You’ve got a New Batch to look forward to!

There’s been a LOT of discussion lately about the need for, and likelihood of, Star Wars: Legion getting a Second Edition. For it? Against it? IT DOESN’T MATTER BECAUSE THIS IS BUSINESS BABY, and I did my best to explain why in my article last week. Some say that the original promise of reprints last Ministravaganza was a dead giveaway, others weren’t convinced until they heard the preview conference given at last Saturday’s Adepticon, where they also previewed the new upcoming sculpts of Obi-Wan and Grievous, as shown below. Was it a coincidence that these were the two “starter” commanders from the original Clone Wars core sets? Well…

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…now that you’ve scrolled down this far, I know exactly what you’re thinking. Perhaps you even realized what date it was before you clicked, in which case you’re getting exactly what you banked on…maybe. But I do have a promise for you right now, on my own honor: this article contains zero lies, zero fabrications, and is made for zero “fools.” This article is not a “joke,” and that includes the title. This is an article that is written directly from FACTS.

And it is a FACT…that I can CONFIRM…that the SECOND EDITION…

Of the Gremlins franchise is an underappreciated classic.

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Ok, wait, please

Don’t click away YET. If you HAVE NOT seen this movie, then I’d humbly ask you to read my argument for it. I obviously baited everyone who clicked on it…and I don’t feel bad about it either, because I am dead serious about the above statement, there are just too many damn people out there who haven’t been graced by its surreal splendor and I feel obligated to help change that. I’ll explain why Gremlins 2: The New Batch is not only extremely funny, but unique in its execution, deeply satirical in multiple ways that are still relevant 34 years after its release, and remains a fascinating cultural time capsule that is the rare film that is truly fun for an entire family.

If you HAVE seen Gremlins 2, then I salute you for your enlightenment, but still invite you to read on. You may learn something new for yourself after all, or you may finally latch on to that argument to convince your loved one to see this treasure, which is literally one of my favorites of all time.

The “Elevator Pitch” for Gremlins 2

I once read that “Measure of a Man,” in which Data has to go on trial to prove that he deserves self-determination, is the ideal “Elevator Pitch” for Star Trek in general (but especially TNG): if someone doesn’t enjoy that episode, then Star Trek is just not for them.

Well, here is my elevator pitch for Gremlins 2: this four minute scene in that moves quickly from scientists proudly bouncing genetically altered tomatoes, to a gremlin that drinks a potion that turns his skin into a salad bar, to Christopher Lee offering another gremlin diseases in order for him to put down a bottle of “brain hormone,” to said gremlin drinking that hormone and manifesting a pair of glasses out of nowhere, who then gives a biology lesson (voiced by television legend Tony Randall in a Trans-Atlantic “Northeastern Rich Guy” accent) to the scientists, then injects a gremlin who turned into a bat (from a beaker with a bat on it, naturally) with “genetic sunblock” (gremlins are normally killed by sunlight), at which point that gremlin busts out of the room leaving a perfect “Batman” logo in its wake. The sequence of events on screen is as dizzying as that sentence I wrote just now was horrendously long, but unlike the sort of sensory overload we get from certain other movies (like Star Wars Episode 9…heyo!) we can actually follow what’s going on while at the same time appreciating the charming inanity of it all. Here is the scene below if you aren’t familiar:

“We can’t let them get away” bemoans Lee’s character (named Dr. Cushing Catheter after the one and only Peter Cushing and…a catheter) “all they have to do is eat three or four children and we’ll have the most terrible publicity!” You may have noticed the little touches and care put into every shot, from the gremlins mocking the intrigue of the scientists behind their backs to the way the vegetable gremlin’s ears shrink on screen to lettuce leaves. These touches can be found throughout the movie, all practical effects and puppetry by absolute masters of these skills.

So yeah, if this type of filmed anarchy doesn’t appeal to you…no harm done, thanks for the click, I’m sorry for wasting your time, and I hope you have a wonderful day! If it did though, or you have already seen it and know you love it, well then read on my friend.

