The Latest Evolution In Gremlins 1 & 2

Warner Bros originally released Gremlins as a no-frills DVD in 1999, again in 2001 and finally as a special edition in 2002. That was a pretty strong special edition with a nice transfer, two commentaries, deleted scenes and a few more bits and bobs. But it still felt like it was missing something compared to most special editions. The commentaries were great, but there really wasn't any interviews or documentary features. Still, it was a pretty great disc for Gremlins lovers, and when it came time to port it over to blu-ray in 2009 as the 25th Anniversary Edition, they pretty much ported it over to HD without any changes. It already had a solid transfer, so it still looked pretty good - now obviously in 1080p - and the extras were just the same ones carried over. But last month (just squeezing in on time for the film's 30th anniversary), they've finally re-released it as part of their new Diamond Luxe Edition line.

Update 1/23/15 - 10/21/19: Gremlins has just taken the plunge into the next generation of home video: 4k Ultra HD.  But hey, let's sweeten the pot even further, and add coverage of its delightful sequel, Gremlins 2: The New Batch!  Oh, and since this was one of my oldest posts, all the comparison shots were jpgs, so I've swapped those out with fresh pngs, too.
It's not surprising that this keeps getting reissued, as Gremlins is one of the early summer blockbusters, produced by Steven Speilberg, no less. Joe Dante brings us his always welcome combination of horror, nostalgia and yucks in this tale of a Rockwell-esque small town that gets overrun with gremlins. As Dante says in the extras, the film starts off almost like Son of E.T., with affable Zach Galligan getting a magical, cuddly pet for Christmas from his father who was passing through Chinatown.  But it takes a turn for the dark when that pet winds up giving birth to an army of nasty, little green monsters who delight in causing mayhem and murder. Hoyt Axton, Phoebe Cates, Dick Miller, Keye Luke, Judge Rheinhold and Corey Feldman co-star in this wild ride that's almost fun for the whole family. This and the other film Speilberg made that year, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, were key films in the MPAA's decision to create the PG-13 rating.
Gremlins debuted on DVD as a barebones flipper disc back in 1999.  That was followed up in 2001 with a single-sided (widescreen-only), equally barebones disc in 2001.  Personally, I held out for the subsequent special edition that came out in 2002, which is the first disc we'll be looking at here.  So DVD-wise, third time was the charm.  Gremlins first hit blu-ray, then, in 2009, with all of the extras from that 2002 special edition.  But Warner Bros didn't get me to double-dip until they came out with their fancy Diamond Luxe Edition in 2014.
The scuttlebutt of that two-disc Luxe set is that disc 1 is exactly the same as the 2009 blu-ray. No new scan, no improvements in the transfer, even the menus are identical. It's the same disc in new packaging. Nice packaging, mind you... My scan here doesn't do it justice, since it's a cool metallic packaging. Gizmo's shadow that just looks like a solid dark gray is actually reflective like a mirror and the logo looks much redder when it's reflecting light. So in terms of the main film disc, it's another case of the ol' double-dip.  But with disc 2, it became more of an enticing upgrade, at least if you're interested in special features.  And there have been other reissues along the way: double-bills with Gremlins 2, releases in other regions, or sometimes it was re-packaged with Goonies.  But for those of us interested in an actual upgrade of the film presentation itself (after all, 2009 is pretty old for a BD), there was nothing until this month, when Warner Bros gave us a new, 4k restoration for a 35th Anniversary Ultra HD release.  It also comes packed with a blu-ray, which again, is exactly the same 2009 BD that was also included in the 2014 Luxe Edition.
2002 DVD top; 2014 BD middle; 2019 UHD bottom.
If you're looking for vast leaps forward in detail and clarity, Gremlins upgrades might be a little too subtle for some fans.  To be fair, part of that says more about the quality of the 2002, improved SD transfer than a problem with the blu-ray.  It's a damn good looking DVD.  But you can see how the movie posters are a little easier to read starting with the BD.  It just still feels a bit soft in places, though this is likely down to the film itself as it varies scene by scene... i.e. not just detail, but film grain seems light in the snowy scene above (which might be due to the opticals of the opening credits, which obviously aren't on-screen in this particular frame, but do appear around this sequence); but it looks very accurate and filmic, especially on the UHD, in the previous comparison shot of Billy and Gizmo.

