We’re used to the “is it a Christmas movie?” debate surrounding Die Hard and it seems that every year someone takes the opportunity to write another article about it. But it’s not as if Die Hard is the only film that may or may not be a Christmas movie. There’s every Shane Black film, Trading Places, Batman Returns, and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I’ve argued plenty of times with a friend of mine about Meet Me in St. Louis. She claims it’s a Christmas movie and I am adamant that it’s not. There are plenty of films that are set at Christmas that don’t focus on the holiday itself. Films that barely even recognise that the festive season is upon us. Many of these films are just old favourites that people enjoy watching. Like Gremlins. People like the film so why not watch it at Christmas? After all, it’s a time when we’re meant to embrace the people we love so why not the films too?
It’s difficult to be objective about a film like Gremlins. When you have a long personal film and watch it regularly, you tend to romanticise it and ignore its flaws. It also helps if you first watch it at an impressionable age. Adding nostalgia into the mix always makes the rose-tinted glasses that much harder to see out of. My initial reaction was to just award this film 5 stars and have done with it. However, I know that Gremlins isn’t a flawless film. No matter how much I love it, I can’t pretend that the story is a little thin and there are some plot holes lurking around the place. When you watch this film with a critical eye, it’s hard to stop questioning everything that goes on before your eyes.
It’s been long discussed that the three rules that are relayed to Mr Peltzer are undefined. I mean what do you count as “after midnight”? Do Mogwai understand time zones or are they wired to the time zone they were born in? When does the clock reset again? Then there’s the water thing. What exactly do they count as wet? Does it have to be water or is it any liquid? Why doesn’t the snow cause the gremlins to multiply? Or the dog licking Gizmo? What about water based food/drink? I mean Billy’s mum was all set to make him chicken soup. Isn’t that mainly water? This is a film that raises so many questions.
Of course, the reality is that none of those questions matter. All we really want to see is horrible little gremlins attacking people and being shoved into microwaves. Watching Gremlins now, it’s hard to imagine it being it being considered super violent when it was released. It’s not that the special don’t stand up at all but they do kind of belong to the campy side of cinematic history. Rather than being a terrifying thing, Gremlins has the definite feel of a children’s film. The whole thing is played for laughs and it’s utterly mesmerising. Just take the dead dad monologue. It’s absolutely ridiculous and fabulous. Obviously, it’s my favourite part of the entire movie.
This is also perhaps the reason why the story is a little bit thin. It’s meant to be flexible enough to allow for maximum giggles and cartoon violence. Underneath it all, this is an incredibly clever film. For one thing, it makes fun of American materialism and the commercialisation of Christmas. Then there are the numerous references to cinema styles and genres. It plays off so many old films and parodies familiar tropes. When taken on their own, the individual elements of this film aren’t necessarily up to much. The acting is more than a little wooden, the plot is thin, the pacing needs work, and the special effects haven’t aged well. Yet, when you put them together, you find movie magic. Whether this really counts as a Christmas film or not doesn’t matter. It’s the kind of film that we should be watching at least once a year to remind us how fun films can be.