Monday, October 6, 2014

Tremors 3: Back to Perfection

The circle is completed in the third installment of the Tremors franchise.

Hitting video store shelves eleven years after the release of the first film and five years after Aftershocks, Tremors 3 picks up with the character of gun-loving survivalist Burt Gummer (returning actor Michael Gross) in El Chaco, Argentina, where he has been called in to handle another occurrence of the monstrous creatures introduced in the previous films. This time, there was only one solitary subterranean Graboid in the area, but local authorities let the problem overwhelm them long enough - two weeks - that the Graboid moved on to the next stage of its life cycle, splitting open and releasing from within its body six of the two-legged creatures called Shriekers. (When they first appeared in Aftershocks, each Graboid only produced three Shriekers.)

Shriekers hermaphroditically reproduce and multiply by eating, so thanks to a truckload of chickens, Burt has been called in, much like he and his pals were called in to handle the Graboid/Shrieker situation at a Mexican oilfield in the second film, to face off against a herd of Shriekers that is now rampaging through the Argentina countryside.

The Argentinian military offered Burt anything he wanted, so he has chosen the exact right weapon for the job. He blasts the Shriekers down with a dual .50 anti-aircraft turret mount. He also asks the military for a new watch, a hi-tech timepiece that continuously updates its time to the nanosecond by connecting directly to the cesium clock in Colorado via ultrasonic frequency. He was provided with it, as if this was necessary for his Shrieker hunt.

His job done in Argentina, Burt returns home. As the film's subtitle promises, its primary setting is the tiny, remote town of Perfection, Nevada, the town in which the first film was set. Due to the events of the original Tremors, Perfection's population has dipped from 14 to 5.

Burt isn't too happy about what's going on in Perfection. It has become a bit of a tourist trap. The local market, now run by Jodi Chang, niece of Walter Chang, who was eaten by a Graboid in the first movie, offers all sorts of Perfection souveneirs. Shirts, mugs. Comic books based on the creatures are for sale there - Graboids, Shriekers, Graboids vs. Shriekers - as are books written about the Graboid/Shrieker incidents and by characters from the previous films. The Graboid arcade game can also be played in the market.

While Burt was away, a new guy moved into town with his own idea of how to capitalize on Perfection's popularity. "Desert" Jack Sawyer now runs a business called Desert Jack's Graboid Adventure Tours, where he regularly drives a truck full of tourists around in the desert surrounding Perfection and lets them experience a fake Graboid attack. His buddy Buford hides behind a row of shrubs, shooting off a fire extinguisher to make it look like there are dust plumes being caused by an approaching Graboid, the presence of which is confirmed by an animation on the "seismo-monitor" in Jack's truck. Buford then pulls ropes to cause fence posts to fall over as Jack speeds the load of tourists away, saving them from certain death.

There is a humorous nod to fans of the series when one visiting tourist refers to a Graboid as a "tremor". Clearly I wasn't the only viewer who thought the worm creatures were called Tremors until the sequel came along and corrected me.

Most disturbing to Burt is the real estate company that has been making offers to the locals, hoping to buy them out so they can replace Perfection with a housing development called Perfection Valley Ranchettes. It's no surprise when the person behind this real estate plan is revealed to be Melvin Plugg, the extremely annoying teenager from the first film, having now grown up to be an extremely annoying man.

Since eleven years have passed since the Graboid attacks in Perfection, the residents have gotten complacent. Well, all of them except for Burt, who recently had an underground graboid barrier installed around his home. Two feet of steel reinforced concrete surrounding his property and even going beneath his basement. Burt has set up a seismic monitoring system all around the valley and equipped his neighbors with seismo-monitors so they will be alerted if any Graboids show up again. But all of them - Jodi, single mother Nancy and her college-age daughter Mindy, and cattle rancher Miguel - have disregarded the monitors and let them fall into disrepair... So nobody is aware that there are a new trio of Graboids in town until one of Desert Jack's Graboid Adventure Tours simulated Graboid attacks is interrupted by an attack by a real Graboid, which devours Buford.

S.S. Wilson and Brent Maddock co-wrote the first movie with Ron Underwood, who directed it. Wilson and Maddock also co-wrote the second movie, with Wilson taking the helm. The third film was directed by Brent Maddock, who again co-wrote the story with Wilson, along with franchise producer Nancy Roberts. Their story was then fleshed out into a screenplay by veteran television writer John Whelpley.

While I enjoy Tremors 3 a great deal, I don't enjoy it as much as its predecessors, partly because Maddock's direction feels kind of bland, which could be an extension of the fact that the budget was rather low - so low that some of the Graboid shots in the film are actually stock footage from the original, a cheaper tactic than doing new effects, although the movie does have its fair share of new stuff.

