Tremors – HD DVD Review

Tremors (HD DVD)

Universal Studios Home Entertainment / 1990 / 95 Minutes / Rated PG-13
Street Date: November 20, 2007
List Price: $29.98 [Buy it at]

The Movie:

Horror is not a difficult thing to pull off. An evil entity, small character development and execution – seems simple enough. Throw in some comedy, and now we’re getting somewhere. It’s a tension breaker; without it our fingernails would be clawing our armrests the entire time. Comedy helps to lighten the mood, if only for a few seconds, before the movie crests to blood-curdling terror.

Tremors is sort of like that, only more comedy than horror. In it, the residents of Perfection, a small Nevada mining town, must content with giant subterranean, man-eating worms. The “Graboids,” as they are nicknamed, can sense the slightest vibrations and can devour humans, sheep, even station wagons. The hope of all civilization, or in this case a robust metropolis of 14 people, rests in the hands of the most unlikeliest of heroes, handymen Valentine McKee (Kevin Bacon) and Earl Bassett (Fred Ward). Together they team up with a seismologist (Rhonda LeBeck), a husband-wife pair of trigger-happy survivalists (Michael Gross and Reba McEntire) and other townsfolk in an attempt to exterminate the underground tremors.

This is a movie that brings back memories. For one, it was one of my earliest film-going experiences. I was eight going on nine when this creature feature was released in Jan. 1990. Later I would wear out a VHS copy, and when I found a used copy on DVD I, um, “grabbed” it right away. Seventeen years later, it still holds up. It may be the nostalgia or the many tongue-in-cheek moments and one-liner jokes. Even now, though, everything remains genuine. All the actors sell their characters and are believable in their roles. Bacon and Ward set the tone for the entire film during their introduction. Bacon is the young hothead, while Ward has trouble remembering who made breakfast the day before. The disparity in ages creates a fun dynamic, as we see these two friends try to make a living wage doing odd jobs around town. Also memorable is Reba McEntire and Michael Gross as the survivalist couple, the Gummers, holed up in a house that has a five-year supply of food and water, not to mention a bomb shelter and enough ammo to supply a small militia.

Setting the movie in the desert gives it a timeless feel, because we could easily assume that the characters are trapped in another time, geographically isolated from the rest of the world. There is no traffic to speak of, only a singular road runs through Perfection. Recreation comes in the form of bouncing a basketball off the side of a grocery mart, bouncing up and down on a pogo stick, or playing a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors. (OK, so maybe those activities seem dated.) But the inhabitants are simple people. No need for dressy clothes, Hummers, iPods, or TiVos.

More importantly is the special effects and how well they hold up after seventeen years. Like the movie Jaws the graboids are hidden for much of the duration. And when they do appear they are rather convincing. Unlike Primeval where CG killed any enjoyment of seeing a killer croc in action, the mechanical worm models do the trick.

As a horror-comedy Tremors is a success. Yes, some characters don’t pull their own weight. Melvin is about as useful as an unloaded pistol. But it’s all campy fun. We never discover how the creatures came to be, but it’s a non sequitur really. You could take any of hypotheses battered amongst the characters or just create your own. Actually, the vagueness of the graboids makes it that much easier to adjust to this glorified B-movie. And besides, who needs a backstory when you have the Gummers taking care of business Second Amendment style.

The video:

Having not watched my DVD copy of Tremors in some time, I was bit skeptical of how well it could look in HD. To my astonishment, I couldn’t believe the transfer. Presented with a 1080p/VC-1 encode, most of the problems found on the original DVD have been corrected. Oversaturation with skintones is gone. We get a spectacular sun-drenched desert, and unbelievable texture quality. Take a look at Burt Gummer’s Atlanta Hawks hat and notice the fabric. There are still some blemishes and scratches on the print, but there’s no artifacting.

What there is however, is edge enhancement. It is very apparent in the film’s second half with our unlucky heroes making a break for it in the desert. A character against a bright sky is jarring, and counteracts the work done on the saturation and texture. A big complaint, but this is still a visual upgrade to the DVD release.

The audio:

Now we are talking. Tremors features a remarkable Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround track (48 kHz/ 16-Bit/ 2.5 Mbps) and the worm attacks are quite an experience in a home theater environment. The dialogue remains crisp while the ground rumbles. The rear channels also work to enhance the acoustics of interior scenes. And the music spreads across all channels and seeps into the surrounds during the chase sequences. All in all, a great audio presentation with an even better transition from DVD to HD DVD.

Special Features:

For this HD DVD release we get all the supplemental content from the original DVD.

Making of Tremors (presented in standard definition) is a 53-minute, behind-the-scenes look at the production. Here we get the usual: interviews with the director and cast, the crew, yada, yada, yada. But to see how the Graboids were created and then put to use is the showpiece of the entire doc. Overall, the material is a bit fluffy, but Tremors‘ fan will no doubt enjoy.

Featurette (SD) runs 10 minutes and it is a group of promotional shorts that don’t really add much to the documentary. Think of it as one long smorgasbord, ahem, puff piece.

Rounding out the extras are five minutes of outtakes, actor profiles for Bacon, Gross and McEntire, and the theatrical trailer. All are presented in standard definition.

HD Extras:

As far as HD bonus content, we get Universal’s standard MyScenes bookmarking feature.

The Inside Pulse:

A creature feature with lots of replay value, that’s Tremors in a nutshell. Seventeen years after its release the movie is a cult success, and has resulted in a few direct-to-video releases. For this HD DVD edition, the video transfer has been upgraded in some ways, but the severe edge enhancement kills some of the enjoyment of watching the Graboids. And a complete port of features found on the original DVD release offers no new information. The true plus, however, is the TrueHD audio mix. Great surround sound for this catalog release. Definitely worth a rental, but true fans will most likely want to add this to the collection.

The DVD Lounge’s Ratings for Tremors








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