Another interesting point is the framing.  First of all, none of these are 1.85:1 like you'd think they should be (and like the cases all claim they are).  The DVD is 1.78:1, and then the BD is slightly hemmed in to 1.77:1.  Despite that, however, the blu-ray has pulled out to display considerably more information along the edges, particularly the sides.  The UHD gets rid of BD's slight (we're literally talking 4 pixels wide) pillar-boxing, but surprisingly zooms back in, losing the extra information the BD revealed and showing even a bit less than the DVD.  Mind you, I'm not necessarily saying that's a bad thing - the BD might've revealed more than the filmmakers' intended - but it's certainly surprising.
2002 DVD top; 2014 BD middle; 2019 UHD bottom.
But as for what you're really going to notice in motion as you watch the film? It's the stronger colors more than anything. Now, the BD actually "pops" more than the DVD or the UHD, but don't mistake that for a good thing.  It pops because lights are flaring out and color contrast is souped up.  For example, you can only make out the light-bulb in the streetlamp with the Christmas wreath on the UHD.  Remember, the benefit of HDR isn't necessarily more extreme colors, it's the ability to display a much broader range.  In other words, a ton more shades of reds, greens, etc in between the polar extremes rather than just pushing the extremes much further out.  I don't want to go too far off into the weeds on this one, or become "that guy" who links you out to a technical webpage full of color spectrum graphs.  But in brief, the result is that the image captured on film may not look more and more candy-colored, but instead appears more photo realistic, a more accurate representation of the reality the cameras were pointed at.

Audio-wise, I'm not quite as pleased, but it's fine... Let's start with the DVD.  It gave us a choice of the original Dolby stereo mix or a 5.1 remix, plus French and Spanish dubs and English, French and Spanish subtitles.  The BD does right by the 5.1 mix, upgrading it to Dolby TrueHD, not to mention adding even more dubs (German, Italian, Japanese, and an additional Spanish dialect) and subs (Danish, Dutch, Finnish, German, Italian, Japanese, Norwegian, two Portuguese dialects, a second Spanish dialect and Swedish).  But they leave the original stereo mix in lossy compression.  And the UHD?  It's basically the same as the blu, though they add even more dubs (Russian, Czech and Hungarian) and subs (Chinese, Czech, Hungarian, Russian and Thai).  But they drop the Portuguese subs and worst of all, instead of boosting the original stereo mix to something lossless like I expected, they drop it entirely.  Not that there's anything wrong with the 5.1 mix per se, but come on.
Now let's get into the special features, because I have a lot to say here, too.  The 2002 special edition introduced a lot of great stuff, and thankfully all of that has stayed with us across every iteration to follow.  There are two audio commentaries: one with Dante, producer Mike Finnell, and effects artist Chris Walas, and one with Dante, Galligan, Cates, Miller, and Howie Mandel (the voice of Gizmo).  If you've ever heard a Dante commentary before, you know they're an ideal mix of entertaining good humor and informative insight.  And the additional cast of characters just helps to liven things further.  There's also a few deleted scenes, with optional commentary, a vintage featurette, and a couple of trailers.  Good stuff, but light in the video features.  Something they finally came along to flesh out in the Diamond Luxe with their new bonus disc. 
The first doc is a half hour long and brings in a lot of the key, missing people from the old extras. We finally get to hear from Steven Speilberg and writer Chris Columbus, as well as producers Frank Marshall. It's impressive they got Speilberg in for this, and Columbus has a lot of interesting insight. And a documentary on a Dante film without Joe Dante himself just wouldn't be right, so he's back, as are Finnel and Galligan. These guys do repeat a couple of anecdotes from the commentaries, but overall it's a really nice piece. Then the second feature comes in just a little under twenty minutes and focuses on the special effects, especially the design and puppetry of the creatures. Pretty much everybody from the last doc is back again, but they've also added Walas and Mandell.  Both docs focus on the new interviews, but also include a nice helping of behind-the-scenes footage - it's fun to see all the crewmen operating Gizmo through a huge mess of controls and cables running through Galligan's clothes that was always just out of frame in the final film.

There's a final third featurette, which is just about five minutes long, but focuses on Hoyt Axton. It's all vintage footage of him clowning around on the set and talking about his music. It's fun, and all three of these new extras make you wonder why, if they had all this great footage, they never included it on past editions. Oh, and there's a weird pair of digital comics, where sections of the plot are retold through drawings and sound effects. I think they're based on old tie-in children's books and/ or records that came out back in the 80s, so that's a bit of extra fun for the super dedicated fan.

