Monday, December 10, 2012

Gremlins in the Machine

I'd never seen Gremlins 2: The New Batch before tonight. Crazier still, I'd never seen the original Gremlins either, although it took attending a double feature screening of them both to realise it. I knew I'd seen at least *parts* of Joe Dante's 1984 Christmas time horror comedy, but the entire picture had apparently eluded me until this evening when I saw it presented in gloriously 35mm. Much like the film's themes, this particular print has clearly been around the block a few times, but its scratches and marks only cement its time period appeal and retro charm.

With ace special effects (Gizmo sure is a wonderful puppet creation by Chris Walas), some fun actors, a screenplay by Chris Columbus (remember when he wasn't completely terrible?) that plays wonderfully with genre tropes and audience expectations, and set-pieces that remain as visually inventive as they are exciting, Gremlins was a hoot and it's very easy to see why it proved to be so very popular and an abstract seasonal hit. That the film works as essentially a subversion of "the American dream" both past (all the references to WWII for instance, as well as It's a Wonderful Life) and present only continues to make Gremlins a delight. A lot of its humour actually feels very much pertinent to today - consider the exploitation and fetishisation of international cultures, the rapid rise of numbers of these cultures "spreading" across white bread suburbia, and the way American culture turns even the most unique into these sort of identical, gluttonous versions of their former selves. It's basically a good lot of fun, but with Dante's wit allowing it to remain ahead of the film's many ripoffs. B+

Beginning with an original Looney Tunes scretch was probably one of the more surprising things about Gremlins 2: The New Batch, but in hindsight it was a perfect way of symbolising the film's more chaotic, and "looney", intentions. After that Bugs Bunny/Daffy Duck routine, the film opens with a beautiful shot of New York City in 1990. The rather beautifully kept 70mm print was a gorgeous way of viewing this sequel and with double the size (so to speak) comes double the fun. I absolutely loved The New Batch; a wild, hilarious experience from start to finish that took me completely and utterly by surprise. Reminding me of the extremely smart Addams Family Values, this 6-years-later sequel feels entirely new, but never tired. If anything, Joe Dante found a new sense of freedom from the project and took the film in increasingly bizarre, yet dazzling, directions.

The original film opened on the same weekend as the original Ghostbusters, but where that film's 1989 sequel failed, this sequel from one year later succeeds. It's entirely fresh and fun, but in a way that pays homage to the original as well as throwing enough curveballs in all sorts of directions to signpost its deranged intentions. If Gremlins 2: The New Class lacks, well, class then it what it has in spades is zest and originality. Dante obviously didn't want these critters (not to be mistaken for Critters, obviously) to take over yet another town of picket fences, and what better next level to take it to than Manhattan?

There the bonkers mid-film intermission by Hulk Hogan, the final reel musical number that, of all things, mirrors Martin Scorsese's equally misunderstood New York, New York, Christopher Lee as a genetics scientist, its out of left field pop culture references (hi The Wizard of Oz, Running Man, Rambo, The Phantom of the Opera, and the Muppets), Leonard Maltin's cameo as himself reviewing the VHS release of Gremlins, and the increasingly elaborate special effect and make-up work of Rick Baker. I guess I can see how some fans of the original weren't quite as taken by this film, but I found its anarchic glee so very contagious and addictive. I wanted more, I tell ya, more! A-

1 comment:

G said...

'Beginning with an original Looney Tunes scretch was probably one of the more surprising things about Goonies 2: The New Batch'

Best typo I've seen in a while! :)