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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell (Blu-ray)
Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell (Blu-ray)
Universal // PG-13 // May 1, 2018 // Region A
List Price: $22.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Tyler Foster | posted May 20, 2018 | E-mail the Author
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Almost 30 years after the original Tremors was released in 1990, the series keeps on kicking thanks to Universal's in-house direct-to-video department, which produced the first sequel, Tremors 2: Aftershocks 6 years later and has pumped one out every few years since. Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell is the sixth feature entry in the long-running franchise, and the seventh following a 2003 TV show that ran on the SciFi Channel for one season. Sadly, following the surprisingly decent Tremors 5: Bloodlines, the franchise is starting to show a bit of wear and tear, suggesting that the ousting of creators S.S. Wilson and Brent Maddock (who wrote a draft of 5 but were not involved with the finished product) is a weakness that Universal ought to rectify.

This newest entry finds gun nut Burt Gummer (Michael Gross) managing Chang's Market back at home in Perfection, having given up making survivalist videos after a fight with his new partner (and long-lost son), Travis Welker (Jamie Kennedy). Things take a turn for the worse when a tax man appears to slap Burt with a bunch of liens and a promise to seize his property, including the market, within a few weeks. Thankfully, Burt gets a surprise call from Val McKee -- not Valentine McKee, but Valerie McKee (Jamie-Lee Money), the daughter of Val and Rhonda LeBeck, last seen leaving Perfection 28 years ago. Although Valerie is working in the arctic Canadian mountains, she's convinced the remnants of a former research group found in the snow indicate a Graboid attack, the first outside of a warm climate. After Travis pleads with Burt to hand him down some lessons in Graboid hunting and the two reluctantly patch up their differences, it's off to the research station where Valerie and her boss, Dr. Rita Sims (Tanya Van Graan) are working -- but what's with the extreme chest pains Burt's been having recently?

The good news first: Michael Gross remains an invaluable (and perhaps unlikely) star of the long-running franchise. It would have been easier to imagine six Tremors films and a TV show starring co-lead Fred Ward than Gross, whose supporting character in the original Tremors was pretty out there and not necessarily a likely keel for a series to steady itself on, but even as the script struggles to find him new notes to play, he throws himself into the role with gusto. He also has a strong, unforced chemistry with co-star Jamie Kennedy, enough to sell their relationship. A gag where he gives a quick pep talk about testicles to a terrified scientist relies entirely on Gross' commitment, and his attitude shines through in a funny sequence where the entire crew starts rattling the ground to bait a Graboid. Speaking of Graboids, even the computer generated creatures in this one look pretty great, flying through the air and swallowing up whatever is in their way, plus there's some old-school practical action for the effects purists.

What doesn't work is the screenplay by John Whelpley, which is so loosely sketched from scene to scene that the movie never feels as if it builds a real story or creates any momentum. Characters act in ways that make no sense in order to facilitate another action sequence (in particular, the behavior that gets one scientist killed in a spectacular truck stunt and leaves another clinging to an outdoor crane is inexplicably stupid), and there's an entire side plot involving a bunch of DARPA guys that feels entirely unnecessary. Frankly, it seems to exist as a result of the equally unnecessary tax lien setup, when Burt's struggle with his mysterious ailment, and his dithering on whether or not to pass on his Graboid hunting knowledge to Travis is a character-based story that could support the movie by itself. There's also the 2018 queasiness of the Gummer character's passion for guns, which Whelpley's script struggles to puncture with humor.

Some of Whelpley's writing decisions are likely attributable to director Don Michael Paul, who also struggles to pull this Tremors together. While it's appreciated that Burt's double-barreled fantasies have arguably been countered with frequent talks about the effects of global warming, that explanation ends up feeling like an excuse to explain why the movie doesn't live up to its own promise. Like the previous film, Cold Day was shot in Cape Town, Africa, the new Vancouver for low-budget film productions, meaning the snow setting is largely non-existent. There is a semi-effective opening that subs sand for snow (the trick is fairly obvious, but it almost works, and would work even better if the blue color timing wasn't such a blanket), and then the rest of the movie finds the Graboids running through dirt, no different than the other films in the series (with one brief, fairly isolated exception where a creature attacks someone underwater). A sequence where a character distracts a Graboid with hand-made grenades has no geography or apparent purpose, and Paul relies heavily on randomly-applied slow-motion shots that are effective but feel like a crutch. Taken together, Whelpley and Paul's ideas never feel like they're growing or deepening the Tremors universe as opposed to just changing the backdrop.

Shortly after Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell was released, it was announced that SyFy had passed on an exciting new "Tremors" TV pilot that would've brought back Kevin Bacon as Valentine McKee (and potentially Fred Ward as Earl Bass). Neither project has Maddock or Wilson on board. There's clearly still interest and energy left in this underground monster movie franchise, it's just a shame that nobody seems to know exactly how to dig it up.

The Blu-ray
The key art prepared for Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell is pretty misleading, given only one scene in the film technically takes place in an icy tundra, and the rest takes place in the same sort of dirt and gravel landscapes as the rest of the series. I'm also still not a fan of the fact that they've ditched the original Tremors logo font for no reason, but that's a truly personal nitpick. The two disc set comes in a Viva Elite Blu-ray case that houses the Blu-ray, the DVD copy, and a leaflet with a MoviesAnywhere digital HD code. The entire thing comes in a glossy embossed slipcover featuring identical artwork.

The Video and Audio
There are no problems to report with either the 1.78:1 1080p AVC widescreen transfer, or the accompanying DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. This new Tremors movie boasts some 2018 digital crispness, depth, and clarity, along with some polished rumbling and splattering to get the job done when the headlining monsters are scurrying around underground. Given there are six of these movies now, and this isn't the first that was produced in the 21st century, the whole package has a veteran polish to it that neither disappoints or surprises. Spanish and French DTS 5.1 tracks are also on tap, as well as English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing, and Spanish and French subtitles.

The Extras
A trio of brief but pleasantly entertaining extras have been prepared for this sixth Tremors movie. First, "The Making of Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell" (14:06) is a brisk 6-part (...) peek into the production, featuring on-set interviews with director Don Michael Paul, the cast, and a few members of the crew that breezes through the overall concept, the legacy of the series, the new characters, the setting, and the visual effects. "Anatomy of a Scene" (4:01) singles out a fairly unimportant but still conceptually notable sequence from the film and takes a brief look at what was done to put it together, including practical and digital effects, and the stuntwork. Finally, "Inside Chang's Market" (2:47) explores the set constructed to recreate a location from the original film, showing off production design details that don't really get seen in the finished film.

Conclusion
Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell is a pretty underwhelming entry in the long-running franchise. Hopefully the next chapter sees the franchise's fathers coming back and breathing some truly new ideas into this familiar beast (and, hey, someone pick up that TV show). Skip it.


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