In fact, this thirty-years-old-plus property is rarely ever mentioned when discussions turn to bona fide intellectual properties with multiple films and even a spin-off albeit short-lived television series. The first film appeared in 1990, and – for all intents and purposes – came and went mostly in silence; it had a reasonably lackluster theatrical run. But as happened to a good number of exceptional flicks the home video explosion turned this underperformer into an overachiever, and Universal Pictures decided to go back to the well. Return, they did, plenty of times, as six sequels were brought to fruition, and – as recent as a few years back – interest was gauged for a second TV series. Indeed, Tremors had roots, though one could argue that the saga’s diminishing returns over the years have probably placed it six feet under for the time being.
Still, I hadn’t invested any serious interest in the property until I was recently offered a complimentary copy of Tremors II: Aftershocks (1996). This direct-to-video continuation of the monster movie brought back its creators – S.S. Wilson, Brent Maddock, and Ron Underwood – along with stars Fred Ward and Michael Gross, but the action shifted away from the tiny little watering hole of Perfection, Nevada to Mexico. In doing so, Tremors II never really tapped the vein that made its predecessor so charming, but I’ve no doubt a good time was all by all who were involved. While its heart was in the right place, there were still too many changes needed to be overcome to have lightning strike twice.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last few paragraphs for the final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
From the film’s IMDB.com page citation:
“Earl Bassett, now a washed-up ex-celebrity, is hired by a Mexican oil company to eradicate a Graboid epidemic that’s killing more people each day. However, the humans aren’t the only one with a new battle plan.”
The short skinny: nobody wants to see Han Solo without Chewbacca.
In case the name of the galaxy far, far away’s signature smuggler and his sidekick escape you, then let me explain: Han Solo is the pilot of the famed Millennium Falcon from the Star Wars saga, and the Wookiee Chewbacca is his co-pilot. They’re a team, you see? Their names go together, as do their characters. It’s important that you have one with the other because one without the other really has considerably less audience interest. Like Abbott and Costello, Laurel and Hardy, or Lucy and Ethel, it’s their exchanges and interactions with one another that make the story work.
That’s the first big mistake that Tremors II: Aftershocks makes, and it never musters enough originality to recover on its own merits.
Earl Bassett (played by Fred Ward) was ever only as good as his partner-in-crime Valentine McKee (the absent Kevin Bacon) allowed him to be, and methinks that scribes Maddock, Wilson, and Underwood knew this all too well going into even the premise of sequel to their 1990 sleeper hit, Tremors. In fact, I suspect that’s largely why they crafted the character of Grady Hoover (Chris Gartin) for Aftershocks as they’ve embodied him with so many of the traits and mannerisms that made McKee the perfect sidekick. While they’ve recreated the duo, Hoover – despite Gartin’s best efforts – remains a copy … and copies are always inferior. That ain’t personal, folks: it’s just science.
What also works very well is the fact that, somehow, these Graboids have not only survived but have turned up in other similar climates. The transition to Mexico presents Earl with that rarest of opportunities – a second chance at the big times – and the script goes to great effort to portray a man who learned a few lessons from his first rodeo but yet still can’t quite think ‘big enough’ beyond the mindset of your typical fix-it-man, a task that forever suits Mr. Bassett. Thus, Earl has no choice but to call in the big guns once his planning falls short … and in this theatrical universe did anyone other than Burt Gummer (Michael Gross) have – and know how to use – bigger guns?
Along with Gartin’s addition to the cast of characters, veteran actress Helen Shaver boards the franchise. Her Dr. Kate Reilly is a geologist (I believe) hired by the Mexican oil company to assist with the expansion efforts, and the script paints her as a potential love interest for Earl (also a suggestion that the man is in need of a partner). They’ve further fleshed out her background suggesting that – like so many female characters in film – she needed to do something in her past to make some money; and this cleverly ties in to our hero’s affection in a welcome and surprising way. But when everyone else is introduced for no other purpose than to serve as victims, then it’s safe to suggest that the story was going to be slim pickings, as this one is.
