Gremlins 2: The New Batch Blu-ray Review
Warner get a pat on the back for presenting Gremlins 2 with a very film-like texture courtesy of an unmolested AVC encode that preserves the grain, keeps the colourful veneer and provides plenty of detail. The image comes in at 1.85:1, which is Dante’s preferred ratio, and this looks very nice indeed, without any type of boosting, sharpening or untoward restorative practices poking their noses in.
The opening titles look dirty and washed-out and they don’t fill you with much confidence, but don’t let them fool you – once they’ve gone by with that typical aerial view of Manhattan, which was actually culled from Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, the image becomes much, much brighter, sharper and far more detailed. Colours are great, and with a Joe Dante film you know that he is going to go all comic-book on you. Remember his segment of Twilight Zone: The Movie, or his wacky space scenes from Explorers? Whilst the first Gremlins was a deliberately darker film, making the most of shadows and night-time action, The New Batch is often gaudy and neon-flamboyant. We aren’t talking Joel Schumacker’s brand of sick-making razzle-dazzle here, but there is plenty of primary boostage (from the source, folks, from the source) that makes the over-the-top sets and set-pieces look appropriately dynamic and rich. I didn’t notice any over-saturation taking place, and the only under-saturation or fluctuation was caused by the occasional FX-shot compositing. Greens are livid and frequently glow. Reds are loud and brash. Blues are oozing with atmosphere. Skin-tones look good and consistent. Contrast is keen and well-kept. Blacks are strong, with just perhaps the hint of crushing (although this rarely bothers me, personally), and the imagery is often extremely well-blended with shadows and drip-dry glossy colour in the same shot, making this a highly eye-catching movie.
If you want to study the intricacies of Rick Baker’s creature designs, then this transfer will allow you to do just that. Every scale and nodule of Gremlin hide is offered up for scrutiny, every pus-oozing membrane-sack and icky mutating limb. Look at the horrible vegetables that sprout all over one creature’s body, they are positively bulging with vitality. The mass of dangling arms and legs of the elevator hangers-on as the lift comes crashing down the shaft are also nicely rendered and individually visible, unlike in any previous version where they were just a colourful jumble. Eyes and teeth are sharp and bright and very well-etched by the transfer, the various shades and patterns of each creature brought veritably to life with such texture and delineation. As I’ve said, I’m not strictly a fan of how Rick Baker made the things so much more complex than Chris Walas, but there is no denying how easily this transfer helps you to appreciate all of his efforts. The sets are also well presented with clean, un-enhanced edges and oodles of detail available on labels, signs, material, paintings and props etc. Even the trays of brightly coloured sweets are smoothly presented and never blur together. Humans, too, benefit from this highly defined image, with crags, sags, pockmarks and pores clearly in evidence.
So, no DNR and no aliasing, no smearing and no print damage to speak of – Gremlins 2 makes a very rewarding debut on Blu-ray.
Warner furnish Dante’s sequel with a DTS-HD MA 5.1 track that is actually very enjoyable indeed. In fact, I was surprised at how energetic and immersive this lossless mix turned out to be.
There is a reasonably wide frontal array, with a good stereo spread. The presentation is fairly deep and detailed and doesn’t sound swamped or badly dated. Voices are clear and crisp, be they hailing from human or gremlin vocal chords. Little Gizmo’s mutterings are easily discernable and his haunting whistle-lullaby wafts delicately on the air. Effects are sharp and boisterous and, get a load of this, there is a lot of intelligent and fun use of the surrounds to bolster the action.
Goldsmith’s score gets some fine attention – which is only as it should be. It feels bright and detailed and has plenty of room to bounce and skitter about, ensuring that you feel totally enveloped in the wacky drama unfolding before you.
Bass is certainly adequate, but it is not exactly strenuously tested. There are impacts and gunfire, and the odd explosion but this is not a track that will make a great deal of use of the sub. There is some depth to the track, but nothing too elaborate. A gremlin gets to unload a machine-gun at one point and the high-velocity fire is enjoyably aggressive. A security guard fires some wild shots at one retreating creature, and even these have some metallic clout and echo to them. The elevator makes a good, solid crash as it hits the bottom of the shaft, but this is hardly going to send shockwaves rippling through the floorboards. You will be pleased by the amount of activity that is catered-for, though.
