I took awhile to get to Gremlins because frankly, I didn't want to be depressed. It's hard for me to acknowledge the fact that I saw this film in theaters when I was a kid, and now it's celebrating its 25th anniversary. I had the baseball cards and saw the cartoon, so you could say I was a mild fan. Now that I'm seeing the film again for the first time in years, I'm not sure if I'm more depressed over the film itself or the number of years that have passed since it was in theaters.
For those who haven't seen it, Gremlins was written by a 25-year-old Chris Columbus (The Goonies) and directed by Joe Dante (Innerspace). Notably, Steven Spielberg, was the film's executive producer and Gremlins was one of the first films made by Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment production company. The film shows Randall Peltzer (Hoyt Axton, Disorganized Crime) buying a Christmas gift for his son Billy (Zach Galligan, The Tomorrow Man). He finds the perfect gift, an adorable creature called a mogwai, but it's not for sale, according to the old storekeeper. But the storekeeper's grandson quietly sells it to Randall anyway, with three rules of proper mogwai maintenance: never expose it to bright light, never get it wet, and never, ever, feed it after midnight.
Randall agrees and brings it home for Billy, who naturally loves the gift. Billy lives in a house where his Dad is a struggling inventor, and Billy's job at the town bank is the main source of income. There is an attractive co-worker named Kate (Phoebe Cates, Fast Times at Ridgemont High) that he has a crush on, but Billy is always reminded of his place in the town by the bank's junior manager, Gerald (Judge Reinhold, Vice Versa). In spending time with the mogwai that his dad named Gizmo, Billy finds a bit of an escape from life's pressures. However, he accidentally gets Gizmo wet, and in mere seconds, one mogwai becomes five. Later in the film, he feeds them after midnight, and all hell breaks loose.
It's a simple story told in an entertaining fashion, but Gremlins, more than a lot of other films, caters to a much younger demographic, and if you see it in, say your thirties, either again or for the first time, you're not going to get as much bang for your buck as a kid would. There are times where you can see Dante play around in the environment of the overrun town, like the sequences with the Gremlins on the bar or in the movie theater, and they're fun for a minute or two. But it doesn't pack the pleasant mix of humor and horror that it did when I was growing up, and I think that may be due to the visuals.
I say this because it's not the story that disenchants me. It's conventional, fun, has its moments of action, but it's formulaic and has been seen in countless films since. Dante is wont to shoot lots of close-ups of Gizmo and the chief Gremlin hell-raiser named Stripe. They're cute (or in Stripe's case, devilish) for the first few instances, but it rapidly becomes a case of going to the well too much for the desired affect.
Speaking of that crowd, I'm also convinced that the crowd that would like Gremlins isn't the crowd I'm part of. Part of the focus of today's animated films are to have some relatable factor in them for adults, but Gremlins doesn't apologize for being geared toward kids who enjoy farts, boogers and things of the Garbage Pail Kids-era when this film was made. Perhaps that's why I do not like it as much as I used to. I may not have evolved, but I have grown up.
The Blu-ray Disc:
Warner gives Gremlins a VC-1 encoded 1.85:1 high-definition presentation that's, well, representative of how the film looked a quarter-century ago. There are occasional moments of image clarity, which is commendable (the early shots in Chinatown being a good example), but the layer of film grain quite prevalent throughout the film is distracting. However, blacks are stable, though just barely, and skin tones appear accurate.
The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround track does a little more work here, with narration and dialogue well placed in the center channel and occasional moments of directional activity during the movie theater scene; when it explodes, the subwoofer engages, which is pleasantly surprising. Unfortunately, in lossless audio, the film sounds as hollow as it did in the '80s era when it came out..However, there are Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks in English, French, Spanish, German and Italian, with additional two-channel soundtracks in English and Latin(?) and a one-channel track in Portuguese. Whew.
The material from the 2007 standard-definition edition has been brought over to Blu-ray, including a couple of commentary tracks. The first is with Dante, Galligan, Cates, Dick Miller (who play Billy's neighbor Mr. Futterman) and Howie Mandel, who did the voiceover work for Gizmo. The actors recall landing the roles and provide an occasional anecdote on what happened during production. Mandel serves as the comic relief more than anything else, and he recalls how he incorporated the Gizmo voice into his stand-up act back in the '80s. There's even some Gremlins 2 talk. While Dante and Galligan try to drive the conversation, there are still momentary lulls that are annoying, considering there are five people participating. Cates and Miller are nonexistent for long periods. All in all, there could have been more time and effort put into this one. The other track is with Dante, producer Michael Finnell and special effects artist Chris Walas, who handled many of the gremlin mechanics. This track is far more active and jovial than the talent, featuring self-effacing comments about the work itself and what they did to make things work. Previous Columbus drafts were recalled, along with Spielberg's impact on the film, and Walas discusses the challenges in making a robotic gremlin work. It was a little more interesting than expected and well worth enjoying.
From there, eight minutes of deleted scenes (10:26) don't add anything valuable, other than the awesomeness of Reinhold. An on-set promotional piece follows (6:21) with quick interviews from the stars, along with Spielberg, as they share their thoughts on what the film would be. A stills gallery and three trailers (4:42), including one for the New Batch sequel, round things out.
For all the popularity it experienced when it first came out, Gremlins doesn't wow like it used to. It's just not entertaining, and technically, it's hardly a disc that screams "wow." From an extras point of view it's good, although incomplete. Sadly though, if you're looking for an upgrade, you won't find it here, and something tells me this is the best treatment the film will get, so unless you're a hardcore fan, I'd rent it and leave it at that.