Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Recent Watches: Tremors 3: Back to Perfection (2001)

By 2001, the “Tremors” franchise was well ingrained as a cable favorite. The movies were in constant rotation and probably did a-okay on video shelves. Four years after the last one, “Tremors 3: Back to Perfection” burst out of the ground. I remember the movie’s television premiere, on either the Sci-Fi Channel or the USA Network, and how it was a pretty big deal for my nerdy friends and me. We were big fans of the series up to that point and the third one only increased that fandom. The endless marathons just made me a bigger nerd. However, out of all of the films in the series, “Back to Perfection” holds up the least well.

As the quippy subtitle promises, the third film returns to the original “Tremors’” location, Perfection Valley in Nevada. After going on a Shrieker-hunting expedition abroad, Burt Gummer returns home, greeting some new and old friends alike. Unfortunately for our hero, a new batch of graboids have hatched. The government, declaring the worms an endangered species, move in to protect the critters. This goes spectacularly wrong, allowing the monsters to evolve further then ever before, into a new, especially dangerous airborne form.

“Back to Perfection” develops the story in some natural directions while also throwing in many callbacks to the original film. Burt Gummer becoming a much-sought-after monster expert makes perfect sense. The government becoming involved also makes a lot of sense. Perfection, NV has become a tourist trap, with fake monster tours and a big graboid sign out front. Most fun for me is how the Chang store has developed into Graboid central, full of all sorts of merchandise. From Dark Horse comic books (which poke fun at the company’s “Aliens vs. Predator” franchise and, sadly, don’t actually exist), to books, toys, pinatas, and – my favorite – a graboid hand puppet. In addition to returning to Perfection Valley, the film throws in small references to “Tremors” lore. Earl and Grady are said to have started the theme park they kept talking about last time. Rhonda, Kevin Bacon’s love interest, wrote a best-selling series of books about the graboids. Even Nestor, the ill-fated redneck from part one, gets a shout-out. His old trailer is a plot point!

The tight continuity and fan-friendly callbacks aren’t the main attraction though. The secret weapon of the “Tremors” series has always been the lovable, memorable cast of characters. From his breakout performance in the first movie, Burt Gummer becoming the series’ de-facto hero was inevitable. It’s fun to see that his conspiracy theorist leanings haven’t soften any over the years. Plenty of old faces are back. Tony Genaro as Miguel and Charlotte Stewert as Nancy, always under appreciated bits of the “Tremors” ensemble, are back. I’m happy to see them, especially Stewert. The movie even went the extra mile and got Arianna Richards and Robert Jayne back, as the now adult Melvin and teenage Mindy. Melvin’s development into the despised penny-pincher of the group and Mindy’s tough and capable, if still girly, teenage girl act both work fine. The new additions to the cast are welcomed as well. Susan Chuang, as Walter Chang’s previously unmentioned niece, is a deeply convinced businesswoman, always looking for ways to expand her brand. She’d love Twitter. Even Shawn Christian as Jack fills the role provided by Val and Grady in the past.

The biggest stars are the monsters, of course. “Tremors II: Aftershocks” set a precedence. The strictly subterranean Graboids evolved into the speedy, above-ground Shriekers. “Back to Perfection” sees the monsters heading into the skies. The absurdly named Ass-Blasters are the next stage of evolution. The monsters (which the film, in a really funny moment, clarifies are NOT called Tremors) learning to fly is fairly ridiculous. Yet the plot mostly justifies it. Series creators S. S. Wilson and Brent Maddock, who directs this time out, are clearly fascinated by the monsters’ biology. They cook up a decent excuse as to why this happens, if not a how. See, the Shriekers grow wings and a self-propelled flight system so they can carry eggs to a new area. At the very least, monsters that fly with fart-rockets are a fun addition to the series. The Ass-Blasters, if we must call them that, look cool too, a more avian-like, stream-liked take on the pudgy Shriekers.

Like the rest of “Tremors” franchise, “Back to Perfection” is cozy, creature-filled fun. However, it’s easily the most flawed of the series. The special effects are the least consistent. Shaky CGI, which did not even look good at the time, is employed repeatedly. The Ass-Blasters are mostly brought to life this way. The lower budget is evident in other ways too. The government agents are killed off-screen. Most of the film takes place in a few, in-door locations. The plot is fairly derivative. The heroes have to adapt to a new set of monster rules. The ever-evolving graboids puts the usually-well-prepared Burt at a disadvantage. This has become a disappointing running gag, which can also be said for monster guts raining down on the heroes. “Tremors 3” mostly existed to set up the forthcoming TV series. Accordingly, the film feels too much like a TV show, in presentation and writing.

For its flaws, there’s still plenty to enjoy about the film. Michael Gross gets eaten by a worm but survives. El Blanco, the sorta’-friendly graboid mascot of the series, gets an introduction. The “Tremors” series’ endless, lovable, and innate creativity is still around but lower budgets and a same-old, same-old feeling is beginning to set in. If this is the weakest link in the “Tremors” franchise, I’d say that’s still a pretty good track record. [7/10]

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