Review by Gordon Justesen
Elisabeth Shue, Adam Scott, Jerry O'Connell, Ving Rhames, Jessica Szohr, Steven
R. McQueen, Christopher Lloyd, Richard Dreyfuss
Director: Alexandre Aja
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Features: See Review
Length: 89 Minutes
Release Date: January 11, 2011
“The first bite draws blood...the blood draws THE PACK!”
We've come to expect very little from the never-ending flood of horror remakes since about 90% of them are so bad that they don't even merit a discussion. However, I truly believe that I've found the first horror movie remake that is not only better than the original, but should be recognized as the definitive version of said film. And since the remake in question is Piranha, I don't think many are going to end up disagreeing.
The original 1978 version, produced by Roger Corman and directed by Joe Dante, was nothing more than a low budget attempt to cash in on the success of a certain movie about a shark released three years earlier. Though it was definitely a much bloodier movie, it didn't even attempt to hide the fact that it was a complete knockoff of Jaws. And the sequel that it SPAWNED is only noteworthy for being the directorial debut of James Cameron, who was actually fired off the project and has disregarded it ever since.
The golden rule of remakes is that you should only remake a movie that is flawed or bad, which makes Piranha a downright excellent candidate. And this fully orchestrated version comes to us from the mind of French horror maestro Alexandre Aja, who already demonstrated a knack for whipping up an effective retelling with his unshakably brutal remake of The Hills Have Eyes. As for his latest remake, Aja has made one of the few horror movie that has caused me to react with the words, HOLY F***ING S**T!
As far as I can tell, it's clear that Aja set out to do more than make a far superior version. He was going to use this opportunity to take the R rating to the fullest extreme, buy having as much explicit gore and female nudity that could be seen in a 90 minute movie. In that regard, Aja has succeeded brilliantly because this movie has enough stomach-churning gore and naked eye candy to occupy three movies!
It's Spring Break in the town of Lake Victoria, Arizona, which means that the population has increased temporarily thanks to the flood of college students looking to do nothing but get drunk and engage in all kinds of risque activity. It's the one time of the year when the sheriff’s department, led by Julie Forester (Elisabeth Shue), finds themselves at their busiest, as they make an effort to keep all mischievous college kids in check. But this time around, there's much more to be concerned about than the antics promised by Spring Break.
It just so happens that a recent earthquake has opened up the bottom of the lake, allowing a massive army of flesh eating, prehistoric piranha to swarm their way through the lake and devour all human flesh in sight. Of course, by the sheriff realizes this, Spring Break is in full swing and thousands of intoxicated party goers are right in the piranha's path. It's up to Julie, along with Deputy Fallon (Ving Rhames) and science specialist Novak (Adam Scott) to reach the party crowd and lure them out of the water before terror strikes.
To make matters worse, Julie's eldest son, Jake (Steven R. McQueen), is stranded on the other side of the lake. Through complicated circumstances, he wound up on a private boat along with pornographer Derrick Jones (Jerry O'Connell) and two busty female actresses. Jake was supposed to babysit his younger brother and sister, who have also wandered too off to close to the water.
Eventually, the piranha attack the spring breakers, and I've got to say that there hasn't been a more glorious set piece in any other horror movie in some time. It's been a long time since I was laughing and jumping with horror during the same sequence. It has already been compared to the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan, and the comparison is definitely earned!
It also doesn't hurt that movie features an entirely game cast, with Elisabeth Shue (one of the few women in the world who gets hotter with age) thoroughly believable as an ass-kicking sheriff, Jerry O'Connell boldly going all out in his spoofing of the man behind “Girls Gone Wild”, and Ving Rhames walking away with the best piranha killing moment of the movie. We also get two awesome brief appearances from Richard Dreyfuss who, in a truly brave move, appears to be reprising his character from Jaws, and Christopher Lloyd who's basically playing Doc Brown, with extensive knowledge of piranha substituted for that of time traveling. I only wish that Adam Scott, an actor on the rise who I really like, was given more to do here since he got second billing in the cast.
