This year's 3D remake of Piranha is not generating awards buzz. Nor is it being debated for its fine social commentary or riveting performances. It may, however, feature more exposed breasts than any non-porn film released in the last decade. Piranha, rebooted by French director Alexandre Aja, is more fun than most flicks that hit the big screen, and it delivers the gore, sex and debauchery demanded of a movie about flesh-eating fish.
Spring Break comes but once a year to beautiful Lake Victoria in the Arizona desert. Sheriff Julie Forester (Elisabeth Shue) and Deputy Fallon (Ving Rhames) tolerate the hoards of drunken college revelers who turn the lake into a garbage dump because they stimulate local commerce. Forester's son Jake (Steven R. McQueen, grandson of cool) never gets to enjoy the festivities, as his annual task of babysitting his younger siblings does not take place on a party boat. Poor Richard Dreyfuss is the first to be dragged underwater by angry piranhas, schools of which descend upon the tipsy visitors to Lake Victoria, forcing Forester to consider closing down the lake.
A moderately budgeted update of Joe Dante's 1978 schlockfest, Piranha delivers the goods other popcorn horror films like My Bloody Valentine, Sorority Row and Aja's own Mirrors did not. It works because the filmmakers generally realize a movie about killer fish requires little pretense (no offense to Jaws, of course). The opening with Dreyfuss is a playful reminder to movie-goers that Piranha aims to entertain.
Jake reneges on his babysitting duties to serve as location scout for Joe Francis facsimile Derrick Jones (Jerry O'Connell) and his Wild Wild Girls production team. Intrigued by Jake's sudden assertiveness, the object of his affections, Kelly (Jessica Szohr), joins the nudity-hunting party aboard Jones' yacht. People get naked. Piranhas ruin Spring Break.
Along with the aforementioned nudity, Piranha features some fantastic gore. Using a combination of practical and digital effects, Aja managed to bring some downright nasty carnage to the screen. After dabbling in mediocrity with Mirrors, Aja finally brings the talent he showed on High Tension and The Hills Have Eyes out of retirement. The film's biggest set is the boat party on the lake. When piranhas arrive on the scene, an obscene amount of bloodletting occurs. Much of it is funny, some of it is shocking, and all of it is very well staged.
Piranha is also a good-looking film. Aja has a knack for shooting great locations, and some of the underwater footage here is the best I've seen. The acting is also solid for such a ridiculous film. The Forester family is a nice anchor for the film, and Piranha becomes only slightly melodramatic during the family's climactic reunion. I have few complaints about Piranha. It was criminally under-seen in theaters last summer, and the 3D actually added to the experience. At 88 minutes, Piranha does not outstay its welcome; it's just enough of a good thing.
Sony Pictures presents Piranha on DVD in 2D for Dimension Films with a pleasing 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The DVD showcases the sun-baked Arizona setting nicely, exhibiting vibrant colors and pleasing depth. Compression artifacts are not an issue, and detail is abundant in the image. Highlights are occasionally blown out, though this replicates the theatrical experience. Skin tones and texture are otherwise natural. The only minor issue I spotted was some murkiness in darker scenes.
The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is impressive. Dialogue is strong and clear, as are the film's ambient effects. Schools of piranha and swirling water circle the sound field, and effects are loud and deep. The replication of the film's score is second only to the use of popular music, and both songs and score can rock your system. English, English SDH and Spanish subtitles are also available.
Dimension provides an impressive pair of extras for the DVD. The Commentary with Producer/Director Alexandre Aja, Producer Grégory Levasseur & Producer Alix Taylor is packed with interesting information about shooting the bloody spectacle. Aja talks a lot, and his passion for filmmaking is evident. I enjoyed hearing about his inspirations for the film and about working with the MPAA. Don't Scream, Just Swim: Behind-the-Scenes of Piranha 3D (1 hour and 30 minutes) is a massive five-part documentary about the film's production. Covering everything from location scouting to the hiring of hundreds of extras and creating the film's graphic effects, the documentary is surprisingly thorough. Although some deleted scenes and a slightly longer documentary are available on the Blu-ray, I applaud Dimension for giving DVD buyers a good selection of extras.
With previews that promised plenty of blood and boobs, Piranha had a lot to live up to. Fortunately, director Alexandre Aja hits a home run. Joyfully nasty and very entertaining, Piranha is about as good as a movie about killer piranhas is likely to be. Sony's DVD features solid picture and sound, as well as a great behind-the-scenes documentary. Highly Recommended.
William lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.