4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
Earl Bass (Fred Ward) and Val McKee (Kevin Bacon) warn a road crew that something has decapitated sheepherder Old Fred and butchered his sheep.
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“TREMORS: STANDARD EDITION”
4K Ultra HD, 1990, mild creature-feature violence/gore, language
Best extra: The commentary with director Ron Underwood and writers/producers S.S. Wilson and Brent Maddock
The Limited Edition with a 60-page booklet and mini-posters sold out months ago and the Standard Edition is running in short supplies.
NO WONDER director Ron Underwood still looks back on “Tremors” so fondly.
It wasn’t just his first feature (he went on to helm “City Slickers” and “Heart and Souls,” and has had a long career in TV), making it was one of those rare cases, as opposed to most Hollywood productions, where “everything went right,” he says in a new commentary with writers/producers S.S. Wilson and Brent Maddock.
Think about it.
You had a popcorn-powered script about the dozen or so residents of Perfection, Nev., banding together to fight off giant, subterranean, people-eating “graboids” that, after seven drafts, finally struck the perfect balance between laughs and scares, Wilson says in “Making Perfection,” another new feature.
You had stars Kevin Bacon (“Footloose”) and Fred Ward (“The Right Stuff”) as handymen-for-hire Val McKee and Earl Bass, and a supporting cast featuring TV nice guy Michael Gross (“Family Ties”) and country star Reba McEntire as survivalists Burt and Heather Gummer, who took to their roles right off the bat then ran with them.
(1-3) Handymen-for-hire Val McKee and Earl Bass of Perfection, Nevada with only 14 residents. They bump into Rhonda LeBeck (Finn Carter), a college student conducting seismology tests in the valley. (4) Two of the residence are survivalists Burt (Michael Gross) and Heather Gummer (Reba McEntire).
And you had a refreshing, old-school approach to the thrill-a-minute special effects. “No CGI,” Underwood says with obvious pride over the matte painting that opens the movie. “Our thought was that [this] was the last, or one of the last creature-monster movies in Hollywood, not to use CGI at all.”
With all the pieces in place, you’d think “Tremors” was destined for box-office greatness, right? Wrong. It flopped. What happened? The consensus is the marketing department dropped the ball because they couldn’t figure out how to sell a film that’s funny as it is scary, with a helping of aw-shucks romance on the side.
So, how is it that “Tremors” spun off six sequels, a TV series, and a TV movie? Raise your hand if you remember VHS tapes. The video rental market was exploding in 1990, Wilson says, and that’s where the movie found its audience and got “a new lease on life.”
Which brings us to Arrow Video’s 30th-anniversary edition. Whether you can tick off the title of every sequel or are wondering what the heck all the fuss is about, you need to own it. Here’s why.
(1) Tired of their life in Perfection, Val and Earl set out for Bixby, Nev. the nearest big town. (2) While leaving town they discover the body of the town drunk Earl Deems on an electricity tower. The guys bring the body to Dr. Jim Wallace (Conrad Bachmann) and his wife Megan (Bibi Besch). (3&4) Then they find Old Fred (Michael Dan Wagner) and his dead sheep.
Remastered in 4K from the original 35 mm camera negative, “Tremors” (1.85:1 aspect ratio), in a word, looks fabulous. It was filmed about 3 hours outside of Los Angeles in and around Lone Pine, Calif. With the Sierra Nevadas and majestic Mount Whitney providing the backdrop, it boasts a rich and deep organic palette without a trace of the harshness or glare you might expect in a movie shot mostly in daylight in the desert. The picture feels lived-in. HDR10 and Dolby Vision grading provide clear contrasts, solid detail, and a steady grain are the cherries on top.
OK, it’s a cliché, but it’s hard to imagine this thrill ride ever looking better.
You get a choice of audio tracks: the restored DTS-HD MA original theatrical 2.0 stereo, 4.0 surround, and remixed 5.1 surround. You can’t go wrong with any of them. Dialogue is crystal clear, the graboid … encounters curl your toes, and the score by Emmy-winning composer Ernest Troost (“The Canterville Ghost”) has all kinds of room.
Major props to Arrow and Universal Studios: “Tremors” is outfitted with a full menu of new and archival features that serve up everything fans of every stripe could possibly want.
In his commentary, Underwood recalls that Universal, unsure about what it was bankrolling, wanted him to shoot in L.A. to hold down costs. When the studio honchos saw the dailies, they opened their wallets and the crew went off on location. The studio even volunteered money to pump up the FX and reshoot the closing scene between Val and seismologist Rhonda LeBeck (Finn Carter, TV’s “As the World Turns”) when preview audiences demanded that they kiss.
Underwood also says that cinematographer Alexander Gruszynski (“The Craft”) had some initial concerns about “doing a horror film in daylight where the audience could see everything.” We know how that turned out.
(1) Val and Earl race back to Perfection and Burt finds a section of the underground monster attached to their back axle. (2&3) Everyone in town wants a look. (4) Dr. Wallace becomes the next victim.
“Making Perfection” is a relaxed and informative 30-minute affair. It turns out that the weather during the shoot was a bear – it snowed the first day and the mercury topped out at 105 on other days. Another nugget: Bacon puts the role of Val high on his list but his reason for taking it was practical. “To be brutally honest, I was running out of money,” he says. “Some of the lead roles [I took] after ‘Footloose’ all bombed.” And one more: Wilson says that “Tremors” represented the end of an era – with the arrival of “Jurassic Park” in 1993, CGI was here to stay.
Now, about those special effects. “Digging in the Dirt,” another new feature, pulls back the curtain, but there will be no fun spoiled here. Suffice it to say that they were a challenge. Every shot was storyboarded so the look was never in question; apparently, though, no one worked out how the FX would be done. No matter. “Practical solutions” (i.e., miniatures, puppets, and in-the-moment sleight-of-hand) saved the day.
And that’s just a sampling. There’s also a new commentary with Jonathan Melville, author of “Seeking Perfection: The Unofficial Guide to Tremors,” a new interview with producer Nancy Roberts about the film’s rocky road to the screen, a new interview with Gruszynski, and the new short feature “Music for Graboids.” From the archives, there’s 1995’s “The Making of Tremors” and “Creature Featurette,” a compilation of on-set camcorder footage showing the creation of the graboids.
More? OK: deleted scenes (including the original opening), extensive image galleries, storyboards, two drafts of the screenplay, theatrical trailers, TV and radio spots for the original film, and trailers for every installment in the franchise.
So, what are you waiting for?
– Craig Shapiro
(1) The eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains near Lone Pine, California are the backdrop as Val and Earl try to escape on horseback. (2&3) Now, it’s a foot race as there seem to be three worm-like monsters.