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Blu-ray Review: Gremlins 2: The New Batch

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Gremlins 2: The New Batch is the 1990 sequel to the 1984 hit Gremlins, and features returning stars Zach Galligan and Phoebe Cates. Although director Joe Dante was this time given a much larger budget to work with, the film struggled at the box office and with critics, but found a cult following in the home video market.

The Movie

Kingston Falls is far behind us, as Billy (Zach Galligan) and Kate (Phoebe Cates) have moved to the Big Apple. After the death of his owner, Gizmo is also on his own, and through a twist of fate…and a scientist played by Christopher Lee…

You know what, I won’t spend a lot of time summarizing the plot, because I’m not sure it’s really that critical. This movie has two main goals in mind. The first is having fun at the idea of sequels in general, and Gremlins specifically. And the second is puppets; lots and lots of puppets.

The movie coasts along for about the first third with a reasonable, if shallow, story that brings all the main characters back together in downtown New York City, and then more or less traps them in a building with gremlins. And that’s all you really need to know. At that point the story’s job has been done, and it’s time to let them run riot. From there the movie begins to play more and more like a demented monster movie marathon, only severely compacted for the heavily-caffeinated user base it was targeting. Gremlins are just all over the place – because yeah, someone accidentally watered Gizmo – and are doing the most silly of things. You half-expect to hear Benny Hill music as we watch them run around and cause hijinks.

Not surprisingly, the sequel is much more light-hearted than the original. Gremlins perhaps tried too hard to be the “good” version of a bad monster movie, and there was an over-serious layer that gave it both its darkness and its silliness. Gremlins 2 certainly doesn’t have that. It takes itself zero-percent seriously, and as a result the movie is almost a live-action cartoon hour, starring whatever Gremlin has the camera’s attention at the moment. And the laughably outdated late-’80s clothes and hairstyles (why didn’t someone tell us we looked like that?) only add to the gleeful pandemonium.

But the movie isn’t random, and there is some method to the quite obvious madness. We do still follow a set story, and its overall structure is intact. But it just flips places with the sly winks and side stories for prominence. This is a movie that smacks of fun. It’s not deep (although it often is quite clever) and it certainly has no lofty aspirations other than a good time. You can tell that the cast and crew had a lot of fun making this. And if you can detach yourself from the original – and perhaps also have a weakness for the skewering of bad movies – you can have a really good time with them.

Video/Audio

The video quality of this release is very admirable. Grain hampers a bit of clarity at times, but overall there is a very pleasant depth to the image and the color palette of the film really shines. There is a lot of detail that can now be absorbed, and taking in the dense gremlin crowd scenes is manic fun at this clarity. In fact, the video is good enough that it really makes some of the special effects sequences stick out, especially any involving a green/blue/black screen (as the commentary notes they had to try some different methods). Although it’s not reference quality, it’s quite good for the period and genre, and Warner have done a nice job with the transfer.

Likewise, the audio is very strong. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track gets a hefty workout, as the sound designers go as nuts with the surround audio as the creature crew did with puppets. Things are constantly flying across screen by the end, and that is ably reflected in the audio, which will finally give all of your speakers something to do. Although the sub doesn’t get a lot of action, it perks up the few times when it is called. Dialogue remains surprising clear, given everything else that’s going on, and the rather cheap soundtrack (sorry, hardcore fans) is appropriately handled.

Bonus Material

The release features a commentary track including director Joe Dante, actor Zach Galligan, writer Charlie Haas and producer Michael Finnell. The group have a fun and generally brisk discussion of the film, which is heavy on reminiscing and some of the technical aspects of pulling off certain scenes. The group also provide optional commentary to the suite of deleted scenes (SD, 21:41) from the film. These are quite fun to watch, and show some of the excess of puppets and gags that were even too much for a movie like this.

“The Making of Gremlins 2: The New Batch” (SD, 5:49) is a rather corny faux making-of, where everyone pretends that the Gremlins have taken over production and they’re just not sure if this thing will ever come together… Although it’s all rather eye-rolling, at least they tried to do something different from the standard making-of rehash, making this a more interesting artifact to have on the bonus section. There is also a gag reel (SD, 5:57) which is only interesting in brief moments, as well as an alternate home video sequence (SD, 2:32) where instead of the film melting sequence that culminates with Hulk Hogan, there is a channel-changing segue to a John Wayne spoof. Also included is the theatrical trailer (SD, 1:32).

Conclusion

Gremlins 2 definitely has some problems. Although perhaps intentional, it’s an inmates-have-taken-over-the-asylum situation, and you realize at about the halfway point that the underdeveloped story is little more than an excuse for more puppets. And that would be a bigger issue if it wasn’t so much fun. This is madcap filmmaking at its big-budget peak, and relates to its predecessor only long enough to spoof it. If you’re not in the mood for a very silly skewering of midnight monster television then this might not be the trip down memory lane for you. But for everyone else, this is dated, unfocused, silly junk food. And I mean that in the best possible way.

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About David R Perry