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Piranha 3D
Director: Alexandre Aja
Screenplay: Pete Goldfinger & Josh Stolberg
Stars: Steven R. McQueen (Jake Forester), Jessica Szohr (Kelly), Elisabeth Shue (Julie Forester), Jerry O’Connell (Derrick Jones), Ving Rhames (Deputy Fallon), Adam Scott (Novak), Brooklynn Proulx (Laura Forester), Sage Ryan (Zane Forester), Christopher Lloyd (Mr. Goodman), Kelly Brook (Danni), Riley Steele (Crystal), Richard Dreyfuss (Matt Boyd), Eli Roth (Wet T-Shirt Host)
MPAA Rating: R
Year of Release: 2010
Country: U.S.
Piranha 3D Blu-Ray
Piranha 3D Alexandre Aja’s Piranha 3D is a purposefully and unapologetically tacky monster movie that borrows all the camp and gore from the 1978 Roger Corman-produced Jaws knock-off Piranha, but without screenwriter John Sayles’s self-conscious wit and director Joe Dante’s satirical style. Oh, there is plenty of self-consciousness and satire here, so much so, in fact, that the movie is in constant danger of parodic overload, beginning with the opening scene in which Richard Dreyfuss humorously recreates his Matt Hooper character from Jaws and is served up as the first helping of human flesh to a ravenous pack of prehistoric piranhas that have been suddenly loosed from a subterranean lake following an earthquake. But, funny and gross and tasteless as it is, it frequently feels like too much, as if Aja is swinging for the fences of cult moviedom at every moment.

Written by Pete Goldfinger and Josh Stolberg (who also penned 2009’s Sorority Row remake), Piranha 3D takes place during Spring Break at the fictional Lake Victoria in the Arizona desert, where thousands of scantily clad high school and college revelers gather for a weeklong bacchanal in the hot sun. Unable to partake in the revelry is Jake Forester (Steven R. McQueen, grandson of the great Steve McQueen), a decent-hearted college kid who is stuck at home babysitting his younger siblings (Brooklynn Proulx and Sage Ryan) while his mom (Elisabeth Shue), who happens to be the local sheriff, tries to keep order amid the chaos. Since he is chronically denied Spring Break action, it isn’t too hard to blame Jake when he succumbs to temptation and agrees to act as a “location scout” for Derrick Jones (Jerry O’Connell), a sleazy, coked-up porn entrepreneur in the Joe Francis mold who wants to shoot video around the lake for his Wild Wild Girls video series. Derrick is already accompanied by two sultry models (British model and regular “Page Three Girl” Kelly Brook and American porn star Riley Steele), but he also manages to recruit Kelly (Jessica Szohr), Jake’s sweet-faced crush.

What we have, then, is a recipe for disaster as the lake is soon teeming with carnivorous fish by the thousands who can’t wait to munch on some hot naked bodies. The fact that Aja spends the first half of the movie with his camera drooling over said bodies before turning them into mincemeat is nothing new in the horror genre, but it’s done with a mixture of such leering perversity and gleeful sadism that the movie’s high-wire balancing act of horror and comedy is frequently in danger of collapsing (as when our attention is purposefully drawn to a well-endowed young woman’s assets before revealing that she has been sliced in half by a high-tension cable). Aja pours on the gore as the revelers are literally shredded in the water in an orgy of violence that plays like a nightmare episode of MTV’s Spring Break, or perhaps the collective fever dream of all the unattractive geeks and quiet prudes who aren’t invited (the amount of blood that is shed in the carnage has to be measured in the thousands of gallons, making one wonder if the oil cleanup technology from the Gulf of Mexico had to be borrowed to clear the water). The comedy of violence here is over the top (especially with the digital stereoscopy thrusting everything in our laps), and the shock value of hot young things reduced to fish food sometimes overshadows the camp silliness of it all, especially because veterans Howard Berger and Greg Nicotero’s make-up effects are all too convincing (most of the digital effects, however, are notably shoddy and cartoonish). At other times, though, the film’s self-awareness takes over, as when Aja stages a drunk girl vomiting overboard right into our laps, perhaps the most aggressively tongue-in-cheek use of 3-D since Paul Morrissey threw intestines and gall bladders in the audience’s face in Flesh for Frankenstein (1973).

