Wednesday, September 22, 2010

3-D For a New Generation

If you've been reading The Latest Issue in the past few months (and thanks to those who have; since Blogspot started tracking pageviews in July we're almost at 2000 hits from all over the planet!), you've probably seen comments from my good friend Brian over at Moving Picture Trash, insisting that Piranha 3D
is in fact the number one film this year. Since I had intended to see this anyway, why not take Brian up on his challenge, and see if this film qualifies?

Piranha 3D is something of a throwback, an old-school monster movie with new-school special effects. It's the second remake the original Piranha, which was released back in 1978, and the first in the franchise to use 3D technology, though the 3D had to be done in post-production due to the inability to film 3D underwater. It manages to hearken back to the heyday of classic B-style films, replete with humor, gore, and humorous gore. It all begins when a rare earthquake hits the town of Lake Victoria, and the resulting shock opens up a hidden underwater cavern which had been hidden for centuries beneath the earth's crust. When this underwater lake blends with the existing above-ground lake of Lake Victoria (for whom the town was named), it brings with it thousands of meat-eating, flesh-ripping denizens that immediately cause problems for the local town, especially since they're unlikely to get the lake, which has been overrun by college students on spring break, evacuated.

The film actually boasts an impressive ensemble cast, with Elizabeth Shue, Ving Rhames, Christopher Lloyd and Richard Dreyfus (in a nod to Jaws, the movie Piranha originally parodied) as an unexpected cast of big-name stars who have large roles in the film. Other roles go to Steve McQueen's grandson Steven R. McQueen, Gossip Girl's Jessica Szohr, Kelly Brook, Desperate Housewives' Ricardo Chiavara, Eli Roth, Adam Scott, Dina Meyer and Jerry O'Connell. For the most part, these actors get the job done and the film is actually well-acted (odd for a b-caliber film like this to have decent acting), even if the roles are mostly cliched or one-noted. For instance, Christopher Lloyd plays a marine biologist who acts pretty much like Doc Brown from over  twenty years ago. Shue is a classic determined sheriff, albeit one who cares for her kids. McQueen is the normal teenager, aching to be out from under the responsibilities of his family and crushing on Szohr. Scott is a seismologist who investigates the earthquake and discovers the deadly piranhas. Rhames is a bad-ass deputy (I'm almost certain there's a clause in every contract Ving Rhames signs that he must be a bad-ass). And O'Connell is an eccentric pornographic director with Brook as one of his actresses. This ensemble is well-cast and good to play these one-note characters. Okay, the husky Chiavara might be a stretch to play a scuba diver, as he doesn't seem to have the body type, but I'll give him credit for getting off the set of Housewives long enough to play his role.

The special effects are actually quite good, with the post-production 3D doing a really good job of pulling you into the scenes. Surprisingly, the best effects are the underwater scenes, where the cloudiness of the water actually makes the 3D pop better than I think even the filmmakers anticipated.The 3D above water was still impressive, but the more I watched the film I can't help but wonder whether 3D was simply a tool used to draw audiences into the theaters, as there seems to be little point to actually having 3D in this film.Except for a few scare moments, there's few points where the 3D is used very effectively, as most of them are just lame attempts to make the audience feel like something is coming right at them. It's old-school 3D tech use, and while it's a nod to the original 3D scare films, it can't help but feel lame here.

If there's one thing most people came to see, it's the blatantly over-the-top gore that happens when these fish go ape-$#!^ crazy, and when that happens in the final act of the film,.it's a crescendo of shredded wounds, flailing body parts, and exposed bone. Sometimes the violence is almost cartoonish and hilarious in it's implementation, other times it's difficult to watch, especially certain appendages chewed up and spit out (in 3D no less). While much of the death is meted out as standard fare, we're occasionally treated to truly imaginative scenarios, one involving parasailing, another involving a boat propeller. The producers didn't skimp on the fake blood for this one, and it definitely pays off in the end.

Okay, if there was one MORE thing that people came to see, it's the copious amounts of T&A that the film brings in to populate this Spring Break destination town. If there's one thing that might outnumber the piranha population of Lake Victoria, it's the nubile female bodies and litter the beach and swim in the lake. It's almost too bad they can't weaponize sexuality as a weapon against these particular fish (note to potential screenwriters, if you use this idea I want a writing credit) but it was never meant to be more than a one-sided battle. There are various shots of cleavage (in 3D no less) and that doesn't stop even when the blood starts flowing. Heck, O'Connell as the horndog director he is seems like merely an angle to have British actress Kelly Brook and real-life porn star Riley Steele engage in a nude underwater dance scene.It's blatant, but just like the classic use of 3D it's also a throwback, though one that's weathered the test of time better than hackneyed 3D use.

The one thing I disliked about this film was a problem I've had with horror films in the past, children in danger. Am I the only one who didn't care for Elizabeth Shue's two children who end up stranded on a small island after being bribed by their brother (played by McQueen) to stay in the house since he's supposed to be babysitting. I'll give it to this movie for actually making me believe for an instant that these kids were actually in danger of being piranha food, but I should have known better. More cheap gimmickry seems to be the case here, no surprise.

Piranha 3D is a classic monster flick which thankfully doesn't need 3D as it's defining characteristic, as the film would have been just as enjoyable without it. This is true for most of the 3D films being released this year, as the importance of this technology seems to have become grossly overstated, more so than the hype of Avatar, the film that re-spawned the gimmick. Though some parts were only watchable through a shade of my fingers, I couldn't help but enjoy myself at this screening. It will mostly appeal to guys (if anyone out there got their girlfriends to see it with them, I guarantee that 1. They owed you a favor, 2. They didn't speak to you a week or more afterward, or 3. You have the best girlfriend ever) due to all the blood and sex, and while I feel bad about knocking The Crazies off the list, I have to give it up to Piranha 3D for being the best monster movie this summer, and the #9 spot on my Top 10 List. Brian will almost certainly disagree, but while it's not the best movie of the year, I enjoyed it, and I think most like-minded people would too.


brian said...

I don't remember saying it was my #1 film of the year...but if you say so.

Also, can't believe you didn't mention the 3-D vomit.

Do you have a problem with "children in danger" in films or with children who are supposed to be in danger but aren't really in danger? If it's the latter, let me direct your attention to the original Piranha (and several other 70s and 80s B-movies).

elmo said...

I hate to say it, but 3D kind of burns my eyes- at least for the first twenty minutes. But I had no idea of this film's sensibility. I'll definitely rent the shit out of it.

Gianni said...

Brian, I just don't like the gimmick of putting little kids in danger to no end. Everyone in the theater knows the kids will be alright, and only a few films are willing to kill off small children to shake you to the bones (The Crazies, for instance). It's not that I want to see kids killed off, it's just that you can tell when a filmmaker is serious about putting younger characters in danger or not.

And you're right, I did forget the vomit (In 3D no less)

brian said...

I love it when kids are killed off. Does that make me a bad person?

Gianni said...

Probably, but as long as you're enjoying yourself.