I caught the 3D version of the movie when it was released theatrically, and it really was one of the best experiences I've had since the 3D revitalization. So the big question is does the movie lose anything when viewed in regular 2D format and the answer, much to my surprise, is no. I learned after the fact that the 3D done here was actually post-converted as opposed to being filmed in the format, so with the exception of a couple noticeable 3D gimmicks (including two completely different moments of regurgitation), this movie is totally fine in its 2D incarnation. In fact, I'll go on record as saying that those noticeable gimmicks are actually fun to spot in 2D.
In my honest opinion, forget the 1978 version ever existed because this remake of Piranha delivers what the original had in low quality on a grander, more extreme, much much much much bloodier and all around manically entertaining scale...and it was only made on a budget of $20 million. Be grateful that a filmmaker like Alexandre Aja exists, because his go for broke/envelope pushing sensibilities are exactly what's missing from many commercial horror movies. Aja took a low grade movie, envisioned the bloodbath from hell, and successfully brought that to the screen, resulting in what I seriously think is one of the best horror movies in years!
Watching this on Blu-ray is honestly the next best thing to seeing it theatrically in 3D, which is saying a lot. Sony has crafted one fantastic looking presentation, so fantastic that you won't even be worrying about the absence of the 3D. 95% of the movie is shot in daylight and since a sun-baked lake community is the setting and being viewed via the 1080p, the sheer gorgeousness of the picture quality is endless (yes, even in the scenes without any female nudity). Image detail is glorious and never-ending, and the colors (especially that of red) are handled in a phenomenal form. The intentionally schlocky CGI look of the piranha even looks superb!
The DTS HD mix serves this flesh-eating assault of a movie tremendously great, and not just when the underwater creatures attack. Way before the fish arrive, we have a good number of Spring Break party scenes backed up with thunderous techno dance beats which really help in turning your living room into a party scene. But once the piranha do attack, you will feel the terror as the massive sequences of bloody kills are heard in stunning form. The balance between dialogue, music and fish bites/blood squirts is executed remarkably. In short, this is what a horror movie should sound like on Blu-ray!
It may not look like much when you read on the back of the packaging, but this Blu-ray from Sony does happen to have a surprising amount of BITE in the extras department. To start with, we have a monstrous behind the scenes documentary titled “Don't Scream, Just Swim: Behind the Scenes of Piranha 3D”, which carries a mind-blowing running time of 129 minutes (a full blown FORTY minutes longer than the actual movie!). The documentary, which has an early running for our DMC Award given to this category, can be viewed as a whole or separately. The individual segments are “Welcome to Piranha”, which serves as a basic introduction, follwed by “Aja, Cast & Story”, which covers on the many different script ideas that were floating around for this remake in addition to the casting process and Aja explaining what his intention was with his version. Next up is “Lake Victoria”, which illustrates just how difficult filming a movie on water can be, “Spring Break” is, as expected, a look at all the wonderful female eye candy that were cast not so much for their acting talents. “Blood and Gore” (the most important segment of all) explores how all the splatter-iffic moments were put into effect, while “Special FX & Stunts” chronicles all the work that went into the movie's awesome stunt work. “The Music” looks at both the score provided by Michael Wandmacher as well as all the bass-blasting dance music licensed for the movie, which then leads to “Piranha and Visual FX”, where we get a glimpse of the piranha's creation via CG, and “Why 3D?” is, well, answered very basically in this segment and “Cast Bites” features numerous interview bits with the cast who all appeared to have had a total blast working on this movie (I know I would!).
As for the remainder of the extras, there's a commentary track with Alexandre Aja, producer Gregory Levasseur and executive producer Alix Taylor, which is a informative and quite revealing commentary that will give you an idea of just how much of a horror movie junkie Aja is. Also included are six Deleted Scenes with optional commentary, two Deleted Storyboard Sequences and a gallery of Trailers and TV Spots for the movie. WARNING: Do not glance at any of the TV Spots before watching the movie because one of them gives away the final shot of the movie, of all things! I'm so relieved I missed these ads before seeing the movie in the theater.
Oh boy, is Piranha a rare breed on so many levels. It's a remake that instantly surpasses the original, a horror movie that delivers on the gore and nudity in purely unimaginable ways, and it's a horror movie that really walks a thin line between being unabashedly campy and horrifically disturbing. I, for one, am happy to hail this as a new-found horror movie classic! BRING ON THE SEQUEL!!!!!