Gremlins (1984)

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Released 14-Jul-2000

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Comedy None
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1984
Running Time 101:54
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (47:20) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Joe Dante
Studio
Distributor

Warner Home Video
Starring Zach Galligan
Phoebe Cates
Hoyt Axton
Polly Holliday
Frances Lee McCain
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $24.95 Music Jerry Goldsmith


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
French
Italian
Dutch
Arabic
Spanish
Portuguese
German
Romanian
Bulgarian
English for the Hearing Impaired
Italian for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes, Gremlins giggling at end

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Having an overprotective mother who wouldn't let her kids go to the cinema by themselves and who had definite ideas about what was 'suitable' viewing or not, I didn't get to see many PG-rated movies until I was about 10 or 11, but I seem to recall having seen Gremlins at the theatre (along with Ghostbusters, another childhood favourite). I was pleasantly surprised to find that the film still entertains, although perhaps I shouldn't be. Director Joe Dante effectively danced the line dividing horror and black comedy in his entertaining 1978 shlock-fest Piranha, and Gremlins is perhaps one of his most consistent efforts - certainly it has more spark and life than his dreary director-for-hire effort of a couple of years ago, Small Soldiers.

    The premise of Gremlins is both strikingly simple and ridiculous. There are these little fluffy creatures, called Mogwai. They're really cute, clever and fun. However, there are some arbitrary rules that you've got to follow or Bad ThingsTM will happen. Best of all, the rules don't make any sense! Don't get them wet, or they multiply. However, they can drink liquids without anything happening. Sunlight kills them, although they're covered with protective fur, and feeding them after midnight makes them turn into scary monsters. Unfortunately, Mogwai DNA has a perfect sense of time. Hero Billy Peltzer (Zach Galligan, whose only other memorable role was... erm, Gremlins 2) manages to break all the rules and before you know it, it's Small Town USA - Population: Shrinking.

    Kids can take this information and run with it, but it's a tribute to the witty script and likeable B-grade cast that adult viewers can remain entertained as well. Film buffs take note; Dante throws in nods to the Don Siegel classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers (which this film liberally borrows from), Disney's Snow White and even hero/mentor Steven Spielberg's megahit ET. Kids will love Gizmo, the nauseatingly-adorable Mogwai, cheer at the resourceful mum zapping a gremlin in the microwave and maybe even get some of those great scary dreams we look back on so fondly when we get older. Adults might enjoy keeping an eye out for fleeting cameos by animation legend Chuck Jones and Spielberg himself, and let's not forget the talents of voice-over god Frank Welker, who has contributed character voices to more films and TV series than most people have seen.

    Obviously the film has dated technically. I can definitely notice the animatronics and stop motion effects which seemed so flawless and striking when I was young, but I couldn't imagine Gremlins otherwise. Again, there's more soul here than Small Soldiers, despite all the state-of-the-art CGI in the latter. Perhaps some things just feel better with a little grit around the edges, or perhaps films do work better when you start principal photography with a completed script?

    Hey, what's this? (Cue sound of frenzied inspection of the DVD cover art.) What's with messing with the DVD cover art? Personally, I prefer to see the original movie poster on the cover of my DVDs, although the modification is fitting, and reminiscent of the scene in the sequel where gremlins get into the projection room.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality

Video

    Whilst far from awful, I found this transfer to be a bit of a disappointment.

    The transfer is presented in the original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1. It is 16x9 enhanced.

    The picture is noticeably soft, with easily discernible grain and low level noise in many shots. Although blacks are deep, shadow detail is a little disappointing. The image reminds me of a decent quality TV broadcast rather than a pristine digital signal. Yes, the film is pushing on to 20 years old, but I've seen films from the 60s that look razor-sharp compared to this disc.

    The colour is typical of many 80s films, leaning a little towards oversaturation, but generally pleasing and natural.

    I saw no MPEG artefacts, no telecine wobble and no aliasing, but the elements used for this transfer are far from perfect. Besides the grain, there are quite a lot of film artefacts, which will likely disturb a few buyers. I saw scratches, hair, dirt, and a couple of interesting defects: an intriguing 'warp' at 39:50 and a groovy scratch line running down the screen for a scene at 52:20. I would have expected that Warners could have made more of an effort to locate a better print, but there you go.

    This is an RSDL disc, and I can't figure out why. With an average bitrate of 6.84Mbps, a running time of just over 100 minutes and no extras, the data should easily fit on a single layer. Despite watching very carefully for a layer change, I didn't detect one. (Ed. The layer change is at 47:20, during Chapter 11.)

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    Warner commit a cardinal sin in my book with this disc - they remix the soundtrack into 5.1 without giving the option of hearing the original theatrical mix. I guess it doesn't bother most people, but I like to think of films as an artform, even goofy ones like this.

    The disc contains three audio tracks, English, French and Italian 5.1. I listened exclusively to the English track.

    The 5.1 remix reproduces the 'tweaks' used to make the original Dolby Surround mix more dynamic in the theatre, but the remixers didn't compensate for the greater clarity and channel separation of a discrete format. Hence, sounds panned off-centre come from the very corner of the soundstage, rather than localizing midway between the centre and front speakers, and dialogue is often forward and artificial-sounding. Obviously it's looped, but you shouldn't be able to realize it so easily! However, dialogue is always clear, easy to understand and free of distortion.

    The soundtrack is a little overbright, with some hiss apparent in quieter moments. Using THX-style re-equalisation solves both problems.

    I noticed no problems with audio sync. Never do.

    The score is by Jerry Goldsmith, and is a decent, fluffy effort (which is fitting, obviously!). The arrangement is generally traditionally orchestral, but there is some Moog synth work that occasionally reminded me of Wendy Carlos' work on Clockwork Orange... no, I can't explain why either. The score is presented well for a film of this era, sounding rather more natural than the dialogue, and wraps into the surrounds well.

    The 5.1 remix has used the surrounds far more aggressively than would have been possible with the original soundtrack, with a fair amount of gremlin action coming from behind the viewer. A particularly effective sequence has Billy's search for Stripe lead him to the YMCA (56:44). The wind noise in the rear channels during this scene was so convincing that I had to pause the disc to work out whether I was hearing the film or bad weather brewing outside!

    The LFE channel is used sparingly, but effectively. It's not as aggressive as a modern film, but then, you don't expect it to be.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    There's a menu...

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The R4 disc misses out on a Theatrical Trailer and Production Notes. Given that the picture detail is well below PAL's limit, I would expect the R1 disc to look almost equally as good, so if you really want the trailer, the R1 is the disc to get.

Summary

    This film is surely a childhood favourite of many, and it still holds up remarkably well in adulthood.

    The video quality is, I'm sorry to say, quite average by today's R4 standards.

    The audio quality is decent, considering the age of the film. Big smacks to Warner for not providing the original soundtrack.

    I can only assume gremlins stole the extras (sorry).

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Paul Dossett (read my bio here or check out my music at MP3.com.)
Tuesday, July 04, 2000
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer 103S DVD-ROM with Hollywood Plus decoder card, using S-Video output
DisplayMitsubishi DiVA (78cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver.
AmplificationYamaha DSP-A1
SpeakersFront L/R: Richter Excalibur SE, Centre: Richter Unicorn Mk 2, Surrounds: Richter Hydras

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