Friday, January 15, 2010

Gremlins -- A Retrospective

Human beings -- I'm pretty sure I am one, although my metallic endoskeleton, which a doctor discovered last week when I went for X-rays, indicates otherwise -- tend to get illogically nostalgic about our youths, but us children of the 80's are a particularly rare breed when it comes to pop culture. It was a great time to be a kid, the 80's was. Hell, we even have a non-ironic attachment to a lot of the shitty music produced that decade. As a whole, the 80's sorta (read: did) sucked; in terms of video games and Hollywood films, however? No goddamn way. The years between 1979 and 1990 left an effect of entitlement on its youth felt to this day, for better or worse (usually for worse); but, really, can you blame that metal-haired, neon-sneakered era for ushering in an age of man-babies? Not really, in this writer's opinion. Because it was filled with so much cool. It was, in fact (and this has been scientifically proven), the last bastion of pop culture creativity, the dying breath of a society coming to terms with its progress-inclined overzealousness. And, man, what a way to go out.

To be honest, I'm more than a little annoyed by the resaturation the 80's has had on today's culture. I've written about it before elsewhere, but to sum up my view, I hate having my memories filtered through a sieve of irony. We laugh and cringe at what we once held as cool, and that's fine (the fashion and the hair styles were stupid, the entire decade shrouded in a veil of confused sociopolitical/socioeconomic acquiescence and rebellion); but you leave my fond memories pure, you skinny-jeans-clad reappropriaters of a time in you've heard/read/researched about but never lived in. (To be fair, the same shit went on when I was growing up. The 70's was seen by kids my age as a miraculous decade. You'll have survey people born in the late 60's to find out if that was, in fact, true, but I have my doubts.) If my daughter grows up having nostalgic sentiments for Hannah Montana or, God forbid, Lady Gaga, so be it; it's when grown men and women try to pretend they're Andy Warhol and project their culturally numb view of artistry onto such dreck that I take umbrage. Pitchfork gave the new Lady Gaga album a 7.8*, by the way.

But there's a point where nostalgia clouds criticism. The comic books/movies/Playboys you loved as a kid aren't as resounding in fascination anymore (for me, and shame on, I loved Rob Liefeld's pencils when I was in elementary school. I similarly loved Kiana's Flex Appeal. Fuck, was I dumb). When I was a child I played with He-Man action figures like a child; but when I became a man I turned into an asshole who became manipulated by mass media to buy tickets to see my childhood revisited again and again on the silver screen (1 Corinthians 13:11).

That's from the Fanboy Bible, and if revisiting the 80's is a religion, consider me an agnostic. I loved the holy hell out of last summer's G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra so much that my ticket is as good as purchased should a sequel be made. Then again, adaptations of video games and 80's properties so rarely work, are often so incredibly bad, that I hold deep-seated scorn toward the idiot masses encouraging more of the same through ticket sales.

The fact, sad but true, is that the properties these films are based on were never that great to begin with. Transformers works better -- cartoonwise and live-actionwise -- in concept than in execution (I'll give the comic book a pass; it wasn't the greatest, but the medium was perfect for it). The same goes for the rest of the toys you played with, the cartoons you watched, and the games you played**.

The same goes for plenty of 80's films. The Goonies has been accused by many as being, in retrospect, a terrible film, a sentiment I don't share. I think The Goonies still holds up, mostly because, even as an adult, I don't find the kids horribly annoying. It is without a doubt a kids' film, but one which adults can enjoy, much like Pixar films and The Wizard of Oz. While I'm not an obsessive, I am a film fan; and occasionally I'll revisit the films of my youth*** to see if they still hold that magic. Most of the time they do (after all, Rob Liefeld adoration aside, even then I was a boy of discerning taste), sometimes they don't. Labyrinth, for example, is pretty mediocre if you subtract David Bowie's campy songs and Jennifer Connelly's caterpillar eyebrows. If you had asked me a year ago whether I thought Labyrinth was a good film, I would've given you a boisterous Hell yes it is! but upon rewatching it I found it dull. That was a sad day. (I numbed the pain with a bottle of Cool Water cologne and High Liner Fish Sticks.)

Memories. I remember loving the Transformers cartoon, and then I watched a few episodes as a twenty-something and realized how shitty it was. In no way is this post meant to show -- insecurely -- how big and grown I am, for I cannot grow a beard and resemble a prepubescent Michael Cera. No. Simply put, it's me writing about the Holy Grail of my cinemagical experience as a young lad, the time I was six and my mom took my brother Grady and I to see Gremlins.