Although he doesn’t have Morrissey’s marriage of artistic rigor and camp sensibility, Aja is hardly a hack director, despite his having settled happily into hack assignments. He first got on the map with his grisly French psycho thriller High Tension (2003) before turning his attention to the remake assembly line, first with Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes in 2006 and then Sung-ho Kim’s Mirrors in 2008. Piranha 3D’s best moments generally involve Aja relying more on suspense than gore, and he gives the film’s murky underwater sequences, with their sonic echoing and otherworldly detritus, a genuine sense of the creepy and uncanny. In one of the film’s best sequences, a team of underwater geologists led by Adam Scott’s Novak descend into the depths to explore the previously hidden prehistoric lake and have the misfortune of meeting its denizens, including the piranha spawn, which live in semi-translucent orbs that float right out in the middle of the audience. He also dials up the tension in the climax, which finds Jake, Kelly, and the kids needing to escape from a sinking yacht by climbing hand over hand along a rope strung to another boat while the piranhas leap and snap beneath them.

Such sequences, however, are the exception to the rule, with the majority of the movie being given over to grisly sight gags like a buxom beauty being devoured, leaving only her silicone implants floating in the water, or Hostel director Eli Roth as a horny wet T-shirt emcee getting splattered between two crashing boats. As with many an ’80s slasher movie, there seems to be a direct connection in Piranha 3D between one’s sexual licentiousness and the nature of one’s demise, which is why it is so unsurprising that O’Connell’s leering porn king gets one of the nastiest deaths, with a particular part of his anatomy being singled out for what may very well be one of the most perverse sight gags in horror movie history (ah, how far the MPAA has opened the door for on-screen gore). Aja’s ability to assemble a cast of familiar Hollywood faces, including Christopher Lloyd as a tropical fish expert and Ving Rhames as the town deputy, is impressive in its own right, and it gives Piranha 3D an added level of ridiculousness. It helps when you know that everyone is in on the joke.

Piranha 3D Blu-Ray 3D
This Blu-Ray contains both 3D and 2D versions of the film on a single disc.
Aspect Ratio2.40:1
Audio English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround
SubtitlesEnglish, Spanish
Supplements
  • Audio commentary by director Alexandre Aja and producers Gregory Levasseur and Alix Taylor
  • 10 behind-the-scenes featurettes
  • DistributorSony Pictures Home Entertainment
    SRP$39.95
    Release DateJanuary 11, 2011

    VIDEO & AUDIO
    The high-def 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer of Piranha 3D looks fantastic. It is the very epitome of bright and shiny, with the impossibly blue lake water and sky set off nicely against the rugged earth tones of the surrounding desert. Skin tones, of which there are plenty (natch), look natural even though the overall color scheme is incessantly bright and gaudy, with a plethora of almost hyperreal primary colors (of course, the blood runs bright red). The image is nicely textured and boasts excellent detail, which actually does a disservice to some of the shoddier digital effects, which look more cartoonish than I remember them looking in the theater. To that end, I cannot comment on the effectiveness of the 3D on this disc, so you will have to seek out another source for that information. I can say, however, that the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1-channel surround track is superb in its aggressiveness, with great surround effects that immerse you in the mayhem. The underwater sequences are particular good, with plenty of ghostly echoes to create a sense of density and depth to the water.
    SUPPLEMENTS
    Due to the space requirements on the disc, the Blu-Ray 3D sacrifices some of the supplements that are included on the regular Blu-Ray, including deleted scenes with optional commentary, deleted storyboard sequences, a storyboard gallery, and trailers and TV spots. However, there is still room for a fun audio commentary by by director Alexandre Aja and producers Gregory Levasseur and Alix Taylor, who were all recorded together. Given that Aja and Levasseur have worked together on numerous films and have known each other since they were 10, they have a natural, easy-going rapport. It was also nice to have Taylor providing a female perspective to help offset the two Frenchmen, especially Aja, who claims that every grisly death is his “favorite” and suggests a drinking game in which you do a shot every time you see a naked breast (which would probably result in acute alcohol poisoning). Also included on the disc are 10 behind-the-scenes featurettes that run more than two hours in length. Together, these provide a comprehensive documentary about the film’s conception, production, and reception, with special emphasis given to the gory make-up special effects. Virtually everyone involved in the film is interviewed at some time or another, although the majority of the face time is given to Aja, Levasseur, Taylor, and producer Mark Canton.

    Overall Rating: (2.5)

    Thoughts? E-mail James Kendrick

    All images copyright © Sony Pictures Home Entertainment


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