A Rare Opportunity for a Director: Total Creative Control

I’m gonna try to get the premise over with in one sentence: the title characters of these films are 18 inch tall vandalistic and violent walking lizard goblins that are created when a “mogwai” (cute little furballs who can talk a little bit) eats food after midnight. The first movie is a classic in its own right but I’d argue that it’s much more of a “standard” horror/comedy. Most of the gremlins in the first movie are there to cause trouble and party down but there is one in particular, known as “Stripe” (because of his rad white mohawk), who is downright evil. It takes place in a small town, the main characters are very young adults, and multiple people actually die. It may be zanier than most, but it’s definitely a horror film. In fact, the original Gremlins along with Temple of Doom together helped usher in the PG-13 rating, since a bunch of parents were pissed that their kids bore witness to a guy in a Santa Claus suit getting brutally killed on-screen.

The movie did well enough that the studio wanted a sequel, but the director of the first film (Joe Dante) didn’t want to do it because he thought he’d be forced to just rehash the first movie. Dante, it should be known, is in the Tarantino realm of directors in the sense that he is a way way way above average (even in terms of directors) consumer of films large and small and who always (and only) wants to make movies that are personally meaningful to him, referencing the past with keen reverence even when he is satirizing it. In any case, there were multiple scripts and multiple rewrites of a potential sequel that apparently all sucked, and finally out of desperation to make a buck before everyone forgot about the first one. Warner Brothers came to Dante and said that if he got a movie out the following summer called “Gremlins 2” then he could do whatever he wanted.

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Joe Dante and a “Lady Gremlin”

This was, and still is, a very rare opportunity in Hollywood. It’s not something you can put a number on, but the studios that fund movies almost always have people hovering around the set and the writer’s rooms to ward off ideas that sound too expensive or too risky. Warner Brothers, in this case, had pretty much everyone focusing on the first Michael Keaton Batman film which released shortly after Gremlins 2 so they were running out of time. It was going to be six years since the original by 1990, so WB basically offered the moon (creatively, though not financially of course) to Dante and thankfully for us he took it. Dante would later say that, as unlikely as it may sound, Gremlins 2 became the purest expression of himself as a director in his career, as well as in his own words “one of the most unconventional studio films ever.”

Scorched Earth Satire

Dante took the concept of a sacred cow and turned it into ground beef. He made fun of the first film, he made fun of sequels, he skewered multiple WB properties and WB itself. He made one of his central characters (Daniel Clamp, played wonderfully by John Glover) an obvious amalgam of one of the most powerful men in media (Ted Turner, who ironically would buy WB a couple years later) and one of the most litigious businessmen in America (Donald Trump, far before he got into politics or even television). He invited a famous film critic who had blasted the first movie in real life (Leonard Maltin) onto its sequel in order to show him getting strangled on live TV by a bunch of gremlins to “punish” him for his insolence, as seen in the short (0:36) clip below. “Just kidding!” he begs for mercy to merciless beings “it’s a 10, it’s a 10!”

This show, “The Movie Police” is one of half a dozen made-up shows on the “Clamp Cable Network” that are silly enough to make their targets obvious but not silly enough to be completely unrealistic. From a “cooking” show centered around using the microwave (which naturally ends up exploding) to “The Safety Channel” from whose door a man wrapped in bandages and supported by crutches falls out of, the film does a lot of work to point at the silliness of cable TV even as it was still in its early years (remember, this was in 1990). There is even a pre-taped “end of the world” broadcast featuring scenes of serene natural beauty such as singing birds and babbling brooks while American anthems play in the background. If that sounds ridiculous to you, then you should know that CNN not only did prepare such a video in the event of nuclear armageddon, but they contacted WB to let them know they were pissed they even knew about it! The very idea that we’d be calmed by one last performance of the Star Spangled Banner as broadcast by the fine folks at Turner media is ridiculous on its face, and Gremlins 2 was there to hang a lantern on it.

The movie cuts fairly deep into the sort of rise of these sorts of multilateral media-dominating mega-corporations that, while taken for granted today where still relatively new to the public discourse when this was released. Just look at the logo of the “Clamp” corporation (where it literally squeezes the world) as well as the book written by Mr. Clamp itself, where he rests his arm on Lady Liberty, covering her eyes in the process:

To ensure that he completes the circle of satire, Dante makes himself and the Gremlins franchise the butt of several jokes. Right after the first gremlin appears a total “that guy” begins picking apart the silliness of the “after-midnight” rule, rightfully questioning what respect these creatures have for the time zone system. He, naturally, becomes the first person the gremlins actually attack in the movie. Later, when Phoebe Cates is seemingly about to share a traumatic story from her childhood that involved an adult in costume (a direct reference to the first film), the movie basically plays her off the stage to signal that the audience has had enough already.

