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Gremlins 2: The New Batch

Warner Bros. // PG-13 // August 20, 2002
List Price: $19.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted August 20, 2002 | E-mail the Author
It's more or less expected that a movie grossing in excess of $150 million will soon be followed by a sequel. Oodles of attempts were made to bring a Gremlins follow-up to fruition, all of which essentially rehashed the original and failed to make it more than a couple of insignificant hops through the production pipeline. Director Joe Dante avoided such mistakes when he was asked to take charge of the sequel. Given carte blanche, Dante upped the stakes by moving the setting from sleepy Kingston Falls to the City That Never Sleeps, threatening millions upon millions of hapless New Yorkers with the threat of the green menace. The result comes strikingly close to a live-action cartoon, shifting the emphasis away from characters and squarely on the little monsters so subtly hinted at in the film's title.

Billy Peltzer (Zach Galligan) and Kate Beringer (Phoebe Cates) have relocated to New York in search of fame and fortune...or at least to scrape enough cash together to get married. They both hold down jobs at the monolithic Clamp Center, the automated brainchild of zillionaire developer Daniel Clamp (John Glover). Billy toils way as an underappreciated artist, sketching Clamp's prospective projects, while Kate guides tourists through the center. The building is home to such varied tenants as a U-Haul office and a genetics laboratory ("Splice O' Life", if that gives some hint of the movie's sense of humor), and it's through the latter that Billy rediscovers his old mogwai pal Gizmo. Old habits die hard, and it's not long before Gizmo gets wet. His fuzzy offspring indulge in some early A.M. dining, and the building is soon teeming with gremlins. It's up to Billy and a handful of folks to keep the monsters, who transform themselves further due to some readily available beakers in the lab, from spreading outside and overrunning the city.

Countdown to blasphemy: 3...2...1... I prefer Gremlins 2 to the original. Whereas Gremlins offered a relatively even blend of elements of comedy and horror, Gremlins 2 drops any attempt at suspense and is entirely centered around a manic sense of humor. My biggest complaint about the original Gremlins is that it's awfully dull until the titular creatures burst forth from their cocoons. Gremlins 2 follows a similar structure with its gremlin-less initial forty-five minutes, but one of the advantages of being a sequel is that a couple of lines are all that's necessary to get the audience back up to speed. Since Gremlins 2 has comparatively little groundwork to lay, the first third of the movie flies by quite a bit more quickly than in the original.

There's even less of a body count this time around, and a couple of swipes and tiny trickles of blood (okay, and an electrocution) are about the most harm that come to humans throughout the course of the movie. The gremlins maim and kill each other far more than they attack humans, actually. There's almost always a gremlin somewhere in the frame once the creatures hatch, keeping the momentum from slowing down as was occasionally the case in the original. Gremlins 2 also doesn't hesitate to poke fun at the original, going so far as to spoof Phoebe Cates' tragic holiday monologue and Gizmo's movie-inspired save.

The temperment of the gremlins has changed somewhat, seeming more destructively mischevious than the violent little monsters from days past. Both the gremlins and their mogwai counterparts have a lot more personality this go-around, due in large part to the presence of special effects wizard Rick Baker. Gizmo in particular is quite a bit more expressive, and his appearance has also been refined to the point where doesn't look quite so latex-y. The genetics lab in Clamp Center offered Baker a chance to go nuts with his own original design, and they bring more variety to the table as well.

Though fuzzy little Gizmo is what immediately springs to mind whenever anyone thinks of the franchise, he's practically a minor supporting character in Gremlins 2. After getting wet and setting up the havoc, Gizmo's appearances are brief and infrequent (often while being tortured by his gremlin captors), just enough to show that the filmmakers haven't completely forgotten about him. Phoebe Cates is every bit as adorable here as she was in the original, and her character gets more well-deserved screentime. Zach Galligan remains likeable, if a bit on the dull side. Also returning are Dick Miller and the alliterative Jackie Joseph as the Futtermans, who are visiting the Big Apple because...well, further connections between the two movies were deemed necessary, I guess. There are quite a number of cameos scattered throughout the film, including a funny and fairly prominent role by the legendary Christopher Lee. The presence of Lee, who portrays perpetually complaining genetic researcher Dr. Catheter, is always appreciated in any movie without "Captain Invincible" in the title.

