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DVD SAVANT

Tremors Attack Pack
Tremors, Tremors 2: Aftershocks, Tremors 3: Back to Perfection, Tremors 4: The Legend Begins


Tremors Attack Pack
Universal
1990 -2004 / Color / 1:85 anamorphic 16:9 / 6 hr, 42 min. / Street Date November 29, 2005 / 26.98
Starring Kevin Bacon, Fred Ward, Michael Gross
Cinematography Virgil L. Harper
Production Designer Ivo Cristante;
Special Effects Dennis and Robert Skotak, John Teska; Jim Aupperle, Peter Konig, Rocco Gioffre; Ken Kutchaver
Film Editor O. Nicholas Brown; Bob Ducsay
Original Music Ernest Troost; Kevin Kiner; Jay Ferguson
Written by S.S. Wilson, Brent Maddock, Ron Underwood
Produced by Gale Anne Hurd, Brent Maddock, S.S. Wilson; Christopher DeFaria, Nancy Roberts
Directed by Ron Underwood, S.S. Wilson, Brent Maddock, S.S. Wilson

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

The Tremors Attack Pack collection is a handy two-disc compendium of a minor but above average monster comedy franchise launched in 1990. Tremors distinguished itself by making a refreshing break from roughly 35 years of dumb-bell monster movies. Teen audiences have traditionally loved outlandish, sneaky monsters, whether they be werewolves, giant insects or things from outer space, but the typical monster epic almost always followed a generic pattern. Each tale begins from square one with strange phenomena and baffling killings that are ignored or written off to superstition. It's usually not until late in Act III that anybody gets a handle on the true extent of the terror, and more often than not all the really exciting content (if any) occurs in the final reel. The rest is often humorless filler. By the late 1950s, one needed to be a real aficionado to stay involved in the subgenre.

Tremors has fun with the format by setting up its generic "burrowing monsters" situation and getting the ball rolling in the very first scene, and then allowing its characters to do intelligent battle with the beasts for at least sixty minutes of a 96 minute running time. The locale is the remote and insignificant Nevada town of Perfection, a collection of shacks and trailers far more humble than Jack Arnold's Sand Rock, Arizona, where invaders from space, a giant Tarantula! and crystal Monolith Monsters threatened helpless small-town folk. Perfection has only a few residents, a visiting geologist and a couple of nomadic good-ole boy handymen, but they immediately band together against a terrifying monster threat. They aren't standard victim types, either - one local couple are gung-ho survivalist gun fanatics, armed to the teeth. This loveable bunch learn about their sneaky, deadly foe and fight back in high spirits. Yes, the phones are out and the roads are blocked but the characters don't behave like boobs. And the movie isn't about folk singing or drag racing, it's about monster-fighting. Think about it - we all love Steve McQueen in The Blob, but in at least 95% of that picture, nothing happens.

Synopsis:

Tremors (1990): Perfection, Nevada is under siege by giant worm monsters that can tunnel through the earth at an alarming speed. Handymen Valentine McKee and Earl Bassett (Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward) barely escape the things they dub 'graboids' by seeking safety high above their reach, preferably on solid rock outcroppings. The graboids are blind but use sound to hunt their prey, a fact that necessitates clever strategies to lure them away from the frightened citizenry. Helping the boys are geologist Rhonda LeBeck, whose seismometers can track the graboids, and Burt and Heather Gummer (Michael Gross and Reba McEntire), survivalist extremists with a basement of firepower capable of wiping out a small army.

Tremors 2: Aftershocks (1996): Seemingly everyone else in Perfection has made a bundle from graboid-related business and moved on, leaving Earl Bassett (Fred Ward) broke and ready to respond to a job offer from Mexico, where a Mexican oil company's fields are being overrun by man-eating graboids. Bassett has a great time suckering the graboids into his dynamite traps; his new sidekick is Grady Hoover (Christopher Gartin) and he also has time to find his own geologist girlfriend, Kate Reilly (Helen Shaver). Earl invites his pal Burt Gummer (Michael Gross) to get in on the fun, but their easy pickin's come to an abrupt halt when the graboids adapt themselves with a little battlefield "mutationeering." Each graboid spits out three biped 'screamer' monsters, smaller above-ground running nasties. The screamers are blind as well, but locate their meals with heat-sensing organs. To escape detection, the humans now have to stay quiet and cool.

Tremors 3: Back to Perfection: After helping some Argentinians wipe out an infestation of screamers, Burt Gummer (Michael Gross) returns to find Perfection transformed by graboid mania. Store owner Jodi Chang (Susan Chuang) is doing mercantile battle with scam 'graboid tour' guide Jack Sawyer (Shawn Christian), while Melvin Plug (Robert Jayne from the first film) is trying to make a buck by subdividing the valley. Then the graboids reappear. Government agents citing the Endangered Species Act want to protect the monsters and prevent Burt from spearheading a counterattack. Burt has to face being swallowed whole by a graboid, and being chased by one called the "great white," while screamers also make repeat appearances. Finally, the monsters mutate into yet another configuration called "ass-blasters." Volatile chemicals in their stomachs are turned into rocket fuel, allowing them to jet across the sky on their own ignitable flatulence.