The electro-gremlin sizzles and zaps his way across the soundscape with a bright fizzing static charge that snaps and whizzes around you. During the “Cinema Break” when the little buggers sabotage the projectionist, the chattering from behind in the booth is nicely prioritised, and the warping of the celluloid and the popping and spinning of the film is also vividly portrayed. The rears bring in lots of scampering, scratching, growling and hissing. Things being smashed or thrown have a great tendency to sound sharp and real, such as when the fake Gizmo pushes the blender off the table and it shatters on the kitchen floor.
Directionality is good, though you will appreciate its limitations. Movement around the channels isn’t as precise or as seamless as you would get from newer mixes, but you really don’t expect it to be. I was just thankful that some effort had been made to help this track sound as exciting and as interesting as it now does. There is definitely a cool degree of steerage that has objects and creatures crisscrossing the environment, and this certainly helps to lend the film a dynamic new edge.
A great new lossless mix then, folks, with an emphasis on fun and not realism or accuracy. It gets an 8 because I didn't expect to have such a good time with it as I ultimately did.
A great commentary track from Joe Dante, together with writer Charlie Haas, producer Michael Finnell and actor Zach Galligan, takes us through the production of the film and the reasons that they came back to the story for a little bit more, albeit a tad reluctantly in some cases. We go through the story, the mechanics of the shoot and the casting … and we are flipped frequent anecdotes and asides. Dante is always a laidback sort of character and I find him fun to listen to, which is just as well as comes to dominate this chat-track. This is good commentary that fills in plenty of blanks and makes for an entertaining experience that adds to the movie.
We get some deleted scenes with an optional commentary as to their excision. There’s nothing here that would actually add anything of value to the finished film, but they are cool to see, anyway.
A very brief (six minutes long) Making-of, is done in a jokey fashion that is sadly very dated and often falls flat. We learn little, and this film could really have done a proper, in-depth retrospective. Not just a mockumentary such as this.
The gag-reel offers some laughs but also leaves a sour taste in the mouth when we see how much fun is had from frightening a poor monkey with a gremlin puppet. Originally, the animals were supposed to be let loose amidst the monstrous mayhem, but the monkeys refused to leave their cages because of the gremlins. This slightly drops the ball.
Finally, as well as the film’s theatrical trailer we get the chance to view the alternate footage from the home-video version. You know that bit I mean – when the gremlins disrupt the movie playing in the theatre. Only here, for the audiences sitting at home, the gag was that the tape gives-out and the little buggers go channel-hopping until they come up against the Duke. It’s cool to see it again here.
Not much here, then, folks … and we certainly could have done with a bit more meat on the bones. But the chat-track is worth listening to.
I have no problem recommending Gremlins 2: The New Batch. The film is not as good as the original – nobody is going to argue with that – and it has probably dated worse than its predecessor, but this is just as fast, fun, irreverent and as anarchic as you could wish for. The story is no great shakes, being merely an excuse to have Gizmo popping out more of his dangerous alter-egos in a different setting, yet it is jam-packed with visual gags, movie references, cameos, witty observations and strategic satirical sideswipes at established conventions, authority figures and media corporations. There’s a poke in Citizen Kane’s eye, a nod to Network, heaps of homage to Harryhausen and much, much more to make you smirk with that warm little feeling of satisfaction at having spotted someone or something that is another teensy-weensy in-joke from a filmmaker who has virtually built his career out of such things.
Rick Baker’s evolution of the titular creatures is fabulous, if a touch over-cooked. The action is typically delirious and the tone gleefully subversive. The main characters this time, however, totally lack the innocence and charm they once wore with pride. It’s not entirely their fault, of course, but suddenly Billy and Kate just seem like generic tourists in a special FX-trap. But there is terrific support from Christopher Lee, Robert Prosky and Robert Picardo … and it is always great to see Dick Miller, regardless of how underused he might be.
And Jerry G.’s score is ebullient, madcap and delinquent, even if loses a little of the genuinely spooky, mythical dark age quality of the first film.
Warner’s BD for the sequel is very good indeed. A reasonable if slight assortment of familiar supplements is more than ably supported by a transfer that is very faithful and film-like. Texture, detail and colours are accurate and pleasing, and the audio mix delivers lots of great stuff in terms of clarity and wraparound fun. In short, this is a great effort from Warner that has not been mucked-about with.
There was probably always going to be a sequel to Gremlins even if Dante didn’t really want to do one, and it could certainly have been a whole lot worse than this. A touch too knowing and elaborate, perhaps, but Gremlins 2: The New Batch sits perfectly well against its older sibling and is certainly well worth savouring during a midnight snack.
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