I've never really meticulously maintained a list of movies I'd love to see on DVD, but if I did, I'm positive Gremlins 2: The New Batch would have ranked in the top 25. It's great to finally have this somewhat unappreciated movie on DVD, and I'm especially pleased it comes with such a nice presentation and an assortment of quality supplemental material.

Video: Just like the original Gremlins, the sequel is presented in anamorphic widescreen at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. As Gremlins 2 is obviously quite a bit more recent than its predecessor, it's expected that its DVD release would look even better than the already attractive Gremlins disc. Film grain doesn't appear as frequently, visible mostly in the credit sequence, a handful of shots near the end (such as a close-up of Murray with the fire hose), and a couple of random scattered moments throughout. The wide variety of colors are still bold and appear to be accurately saturated, and the image overall is sharp and detailed. Gremlins 2 is a very nice looking catalog title.

Audio: The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, much like the original, really only starts making effective use of the six channels at its disposal when the gremlins come out and play. Sounds bounce frenzyingly from speaker to speaker after the creatures emerge from their cocoons 45 minutes in, accompanied by a respectable amount of subwoofer activity. Tagging along for the ride are the usual subtitles and stereo surround tracks in English, French, and Spanish.

Supplements: The snapper case mentions a commentary by director Joe Dante and producer Michael Finnell, though their frequent collaborator, writer Charlie Haas, and star Zach Galligan also contribute. One of their first statements is that Gremlins 2 is among the most unnecessary sequels ever produced, immediately setting the tone for the discussion. This is a very entertaining chat about a very entertaining movie, with only a couple of notable pauses throughout. In terms of the story, Dante notes that it, much like the original, was largely shaped by what was technically possible to achieve at the time. Haas and Dante also talk about the wildly imaginative portions of the screenplay that went unfilmed due to budget constraints. When and where certain shots were filmed, how various shots and special effects were accomplished, jokes lurking in the background (which Dante describes as "doodling in the margins" in the cast commentary on the original), funny stories and jokes, and an onslaught of technical notes are all a part of this very strong commentary track.

A tad over twenty minutes of deleted footage are included, available with or without commentary. As director Joe Dante notes, much of the footage is actually pretty good, particularly anything with Christopher Lee and the portions snipped from the climax. Time and pacing swung the axe at most of the footage, which also includes an extended animated intro with Bugs and Daffy, Clamp indulging his Turner-like tendencies to colorize classic films, and an homage to Christopher Lee's most famous role(s). All of the footage is surprisingly presented in anamorphic widescreen, and the quality overall is pretty impressive, all things considered.

I'm not really sure what "the Gremlin Files" feature is supposed to be, but a series of still pictures are shown with some brief text underneath. Selecting various areas in each image loads either a clip from the movie or related production notes. Hmmm. Also included is one of the better gag reels I've seen, running right at six minutes in length. The mistakes range from flubbed lines, uncontrollable laughter, uncooperative animals, and assorted technical problems. Dante mentioned one of my favorite bits in the disc's commentary: a monkey was so terrified by the sight of a gremlin that it refused to leave its cage, despite its handler's constant begging.

"Behind The Screams" isn't the usual promotional featurette, instead featuring Joe Dante and the movie's fleshier cast members complaining about the prima donna nature of Gizmo and the equally egomaniacal title characters. This DVD contains the version of the film that played theatrically. A gag specific to its theatrical run was altered for the home video release, and that Western-themed footage is included on the Special Features menu, though not as blatantly labeled as the other extras. Rounding out the supplements are an anamorphic widescreen theatrical trailer and cast/crew bios.

Conclusion: Gremlins 2: The New Batch is an extremely fun sequel, and in quite a few ways, I enjoy it more than the original. It would make a perfect companion purchase for those who plan on picking up Gremlins, especially considering the number of supplements, the quality of its presentation, and relatively low price. Highly Recommended.
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