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Gremlins (1984)

Warner Home Video
Blu-ray Disc Released: 12/1/2009

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2
Video:
Audio:
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 12/4/2009; Updated 9/23/2019

Does anyone else here remember when Steven Spielberg used to be cool? During the late 70s and early 80s, his films were not only box-office smashes and critical successes, but they were cool as well. And when he wasn't directing movies, he was producing cool movies like Poltergeist. (And, of course, there's still a debate about who actually directed that film.) But, around 1986, that cool began to dissipate as Spielberg began directing more serious, less sci-fi oriented films, and producing films that went nowhere. Thank goodness that in 1984, he still had the wherewithal to get behind one the most fun and unique films of the decade, Gremlins.

As Gremlins opens, we meet Randall Peltzer (Hoyt Axton), an inventor who is attempting to sell his gadgets in the Chinatown section of an unnamed city. While there, he visits a strange store and buys a Christmas present for his son. Randall then returns to his home in the small town of Kingston Falls and presents his son, Billy (Zach Galligan). Inside the box is a small, furry creature called a Mogwai, which Randall has named Gizmo. Gizmo is incredibly cute and has many human-like characteristics. Randall informs Billy that there are three rules for taking care of Gizmo; keep him out of bright light (pretty easy), don't get him wet (a challenge, but OK), and never feed him after midnight (vague, but doable). Of course, these rules aren't followed, and Billy soon finds himself with several Mogwai's on his hands. He then learns that breaking the rules makes the Mogwai turn evil. Billy, Gizmo, and Billy's girlfriend Kate (Phoebe Cates) quickly learn that they must save the town from a hoard of mischievous monsters.

Gremlins is one of those films which has become such a part of the cultural landscape that itís difficult to forget the impact that it had upon its initial release. The movie was a very unique blend of funny, scary, and cool, and this reflected those working behind the cameras.

At this point in his career, Spielberg was already a very powerful force in Hollywood, and his involvement gave the movie clout and the ability to attract a big budget. (Itís also been said that the look of Gizmo is based on Spielbergís dog.) That way the movie could have a glossy look and the resources for top-notch special effects. This was one of the first produced scripts from Writer Chris Columbus, who here shows a mean streak which was rarely seen in his later works. The real ace-in-the-hole for Gremlins was Director Joe Dante, who had worked with Spielberg on Twilight Zone: The Movie, but had made his mark as a maker of independent horror films, such as Piranha and The Howling. Yet, even those films had an overt amount of black-humor to them. It was this mentality which really set Gremlins apart from its peers. An avid film fan and a lover of old movies, Dante packs the film with movie references, as well as an interesting mixture of slapstick comedy, gross-out moments, and genuine creepiness. But, he also gives the movie heart and you canít help but fall in love with Gizmo.

Yet, I canít help but wonder if Gremlins is remembered today. I occasionally see Gizmo stickers in retro stores, but I never hear anyone discussing the movie. My fear is that, outside of a core group of fans and Generation Xíers like me who were effected by the movie, people only remember Gremlins as one of the movies which led the MPAA to create the PG-13 rating. Hopefully this new Blu-ray Disc release (which was originally a Target exclusive, but is now available everywhere) will not only help to remind people of Gremlins, but to help the movie find a new audience. This is a movie which made over $150 million at the box-office, so it should be remembered. The good news is that the movie still holds up today. Yes, some of the Mogwai effects look a bit dated, and even those who havenít seen the film are aware of some of the plot twists, but this is still a very fun movie which doesnít apologize the fact that itís all about celebrating cinema and having a good time. ďBright light! Bright light!Ē

Gremlins learns the hazards associated with kitchen appliances on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Warner Home Video. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains a VC-1 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 18 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing only a slight amount of grain and, even more importantly, no defects from the source material. The image is a bit dark at times, but this shouldnít interfere with the viewing experience. The picture shows a nice amount of detail, but overall, it is a bit flat, not having the depth which usually accompanies a Blu-ray transfer. The Disc offers a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 1.7 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. This newly created track is certainly an improvement over any old stereo track, but itís not stellar. The stereo effects are good and show nice separation. The surround sound effects are spotty, arriving at appropriate times, but absent in some key moments. The subwoofer effects are somewhat weak.

The Gremlins Blu-ray Disc contains a small assortment of extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director Joe Dante, Producer Micheal Finnell, and Special Effects Artist Chris Walas. There is then a second COMMENTARY with Dante, and actors Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, Dick Miller, and Howie Mandel. "Gremlins: Behind-the-Scenes Featurette" (6 minutes) is an electronic press-kit short from 1983 which offers some on-set footage and comments from Dante and Spielberg. While we get an overview of the movie and comments from the cast, the bulk of the piece looks at the Chinatown scene. The Disc contains eight DELETED SCENES which run about 10 minutes and can be viewed with the cast commentary. There are some interesting moments here, such as a new opening, and expanded scenes with characters who were cut down in the finished product. The extras are rounded out by a PHOTO GALLERY, two TRAILERS for Gremlins and a TRAILER for Gremlins 2.

UPDATE:

On October 1, 2019, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment released Gremlins on 4K UHD.  The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains an HEVC 2160p transfer which runs at an average of 75 Mbps.  Evaluating an older film on 4K UHD can be a tricky proposition.  The image is sharp and clear, showing mild grain and no defects from the source materials.  The colors look good, most notably reds, and the image is only slightly dark in some scenes.  There is a nice amount of depth and the daytime scenes are notably clear.  However, the image certainly doesn't jump off of the screen and say, "This is HD!".  The picture is somewhat flat and doesn't offer the sort of crispness that we are accustomed to.  It's difficult to say if this is an issue with the transfer or the film's age, but this only looks slightly better than the Blu-ray Disc.  The Disc carries a DTS Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.5 Mbps.  The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects.  The action sequences deliver some noticeable surround and stereo effects, but they aren't very detailed and we don't get a lot of individual sounds coming from the front or rear.  The subwoofer is present, but subtle.  All-in-all, this release is only slightly better than the Blu-ray Disc release.

The extra features for Gremlins are found on the Blu-ray Disc included here and they are the same as those found on the previous Blu-ray release.

Review Copyright 2009/2019 by Mike Long