Flashback to the summer of 1984. Our family is on the cusp of relocating from Ottawa to Burlington, Ontario. As a diversion, my mother takes the Forbes boys to see Joe Dante's latest, maybe because it has Steven Spielberg's name on it. I dunno, and (word to 2NE1) I don't care, because I am rivited. The Holy Trinity of Gizmo, Phoebe Cates, and Dick Miller will do that to a six-year-old.

Exiting the theater, my mother is worried about one thing, and it's not the film's violence, which will, in stasis with Temple of Doom, lead to a new PG-13 rating for films. No; it's Phoebe Cates's, um, Kate confiding to Zach Galligan's Billy the reason she hates Christmas. "And that's how I found out there was no Santa Claus," Kate says. I'm pretty sharp at six, but I missed that, and my mother breathes a sigh of relief. It must have been Cates's doe eyes that distracted me.

[As an aside****, I've always wondered how my life would have turned out had my mother taken us to see Ghostbusters -- which opened the same weekend -- instead. Ghostbusters won the weekend by a few million, so in a way you might speculate my mother was setting me up to be second best (aka first place for losers) from an early age. As a child of the 80's, I'm running with that theory!]

My first year in Korea (2000), I watched Gremlins again, but we're discounting that experience because

a) I was pretty drunk, and while I love my libations, films can't be watched intoxicated the same way books can't be read on rollercoasters.

b) I was sharing an apartment with two other teachers, and we frequently had guests, sometimes invited, often not.

c) I was dating my ex-wife at the time. You will forgive me if I try to further erase such memories from my brainbank, won't you?

The second time -- not counting cable television and mind scrubbing-- I watched Gremlins was yesterday. Does it hold up? Oui! Tonally, the film balances light comedy and horror just as I remembered it. It does make a few missteps plotwise, however, such as

1) overemphasizing Billy's father's inventions. The Bathroom Buddy is cute and all, but for a film that puportedly hates technology, the old standbys Blender and Microwave do a good job vis a vis dispensing gremlins. While mildly amusing, Rand Peltzer's inventions are disproportionate to their relevance in the film's plot.

2) skipping around the fates of the Futtermans. Is Dick Miller's Murray -- that xenophobic bastard -- alive or isn't he? And while you're here, do gremlins perpetuate African American stereotypes? I say no, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, yes. Final answer. The gremlins are a metaphor for blacks because they wear sunglasses at night, enjoy drinking, and like the blues (and Peter Gabriel, and Flashdance)? Then so is Corey Hart and Eoin A. Forbes! This was a dawning of a sensitive era. Everyone was offended by Gremlins, it seems. And it didn't help that that Jew bastard Spielberg produced the picture. Birth of a Nation, Song of the South, and Gremlins. That's the list!

3) The entire town is going to shit, but Phoebe Cates's Kate***** -- who works two jobs and has no life of her own -- pours drinks for the titular creatures, escaping only when the she realizes bright light drives them away and the script realizes Billy Peltzer needs a love interest other than Gizmo to complete his goal of

i) killing gremlins

ii) getting in Phoebe Cates's pants

Those nitpicks aside, Gremlins was a popular movie and it still is, and for a reason. The special effects hold up better than you'd expect, the story is timeless in its imagination, and Phoebe Cates Phoebe Cateses.

(I originate, they duplicate; I praise the lord and keep the faith.)

2010, twenty-six years later, peace to Joe Dante. Take me out with the fader.


* It almost got a 7.9, but the French judge didn't like her footwork leading into the triple lutz.

** but, oddly, not the theme park rides you rode. Say what you will about its sequels (I loved Dead Man's Chest, didn't see At World's End), but Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl worked wonderfully. Quelle suprise!

*** have never seen Willow

**** you know how I loathe asides, CR

***** I love you, Phoebe, but for the remainder of my time on Earth (July 14, 2010; at least that's what the doctors say), I never want to type "Phoebe Cates's Kate" ever again. Similarly, I'm reticent to include the phrase "Judge Reinhold's career metaphor" in this post because, word to Huey Lewis, it's too darn loud to type.


dimesfornickels said...

You know that 80s fashion is popular with the young ladies here in Japan?

It is. And I'm alright with that.

hwarangi said...

If you liked Gremlins, you'll love 'Gremlins 2.'


Sparkles*_* said...

I'll get to Gremlins 2, aka my wolfsbane.

Chicken Wire, the Harbinger of Heavenly Annotation said...

My favorite part of Gremlins 2 was the cheese burrito gremlin.

hwarangi said...