For my fifth birthday, my sister gave me a set of five books with a record (yes, a record — I’m old, let’s move on) to listen as I read along. She didn’t know it at the time, but she set into motion a love for a movie that I would have to wait two more years to see, but would forever shape the person I am today. That love would border on obsession, and more than once my mother would raise concern about the influence that they had on my life.
The books (and the movie) told the story of Gremlins.
If you have never seen it (a dire situation you must rectify immediately), Gremlins is a movie about a young man who receives an unusual pet for Christmas, a cute furry creature called a mogwai. The mogwai comes with three important rules: Don’t get him wet, keep him out of bright lights, and under no circumstances feed him after midnight. Of course Billy breaks each of these rules, one after another, and the consequences are disastrous for Billy and the town in which he lives.
Like the Star Wars films, Gremlins required a team of imaginative, energetic and artistic individuals to achieve their visions, so there should be little surprise that they are both connected to each other in many ways. Here are a few of them:
Chris Walas was a staple in Industrial Light and Magic’s creature effects studio. He is most noted for his work on Raiders of the Lost Ark, as he is credited with providing the effects needed to melt the faces of the Nazis during the film’s climactic scene. For a fascinating inside look at how he pulled it off, check out an interview with him on the Raiders DVD.
After Raiders, Walas served on Phil Tippet’s team of puppeteers for Jabba’s palace in Return of the Jedi. Shortly after, he caught the eye of director Joe Dante, who wanted him for a massive project being produced by his former collaborator, Steven Spielberg. The project was Gremlins, and it would turn into both a labor of love and hate for Walas, who had to literally invent the technology needed to bring a cast of hundreds of creatures to life.
After Gremlins, Walas continued to work in the special effects business, working on such films as The Fly (for which he won an Oscar) and Enemy Mine. He branched out into directing when he took the reins for The Fly II in 1989. Currently, a battle with hearing loss is keeping him out of the film business, but there is no doubt that he will overcome that obstacle and return to movie magic soon.
Gremlins fact: It took many attempts to get the right design for Gizmo because Steven Spielberg rejected all of them. Finally, Walas and his crew patterned him after Spielberg’s cocker spaniel, and the executive producer loved it.
Most Star Wars fans do not know the name Mark Dodson. This is a shame, for his voice (or more accurately, his laugh) is iconic and instantly recognizable to anyone who is familiar with the original trilogy.
Dodson headed out to California with dreams of movie stardom. Like Harrison Ford, he was working as a carpenter at Skywalker Ranch, remodeling Ben Burtt’s sound studio. The sound designer was looking for a raccoon to use for mixing, and he chatted with Dodson about acquiring one. One thing lead to another, and Dodson found himself in the very sound studio he was constructing, auditioning for the role of Admiral Ackbar. To warm up for his audition, Dodson performed various vocal exercises, including a laugh that drew Burtt’s attention.
Dodson lost the role of Admiral Ackbar, but he gained the role (uncredited) of Jabba the Hutt’s court jester, the Kowakian monkey lizard Salacious Crumb. Dodson joked that it would be great to make a movie with a hundred Salacious Crumbs running around; that proved prophetic when he was approached shortly after Jedi’s premiere with a role in Gremlins.
Dodson provided voices for many of the secondary gremlins (Stripe was voiced by the legendary Frank Welker and Gizmo was Howie Mandel) and was invited back for the sequel to voice a prominent character, the cross-eyed gremlin Daffy.
Mark Dodson continues to work in the voice over industry. Currently he is the narrator for the reality series Legend of the Superstition Mountains.
Gremlins fact: There are several references to other movies and cameos to look for in the film, including Bugs Bunny animator Chuck Jones. Eagle eyed viewers might even catch a glimpse of Steven Spielberg with a broken leg.
Kathleen Kennedy is now a household name — if there is a Star Wars lover in said household — but the full scope of her impact in the world of geek cinema may not be fully appreciated.
Following the mega successes of Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Raiders of the Lost Ark, Steven Spielberg set out to start up his own production company. To do this, he formed a partnership with Kennedy and Frank Marshall, whom he had worked with on previous projects. They named the company after Spielberg’s first film, Amblin.
One of Amblin’s first projects was Gremlins. Kathleen served as executive producer on the film. Since then, she has served as executive producer for such films as Back to the Future, The Goonies and Jurassic Park. In 2012, when George Lucas announced the sale of Lucasfilm to The Walt Disney Co., Kennedy was named as the company’s new president. With three new films in the Star Wars saga, plus several anthology films and television shows in the works, it is a safe bet that Kathleen Kennedy will be the driving force behind your favorite stories for years to come.
Gremlins fact: The movie takes place in a town called Kingston Falls, but does it feel like some other pace you’ve seen before? That is because the film was shot on the Universal back lot, which had been used for countless films. Take a close look at the scene in Back to the Future when Doc Brown dances in the street after sending Marty back to 1985 and compare it to the moment when Billy, Kate and Gizmo blow up the movie theater. It’s the same location.
For a comprehensive list of behind the scenes secrets and stories on the making of Gremlins, check out Aelia Petro’s free online book Gremlin In Your House at www.gremlininyourhouse.com.
Look like a gremlin YHOP does, but destroy your mother’s kitchen he will not. Send him thoughts and suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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