popularity of the film, rather than the quality of the film itself. After all, I can't imagine approaching a studio in the year 2009 and trying to sell the executives on financing a picture that contains killing of humans, alcohol consumption, smoking and melting flesh By the way, did I forget to mention this is a film for children with a line of toys in the works?
Gremlins Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in 1080p utilizing the VC-1 codec (at an average bitrate of 20Mbps), Gremlins is a disappointment when stacked up to the majority of other vintage catalog titles of the mid-eighties. The main culprit behind my lack of enthusiasm is an overall haziness that permeates a large portion of the runtime, leaving us with only a marginal improvement over the DVD version. If anything, the main differentiating factor in this high-definition upgrade, is an overall smoothing out of the picture, lending the film a more attractive look despite the haziness. DNR is clearly not a factor in the lack of clarity, since you'll notice a heavy layer of film grain in several indoor sequences that's a tell-tale sign of zero manipulation. Some of the outdoor sequences during daylight hours look significantly better than the nighttime or indoor scenes, exhibiting a boost in clarity and color richness. Despite my disappointment in the look of the film on Blu-ray, my overall impression of the transfer itself is slightly less harsh, since this represents an accurate reproduction of the source material Warner is currently working with, and likely the best we can expect without significant remastering. Aside from issues with detail, black levels are marginal, contrast in low-light scenes suffers (leading to a loss of shadow detail), and there's far more film damage than we'd expect from a major studio release. I'd hate to deter fans from upgrading simply due to limitations in the source material, but I hope you take the time to look through the screenshots in order to temper your expectations.
(As a side note, if you bought Gremlins on Blu-ray, and feel disappointed in the quality of the transfer, I'd recommend you watch the first standard definition trailer from the main menu, which should give you some idea of how the film looked on DVD)
Gremlins Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Matters improve somewhat with the audio track, which thankfully received an upgrade to Dolby TrueHD 5.1. Most viewers will be happy with overall clarity and volume balance of the track, but there are several slight issues that will stand out in the ears of audiophiles. First up, there's a slight hiss that can be heard in the background of several scenes throughout the film. It might not be noticeable unless you have the volume cranked up, but those of you who look at the audio experience as half of the entertainment value are probably not watching the film with minimal volume. Second, there were several instances in the early stages of the film where I felt the music was a little too subdued. This is clearly corrected by the time the Gremlins blast "Do You Hear What I Hear" in Billy's home, but it seemed slightly off up until that point. Lastly, I felt the dialog had a tendency to sound a bit flat, lacking the dynamics of expression in the character's voices. Many films of this age have a tendency to display this problem, but it's still worth mentioning so you know what to expect from the audio track.
Aside from those minor issues, I was pleased with the proficiency of the audio experience. Surround use is noticeable during the many action sequences, and though the LFE track is a bit muted, there are still some decent explosions that make their way to the subwoofer. In the end, the lossless track doesn't detract or elevate the overall entertainment value of the film itself, leaving us with a serviceable experience.
Gremlins Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
First up, we have two audio commentaries that are both equally informative. The first features director Joe Dante, producer Michael Finnell and special effects artist Chris Walas (focusing mainly on elements in the story, the incorporation of special effects, and what could be done differently if the film was made with present-day technology). The second commentary track features director Joe Dante, and actors Phoebe Cates, Zach Galligan, Dick Miller and Howie Mandel (this track is far more sentimental, with a focus on bits of information or stories from the set of Gremlins).
Gremlins: behind-the-scenes (480p, Dolby Digital 2.0, 6:21 min): This vintage featurette was produced back in 1983 and includes footage of the crew working on the set, as well as interviews with Joe Dante, Steven Spielberg and Hoyt Axton.
Additional Scenes (480p, Dolby Digital 2.0, 10:26 min): Fans of the film should enjoy this collection of scenes, which incorporate Judge Reinhold to a greater extent.
Lastly, we have a photo gallery, two standard definition trailers for Gremlins, and a standard definition trailer for Gremlins 2: The New Batch.
Gremlins Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Gremlins has always had a tough time identifying a target audience. Young viewers will likely have nightmares for weeks to come if they're allowed to watch the mayhem that unfolds before their eyes, and adults will experience plenty of inadvertent head-shaking at the lunacy of the characters that seem unable to fend off the little green monsters. In all honesty, the true target is limited to children around the age of thirteen, who can stomach the violence and killings, but haven't developed a critical eye for elements in the plot that make no sense. There are still plenty of us who appreciate Gremlins from a nostalgic standpoint, but there's no denying the film has lost a touch of charm as I've grown older.
As far as a recommendation goes, I can't wholeheartedly endorse this release unless you've been a long-time fan of the film. For those accustomed to the clarity of newer high-definition productions, Gremlins will initially seem like a huge disappointment. However, I'm sticking with the opinion that this is an accurate representation of the source material as it currently stands. A delicate remastering would surely be appreciated, but until that happens, this is likely the best we can expect in high-definition.
Gremlins: Other Editions
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