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HD DVD Review: Tremors

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Why do people choose to move into idyllic, small towns? Don't they know that eventually a monster/evil presence/unidentified alien is going to come in and ruin everything? At least, that’s what Hollywood has taught us. Then again, the folks over in Perfection seemed to have everything under control in 1990's Tremors.

Yes, Tremors uses every tired cliché this genre is known for, but it feeds off them instead of wearing them out. Whereas other movies would constantly remind you of the problems (cut phone lines, no way out, etc.) the script here sets them up and moves on. Even the scientist character (played by Finn Carter) is fed up with inquiries, a brilliant nod to the constant barrage of questions tossed towards the scientific community in other films.

Normally you could tear an unoriginal movie like this apart, but Tremors is so much fun, so fast paced, and so well-written, it doesn't matter. This movie does right what so many other similar movies do wrong. There's ample screen time for the monsters (which are unique), the body count is satisfactory (and gory), and the mix of both horror and comedy blend flawlessly.

Ron Underwood directs here and shows his love for the sci-fi classics in every aspect. In fact, you could almost say he takes the formula and improves on it, which is not an easy task. A great cast helps him along, including the two lead players, Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward. They’re likeable to the extreme, and from the moment they appear on screen, you know they're close friends. This wouldn’t be the same movie without them.

Michael Gross would go on to star in each of the three sequels, but he never works better than he does here. His character would be played out by the second film, and by the third, he’s a mess of comedic relief and the main character.

You can talk about the "real" stars all you want. It's the worms everyone is here to see. They make a worthy adversary for the small town and the small rule set (don't make a single movement) is never broken. There is a mix of miniature, puppetry, and animatronics. The first reveal is great after the tease early on. The way the crew was able to make audiences believe the creatures were there without even showing them, by rocking or knocking over various objects, is wonderfully choreographed.

This is one of the unrecognized classics in Universal's long line of monsters. In fact, you could say this is the best giant underground worm movie with Reba McEntire ever made. Seriously, this really is one of the greatest creature features of all time, blending genres perfectly and making it appeal to more than just the usual fan base. This one will eventually be recognized for what it really is — a masterpiece of a monster movie.

HD DVD brings Tremors to audiences in a lackluster, ugly transfer. The biggest problem is garish edge enhancement, putting bright, unmistakable halos around everything. From the mountains in the background, people in the foreground, to the rocks covering the ground, everything is obscured by it.

In close-ups, detail is flat and washed out. Colors change in intensity from shot to shot, grain is inconsistent and possibly digitally removed, and print damage is occasionally evident. While hardly the worst HD disc on the market, the disappointment is massive.

The audio side mercifully is a step up from the visuals. A Dolby TrueHD track sounds its age at some minor points in terms of dialogue that lacks the crispness of modern sound, though the rest of the movie is fantastic. Every movement from the “graboids” is met with a deep, rumbling shot from the LFE channel. Dirt, debris, and even some dialogue runs into the appropriate speakers. It’s a fantastic mix for a movie from 1990.

All of the extras are brought over from the DVD editions, which in turn were brought over from the laserdisc. While the features are spectacular, they’re tired and fans need some new content. The Making of Tremors is a wonderful look at how the movie came together and it has plenty of time to tell the story. Clocking in at just under an hour, it covers just about everything you could possibly need to know, including the original (and better) ending. The final ten minutes or so looks at the creature effects, but there is no dialogue, only music.

There is a useless (after the above feature) promotional featurette that runs four minutes. There are five minutes of deleted scenes including an alternate opening, which does a better job of setting the film up like a standard monster movie. Cast featurettes are the final piece, focusing on a few of the stars for a couple of minutes each.

Even with a die-hard fan base, the Tremors TV series has yet to see a DVD release. It lasted one season on the Sci-Fi network back in 2003, and while it was hardly the greatest TV series ever made, it certainly had its moments. Given some of the other obscure shows on the format, it’s time for Tremors to have its shot.

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About Matt Paprocki

Matt Paprocki has critiqued home media and video games for 13 years and is the reviews editor for Pulp365.com. His current passion project is the technically minded DoBlu.com. You can read Matt's body of work via his personal WordPress blog, and follow him on Twitter @Matt_Paprocki.