Disaster Averted: Tremors Salvaged By Arrow

Alright, gang.  If I didn't cover this release sooner or later, I'm pretty sure they'd pull my DVDExotica license.  Yes, today we're finally tackling the... "controversial?"  More like "infamous" blu-ray release of Tremors from Universal.  Yes, this release stands right alongside - or maybe even in front of - Predator as one of the most notorious DNR jobs in blu-ray history... made all the worse for it happening to two of the most beloved, crowd pleasing genre of films of their day.  And looking at it now, the DNR might not even be the most disappointing thing about this crummy disc.

Update 12/29/20: Oh, thank goodness!  The toxic spill that was all previous editions of Tremors on DVD and blu has finally been cleaned up, and trust Arrow to not only give us a fancy, special edition blu but a full-blown UHD.  Woot!
Tremors is one of those small big budget (11m in 1990) studio flicks that tends to have a short lifespan but was fortunate enough to generate a lot of good will.  You know, for every Mummy, there were four or five Relics.  Writer/ Director Ron Underwood would go on to make the Oscar-winning City Slickers right after this, and it feels like a lot of the spirit of that film germinated here.  It's a sort of family-friendly, PG-13 horror film that's still effective enough, in terms of effects, suspense sequences and attractive horror ideas (the concept of these monsters right beneath us under the ground, attracted to the vibrations we make, is pretty darn cool), to hold onto its base audience as well the mainstream viewers captured by its humor and ensemble cast.  And they really struck gold with that cast.  Kevin Bacon is their biggest name lead, but we've also got great turns by Fred Ward, country music star Reba McEntire, John Carpenter all-star Victor Wong and Family Ties' Michael Gross who made not seem like a big get on first appraisal, but who turned himself into the heart of the franchise.
Universal's presentation of Tremors may not show it much if any respect, but it's clearly one of their star selling titles.  Stores like Best Buy and FYE still put it out on display every Halloween to this day.  They first released it all the way back in 1998 and reissued it in 2000 and again as a double-feature with the first sequel in 2001.  They released an 'Attack Pack' in 2005 of the first four films, a 2009 re-release packaged with "movie money" for Land Of the Lost, an HD-DVD in 2007, the 2010 blu-ray, a 2013 blu-ray edition of the 'Attack Pack,' with a reportedly slightly better transfer, an 'Anthology' collection on both DVD and blu in 2016 of the first five movies, a 'Complete Collection' of the first six films on DVD and blu in 2018, and an FYE-exclusive steelbook release of the BD in 2019.  Finally, Universal let somebody else have a go at it, and in 2020 we got new 4k restorations on BD and UHD from Arrow.  I've got the original DVD, the 2019 blu and of course the latest UHD.
1) 1998 Universal DVD; 2) 2019 Universal BD; 3) 2020 Arrow BD.
To be fair, the blu-ray is clearly a sizeable improvement over the DVD.  But that's only because the DVD also looks like it has something seriously wrong with it.  Like, ordinarily, I'd look at a blu-ray of this low quality and say, that's such a pitiful HD bump, just hang onto your DVD.  But annoyingly, you can't even do that, because the DVD is nigh unwatchable on a modern television.  Right off the bat, the DVD is widescreen (1.85:1), but non-anamorphic.  That's typical of really old DVDs like this, which might make it more forgivable, but certainly not acceptable.  But even putting that aside, and the extra-compressed resolution that the inherently smaller image has to have, it looks awful, like the detail has been filtered away.  Where'd Kevin's mouth go, for instance?  It's also got some unattractive edge enhancement haloing going on, but given the state of the DVD presentation, I'd say that enhancement is actually necessary, as it's the only way viewers could make out what they're supposed to be looking at.

And I think that's the big clue as to what's wrong with the old blu, which yes, is the exact same blu in the new steelbook as the first release (it's still got the "2010" on the label and everything).  Well, apart from the DNR, which smooths over not just the film grain but subtle detail like hairs and clothing threads.  I mean, look at Fred Ward's close-up a little higher up; it looks like they blasted him with Botox.  But the DNR, while a serious flaw and I realize this is an extreme statement, doesn't even strike me as the blu-ray's most egregious flaw.  It's that over-the-top edge enhancement.  It makes it look like someone drew crayon lines around random parts of the image, and creating random highlights (suddenly you can't take your eyes off that shovel in the background of the nighttime attack scene).  And like I said a moment ago, you see it in the DVD, too; but there you kind of need it because the image is so over-compressed and digitized.  It has no place in an HD image, but I assume that's what the problem is.  Universal struck their transfer from the same, ancient HD master they made way back in the time of (if not before!) their 1998 DVD.  So it's got all that junky tinkering because they applied it for low quality transfers of the era, not the modern HD age.  And even though Universal was still re-releasing this as recently as 2019, because it's clearly one of their top sellers, they've been unwilling to strike a new master, despite desperately needing one.
See how the edges of his jeans have a thick dark outline, with
a second bright, light outline around that? That's edge enhancement.
Anyway, besides all that, there's very sporadic dirt and print damage on hand, but it's just single frame stuff that flashes right by.  And the blu is at least also matted to 1.85.  They frame the image slightly higher than the DVD, which might actually be a slight improvement.  The colors and levels are essentially the same, because, again, it's surely the same master.  The fact that the Attack Pack disc reportedly looks the same except for being less DNR'd makes that the preferable, but still crappy, option.  But it also suggests the DNR was applied for the blu-ray after the rest of the tweaking to the master.  And after all, who would need to scrub away even more detail from that DVD.  One would've hoped Universal would've at least used that version for their recent BD reissues, but honestly, this whole mess is unacceptable in 2019.  And anyway, it's all academic now.

