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Sunday, August 31, 2008

Gremlins

This seems to be turning into a mini-series of posts on movies... That's fine with me. I have some time for watching movies (brainless), and almost none for reading.

So I snagged a copy of Gremlins (alas, The Blob will have to wait).

Never saw it before -- I really missed out on pop culture as a child. So it came out in the 80s, of course -- in elementary school, that was the decade of Swatches and Transformer lunchboxes. Actually, I think I may even have had a Gremlins lunchbox, but my memory is a bit foggy on this point.

I love catching up on these missed pieces of collective culture, so I was ready to enjoy even a bad movie.

Oh boy, was it bad. (At least the special effects were still bearable, even after a few decades. Impressive!)

Let me just share a few random thoughts... if it jogs your recollection, please share in the comments.

Summary: boy meets cute but mysterious critter, keeps critter in bedroom. Accidental exposure to water leads to more sinister generation. Sinister generation spawns horde of demon-kind, lay waste to town. Viewers don't care; someone saves the day.

Brain-exploding logic: if water makes the Gremlins reproduce, and each generation is more sinister... what generation made the cute-and-nice creature? Is there some other method of reproduction? How come jumping in a pool bypasses the apparently-normal chrysalis stage? If water is so bad, why the heck would anyone keep these things as pets in the first place? (Like, if they ever escaped, the planet is toast.) What kind of water is OK? Isn't there water in all food? Humidity in the air? Why do the Gremlins like Snow White? And how can they watch the movie if they destroy the projector?

Ethnic moments: hello, Orientalism (thank you, Mrs. Troll, for pointing this out). What, Spielberg makes movies with inappropriate ethnic stereotypes? Couldn't be.

Most fun scene: Mom find several of the Gremlins in her kitchen; goes beserk and chops, mashes, blends, and nukes interlopers. Awesomely gory! Go, Mom!

Pointless moral: "you might just have gremlins in your misbehaving equipment..." Uh, yeah, nowhere in the movie did anyone try to make this point. The Gremlins did not act in subtle ways. They destroyed things. Generally in large, unmistakable hordes. If your oven is a little flaky, it's not a friggin' Gremlin unless some scaly, be-teethed horror jumps out and aims for the jugular.

Movie I haven't seen but that totally has to be better: Critters.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

If I remember correctly, the novelisation explained the good generation as a one in a million possibility.

And it was kept safe from the outside world by the wizened old antiques dealer whose precocious young grandson didn't believe his grandfather's crazy stories - except to go as far as explaining the rules of keeping the thing as a pet...

I always thought that a larger amount of water hastened the hatching like plants grow faster hydroponically with all the required nutrients available instantly. Kind of spurious if I think about it.

And the idea of feeding the things after midnight... that never made sense to me. Do they mean the timezone the things were hatched in? That would make sense for the new ones but what about the old one? It knew it shouldn't eat but how? If it was the timezone it was hatched it would've been fine.

If you want more fuzzy monster fun, try Gremlins 2 - it has more and weirder versions of gremlins thanks to a convenient genetics lab!

Mister Troll said...

Genetics lab?

I thought for sure that I couldn't possibly watch the sequel, but if science is involved...

Excellent point about the midnight feeding :-) Thanks for commenting!

Billy Goat said...

Haha, interesting post. I watched this movie as a kid, as well as its sequel. I loved the first, even to the point of having a Gizmo doll. I'm sure if I went back to watch it now I'd cringe. I also watched at least one other movie with a similar premise, but I don't think it was Critters. I didn't enjoy the second Gremlins movie as much, however. I'm not sure why, but I think my best guess would be because it was too gimmicky (i.e. the weird people-like gremlins and their comedy).

I remember the Asian shopkeeper and his shop, and that added a bit of magic to the movie for my young brain. I still have an interest in Asian (in particular Chinese and Japanese) art, architecture, furniture design (as proven by my recent furniture purchase), media, and culture. I don't think it's fair to lay all that on this movie, but I do remember some early writing (and I mean early, probably elementary-school stuff) that involved a similar shopkeeper with Chinese-style magic, etc.

So, I guess I have a question. I read the Wikipedia article on Orientalism, and I was left confused. Is it a negative thing, like racism, or something akin to the racist idea of "the noble savage"? Or just a shortcut to say, "This is something with an Asian influence?" Or even, "This thing has lots of stereotypical ideas about Asian culture in it?"

About the feasibility of the weird mogwai/gremlin biology, I just assumed what anonymous wrote: that evil babies were more common than good babies (although not as rare as one in a million, because that's just silly). Same with the water. Also, I figured the "after midnight" thing was related to darkness and that midnight might just be a good rule of thumb, and not a hard deadline. However, I can't see a more useless discussion than debating these points, so I'll stop here. :) On a related note, I always wondered if Gizmo would turn evil if he ate after midnight, considering that his children already seemed to be evil (or at least dangerously mischievous).

Mister Troll said...

Is it a negative thing, like racism, or something akin to the racist idea of "the noble savage"? Or just a shortcut to say, "This is something with an Asian influence?" Or even, "This thing has lots of stereotypical ideas about Asian culture in it?"

I always wondered if Gizmo would turn evil if he ate after midnight...I can't see a more useless discussion than debating these points

Yes, yes, yes... and... yes.

The food-after-midnight thing never made sense. The evil gremlins tricked the kid into feeding them after midnight... because... they were already evil? So the food made them more evil?

tall-and-weird said...

They are, of course, evil as fuzzy little fluffballs but the post-midnight feeding pushes them into the non-fuzzy evil category of evil.

Fuzzy evil is easily handled with a rolled up newspaper.

I've just found my copy of the Gremlins book and apparently the Mogwai species was invented by Mogturmen centuries ago on another planet as a creature that was adaptable to any environment and could reproduce easily. They were "sent to every inhabitable planet in the universe to inspire alien beings with their peaceful spirit and intelligence and to instruct them in the ways of living without violence and possible extiction".

But, of course, "something went wrong. Very wrong". I made an [anonymous] mistake earlier - it was actually "fewer than one in a thousand retained the sweet dispostion and charitable aims built into them by the inventor".

And those quotes came from the first couple of pages of the book.

The book also says that even good Mogwai will go bad if they eat at the wrong time.

But the midnight thing seems to become more salient considering that sunlight kills them, bright light hurts them, and they were made on another planet. When could they get their food?

Billy Goat said...

@tall-and-weird - Lots of interesting information! Thanks! The whole invention idea makes the name "Gizmo" an interesting reference (since you could call an unnamed invention a gizmo).

However, I have to say that this invention sure had a lot of nasty bugs.

Any other good info in the book?

tall-and-weird said...

It sure does!

They were apparently made too be incredibly intelligent but were unable to speak because "they thought so much faster than they could verbalise".

This intelligence links with their fascination of machines but the evil ones destroy or sabotage where the good ones appreciate.

The Snow White thing isn't explained in the book but I guess that it appeals to their suppressed happy mode.