What I liked best about GREMLINS ($20) is the film's decidedly dark sense of humor, which contrasts nicely with its fantasy themed story. GREMLINS tells the tale of what happens when a less than successful inventor named Randall Peltzer (Hoyt Axton) purchases an unusual pet called a Mogwai from one of the more obscure shops in Chinatown. While the Mogwai that Peltzer is taking home as a Christmas present for his son Billy (Zach Galligan) is as cute as anything you'll ever see, this unusual animal comes with certain rules that must be followed. First of all, Mogwais hate bright lights, especially sunlight, which can kill them. Second, don't ever get a Mogwai wet. Third, and most important, never feed them after midnight.
As you might expect, the rules do get broken. When a Mogwai gets wet they have a tendency to multiply. Unfortunately, the newly Mogwais are nothing like Gizmo, the sweet little creature that Peltzer brought home for Billy. In fact, the new Mogwais have a decidedly mischievous streak and actually go out of their way to make sure that someone feeds them after midnight. After their midnight snack, the new Mogwais undergo a transformation from their furry and cute selves to scaly little monsters. In a very short period of time, Billy's hometown of Kingston Falls becomes overrun by a mass of destructive little Gremlins, and its up to him and Gizmo to set things right. The cast of GREMLINS also features Phoebe Cates, Polly Holliday, Judge Reinhold, Dick Miller, Corey Feldman, Scott Brady, Jackie Joseph, Harry Carey Jr., Keye Luke, Edward Andrews, Chuck Jones, Kenneth Tobey, William Schallert, and Howie Mandel as the voice of Gizmo.
Warner Home Video has reissued GREMLINS on DVD as a Special Edition, providing the film with a 1.78:1 wide screen presentation that features the anamorphic enhancement for 16:9 displays. This is actually a really nice transfer of GREMLINS, and I have to congratulate the folks at Warner for greatly improving upon their rather lackluster first attempt from the early days of DVD. Without a doubt, this presentation is the best that GREMLINS has ever looked in the home venue. Of course, GREMLINS wasn’t a big budget movie, so the transfer is unable to overcome some of weaknesses in the original production.
The image isn't as sharp or as detailed as a newer movie, but it still manages to look quite good. Colors are pretty vibrant and are rendered with greater stability than they were in the past. Some of the more intense hues can appear a tad fuzzy, but they don't smear, as they did on the previous DVD release. Blacks are adequate and the contrast seems fine; however, shadow detail does come up just a bit short in the darker scenes. The element used for the transfer is very clean, with few blemishes being noticeable during the presentation. Film grain, which was obtrusive on the previous release, has been greatly minimized on this presentation. Dual layer authoring keeps digital compression artifacts at bay.
This release of GREMLINS features a remixed Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack. Again, this is an improvement over previous editions of the film, but there are limitations in the original production that the remix is unable to overcome. Still, I found this to be a fun soundtrack that serves the movie well. The forward soundstage dominates the mix, and there is some nice stereo separation in the front. As for the surround channels, they enhance the cartoony-ness of the situations, especially when the Gremlins go on their rampage. The surrounds also provide a nice bit of musical fill for Jerry Goldsmith's enjoyable musical score. Dialogue is cleanly rendered, with excellent intelligibility. There isn't any really low bass in the sound mix, but the track never sounds anemic. English, French and Spanish Dolby Surround tracks are also encoded onto the DVD, as are English, French and Spanish subtitles.
Music underscores the basic interactive menus, which provide access to the standard scene selection and set up features as well as the DVD's supplements. Because this is a Special Edition, GREMLINS comes with two separate running audio commentary tracks. The first commentary is with director Joe Dante and performers Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, Dick Miller and Howie Mandel, while the second features director Dante again, along with producer Michael Finnell and special effects artist Chris Walas. Both tracks have a lot to offer fans; the first has plenty of entertainment value, while the second track covers the technical bases. Also included on the DVD are over ten minutes of additional scenes with optional director's commentary, an eight-minute featurette from 1984, production notes, a still gallery, three theatrical trailers and cast & crew biographies/filmographies.
Two years shy of the film's twentieth anniversary, Warner has produced a rather nice Special Edition of GREMLINS. The DVD looks and sounds better than anything that has preceded it, plus it offers fans a rather nice supplemental section. The darker side of this fantasy movie has always tickled me, which is probably why it has become a personal favorite from the 1980s. If you are a GREMLINS fan, you will definitely want to pick up the Special Edition DVD.
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