Because Arrow has saved us!  I wrote before that the DVD looked about VHS quality, and the BD was just barely the quality of a respectable DVD.  So is the new UHD the equivalent of a decent BD?  Honestly, I'd've been happy with that, given the history.  But thankfully, no, this is a first class 4k Ultra HD disc.  Everything that's wrong with the past editions has been swept away with no unfortunate repetitions of edge enhancement or other foolish tinkering.  Resolution takes a massive leap forward, with natural, unpixelated grain.  This is the darkest version yet - look at the sky in the second set of shots for an easily recognizable delineation of the shifting tones - but there are still moments of pure whites, so it's not overly dark... indeed the old DVD was over-exposed.  The colors are also fairly muted and subtle, though primaries start to pop in the second half of the film.  Tremors is just a dusty western film, and now it really looks it.
The audio situation has actually always been reasonably fine, with the DVD offering the original stereo mix in a solid Dolby track (though the Attack Pack dumped it for a remixed 5.1... one step forwards; one step back), as well as additional French and Spanish dubs and optional English and Spanish subtitles.  The blu-ray gave us the 5.1 mix in lossless DTS-HD, plus the French dub and English, Spanish and French subs.  My only complaint before the update is that it would've been nice to hang onto the original stereo mix, but the two tracks didn't strike me as terribly different to my ears, so it was a small quibble compared to the PQ drama.  Still, Arrow are perfectionists, so of course they returned the stereo mix to us, in DTS-HD, in addition to the 5.1 and a third 4.0 mix, also in DTS-HD.  And they still have the English subs; they just dropped the foreign language options.
As for extras, I never really had any complaints.  This is a big, popular sci-fi/ horror flick, so you expect some quality content, and we got some right from the get-go.  Primarily, there was a 'making of' documentary, which is a little under an hour.  It's fairly comprehensive and successfully entertaining, talking to the director, two writers and some of the effects guys.  We also get a handful of interesting deleted scenes, misleadingly labeled "Outtakes" (though disappointingly, they leave out a filmed but never released prologue where an earthquake unleashes the graboids and they kill a wolf), plus a couple very brief (2-3 minutes) featurettes and two trailers.  The blu-ray added an additional, roughly ten minute collection of behind-the-scenes footage of the various special effects, and the Attack Pack also includes extras for the other three Tremors films included in that set, but nothing else for the original.  So good but not great.  Until Arrow rolled into town.

They've given us a super-packed, 2-disc set.  Fortunately, they used a 100GB disc, because the UHD is packed, as is the bonus blu.  First of all, everything from the old releases is here, the DVD stuff and the blu's additional featurette.  And so much more.  There are two audio commentaries, a robust one with the director and his two co-writers, and one with an expert who, frankly, doesn't add much to the conversation.  Then there's a new, half hour documentary called Making Perfection, which talks to a number of key players including, yes, Kevin Bacon and even Jamie Kennedy, who was only in a couple of the sequels.  Then there are great, high quality interviews with co-producer Nancy Roberts, DoP Alexander Gruszynski, the second unit producer, all the major effects guys and both composers (who are pretty frank about the issues they had over the replacement).  And there are a bunch of small things, like radio spots, TV commercials, a VHS promo, a collection of the audio edits where they overdubbed curses with clean language for television and a massive stills gallery.  Oh, and a nice touch I appreciated: a trailer gallery for all the sequels.
Library Report
And that's just disc 1!  Disc two starts out with extended interviews from Making Perfection.  That was just over half an hour, right?  Well, the extended interviews run over five hours, so that's a massive collection of new material.  Yes, as you could probably guess, they talk a lot about their early careers here, but there's a bunch more about Tremors, too.  Then there's a fun collection of actual outtakes (not just mislabeled deleted scenes) with optional director's commentary.  Then there's a Q&A from a 2015 reunion screening, which runs over 70 minutes and is worth your time because it includes some of the secondary cast members that were left out of the other special features.  And finally, there are three short films by the filmmakers: one is a fun student film, and the other two are educational shorts they created before they made it to Hollywood.  All three feature a bunch of cute stop motion, although only the student film is really entertaining... sitting through 25 minutes about how to write a library report is a lot to ask of an audience even if it does have silly robots and a nod to Demon Seed that comes out of left field.  There's so much content here, it's almost overwhelming.
Plus, there's all the swag.  You get a full-color 60-page booklet with writing by Kim Newman, Jonathan Melville - the expert from the second commentary, and a vintage Fangoria article by Marc Shapiro.  Also a double-sided poster, a double-sided Paradise sign, six lobby cards, a mock coupon for Chang's Market, and one of Arrow's usual cards for one of their upcoming releases.  It all comes in a thick slipbox, and the amary case has reversible artwork.  But what's truly important is that Tremors has finally been done right.  This went from one of the worst HD releases ever to one of the very best.  This may well be the #1 release of the year.

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