Fans of film mourn the loss of a talented actor, from The Right Stuff to Silkwood. Ward proved himself to be a well-known, if not underrated. When we look at Ward, here''s what stands out from the rest: Tremors.
It was a colossal failure when Tremors was released on theaters in 1990, but it never gained any traction on the first weekend. It found a second life on home video, becoming a cult hit that would lead to a seven-film franchise and a short-lived television series.
The creative twist on a novel about gigantic worms under the earth who can understand the impacts of their human predator was very familiar with its monster movie roots, but it had never been done in quite this way. With its interactive atmosphere and hearingkening back to zombie movies, it leaves the viewer asking how you might escape and how to get there.
While the film boasts a high potential with its rapid-paced narrative and remarkable practical effects, it''s the characters that make it memorable. When in his review for the film, Roger Ebert admitted, Tremors is smart enough to realize that the characters are the driving force of a great story, not the monsters or the violence."
Tremors is a spectacular ensemble film. While Kevin Bacon might have been one of the two major stars, this was not a medium used to bolster his success. Sure, Footloose had changed the film landscape, but that was half a decade earlier, and Bacon had yet to follow up with anything nearly as successful.
From the nerdy female seismologist who is more brave than everyone else (and who the Bacons character loves to) to the badass husband and wife survivalists played by Michael Gross and Reba McEntire. On paper, the two men unmarried, though. Ward and Bacons Earl Bassett are 15 years older than his counterpart, and are a bit of a grump. Bacons Valentine Val McKee is the younger 20-something, confident and caring.
Val wakes him when he notices him on the back of their pickup truck and says, Stampede! until Earl, fearing for his life, gets up and falls out of the truck. It''s followed up, however, with Val''s decision to proceed to talking about different jobs and the possibility of their eventual loss of freedom. Val maintains his mouth closed, knowing that the old man is correct.
This is how it is with these two people. They argue over everything, but it''s more repartee among their friends than genuine fighting. Not even five minutes in, and weve already had an effective introduction to our heroes. They are in many ways, but they also come together. They depend on each other; on their own, however, we can already see how their traits (Earls'' ability to plan ahead and Vals'' desire to live in the moment) will improve them later on.
When the graboids (the name given to the deadly giant worms) appear, these two men, who are sick of their jobs and unable to pay, must be vigilant in the process. Earl and Val, after discovering a few dead bodies and fearing that a serial killer is on the loose, follow horses and learn about what to do along the way. They are also adept at fighting their enemies.
When they accidentally kill one of the graboids, they begin to argue again before they choose what to do next. Why not make him run for it, Earl counters, Run for it! When a plan fails, Earl says, and Val returns with, I have one. So you start thinking, we can only laugh. Even in a moment of terrible ago, the two still argue.
The best moments in the second half of the film, as the town begins to fight back. Earl and Vale run to save a little girl on a pogo stick, ending his life on the line without a second thought. Before racing to save the seismologist, they turn it around.
In the film''s conclusion, what we learned in those first five minutes about Earl and Val shines through. The remaining survivors are trapped on a large rock, surrounded by the last two graboids. Its then that Earl, the smarter one, the more patient one who plans ahead, gets the bright idea to put a rope around a homemade explosive and throw it out across the dirt, pulling it up to trick one of the graboids to take it. It works. The graboid takes it and blows itself up
The last graboid isn''t so gullible. It takes the lasso like a hooked fish but then launches it back out. It lands on the rocks, sending the townspeople scurrying for their lives. Earl now doesn''t know what to do, but the carefree Val suddenly does. He''s clear. He''s planning ahead. Earl has learned from him. He uses the rocks instead of towards safety, even if he has no clue what Val is up to.
Val takes the graboid to the edge of a cliff, where it bursts through, and gives Val a long stare. Val thanks his ability to be patient and compassionate to his peers. In the final scenes, Earl shows what hes learned from his friend. He''s not planning ahead, yet wants only the best for his friend.
Kevin Bacon did not make Tremors 2 because he was offended in trying to recapture the Earl and Val magic, but it didnt work. What Fred Ward and Kevin Bacon accomplished could not be replaced. They transformed what could have been a simple paint by number monster film into something new.
Their friendship makes a potentially dark horror film a fun one, where friends can bicker and groan, but still be there and learn from each other while making us laugh. They are the ideal action movie buddy duo. Instead, we get them in the middle of nowhere, hunting human-eating worms. Who can ever forget that?
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