Gremlins (Special Edition)
By Brian Jacks
Eighteen years after Gremlins became 1984’s sleeper hit, the good folks at Warner Bros. have finally decide to give the movie what it deserves. With the odd tale of a Mogwai named Gizmo now coming out on DVD as a special edition, fans everywhere have already set their phasers to buy.
When Steven Spielberg bought the script and gave it to a then-relatively unknown director named Joe Dante to helm, nobody really set their expectations too high. The studio certainly didn’t know what to make of a story that was half comedy and half horror, but who could turn down Spielberg? What ultimately resulted was a film that attracted a diverse array of audiences: from horror fans to Phoebe Cates stalkers, to parents like mine who brought their kids to Gremlins thinking it was some kind of Muppet movie.
For all five of you who haven’t seen the film, it tells the story of a cute little animal named Gizmo whose ownership comes with three tenets: do not expose it to direct sunlight, do not feed it after midnight, and most of all, do not get it wet. Of course everything goes wrong, and in a series of events, no less than pure hell is unleashed on the movie’s small Pennsylvania town. Starring Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, Hoyt Axton, and Bobby’s World’s Howie Mandel as the voice of Gizmo, the film boldly shifted between outright humor and absolute violence, at times combining the two in a unique merger. Aside from its brutal originality, Gremlins other cling to fame is that it helped convince the powers that be in Hollywood to add a PG-13 rating.
Gremlins also helped launch the careers of its principal production crew. Dante went on to direct such films as the 80s classic Explorers, and The ‘Burbs and Small Soldiers, but even more impressive was the after-effects it had on the resume of screenwriter Chris Columbus. Currently the executive producer and director of the Harry Potter films, Columbus also directed such hits as Stepmom, Mrs. Doubtfire, and Home Alone. As for the actors in Gremlins, well, after Gremlins 2, probably less said the better.
Released in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, the special edition of Gremlins features a new digitally-remastered video transfer. The overall quality of the print has been improved from previous versions, with colors more vibrant and less blemishes such as dirt or noise. As the film is almost twenty years old and was fairly low-budget to begin with, a certain rawness exists about the video quality, but that characteristic seems to fit given the film’s nature. No edge enhancements or other processing were noticed. All in all, an impressive transfer that should leave little room for criticism.
Much like the print side, the audio track has also been completely remastered. Presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and Surround 2.0, Gremlins is, for the most part, a dialogue-driven film with a memorable musical score provided by composer Jerry Goldsmith. Rear and bass channels are used sparingly, mostly for musical accompaniments and the film’s “action” sequences later on. Due to the film’s age, a large all-encompassing audio track is not in the cards, but this still sounds better than any previous Gremlins releases, so what more can one want?
Aside from the upgraded video/audio transfers, the Gremlins special edition contains a litany of supplements. Headlining the extras are two full-length commentary tracks, one with director Joe Dante, producer Michael Finnell, and special effects artist Chris Walas, and the other with Dante, and actors Phoebe Cates, Zach Galligan, Dick Miller, and Howie Mandel (Gizmo). The actor’s commentary is arguably the more entertaining of the two, with a lot of antidotes told, for the most part, by Galligan and Dante. Mandel also chimes in with stories about providing the voice for Gizmo and other creatures, and comes across as very humorous and a great addition to the track. Anyone who judges the comedian by his work in children’s television hasn’t been graced with the full extent of Mandel’s talents (case in point his raunchy HBO special). Somewhat odd is the addition of Dick Miller to the track, as his minor role consisted of barely a few minutes of screen time, and while he does get in some one-liners, he comes off as a guy who’s confused why he’s there and quickly becomes cannon fodder for Mandel. Cates hovers in the background, chiming in with a few comments on occasion, but for the most part she’s non-existent, which is a real shame since it’s enjoyable when she does speak up.
The other commentary track revolves mostly around items of a more technical nature, such as how scenes were constructed, shots set up, and how the special effects were accomplished. Quite a lot is also discussed about how the film would have been different if it had been shot today with current CGI technology (this is also touched upon in the actor’s commentary).
Next up in a short six-minute behind-the-scenes documentary shot in 1984 during the making of the film. It’s standard fare, and while it’s a nice inclusion, it’s both surprising and disappointing that Warner didn’t also opt for putting a “Look Back” featurette on the disc. While we do hear from the principals on the commentary tracks, it would have been nice to see them with some one-on-one discussions. The remaining featurette is a ten-minute montage of deleted scenes, with optional audio commentary by Joe Dante. The most prominent scenes include additional footage with Judge Reinhold, expounding on the sliminess of his character, and a scene that takes place before the start of the film featuring Hoyt Axton’s first encounter with the Chinese boy who would lead him to Gizmo. An additional deleted scene consists of a minor subplot involving Mrs. Deagle forcing the bank to foreclose on a number of homes.
Rounding out the extras package is a photo/storyboard gallery, cast/crew biographies, and the film’s theatrical trailer.
The Movie: B+. Gremlins is a classic, what more is there to say?
The Look: B. While some grittiness remains, it’s nominal. We won’t see a better transfer of this film.
The Sound: C+. You won’t exactly be blowing out the sub with this one, but the dialogue is clear and the music is memorable.
The Extras: B. The two commentaries and deleted scenes make the extras package shine, although an updated documentary would have been nice.
Overall: B+. Fans of Gremlins probably won’t ever see a better offering of this film.