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Gremlins (4K Ultra HD)

Warner Bros. // PG // October 1, 2019
List Price: $41.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by William Harrison | posted October 11, 2019 | E-mail the Author


While it does not thrill quite like it did upon my first viewings as a kid, Joe Dante's Gremlins remains an enjoyable, madcap romp, with fun practical effects and gleefully rude humor. Newly released on 4K Ultra HD by Warner Brothers, Gremlins looks better than it ever has for home viewing, but some previously released bonus features did not make the cut here. I always forget Gremlins feels more like a Christmas movie than Halloween-time watch. The film is set at Christmas amid the lights, snow and presents under the tree appropriate to that season. This release comes on the eve of Halloween, so I gave it a spin to review and had fun reliving the film. I suspect fans will want to grab this newly released 4K disc to add to their collections; casual viewers can likely stick with previously released versions.

Inventor Randall Peltzer (Hoyt Axton) strolls through Chinatown looking for a gift for his son, Billy (Zach Galligan). He stumbles upon a shop run by Mr. Wing (Keye Luke) and convinces the man's grandson to sell him a mogwai, the cute gremlin at the heart of the film. Billy names the creature Gizmo and promises to follow the three rules of caring for the mogwai: 1) Do not exposure him to bright lights or sunlight; 2) do not get him wet; and 3) do not feed him after midnight. Things go well at first, with Gizmo taking to Billy as a cute pet, but, when a friend spills water on Gizmo, five more mogwai spawn. These more aggressive creatures are led by Stripe, a particularly nasty gremlin. Billy's science teacher, Roy Hanson (Glynn Turman), studies the mogwai, who grow increasingly violent and disruptive. The film climaxes in a wild melee between humans and mogwai as Stripe and his multiplying horde take to the streets and begin looting, burning and killing townsfolk.

Gremlins and Red Dawn are two 1984 movies responsible for the creation of the PG-13 rating. While Gremlins is rated PG, some viewers expressed concern over the level of violence and mayhem, causing the MPAA to create the intermediate rating between PG and R that it bestowed upon Red Dawn months later. Most of the content is pretty tame by today's standards, but Gremlins makes it clear that Stripe and company are capable of actually hurting and killing people. The narrative, from Chris Columbus, is conventional. Billy pines over a girl, Kate Beringer (Phoebe Cates), struggles with town bully Mrs. Deagle (Polly Holliday), and looks on in disbelief as the gremlins begin breaking bad. The movie has a very 1980s feel, with smoky, hazy interiors and grimy exteriors, but the practical effects are impressive.

Some of the film's humor is aimed squarely at adolescents, and it does not play as well with me today. It also drags a bit in the midsection before Stripe goes to town. Dante knows his protagonist mogwai is cute, so there are plenty of close-ups of funny facial expressions, which complemented the film's extensive merchandising campaign. The film feels a bit isolated despite some funny sequences when the gremlins go into a local bar, movie theater and department store. There is plenty of action and debauchery, and the bad gremlins behave like drunken fraternity boys. The performances are acceptable from the leads, but practical Gizmo steals the show. Gremlins may not have the exact same impact that it did in my youth, but it has not lost its charm.



The 2009 Blu-ray release and a later deluxe edition are not exactly reference-quality discs, so this new 4K Ultra HD release is welcome. The 1.78:1/HEVC/H.265/2160p image, with HDR10, is an improvement over the HD transfers, but those expecting a shiny, super sharp and flashy image will likely be disappointed. This is a lower budget 1980s comedy, remember? That said, the 4K image is stable and free from dirt, debris and defects. The film does maintain its slightly hazy, dream-like appearance that is a product of the source material. Fine-object detail is steadily improved, as are black levels and shadow detail in most scenes. Grain can be thick, but it appears natural and filmic, and the transfer looks good in motion. The increased detail and clarity are readily apparent in scenes like the kitchen fight and department store melee. Fabrics are given increased texture, close-ups reveal intimate facial details, and the props and puppets look better than ever. This 4K image is overall darker, and I noticed a few spots of crush, but as a whole it provides a substantial upgrade for fans.


The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is not the theatrical presentation's original stereo mix, but it provides an appropriately raucous listening experience. I noticed no issues with pops, hiss, distortion, feedback or crowding, and the dialogue sounded natural and appropriately balanced throughout the film. Ambient effects like crowd noise at the bank and street happenings surround the viewer, and action sequences give plenty of opportunity for effects pans like gremlin footsteps, clatter and chatter. The LFE is called upon when appropriate, and Jerry Goldsmith's score is decently weighty. This is not going to blow your socks off like a brand new Atmos mix, but it is certainly more than competent. A laundry list of dubs and subtitles are included, but no English stereo mix.


The two-disc set includes the 4K disc, a Blu-ray and a Movies Anywhere HD digital copy code. The discs are packed in a black 4K case that is wrapped in a glossy slipcover. The extras mirror the 2009 Blu-ray release: You get an Audio Commentary by Director Joe Dante, Producer Michael Finnell and Special Effects Artist Chris Walas and an Audio Commentary by Director Joe Dante and actors Phoebe Cates, Zach Galligan, Dick Miller and Howie Mandel, both of which are included on both the 4K and Blu-ray discs. The rest of the extras are included on the Blu-ray only and include Gremlins: Behind the Scenes (6:21/SD), a vintage featurette; Additional Scenes (10:26/SD); a Photo Gallery; and Trailers (4:42/HD). This Blu-ray appears to be the exact same disc as the 2009 release, and it is not remastered. That also means roughly an hour of extras created for a 2014 "Diamond Luxe Edition" (not reviewed by this site) are sorely missing.


I applaud Warner Brothers for diving into its back catalogue and releasing 4K Ultra HD upgrades of its films at fairly regular intervals. Gremlins remains an entertaining comedy with a cute protagonist even if the humor and action do not land as well as they did when I was a kid. The 4K image is an upgrade appropriate to the source material, the audio track and extras are recycled, and Warner both omits previously created bonus content and fails to bring anything new to the table. Recommended.

William lives in Burlington, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.

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