And none of that new stuff is included in the new UHD set.  Blahhhhhhhh  It's just the original 2002 extras, much of which is only on the 1080 BD.  At least it comes in a slipcover?
Anyway, by the time Gremlins 2: The New Batch came out, it was a whole new decade.  A lot had changed from 1984 to 1990, and one thing sequels tend to fail at is adapting.  You might argue Gremlins 2 did, too; and it's not the stand-out film the original was, with a lot of goofy awkward moments, heavy-handed comedy and blatant retreads of set pieces from the original.  But its saving grace is they let Dante back at the helm, and seemingly let him go completely wild and indulge nearly every whim.  All of his favorite actors are back - even those who died in the first film - and chaos reigns.  The effects are bigger, with new mutant gremlins, a fresh big city locale and John Glover as a new corporate villain.  Sometimes this film is straight-up parodying its predecessor.  Paul Bartel and Hulk Hogan break the fourth wall, Christopher Lee plays a character named Doctor Catheter and Leonard Maltin cameos as himself, delivering the critical panning he really gave to the first film, only to be killed this time by the vengeful critters.  Bugs Bunny and Donald Duck even appear in the opening sequence, animated by Chuck Jones himself.  It's madness!  And as such, it winds up meriting its own existence, perhaps not a truly worthy sequel, but certainly a spectacle that won't want to have missed.
Gremlins 2 didn't hit DVD as quickly as the original.  Its first debut was in conjunction with Gremlins 1's third DVD, the 2002 special edition.  So happily, they made that one a special edition, too; and that's one of the discs we've got here.  Then it kind of gently rolled out onto blu-ray in 2012, the other disc we'll be looking at today.  There have been some repackagings since then, including double and triple features, and some alternate cover art.  But there's really just the two versions so far, with no fancy Diamond Luxe or UHD editions in sight yet.
2002 DVD top; 2012 BD bottom.
As you might expect, there's a much less complicated story to tell here.  Once again, they claim to be 1.85:1 on the cases but are actually 1.78:1.  The DVD is slightly pinched, which the BD corrects, but otherwise it looks like they're using the same master.  That said, the HD boost is very clear, with a sharper image and natural grain which is smudged and blurry on the DVD.  The colors are separated a little better, too.

Unfortunately, the story of the audio is a disappointing retread of the first film.  The original DVD gave us the choice of the original stereo mix and a new 5.1, plus French and Spanish dubs and subs.  The blu-ray bumps the 5.1 up to DTS-HD, adds some more dubs (German, Japanese and Portuguese) and subs (Danish, Finnish, German, Japanese, Norwegian, Portuguese, Swedish and a second Spanish dialect).  But once again, they dump the original stereo mix.
The special features are simpler but reasonably satisfying this time around.  First we get another first class Dante commentary, backed up by Finnell, co-writer Charlie Haas, and Zach Galligan.  There's another collection of deleted scenes, also with optional commentary, a gag reel, a vintage promotional featurette, an alternate scene shot for the VHS release (hidden as an easter egg on the DVD, but it's on there) and the trailer.  A retrospective or something would be great, but I guess my expectations are bit more tempered given this isn't the Speilbergian blockbuster the original film was.  Oh, and this set of extras is the exact same on the DVD and Blu-ray.
So things are pretty alright with the Gremlins films, though they could be better.  I'd love to see the original audio mixes restored for HD, and I'm particularly annoyed that this new Gremlins UHD dropped the Diamond Luxe extras.  They could've stuck 'em on the UHD, since the film only takes up 56 GB.  But if you're a big enough fan of the film to want everything, I guess you won't mind copping both the Diamond Luxe, UHD and the standard BD of The New Batch.  Considering how many films are still missing proper DVD or blu-ray releases at all, I guess it's hard to complain.  But I wish we could enjoy the sweet 4k step forward without these annoying steps back that have come along with it.


  1. What do you mean when you say the DVD of Gremlins 2 is "slightly pinched"?

    1. Oh yeah, I guess that was pretty vague of me. I mean that the DVD is slightly (key word, because it really is pretty slight) distorted to be too tall/skinny. You can see that actually pulls in tiny slivers of extra info along the sides of the DVD frame, but at the cost of squishing the picture.