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Tremors 4: The Legend Begins

cast: Michael Gross, Sara Botsford, Billy Drago, Brent Roam, and August Schellenberg
director: S.S. Wilson
101 minutes (PG-13) 2003
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Universal DVD Region 1 retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Steve Anderson
Okay... now, normally, I'm not a big fan of franchise films. They have a tendency, on the average, to lose the spark and wit that may have made the first one great. Sequels in franchise lines often amount to little more than cheap, shoddy attempts to grab more dough from the pockets of unsuspecting viewers who expect a franchise movie to be like a franchise restaurant: each as good as the other.

Tremors 4: The Legend Begins, however, has just dashed that expectation. It is, surprisingly, on par with the first. Perhaps not as good - it's hard for any movie to actually exceed its original - but certainly worth your time to watch. Tremors 4 takes a page from other miserable science fiction franchises and launches a prequel - a film set prior to the first film's narrative. Like the currently execrable Star Wars sequels, Tremors 4 is set almost a hundred years before Tremors (1990), thus allowing you an idea of the first events.

We start in the silver mining town of Rejection, Nevada. The Changs, wonder of wonders, are still operating out of the exact same building that they will be in the future - back in the first movie. Confusing, I know, but that's the nature of the prequel beast. And a fellow has just been dispatched to oversee the failing silver mine... Hiram Gummer.

That's right, folks - Burt Gummer, survivalist extraordinaire, occasional pompous jackass, and frequent overkill specialist is descended from this guy. You'll see more than a little of Burt in Hiram, no doubt, but the rest will take some looking. The irony is, both Burt and Hiram are played ably by Michael Gross. You're all going to remember him from his milquetoast role in Family Ties, riding herd on a family that were irreverent for their time, but hopelessly dull in ours.

Anyway, Hiram's got to fix the trouble in the mine, and anyone who's seen any of the previous Tremors instalments knows that this is going to involve firearms aplenty and big ugly worm-like things. It's not giving away too much to say that this will be explosive, violent, and probably pretty messy. Occasionally, it will also be funny - darkly funny, but funny nonetheless. And true to form, Tremors 4: The Legend Begins fails to disappoint in any department.

I've got to hand it to the people behind Tremors 4 for making a prequel that works astonishingly well, and gives an excellent background story. It carries on well the somewhat dark humour that the original started so handily, and the overall style of the original and the prequel are matched with an almost eerie precision that gives the viewer pause. The scary moments are done equally well - while the audience by virtue of three earlier exposures knows precisely what attacks the miners in their encampments (and pretty much everywhere else anyone else gets attacked), it is almost a shock to the viewer to see the first graboid surge out of the ground.

The clever addition of Billy Drago as 'Black Hand' Kelly, an apparently famous gunslinger of his time, is a welcome touch of personality. The ending is an intensely clever mix of inspiration, all-out brawling, and wry humour. It is a singularly satisfactory conclusion to an overall excellent piece. In fact, the side story of how 'Rejection' was changed to 'Perfection' is also satisfying.

Tremors 4: The Legend Begins is an excellent addition to the franchise, and pales only in comparison to the original. By itself it is an excellent piece of science fiction with minor horrific elements, including a surprising amount of survival horror elements. While some of its force is diminished by sheer predictability - we knew the small snakes weren't snakes at all, but actually tongue-like appendages of a much larger beast better than three movies ago. Some canonical elements are also overthrown - the graboid tongues also track scent and heat, but they don't seem to care about that option here. These are, however, truly minor points. Tremors 4 is overall high-quality fiction that fans will appreciate and neophytes will respect.

DVD special features are also expansive, including a feature commentary from the director, a behind the scenes featurette, a making-of-the-monsters featurette, deleted scenes, outtakes, a miniatures production featurette, and a copy of the director's student film, Recorded Live.
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