Tremors 4: The Legend Begins
Film Length: 101 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 16X9 Enhanced Widescreen (1.85:1)
Subtitles: English, French, and Spanish
Audio: English, Spanish, and French - Dolby Digital 5.1
NOTE: The disc contains “somewhat forced” trailers (you can fast forward through them) for: The Skulls III and Johnny English, as well as a promo for Sci-Fi pictures originals.
As its title suggests, Tremors 4: The Legend Begins is a precursor to the Tremors trilogy and television series, which pits human beings against intelligent and ferocious subterranean creatures. As this installment, which is set precisely one century before the original Tremors, opens, silver miners in the remote mining town of Rejection, Nevada are attacked and consumed by worm-like “mini Graboids”, causing mass panic and threatening to halt the mining operation.
Shortly thereafter, the wealthy mine-owner (and great-grandfather to Tremors mainstay Burt Gummer), Hiram Gummer (Michael Gross), arrives to see why his silver mine is shut down. During an expedition to the mine, Hiram encounters the Graboids, and after he narrowly escapes with his own life, he decides to retain the services of an experienced gunfighter to deal with the creatures. As the story unfolds, a lot of the history behind the vents in the previous films, and the TV series, is filled in.
Since fans of the series were not able to see Tremors 4 in theaters, I really don’t want to reveal any more of the storyline or otherwise spoil the experience. Let’s just say that in my opinion, this direct-to-video prequel is a decent enough monster-movie, although it contains far more in the way of action and tongue-in-cheek humor than actual frights. However, one of the interesting things about this movie that I will point out is that there is little in the way of CGI effects, which makes it kind of a throwback to old school filmmaking. To be sure, CGI is not a bad thing, but in the case of Tremors 4, I think the use of miniatures and puppets enhances the film by adding more realism to the proceedings and giving the actors something to play off of.
Speaking of acting, the performances in this film, while not Oscar© -worthy, are still much better than what one might expect to find in movies from this genre. A series veteran, Michael Gross sinks his teeth into the role of Hiram Gummer, and keeps the character from becoming too cheesy. Likewise, Brent Roam, Ming Lo, Sam Ly, Sara Botsford, and Billy Drago also make the most of their time on-screen, and give their characters a little more life than the typical supporting players in creature features usually have.
Oh, just in case you were wondering, Tremors 4 also features a few of what Director S.S. Wilson calls “the obligatory Tremors gore shots” and a variety of cool period-specific firepower…. make sure to keep your eyes peeled for the devastating “hideout piece”!
SO, HOW DOES IT LOOK?
Despite being peppered with dimly-lit environments that can play havoc with image reproduction on DVD, Universal’s anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) transfer for Tremors 4: The Legend Begins is pretty solid all the way around. To begin with, colors are nicely saturated, either rich and earthy or bold and vibrant, as need be. Also, although the image is slightly soft, it is both clean and pleasant to look at, and the slight softness never saps too much detail from the image, which was a problem with Universal’s American Wedding transfer.
Furthermore, black level is very good throughout, giving the image plenty of texture and above average shadow delineation. Again, this is important, because there are a number of scenes in dark places in Tremors 4, most of which are naturally (as opposed to theatrically) lit by candles and lanterns. Really, aside from a small touch of edge enhancement, this disc looks pretty good, and showcases the beautiful California landscapes quite wonderfully.
WHAT IS THAT NOISE?
The audio for Tremors 4 is encoded by Universal into separate English, Spanish, and French 5.1 channel Dolby Digital tracks. I am happy to report that with the exception of a couple of instances (e.g. Chapter 7) where the obviously replaced dialogue sounds confined and lacking in dynamics, the Dolby Digital track is quite good overall. Specifically, frequency response is commendable, especially in the lower registers, which add a great deal of impact to the activities and movements of the Graboids, gunshots, the steam tractor that is featured throughout the film, and especially the last scene in the film.
The rear channels are also quite active, embellishing the film’s music, filling the listening space with the subtleties of the outdoor environments or mine interiors, and a number of location specific effects. Music reproduction is also handled well, particularly the nice acoustic guitar work that opens several of the film’s chapters, including chapters six and nine.
