Wednesday, September 25, 2019

GREMLINS (1984) (4K Ultra HD Review)

GREMLINS (1984) 

Label: Warner Bros.

Region Code: A
Rating: PG
Duration: 106 Minutes 
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 5.1 with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 2160p Ultra HD (1.85:1) High Dynamic Rage (HDR) 
Director: Joe Dante 
Cast: Zach Galligan, Howie Mandel, Phoebe Cates, Dick Miller 

My youth was in part defined by what I call the Three-G's of mid-80's kiddie cinema, that would be Ghostbusters (1984), The Goonies (1985) and Gremlins (1984) - all of which I saw at either the drive-in or the cinema. The act of going to the cinema was a rare occurrence for me back then, the nearest theater was about an hour away, and I think my family only went to the movies maybe a total of five times that I can recall, and three of those were these 80' classics, so to say they had a big impact on me as a kid would be an understatement. Another defining footnote would be the not-so-minor Fourth-G, that would be the made-for-TV movie Gargoyles (1972), which is one of the first movies I remember ever watching on TV - along with Kiss Meets the Phantom of The Park - a film which gave me nightmares for weeks when I was still in the single-digits!

Director Joe Dante (The 'Burbs) was tapped by Hollywood golden-child Steven Spielberg (Jaws) to direct Gremlins because Spielberg thought Dante's Roger Corman produced Piranha (1978) was one of the best of the Jaws rip-offs. Spielberg paired Dante with screenwriter Christopher Columbus (The Goonies), and together the duo ended up making a bonafide kiddie creature/Christmas classic about a lovable fur-ball creature, a Mogwai given the name Gizmo, who when accidentally splashed with plain old tap water spawns an army of dastardly creatures called Gremlins who create havoc in a small town on Christmas Eve.  

The film has fantastic animatronic creature FX from Chris Walas (The Fly) and his team, they brought to life not just the lovable fur-ball Gizmo but the reptilian chaos-makers the Gremlins, with a uprising amount of cool-looking special effects that as a kid I found a bit horrifying, namely when Stripe is reduced to a pile of melting slime there at the end, it really pushes that PG-rating, and was in fact one of the films that spurred the PG-13 rating along with Poltergeist (1982) and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) which funnily enough are all produced by Stephen Spielberg.  

The cast here is fun, with the father being played by actor/songwriter Hoyt Axton (Retribution), a character that rings more with me now that I am an oldster myself, his plight as a inventor of household gadgets is a bit sad, his whole family sort of quietly lamenting how his creations fall apart and don't work properly, as a dad I find this strangely heartbreaking. The mom played by Frances Lee McCain (Stand By me) steals the show when she faces off against the Gremlin in her kitchen, she's a homemaker and a bad-ass, what they get away with here in a PG film includes a Gremlin exploding in the microwave! I find Zach Galligan (Waxwork) and Phoebe Cates (Fast Times At Ridgemont High), the film's teen protagonists, a bit on the bland side as 80's teenagers go, but they do have that kids next door quality and are easy enough to root for. Then we have "that guy" Dick Miller (A Bucket of Blood) as the xenophobic neighbor Mr. Futterman stealing the show, as does Polly Holliday (Flo from TV's Alice!) as the sinister real estate magnate Mrs. Deagle, doing great stuff channeling Ms. Gulch from the Wizard of Oz!  

In hindsight the film's tone is a bit uneven, you can feel it struggling to juggle the dueling ideas of screenwriter Columbus and director Dante,  but that's what I sort of love about, and it's still the entertaining thrill-ride for me now that it was at 11-years old, this is just a timeless classic and is a great introduction to warm-hearted kiddie horror for the young ones.

