Gremlins (Blu-ray) (1984)
Audio Commentary-Joe Dante, Michael Finnell, Chris Walas
Audio Commentary-Joe Dante, Zach Galligan, Pheobe Cates, Dick Miller...
Featurette-Behind The Scenes
Trailer-Gremlins 2: The New Batch
|Year Of Production||1984|
|RSDL / Flipper||RSDL||Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||2,4||Directed By||Joe Dante|
Warner Home Video
Frances Lee McCain
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||None||
English Dolby TrueHD 5.1
English Dolby Digital 2.0
French Dolby Digital 5.1
German Dolby Digital 5.1
Italian Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0
Portuguese Dolby Digital 1.0
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||1.78:1|
|Original Aspect Ratio||1.85:1||Miscellaneous|
English for the Hearing Impaired
Italian for the Hearing Impaired
|Smoking||Yes, as a funny plot point|
|Annoying Product Placement||Yes, constantly|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
The plot of Gremlins is exceptionally simple, and really just an excuse to set up as many stunts or other impressive sequences with what were then extremely sophisticated puppets. Randall Peltzer (Hoyt Axton) is an inventor who aspires to create the next great household item, but has a small problem in the fact that his ability to create a device that does not fail in a ridiculous manner is pretty spotty. During a visit to Chinatown, he is taken to a junk store by a boy (John Louie) whose grandfather, Mr. Wing (Keye Luke) just happens to be the owner. At first, Randall attempts to sell Wing one of his prototypical devices, called the Bathroom Buddy, but he is distracted by the song of an exotic creature that the Wings refer to as a Mogwai. Wing the elder is adamant that the responsibility that caring for a Mogwai represents is too much, and therefore he cannot sell said Mogwai at any price. Wing the younger, however, sneaks the Mogwai out of the store and sells him to Peltzer for two hundred dollars, which was chump change for such an exotic creature even then.
Wing the younger explains in a voiceover where the timbre of his voice seems to change dramatically that there are three rules to keeping a Mogwai that must be followed. One must keep him away from bright sources of light, especially sunlight, as they fear the former and will die in the latter. One must also make sure to never let the Mogwai get wet, as they multiply in water. But most importantly, regardless of how much the Mogwai begs, one must never feed him after midnight. Randall takes the Mogwai home and gives it as a gift to his son, Billy (Zach Galligan), who through various episodes of carelessness or deception ends up breaking the latter two rules. As a result, the Peltzer household ends up with a collection of egg-like pods that hatch on Christmas Eve, spawning a bunch of Gremlins, creatures that are basically mouths full of razor-sharp teeth with wispy-thin bodies and destructive impulses that rival Axl Rose during a manic episode. Billy's mission, other than immediate survival, becomes one of culling the Gremlins whilst doing his level best to keep them away from water.
Gremlins was originally a writing sample by Chris Columbus that Steven Spielberg bought and chose The Howling director Joe Dante to bring to the big screen. Realised entirely with practical effects and puppetry, the visuals are sometimes more crude than we expect from today's computer-generated blockbusters, but the results are really quite endearing. Gizmo, the heroic Mogwai who aids Billy throughout the latter half of the film, outacts the entire principal cast save for Dick Miller, who is a delight in his limited screentime as Murray Futterman, one of the local drunks. Sure, the Gremlins look very artificial in some shots, but more surprising is the number in which they do not. In 1984, the special effects wizardry was considered impressive despite the visible wires and rods. In 2009, the presence of a good script is appreciated even more.
The real question is whether this Blu-ray release represents value for money. Read on...
The biggest improvement on the Gremlins BD by far is the video transfer. It is presented in the aspect ratio of 1.78:1 within a 1920 by 1080 progressive window.
Gremlins was shot on 35mm film and constructed with the best cheap special effects Hollywood could offer at the time, and the transfer reflects this. Most of the shots are impressively detailed, with the rods used to make one Gremlin move more visible than is the case on any previous home format. The occasional stop-motion shot showing the full bodies of Gremlins becomes grainier and less detailed, but this is due to the inherent limitations of the production methods. Shadow detail is moderately limited, low-level noise is not an issue, and film grain is again very good relative to the limitations of the production.
The colours in the transfer are quite dull and drab for the most part, with the sets and costumes being kept muted, presumably in order to reflect the makers' view of small town America. The Gremlins and Mogwai are the main splash of colour in the film. The transfer reflects this accurately, with no bleeding or misregistration in evidence.
Compression artefacts were not evidenced by the transfer. The transfer is encoded in the VC-1 codec and generally ranges from the mid teens to mid thirties in bitrate. Film-to-video artefacts were not noted at any time in the film, which is where this BD has it all over the previous DVD release. Film artefacts consisted of the occasional speck or mark on the picture, with this artefact being well within acceptable limits relative to the age of the film.
