Underwater tremors open up a cave that has been sealed off from the rest of Lake Victoria for millions of years, unleashing a ravenous school of giant piranha. Making short work of a cameoing Richard Dreyfuss (in his Matt Hooper clothes), the fish descend on a resort town in the middle of Spring Break celebrations and so, naturally, the financially-minded authorities Won’t Close The Beaches. As Sheriff Elizabeth Shue tries to find out what’s going on with all the bodies showing up, her son (Adam Scott) unwisely volunteers to act as location guide for Jerry O’Connell (sleazing it up as the director of a Girls Gone Wild clone production), and winds up far from help when the fish launch their attack in earnest.
Alexandre (High Tension) Aja’s remake is nowhere near as clever as the original, but it is highly entertaining, at least once the rampage is properly underway. This is easily the goriest summer movie in recent memory, and everyone involved seems determined to deliver on the trash value as thoroughly as possible. And while I have plenty of fondness for the retro-grindhouse trend, there is something going a little awry when the supposedly arch, self-conscious, post-modern films are more exploitive than the movies they’re echoing. So while Piranha does boast one of the best severed penis gags I’ve seen in ages (one that loses some of its awesomeness by being reduced back to 2D), the endless parade of naked breasts, the obsessive need to mutilate them, and the clear expectation that the audience laugh at the result, is more than a little off-putting coming from filmmakers who surely know better but decide to indulge themselves all the same. In the end, what Piranha does well, it does very well indeed, but its lapses in judgment are pretty noticeable, too.
While this was, on the one hand, a post-production 3D conversion, the movie was also always intended to be in 3D, and that is reflected by various compositions that are clearly intended to take advantage of the third dimension, so there is a little bit that is lost in the translation to home video. That said, the picture quality itself is excellent, with near perfect blacks, colours and contrasts (all the flesh and blood are as compellingly presented as in the theatre), and the original 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen ratio is respected. Grain and edge enhancement do not rear their heads, and the image is razor sharp.
The score and the sound effects are excellent. The former is deep and ominous (or bouncy with plenty of bass when we’re in the spring break scenes), while the latter place one squarely in the (toothy) environment. The fish attacks sound especially good. The dialogue, however, while perfectly clear, also sounds a bit thin, and its volume seems down, which saps a bit of the energy from the scenes.
Commentary Track: Director/producer Alexandre Aja and producers Gregory Levasseur and Alix Taylor take us through the making of the film, and are pretty jocular about the whole thing. Plenty of behind-the-scenes info here, though the ideas behind the movie are a bit more present, I’d say, in the other special feature.
“Don’t Scream, Just Swim”: (90:48) Divided into five featurettes (“Aja, Cast and Story,” “Lake Victoria,” “Spring Break,” “Blood and Gore,” “Special FX and Stunts”), this doc is actually longer than the movie itself. There is plenty here, and Aja goes on at some length about what he was trying to achieve. His talk about the Jerry O’Connell character is particularly interesting. Aja sees him as a human piranha (which is true), but given the end result, one can’t help but feel that Aja became the very thing he was criticizing.
There’s no doubt that this is an exploitation film that delivers what it promises, in spades. Lots of fun, lots of gore, but I think a little bit more thought wouldn’t have been out of place.