Audio/Video: To celebrate it's 35th anniversary Gremlins (1984) arrives on 4k Ultra HD from Warner Bros. in 2160p Ultra HD framed in the original 1.85:1 widescreen. The beloved 80's staple has always been a bit on the soft side with a stylized soft focus cinematography, so I didn't expect extreme clarity or sharpness with this 4K presentation, and I wasn't disappointed. The presentation looks perfectly natural with a consistent layer of 35mm fine film grain throughout. Things do look markedly superior to the previous Blu-rays with deeper blacks and some excellent shadow detail that reveals a few bits I've never noticed before. Gone too is the compression and artifacting the previous versions struggled with on home video. The high dynamic range does add some depth and nuance to the color palette, and fine detail is definitely increased, close-ups of the Gremlins further reveal the artistry that went into their creation by creator Chris Walas (The Fly). 

Audio on the disc comes by way of English DTS-HD MA 5.1 with optional English subtitles. Strangely we do not get a new Dolby Atmos remix, but the existing DTS audio is still solid, it's a bit sad that we don't get an Atmos remix of that phenomenal Jerry Goldsmith score.

Onto the extras we get absolutely nothing new for this 35th anniversary edition, bummer, and only a few of the extras from the original Blu-ray release, but none of the 30th Anniversary Diamond Luxe Edition exclusive extras released back in 2014, double-bummer! The 4K Ultra HD disc only offering the pair of archival audio commentaries, the being a technical track with Director Joe Dante, Producer Michael Finnell and Special Effects Artist Chris Walas, and the second is a cast commentary with Director Joe Dante again, plus Zack Galligan, Phoebe Cates, Dick Miller, and Howie Mandel.

The accompanying Blu-ray disc features the film and a selection of extras, including the audio commentaries, a 6-min of vintage behind-the-scenes EPK, and 10-mins deleted scenes with optional director's commentary. The disc is buttoned-up with trailers for both Gremlins films and a photo gallery.

Not carried over are the Diamond Luxe edition extras, that being a 29-min retrospective, a pair of 7-min digital comics, and a behind-the-scenes bit with actor Hoyt Axton on-set, plus an 18-min featurette exploring the design, creation and execution of the creature FX. These were cool extras and it's  a shame that Warner's didn't port these extras over, when upgrading to 4K I want all the extras from accompanied previous releases, and this coupled with the fact that we don't get a Dolby Atmos remix is a failure to maximize on the potential of the format. 

The 2-disc 4K Ultra HD/Blu-ray combo arrives in a black eco-case with a one sided sleeve of artwork featuring new artwork that fails to improve upon any of the original movie posters, I do wish they would have gone with one of the original versions for this release, even if just repeating what they'd gone with on the previous Blu-ray releases I think it would be better than what we get here. Inside the keepcase there's a Movie Anywhere/Vudu redemption code for UHD/HDR digital copy of the film. This release also includes a slipcover with the same artwork, the disc themselves have no artwork other than the logo for the film on brown and silver backgrounds. 

Special Features: 

- Filmmakers’ Commentary with Director Joe Dante, Producer Michael Finnell and Special Effects Artist Chris Walas
- Cast Commentary with Director Joe Dante, Zack Galligan, Phoebe Cates, Dick Miller, and Howie Mandel
- Gremlins: Behind the Scenes Featurette (6 min) 
- Photo Gallery
- Additional Scenes (10 min) 
- Theatrical Trailer (2 min) 
- Theatrical Trailer #2 (1 min) 
- Gremlins 2: The New Batch Trailer (2 min) 

Gremlins (1984) still holds up, it's got a great Norman Rockwell via The Twilight Zone vibe and the FX looks great. The 4K Ultra HD from Warner's offers a pleasing Ultra HD upgrade, but it is unfortunate they don't give this warm-hearted kiddie horror classic a Dolby Atmos remix and a few new extras, let alone all the vintage extras. That said, Gremlins on 4K Ultra HD looks fantastic, sounds good, and is still a stone-cold 80's classic. 

Disclaimer: This release was sent to us for review which did not effect the editorial content of the review.