Few movies shocked and awed me last year like 'Piranha 3D.' I saw the movie twice the weekend it opened (since it wasn't screened for critics), and part of the reason I went again, so quickly, was to make sure I had actually seen what I thought I had seen the first time around.
Ostensibly a remake of the Joe Dante/John Sayles/Roger Corman cult classic, although this falls into that loose "remake in name only" category, Alexandre Aja's 'Piranha 3D' replaces the original film's militarized killer fish with a prehistoric breed, awoken during a vaguely-defined underwater seismic event. The original had the swarm of piranhas attacking a chintzy riverside resort in Texas (biographical aside: I grew up around where the movie was set and filmed) and a satiric emphasis was placed on the fish being the product of Vietnam experimentation (this is part of the reason so many young kids get gobbled up). 'Piranha 3D' shifts the location to Lake Victoria, a fictional Arizona town, which is besieged by spring breakers every year, eager to indulge in their most base, reptilian instincts. And as we all know, girls in bikinis make great snacks. In terms of satire, well, I'll get to that in a minute…
The "plot" of 'Piranha 3D' primarily concerns those that are forced to deal with the invading demon fish - the local sheriff (Elisabeth Shue), her deputy (Ving Rhames), a fish expert (Adam Scott, stealing every scene) and a local pet store owner (Christopher Lloyd, ditto). The sheriff's children are stranded in the infested waters - her teenage son (Steven R. McQueen) has taken up with a Joe Francis-type pornographer (Jerry O'Connell) and his two bimbos (Kelly Brook and porn star Riley Steele), while her two smaller children, who her son was supposed to watch, are now marooned on a sandy island surrounded by bloodthirsty fish.
'Piranha's tone is tongue-surgically-grafted-into-cheek; it seeks to emulate the boobs-and-blood formula that served so many '80's horror movies well. There is humor galore, too, from the roundly pitch-perfect performances (Adam Scott's line delivery is priceless) to the wink-wink/nudge-nudge special effects (more are practical and they're jaw-dropping). And then there's the edge that Aja's innate French-ness has on the production.
You see, the movie is a big takedown of American culture, both the straight-laced, puritanical hearts and our equally dangerous propensity to over-indulge to the point of wild excess. (One of the barges in the movie is filled with Christian fundamentalists telling the revelers that they're going to hell; the bible-thumpers get chomped on too.) The fact that Spring Break is a singularly American concept seems to endlessly fascinate Aja, with the fish coming from deep within the earth feeling less like a fluke of nature than some kind of biblical retribution.
As you can tell, I've thought long and hard about 'Piranha 3D.' Probably too long and too hard. But I think it's a movie that deserves to be dissected and analyzed; it's that smart and clever and knowing. It's a real shame that the movie didn't do better business when it was released last summer. It was the perfect, down-and-dirty anecdote to all the bloated studio mush that was being hoisted on us week in, week out. An even bigger shame, though, is the fact that the studio, Dimension, rushed to capitalize on what little momentum the first film had by rushing a sequel into development without Aja and his collaborators. They probably found the director, a horror auteur as far as I'm concerned, too prickly and perfectionist, which is a terrible loss. Throughout the special features on this disc, the filmmaker talks about what would happen in the sequel, including his desire to see it set at the Full Moon Party in Koh Phangan, Thailand. When a director openly states his desire to see Christopher Lloyd electrocute piranhas as a nod to 'Back to the Future' for the sequel, and you don't give him that sequel, then you deserve to be gobbled up by razor-toothed fish too.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Dimension brings 'Piranha 3D' to high-definition Blu-ray courtesy of Sony Pictures, which is releasing the film on a 50GB that is Region A locked. The film does auto-play, after which you're treated to an absolutely abysmal selection of self-feeding hype (about the revolutionary nature of Blu-ray) followed by some ghastly trailers for things like 'Resident Evil: Afterlife 3D.' The disc is BD-Live enabled but so far, there's nothing there.
