Thursday, December 26, 2013

Quickie Retrospective: Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990)

Gremlins 2: The New Batch
Director: Joe Dante
Starring: Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, Dick Miller, John Glover, Christopher Lee, Howie Mandel, Robert Prosky, Robert Picardo, Haviland Morris
Rated: PG-13

Kate: Elevator! Sound alarm!
Gremlins: ENH! ENH! ENH! ENH! ENH!

A sequel to Gremlins was commissioned almost immediately following the first film.  The movie was a hit and Warner Bros was wanting more.  Joe Dante backed away citing that the first film was how the whole thing should have ended.  He also wanted to explore other various avenues and not just be doing horror.  The project kept hitting snags and delays.  It when on so long that Dante actually came back to the project.  By the time he received the script that they were wanting to shoot with he had been far far removed.  He only ordered that he be allowed full control over the project, to which Warner Bros then obliged.  The film reunited the director with the two leads from the first film as well as a couple of side characters and voice talent.
Gremlins 2 decided to ditch the "half and half" of the first film's approach to utilizing both horror and comedy.  And the film announces such a change right from the start with a brief intro featuring Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny.  Its a fitting intro for a film that ends up becoming one big live action cartoon for much of its runtime.  Dante's goal was to not only parody the original film but to satirize the pointlessness of sequels in general.  I think he manages to succeed in somewhat parodying the first film, but a general satirization of sequels...maybe I'm missing it.
There is a lot of really funny meta humor in Gremlins 2 that definitely pokes at the original and fan reactions of certain aspect.  The best of which is the people arguing about the eating rule and one guy throwing in someone in a bit about flying in a plane over different time zones.  If the satirization Dante was talking about was that of up'ing the ante and making things "bigger and better" in sequels, then ok, but to me it just felt like it was doing what sequels do.  And here they use a science lab to come up with mutated types of gremlins.  They also have a bigger budget and can make the mogwais and gremlins different colors, with different textures making each one appear more unique.
While the film is one of those "full control" movies that can end up being some big messes (see "Batman & Robin"), I don't really think Dante fell into that trap.  The movie does however, have a dreadful first act.  Its pretty rushed, forced and sloppy in trying to reunite Billy and Gizmo together.  Everything is moving super fast with things just happening instantly to get us to where they want most of the movie to take place.  It doesn't even calm down once Gizmo arrives as the Clamp building either.  Its almost as if Joe Dante doesn't care about anything except "let's get to the gremlins already".  To a degree, I get it...we've been through the first movie, we don't have slowly go through the motions again, but when we do finally get to the gremlins it doesn't feel anywhere near as rewarding.
The one thing Dante does use his full control on is Dick Miller.  I love Dick Miller as much as anyone else, but there's no denying that Mr. Futterman had no business being in this movie or being as much involved as he was aside from the fact Joe Dante always uses him.  The character has totally been shoehorned in.  His entire character involvement in the film is highly unnecessary and only feels extraneous.  On the good side of things...its Dick Miller.  So, who cares.
The New Batch goes straight Looney Tunes once the gremlins do show up.  And its throwing a lot of jokes and slapstick comedy at the screen with a rapid pace.  This movie almost feels like they did gremlins on crack.  There's all sort of crazy sounds, motions and things flying from the monsters.  It can be a bit much at times considering the pace of it doesn't tend to let up.  They also load some meta humor here and there with Leonard Malton reviewing the VHS of the first movie and the gremlins taking over the projection reel only to have Hulk Hogan sitting in the audience to intimidate the gremlins into putting the movie back on.  These things don't bother me, but I'm pretty understanding if you hate it.  Possibly the best joke referencing the first film comes in the form of Kate's story about Abraham Lincoln's birthday.
I do like this movie, but nowhere near as much as the first.  My watching of it has been very minimal.  I believe before this I'd seen it in the theater (of course, with my Uncle Mark back opening weekend) and then a few times on TV/VHS.  It has a terrible first act, but once you get past that there's some good laughs to have.  The film is missing the heart and pulse the first one had as you kind actually did give a rip about the peripheral characters and the town the gremlins were attacking.  There's no such love to be found for any of the new characters (I do love the actors playing a few of them though, ie John Glover and Christopher Lee) in this film or the Clamp building.  Its fun to go on another adventure with Billy, Kate and Gizmo, but one that doesn't feel necessary or that it added anything of importance the series.

So...ranking would easily have the first one over 2 without hesitation.
As a franchise they've been threatening to sequelize it, DTV sequel it and remake it in the 20+ years since The New Batch.  I'm sure we'll wind up seeing a remake with some crummy CGI gremlins.  Joe Dante is said to be involved in this phase of the game to some capacity and promises for practical effects, but we all know it will wind up done on computers.  Whatever it is, as a fan, I'll be there with an open mind.  I'd like to see a fresh take on the series.  Someone taking it and making it their own and not hampering themself into remaking the first movie straight up.  There's a lot of fun that could come of it.

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