Tremors 4: The Legend Begins. In 1889, Rejection, Nevada may turn into a ghost town when graboids force the shut-down of a profitable silver mine. Elitist easterner Hiram Gummer (Michael Gross) comes west to get it going again, and has to learn to get along with normal folk to fight the monsters. Hiring a gunslinger (Billy Drago) doesn't work, but teamwork and ingenuity just might.

The Tremors franchise was cleverly assembled, right from the ad campaigns featuring a Jaws-like worm monster reaching up from under the ground - most audiences welcomed the tale as a 'land shark' take on Spielberg's film. The best thing about the first film is the acting team of Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward, who make a likeable pair of unhappy campers never quite comprehending why they end up on the wrong end of every deal. They also speak an unbroken string of curse words, a habit broken for the more mother-friendly sequels. About the grossest thing that happens in the movie are the showers of foul-smelling worm entrails that follow every successful graboid detonation. The series initially satirizes the gun-crazy Gummers but quickly changes its tune, as Burt and Heather turn out to be the go-to pair for monster killing. We practical monster kids often theorized about how unintimidating James Arness' Thing from Another World would be after being hit by, say, a bazooka; Tremors brings down the house when a graboid invades the Gummers' basement rumpus room, allowing them to implement their entire arsenal. The joke is in their obvious joy - they've invested a fortune in their survivalist toys and the graboid invader gives them a chance to put their violent fantasies into action.  1

The first film has the good sense to wrap things up before repetition sets in. The effects are of the giant mechanical monster variety and are very well done; someone dug a lot of trenches out in the desert for underground rigs that make it look like giant gophers are burrowing underground. Jaws is indeed the film's main precedent, but we also think of the old UA picture The Monster that Challenged the World and Carlo Rambaldi's sandworms from David Lynch's Dune. Audiences were pleasantly amused, enough for the film to spawn a trio of made-for-video sequels of rather high quality. Unlike most low-end franchises, the followups were created by the original creative crew, which for better or worse maintained a high level of continuity and context - the shows really flow together. The only major staff switch through all four movies is a passing of the baton from producer Gale Ann Hurd to Nancy Roberts. The special effects and budgets do slip somewhat, but not much, with the mutated offspring of the original worms turned into amusingly feral little critters.

The sequels come up with some clever innovations that compensate for a lack of real scares. A human is able to walk right through a roomful of hungry, heat-sensing 'screamers' after being sprayed with frosty CO2. A grinning Fred Ward traps graboids by getting them to gobble up radio controlled toy cars carrying high explosives. And Michael Gross' zeal for high-powered weaponry becomes more amusing as the series goes on. We hardly miss the original film's Reba McEntire and Kevin Bacon, even though the non-star supporting casting isn't in itself too thrilling. It's also nice to see repeat casting, like child star Ariana Richards returning as a young adult for Tremors #3.

Politically, the pictures aren't too offensive. Latin characters are the first to get gobbled up and the last to be mourned. PC posturing goes a bit too far in the final film's almost complete reliance on Chinese, Native Americans and Mexican Americans. The second sequel gives us some foolish federal Environmentalists that we eagerly anticipate will become worm food. They aren't used for any broad statements about creeping government tyranny.

The final sequel is the only one that disappoints. At a loss for a plotline, the producers do a Back to the Future retreat to the wild west for a prequel. The concept has to restart from the beginning, as the characters slowly learn the feeding habits of first-stage graboids all over again. Michael Gross has a new character to play (his own great grandfather?) and there are a few cute twists, but it's mostly a well-meaning drag.

The Tremors franchise does its job by putting self-conscious fun back into the classic drive-in monster movie. A few years later, Wes Craven's Scream series of slasher films introduced the reflexive idea that teenaged characters might be well aware of the movie-clichés they face. And we've since gone full circle and are just coming out of a Ring-inspired Japanese horror cycle. Tremors- like movies are now fodder for the Sci-Fi channel, and any monster movie that isn't 100% sarcasm or deconstructionist is a tough sell - I cite the initial audience resistance to the new King Kong.


The Tremors Attack Pack is a compact 2-disc set for fans who want all of the titles, or haven't seen any of them and are curious. All of the transfers are excellent enhanced widescreen offerings. Savant doesn't have any earlier releases with which to compare, but I can say that I wish all my favorite films were rendered this well on DVD.

The best extras all go with the original film - A "Making of Tremors" featurette and some outtakes. There's also an original promo-style featurette (Savant tends to tune these out quickly), trailers and some production photos. #2 has just a trailer, but #s 3 and #4 each have a promo featurette. The final film also has a director's commentary from S.S. Wilson. Tremors became a TV series in 2003, also starring Michael Gross. It lasted for thirteen unlucky episodes ... on the Sci Fi Channel, where else?


On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Tremors Attack Pack rates:
Movies: Very Good to Good--
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent English (Dolby Digital 5.1), French (Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo), Spanish (Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo)
Supplements: The Making of Tremors, Outtakes, Featurettes, Theatrical Trailers; Profiles on Kevin Bacon, Michael Gross, Reba McEntire; Production Photographs
Packaging: Folding card and plastic disc holder in card sleeve
Reviewed: December 26, 2005


Footnote:

1. Gahan Wilson had a wonderful Playboy cartoon around 1967: A little old couple stands on an ordinary street corner in front of a gigantic, dead bull elephant. The man is shucking shells out of an oversized rifle. The woman: "Harry, I'll never tease you again about carrying around that elephant gun!"




DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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