Subtitles are offered in English for the Hearing Impaired. These are accurate to the spoken dialogue, with the occasional minor truncation.
At first, I was excited by the prospect of a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 remix. But unfortunately, the audio transfer leaves something to be desired, even taking into account the age of the source material. TrueHD 5.1 remixes of similarly aged films (eg. Blade Runner) have performed much better.
A total of ten soundtracks are offered on this Blu-ray Disc. The first, and default, is the original English dialogue in Dolby TrueHD 5.1, with the original English 2.0 surround-encoded mix as the second soundtrack. Dubs in French Dolby Digital 5.1, German Dolby Digital 5.1, Italian Dolby Digital 5.1, Castilian Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0, and Portuguese Dolby Digital 1.0 are also offered. Audio commentaries in Dolby Digital 2.0 with surround-encoding make up soundtracks nine and ten.
Part of the problem is that the TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack is far too quiet, necessitating my turning up of my amplifier about six steps above my normal reference position in order to hear the dynamics of the soundtrack properly. The rest of the problem can be traced back to the vintage of the original elements.
The dialogue is clear and easy to understand for the most part. Far more than has been the case with previous media, especially VHS. The occasional utterance or string of words is obscured, but this is more because of the limitations of recording and mixing techniques of the times, and the transfer is much better in this regard than other similar-aged films I could mention. Everything that is important for the film to make sense can be easily understood. No problems with audio sync other than the voiceovers for the puppets not quite jibing with their lip movements were noted.
The score music in the film is credited to Jerry Goldsmith, and is absolutely brilliant. One number about an hour in the film with the Gremlins singing a Christmas Carol on Mrs. Deagle's doorstep is one of the best linkings of score music with the onscreen action I have seen in thousands of films. Setting a great mood without being too overbearing, the score is one of the best things about the film and makes me mourn the absence of an Isolated Score soundtrack.
The surround channels are barely used in most of the film. In the latter fifty minutes of the film, after the Gremlins hatch, Gremlin voices, explosions, and other general mayhem are redirected through the surrounds to give some sense of immersion that never really comes off because ninety percent of the sound is coming out of the front three channels. Separation between front-left, centre, and front-right is somewhat better, with good stereo imaging and dialogue always being well-focused. This is definitely a major upgrade over the previously-released DVD, but relative to the true capabilities of Dolby TrueHD 5.1, it is a bit of a let-down.
The subwoofer was used to support the music and the occasional explosion. It was well-integrated with the rest of the soundtrack, but it also shows the early-1980s vintage of the original elements even more than the surround usage.
|Surround Channel Use|
A moderately-sized collection of extras are present on this disc. Unfortunately, none of them, not even the trailers, are in HD. Surely it cannot be that hard to strike up HD versions of trailers that were cut together from film?
For those who do not know already, Howie Mandel was the actor who supplied Gizmo's voice. This commentary is less dry and technical, but it also makes one mourn the fact that the careers of Zach Galligan and Pheobe Cates seemed to go nowhere after this film. Galligan in particular has a lot of insightful things to say, and makes the commentary worth a listen by himself.
At least the menu is honest about the fact that this is a brief, six minute (and twenty-one second) piece. They lose the brass ring, however, by failing to mention it is basically an electronic press kit. It is presented in the aspect ratio of 1.33:1, standard definition, with very low-fi Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. Worth a look to see what some of the people who worked behind the camera looked like in 1984.
Presented with optional commentary in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio, not 16x9 Enhanced, in standard definition with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. Ten minutes and twenty-six seconds.
A menu page showing various production and behind-the-scenes stills in a rather small window within the frame.
Presented in the aspect ratio of 1.78:1, 16x9 Enhanced, with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. Two minutes and eight seconds.
Presented in the aspect ratio of 1.78:1, 16x9 Enhanced, with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. Sixty-three seconds.
Presented in the aspect ratio of 1.78:1, 16x9 Enhanced, with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. Ninety seconds.
NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.
The video transfer is very good.
The audio transfer is good.
The extras are moderate in number, and all standard definition. That said, the two audio commentaries are worth three stars on their own.
|DVD||Sony BDP-S350, using HDMI output|
|Display||Panasonic Viera TH-42PZ700A. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.|
|Audio Decoder||Built in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.|
|Speakers||Yamaha NS-45 Front Speakers, Yamaha NS-90 Rear Speakers, Wharfedale Xarus 1000 Rear Speakers, Yamaha NSC-120 Centre Speaker, Wharfedale Diamond SW150 Subwoofer|