By sticking to the formula as closely as they could, the screenwriters successfully assembled all of the pieces, and yet Aftershocks never quite escapes the reality that it is a second child. It is a spin-off – one which all too often feels like it was cobbled together as quickly and as cheaply as possible – to bring it to life; and Tremors – as an inspiration – deserved something better.
Where the franchise really went left when it should’ve stayed right is in evolving the Graboids from subterranean critters into something pretty much akin to Jurassic Park’s carnivorous velociraptors. Every other monster franchise involves something that hunts its prey aboveground, so this narrative change removed a great deal of what made the original so utterly captivating and downright different. I’ve no way to know if this narrative shift was done in order to keep finances under control or if it was all intended to merely utilize a different stylistic approach to weaving this yarn, but the end result – so far as this fan is concerned – cheapened the brew to the point of blithering mediocrity. The effects are nice and the characters work just fine, but if there’s nothing to distinguish you from the studio across the street is doing then why do it?
None of my complaints is meant to suggest that Aftershocks doesn’t have a few good moments. Bassett occasionally is in great form under Ward’s care, and Gummer remains a singular creation that fuels a good many laughs and groans in the right measure. But when your seminal creatures no longer elicit the kind of stark fear that made them something to be truly frightened of, well maybe they were best left ‘out to pasture,’ as they say.
Tremors II: Aftershocks (1996) was produced by MCA/Universal Pictures and Stampede Entertainment. DVD distribution (for this particular release) is being coordinated by the fine folks at Arrow Films. As for the technical specifications? Wow. While I’m no trained video expert, I thought that the provided sights and sounds to what’s advertised as an all-new 4K restoration from the original camera negative was spectacular! (Given this is the first time I’m seeing this film, I can’t speak to how much of an improvement it could be based on the original screenings.) Lastly, if you’re looking for special features? This is the silly season – and that usually means I don’t have as much free time to spend with these for review purposes – so I’m doing the ‘copy and paste’ (from Blu-ray.com) to give you the lowdown.
- NEW 4K RESTORATION FROM THE ORIGINAL CAMERA NEGATIVE BY ARROW FILMS, approved by director S.S. Wilson
- DOLBY VISION/HDR PRESENTATION OF THE FILM
- Original lossless 2.0 and 4.0 surround audio
- Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
- Brand new feature commentary by director/co-writer S.S. Wilson and co-producer Nancy Roberts
- Brand new feature commentary by Jonathan Melville, author of Seeking Perfection: The Unofficial Guide to Tremors
- Graboid Go Boom, a newly filmed interview with special effects designer Peter Chesney
- Critical Need-to-Know Information, a newly filmed interview with CG supervisor Phil Tippett
- The Making of Tremors 2, an on-set featurette with the cast and crew
- Trailers for Tremors and Tremors 2: Aftershocks
- Image gallery
- Illustrated perfect bound booklet featuring new writing by Jonathan Melville on the Tremors 2 scripts that never got made, and Dave Wain & Matty Budrewicz on the history of Universal's DTV sequel division
- Double-sided fold-out poster featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Matt Frank
- Small fold-out poster featuring new Shrieker X-ray art by Matt Frank
- Limited Edition packaging featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Matt Frank
Also, please keep in mind that when I’m provided a screening copy (as was the case with Tremors II), I don’t receive the provided publicity materials, artwork, booklets, etc., so I can’t speak to the efficacy or quality of those items.
Alas … only mildly recommended.
While I’m arguably one of the original film’s biggest fans, Tremors II: Aftershocks is disappointingly imperfect. Yes, it’s sad that so many of the original cast couldn’t come back (I’m suspecting the budget alone kept more than a few of them absent), but kudos to the late Fred Ward and screen veteran Michael Gross for carrying the torch. (Plus, it’s great to ogle Helen Shaver in anything!) Still, the entire milieu feels vastly undercooked to the point that all of it works little more than a cash-grabbing, bloated made-for-TV spin-off; and the ‘evolving graboids’ twist really came so far out of nowhere the second half of this one doesn’t even have the same texture to the superior first entry.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Arrow Films provided me with a complimentary screening Blu-ray copy of Tremors II: Aftershocks by request for the expressed purpose of completing this review. Their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.