Again, this is a fine audio track, with the only notable exception being the characters’ speech in a few places. Still, that problem aside, it is nice that all of the film’s dialogue is clearly audible, even during action sequences. Overall, this is a nice job by Universal!!!
Feature Length Commentary:
Director S.S. Wilson handles the commentary duties for Tremors 4 in a smooth, easygoing, and screen-specific manner. Although it is not among the best commentaries I have ever heard, Mr. Wilson is somewhat insightful, and his comments generally add a little to the scenes he is commentating over. Highlights included:
--- In the opening scene, there was no theatrical lighting, only the candles and lanterns seen on-screen are illuminating the shot.
--- S.S. Wilson points out many of the in-jokes sprinkled throughout Tremors 4, placed in the film specifically for fans of the series.
--- Mr. Wilson reveals that this is the very first time extras were used on a Tremors film.
--- To give the film a more realistic look and feel, there was very little CGI used, except to blend miniatures shots with footage of the actors.
--- Several scenes in the film were lengthened specifically to allow the use of music.
--- At several points, S.S. Wilson discusses the filmmakers’ research into the mining culture, and, of course, the weaponry used in the film. It appears that a great deal of care was taken to ensure props and weapons were as period specific as possible.
As I already mentioned, this commentary track doesn’t ascend to a level of greatness, but it is certainly worth listening to, particularly if you are a fan. I would also be remiss if I did not say that I was most impressed with the desire S.S. Wilson seems to have to please fans of the series, which comes across throughout the commentary and other extras.
You’re On The Set of Tremors 4: The Legend Begins
This 12-minute promotional piece that features interviews with Michael Gross, Nancy Roberts (writer/producer), and S.S. Wilson, among others, is somewhat humorous and insightful, and should be enjoyable for fans of the series. During this featurette, the cast and crew talk about how the shift to the old west gives the series a fresh perspective, and about how this installment should provide a lot of background on the other films in the franchise. Perhaps the most interesting thing though, is the level of respect everyone involved seems to have for fans of the Tremors franchise, and the hints dropped that this may not be the final Tremors film.
The “Dirt Dragons” featurette is a detailed, enthusiastic discussion of the reverse engineering of the Graboids from the other films to create the mini-Graboids featured in Tremors 4. During this featurette’s nearly 6 minutes of running time, several interesting things are brought to light. Most notably, there was very little CGI used in the film, and a full-scale Graboid was created that was capable of actually swallowing an actor!
There are a total of 16 deleted scenes offered as one reel (about 12 minutes worth), much of which appears to have been trimmed for time, and almost all of which feature Michael Gross’ character, Hiram Gummer.
The outtakes segment includes about 6-minutes of antics, gags, and line flubs by most of the principal cast. Nothing ground-breaking here, but some of the content is amusing.
A short piece set to music, featuring the talented KNB effects team assembling the miniatures and filming some scenes for the movie.
S.S. Wilson’s Student Film – “Recorded Live”
For me, this was the highlight of the extras! Recorded in 1975, this short film depicts a man heading to a job interview only to be confronted by a reel of living film, forcing him to fight for survival. Interestingly, Ben Burtt (Star Wars) handled the sound design! This is a very cool short, and I highly recommend giving it a look!
(on a five-point scale)
THE LAST WORD
Tremors 4: The Legend Begins is a decent, though unspectacular, monster film which receives a pretty good DVD treatment from Universal. The transfer and audio tracks are both solid, and contain very little to complain about, while the included extras should provide fans of the series with some additional insight into the Tremors series. I know I mentioned it before, but I will do so one more time: the amount of respect that the creators of this series appears to have for its fan-base is commendable, and although the extras fall a bit short of greatness, this perception raises their quality a little bit in my mind.
I was never a fan of the Tremors series, and this prequel certainly did not make me want to run out and purchase/see the two films I never saw (2 &3), but I expect that fans might find it a worthy purchase, particularly because it is supposed to come packaged with a free DVD copy of the original. However, since I am of the opinion that this title may not warrant multiple spins, especially for those new to the series, I would caution others to give it a rental before buying.
January 2, 2004