Written by: Scott Buck
Directed by: S.S. Wilson
Produced by: Nancy Roberts
This review contains MINOR SPOILERS for the film Tremors 4: The Legend Begins.
Finally, after a week of watching and writing, I'm nearing the end of my trek through the Tremors Attack Pack Collection. It's been quite a fun little experience watching each of these films one after the other, and it's the sort of mini-movie marathon that I'll probably embark on every couple of months because, despite a couple of missteps, this series is just so much fun.
Tremors 4: The Legend Begins tells the story of Rejection, Nevada -- a sleepy little mining community that falls under siege by those pesky earth-burrowing worms with a taste for soft pink bipedals. When the workers refuse to return to the mine after a number of men are killed, Rejection runs the risk of becoming a ghost town before it's even gotten properly established. It is left up to the remaining residents, a hired gun, and the mine's austere owner to seek out the root of the problem and put things right before Rejection is retired for good.
Set at the tail end of the 19th century, Tremors 4 acts as a prequel to the original Tremors and introduces us to the ancestors of several characters from the original film. Most notably is upscale dandy Hiram Gummer (Michael Gross), great-grandfather of everyone's favorite paramilitary paranoid, Burt Gummer. Hiram is very deliberately written as the antithesis of his great grandson -- he is very prim, very proper, and has absolutely no inbuilt sense of self-preservation. I expect Burt would have been appalled to learn that someone in his family was as utterly unprepared as Hiram.
Hiram aside, the supporting characters consist of Juan Pedilla (Brent Roam), a miner who witnesses the death of several coworkers before the mine is abandoned; Christine Lord (Sara Botsford), the business woman who runs Rejection's only hotel; Tecopa (August Schellenberg), Christine's friend and employee; the Chang family (Lo Ming, Lydia Loo, Sam Ly), proprietors of Chang's Market; and Black Hand Kelly (Billy Drago), a lone-glove wearing hired gun who is brought in at the behest of Hiram to exterminate whatever is killing his employees.
In comparison to the previous film, the supporting cast is markedly better this time around. The acting on display here isn't the best you'll ever see, but the characters are believable and the performances are strong enough that you actually care what happens to these people. Michael Gross gives a suitably layered performance as Burt Gummer's naive great-grandfather, and Billy Drago does what he does best as Black Hand Kelly, the man who sows in Hiram the survivalist seeds that we see in full bloom with Burt Gummer one-hundred years later.
This is the first film in the series not written by S.S. Wilson and Brent Maddock -- TV scribe Scott Buck handled writing duties this time around -- and while the film lacks the same brand of wit that was present in the first two films, the humor works better here than in Tremors 3. The characters deliver fewer one-liners, and as a result feel less like characters and more like actual people who are being terrorized by extraordinary creatures.
Directorial duties once again fall on S.S. Wilson, who directed absolutely nothing between Tremors films. Given the fact that he'd only directed one film before this, I'd say the direction is quite competent. Wilson's style seems to favor the original film in terms of trying to build tension, but there are some unique visual ideas that, in spite of the film's budget, really help to pep things up.
Jay Ferguson handles the musical duties this time around, and over-all his work is pretty good. It's definitely heads and shoulders above Kevin Kiner's generic and wholly disappointing work on Tremors 3, and the leitmotifs that appear throughout the film are much more memorable than the ones used in Tremors 2. In fact, the film's opening theme is probably one of my favorite compositions in a long time. It is rendered with samples rather than an honest to goodness orchestra, but despite the limitations of its synthetic orchestration, it does manage -- thanks in no small part to some well placed acoustic and electric guitars -- to feel big and boisterous and exciting. I usually sit through the ending credits just to listen to the film's main theme.
In terms of carnage, there's not much to speak of here that doesn't involve the creatures. There are one or two bits of human gore, and there's a really brilliant (creature gore) moneyshot right at the end, but again it's mostly creature gore rather than human carnage. When people get slurped, it tends to be a pretty dry affair. The film is also completely devoid of nudity, so look elsewhere if your objective is tantalization.
Tremors 4: The Legend Begins is a nearly perfect return to form after the disappointing Tremors 3. The script is well written and features characters that are interesting and warm, the creature effects are pretty good and there are several decent gags involving said creatures, the direction is solid in spite of the director's general lack of experience, and Jay Ferguson's score does the trick despite obvious budget limitations.
If there's never a Tremors 5 -- which seems likely given Universal's general disinterest in the future of the franchise -- then Tremors 4 is by far a much more satisfying "final chapter" than its predecessor.
If you're planning on picking up the Attack Pack Collection, you'll be getting Tremors 4 in any case. But if you're cautious of the fourth entry after seeing the third, or if you're the kind of person who prefers to pick these films up one at a time -- Buy It!
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