There are plenty of other victims too: a woman is greeted with a little furry jump scare from a vat of Reeses cups when she annoyingly asks if they’re “all natural” (get it?!), New Yorkers basically ignore a flying gremlin out in the open because nothing in that city can really shock them anymore. No one is truly safe from the chaos and I love it that much more because of it. The thing about satire is that you usually have to make it obvious while also keeping it clever and entertaining. It’s not an easy feat, and it can often get you in trouble, but Joe Dante once again had the gumption to forge ahead and say the things he wanted to say, consequences be damned. You don’t have to like it, but you have to respect it.

Comedy From the Heart, Sans Sanity

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Every scene with this little guy, who is mistaken for the “good guy” Mogwai (Gizmo) is absolute gold

Of course satire that isn’t funny can feel like homework, just ask anyone who was forced to read Orwell’s Animal Farm (ugh). Luckily Gremlins 2 needn’t worry about such a handicap, it’s not just funny it’s just plain fun.

Movies are so often predictable that the unconventional ones hold a special place in my heart. Filmmakers such as Christopher Nolan and Quentin Tarantino aren’t only great because they can put a scene together, but they have the creativity and confidence to make movies that are different from the rest. This is the same reason I enjoyed Taika Waititi’s Thor 3: Ragnarök way more than any other Marvel movies is because it stands out from the rest, with its music, sense of humor, and largely ad-libbed dialogue. “Zany monsters run amok in a crowded computer-integrated skyscraper” may be an interesting premise on its own to some, but its the execution of that concept that elevates the movie into its well deserved “cult” status.

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“We’re advising our clients to put everything they have into canned foods and shotguns!”

I could spend all day recounting the ludicrous charms of the movie but if you’ve read this far then you’ve either seen it already or deserve to be surprised by it. But as an appetizer, I’ll leave you with this as an example of the singular dedication of Gremlins 2.

In the middle of it, there is a segment that is designed to make the viewer think that something is screwed up with the film itself. When Gremlins was in theaters, one version, which may or may not have involved Hulk Hogan played and hilarity ensued. When it came out on VHS though, the creators used an entirely different segment to align with video tape screwing up instead of film. This one involved a John Wayne appearance (using archive footage and an impressionist approved by the actual Wayne estate) and a short Looney Toons segment made for the film that Chuck Jones literally came out of retirement to help out with because he respected Dante so much. Actually, since those who watch the Blu-Ray or streaming version of this are gonna see the Hulkster version anyway, take a gander at the VHS one below, consider it my second elevator pitch.

This one totally tricked me for a second as a kid, I thought the tape was screwed up! Once I realized what was happening though I was laughing right along with the gremlins, who were naturally overjoyed at the violent things they found flipping channels while the “video” was still in a state of chaos. To this day I still love it just as much: It’s the perfect example of what Dante was going for with the whole movie. The studio was initially reticent about including it, they were scared people would walk out of the theater. But then Dante pointed to the “total creative control” agreement and they had no choice but to (thankfully) back down.

You may have heard of or seen Key and Peele’s absolutely brilliant sketch about “the writer’s room” for this film (I linked to the version that intercuts with the actual film of course). For the sake of comedy it casts Keegan Michael Key’s version of Joe Dante as the “square” and instead has Jordan Peele playing an outrageous “sequel doctor” character named Star Magic Jackson Jr, but the important thing is that the sketch demonstrates what is amazing about Gremlins 2: that it just went with what was fun, critics and doubters be damned. We all know that Peele (Get Out, Keanu, Us, NOPE) knows his way around both horror and comedy, so please, take the mere existence of this sketch as proof of the worthiness of this film. Joe Dante saw it and loved it, he later said it was “completely accurate,” aside from the fact that he was as much of a chaos agents as those gremlins were. “I spent a lot of time” Dante concludes on the directors commentary (which I absolutely watched in preparation for this article) “on Gremlins 2 to make sure there would never be a Gremlins 3.”

So yeah, WB could have forced someone to give us a boring re-tread of the first film, but thank goodness that never happened. That corporate behemoth could have played the part of John Wayne in the clip above. “Go on back to your own movie” he warns. The gremlins all shake their heads, and why shouldn’t they?

This kind of insanity is exactly what we need sometimes.

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