The main problem I have with Back to Perfection is that it repeatedly gears up for something that then doesn't happen.

For example, Burt plans to go out Graboid hunting with Jack and Miguel, using the technique devised in part 2 - tricking the beasts into eating remote controlled cars loaded with bombs. The group gets all ready to go out and do this... and their momentum is brought to a screeching halt by the arrival of a couple of government workers - one from the Department of the Interior, one from the Bureau of Land Management, and the director of paleontology from the Smithsonian. The residents of Perfection are prohibited from hunting the Graboids because they are an endangered species. There has been public outcry over the fact that Burt and his cohorts have wiped out so many of them already. This group has arrived to investigate the situation, trap a Graboid alive, and transport it to a government facility. If they are unable to do so, Perfection will be evacuated and sealed off indefinitely.

Burt knows that trapping and transporting a live Graboid is an impossible task, but Jack convinces the group to let Burt attempt to catch a Graboid for them, since if anyone can do it, Burt's the man who could. And once the government workers have their Graboid, they'll be out of Perfection.

Burt's attempt to catch a Graboid goes hilariously wrong, as he actually gets swallowed whole by the creature, luckily with a barrel around him for protection. Jack has to kill the Graboid and cut it open with a chainsaw to rescue Burt from its guts.

Although one of the other Graboids is an albino (Miguel names it El Blanco) and thus sterile, the other Graboid has been let to roam Perfection Valley for too long. It splits open and releases a batch of Shriekers, which proceed to wipe out the trio of outsiders... But we never see the Shriekers in Perfection, the only Shriekers glimpsed in this film are in the opening sequence in Argentina.

The characters head out to destroy the Shriekers, but this is another instance where they are diverted from their plans. El Blanco shows up (it seems to have a strong interest in Burt for some reason, can you guess what the reason is?) and keeps Burt, Miguel, Jack, and Jodi stuck on some boulders overnight. By the time they managed to escape from El Blanco and get to the spot where the Shriekers were, there's nothing left of them to find but shedded skin.

Thanks to El Blanco's interruption, this group of eight Shriekers has lived longer than any previous Shriekers the characters are aware of... and the creatures have gone through another metamorphosis, entering a third stage of their life cycle.

Tremors 3 introduces viewers to the Ass-Blasters, a two-legged, heat-sensing creature like the Shriekers, but with wing-like fins that allow them to glide through the air once launched off the ground by a burst of flame emitted from their rear ends, caused by a mixture of chemicals secreted by their body. Graboids get you from under the ground, Shriekers get you on land, and Ass-Blasters get you from the sky.

These three stages are the complete life cycle of these prehistoric beasts. Ass-Blasters carry eggs and fly them around to different locations. The eggs can lay dormant for hundreds of years - the Smithsonian paleontologist discovers that the latest Graboids hatched from three hundred year old eggs before he meets his untimely demise at the jaws of the Shriekers. Eggs hatch Graboids, Graboids become Shriekers, Shriekers become Ass-Blasters, Ass-Blasters lay more Graboid eggs. It's the circle of life.

The Ass-Blasters also provide the characters with a whole new type of threat. Once they appear on the screen, this third film is finally able to have a good stretch of action and adventure like those that came before did, and the final forty minutes or so of the movie are thankfully pretty much non-stop Ass-Blaster chase and fight sequences. Ass-Blasters aren't quite the danger Graboids and Shriekers were, but they do come with the bonus fact that they have explosive chemicals inside them - our heroes take advantage of that, and the death of nearly every Ass-Blaster involves an explosion of some sort.

Unfortunately for Burt, one of the casualties of an Ass-Blaster destroying explosion is his own Graboid-proof house.

Tremors 3: Back to Perfection isn't quite as exciting, as well made, or as well written as Tremors or Tremors II: Aftershocks were, but it is a solid addition to the franchise. It was fun to return to the town of Perfection and catch up with some of the characters eleven years later. In addition to Michael Gross sticking with the role of Burt, Charlotte Stewart, Ariana Richards, Tony Genaro, and Robert Jayne all returned to reprise their roles from the first film (Nancy, Mindy, Miguel, and Melvin, respectively), which was very nice to see. The zen Desert Jack is also a fun new character, likeably portrayed by Shawn Christian, although his romantic subplot with Susan Chuang's Jodi Chang isn't pulled off as smoothly as the romantic subplots between Val and Rhonda in the first film and Earl and Kate in the second were.

The first half of Back to Perfection can feel a bit plodding, but if you stick around for the arrival of the Ass-Blasters, it does provide a good amount of fun.

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