I have to say that after seeing 'Piranha 3D' during its theatrical run I was looking forward to owning the 3D Blu-ray. I found the 3D theatrically to be very enjoyable. Sure, it's not at the level of that James Cameron movie, but it's still very enjoyable. The decision to make 'Piranha' in 3D was similar to that of 'Alice in Wonderland.' Director Alexandre Aja knew from the start that he wanted the film to be in 3D, but he knew that the difficulty of shooting with 3D cameras would hinder his ability to achieve his vision. Aja elected to shoot in 2D (with 3D in mind) and add 3D in post production. Like 'Alice in Wonderland,' 'Piranha 3D' proves that when a conversion to 3D is planned from the start, the end result can be very good.
'Piranha 3D' arrives on 3D Blu-ray with an impressive 1080p/MPEG-4 transfer. Like with the 2D version, this is a very colorful film. From the blood of unlucky spring breakers to the blues and greens of the landscape, colors remain sharp throughout. Textures are realistic while blacks are mostly strong but a bit problematic at times.
The 3D elements were also fairly impressive throughout the entire movie. Depth was strong throughout. Had I not known this was a 2D to 3D conversion film I would certainly have believed that 3D cameras were used. Colors and textures are equally as strong as they are in the 2D film. Having said that, the 3D transfer had a few minor problems. First, I found a few instances of ghosting, most notably in the opening titles of the movie. Ghosting also showed up in some of the darker night sequences. Another aspect I found distracting were the black levels in 3D. At times, mostly in the darker sequences, blacks appeared a bit too dark and drowned out the rest of the image. This was only a slight problem that I have only seen in 'Monsters vs. Aliens.' These issues are all very forgivable, and given the choice, I would watch the 3D version every time.
Overall, 'Piranha 3D' is a strong transfer. The 3D elements are strong and colors and textures remain equally as vibrant as they are in the 2D version. Shy of a few instances of ghosting, 3D fans should be very pleased with this release.
'Piranha' runs about 80 minutes long, and there's never a dull moment. Because of this, the lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix really needed to bring the heat. Thankfully, it did.
Like the movie itself it's always active but never overwhelmingly so, and perfectly captures the king of spring break sensory overload director Aja and his co-conspirators were aiming for. For example: there's a spring break sequence where the camera dips below "sea level" and this is remarkably rendered here, because not only is the party music blaring (but never blown out), when the camera goes underwater you here the "blip" of breaking the waterline and then the distorted music. This could have been totally lost, turned into cacophonous mush, but this mix more than outdoes itself.
Time and time again you’ll be floored by how well and consistently the surround sound channels are used – when the fish of piranhas encircle an unsuspecting teen, when a party barge buckles and falls into the water, when a whirlpool gobbles up Richard Dreyfuss – it’s all there and it sounds beautiful. Sound effects are strong without being overbearing, dialogue is crisp, clear and easy to understand, the music (both source and film score) comes through loud and mean… It’s all just really, really excellent. If you aren’t sold on the quality of the sound mix by the time Adam Scott grabs a shotgun and jumps onto a jet ski, well, there may be no hope for you at all.
While this is the lone audio option on the disc, there are subtitles available in English, English SDH, and Spanish.
Here is where things start to get a little different with the 3D release. Unlike the 2D release of the film, the 3D version is lacking deleted scenes, deleted storyboards, and trailers and TV spots for the movie. Here are the features that are included:
Overall, 'Piranha 3D' is a very enjoyable release. The movie is incredibly entertaining, but make sure you can handle a generous helping of blood. The 3D is also excellent, it really draws you into the film. Oh, did I fail to mention the 3D boobs? Yes, yes, if you're wondering what boobs are like in a 3D movie, check it out, you won't be disappointed. Apart from the great 3D experience, this disc also features a fun commentary track and surprisingly deep making-of documentary. If you can justify losing out on the deleted scenes/storyboards (which I was able to) 'Piranha 3D' should be an easy selection. This comes highly recommended!
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.