Tag Archives: Piranha

[BASP] Piranha (1978, Joe Dante) / Piranha (1995, Scott P. Levy)

The Best of An Alan Smithee Podcast: Episode Seven

Piranha (1978, Joe Dante) / Piranha (1995, Scott P. Levy)

Originally posted: August 14, 2010

Subscribe via iTunes.

Advertisements

Piranha (2010, Alexandre Aja)

Aja opens Piranha with a pretty deft reference to the original film and follows it immediately with a rather big Jaws reference. The original, ostensibly a parody of Jaws, is absent any kind of reference… so it’s strange to see here. But it’s hilarious. And it might be the funniest of Aja’s other homages to the original, which tend to be on the subtle side.

His approach–to remake Piranha by maintaining the tone of the original, only amplified and modernized (and streamlined quite a bit)–makes it incredibly successful. The 3D is something of a red herring, though effectively used and often rather amusing… but it’s not essential. In fact, when the film does get a little long during a few sequences, it’s because Aja relies on 3D effects (the camera ogling the spring break coeds) too much.

Piranha works for the traditional reasons–a good director, a knowing script and a great cast. I don’t think there’s a bad performance in the entire film–sure, Elisabeth Shue can do the sheriff slash mom role in her sleep and Christopher Lloyd’s a great scientist (slash bait shop owner), but Adam Brody’s fantastic as Shue’s understated heroic sidekick–but there are still some surprises.

Jerry O’Connell’s hilarious as a sleazy softcore porn producer and Kelly Brook’s unexpectedly great as his leading lady. Piranha gets how to establish characters quickly.

Steven R. McQueen, playing Shue’s son and the lead, is solid too.

It’s a really fun, really smart, dumb good time.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Alexandre Aja; screenplay by Pete Goldfinger and Josh Stolberg; director of photography, John R. Leonetti; edited by Baxter; music by Michael Wandmacher; production designer, Clark Hunter; produced by Mark Canton, Marc Toberoff, Aja and Grégory Levasseur; released by Dimension Films.

Starring Elisabeth Shue (Julie Forester), Steven R. McQueen (Jake Forester), Jessica Szohr (Kelly), Adam Scott (Novak), Jerry O’Connell (Derrick Jones), Kelly Brook (Danni), Christopher Lloyd (Mr. Goodman), Ving Rhames (Deputy Fallon), Riley Steele (Crystal), Brooklynn Proulx (Laura Forester), Sage Ryan (Zane Forester) and Richard Dreyfuss (Matt Boyd).


RELATED

Piranha (1978, Joe Dante)

More than anything else, I think Pino Donaggio’s score sets Piranha apart. Initially, anyway. The film’s a very self-aware Roger Corman Jaws “homage,” but Donaggio’s score very quickly establishes it on firm ground. The score’s delicate, without any spoof-related cynicism (there’s no attempt to mimic the famous Jaws theme, Donaggio has some piranha attack music, but uses the score differently), and rather lovely in parts. With the score opening the door, Piranha‘s other singular elements come through.

Director Joe Dante and writer John Sayles maintain some of the Jaws mores, but quickly go their own way. The scale of Piranha is much smaller and it’s hard to believe how much time Dante and Sayles can get out of the story. There’s the pre-titles prologue (the biggest Jaws rip), but then Piranha immediately changes gears. The film’s got a constant sense of dread–something Dante does really well, especially for the scenes at the summer camp–and it’s difficult to notice the low budget aspects after a while, just because the film’s so ruthless in who the piranhas get. The scene at the summer camp is fantastic; the wholesale piranha attacks on the campers is startling. That scene alone puts Piranha on its own, in terms of cinema.

The film does have some playful elements, mostly at the beginning. There’s some good stop motion work from Phil Tippett; it doesn’t go anywhere and just serves to kill some running time, but it’s well done and a fine time passer. The rest of the film mostly gets its humor from Paul Bartel as the summer camp director. He’s a complete jackass and his scenes do provide a little relief.

It’s hard to say what’s more important for the film, Dante’s direction or Sayles’s script. The film looks so much like a Joe Dante picture–with Dick Miller, Kevin McCarthy and the stop motion tangent–he seems the easy answer. But Sayles doesn’t just bring a fine attention to turning the little scenes with throwaway dialogue into real scenes (I’m thinking most of the scenes with Melody Thomas Scott and Shannon Collins, but also the even shorter water skiing scene), his pacing also makes the film work. There’s a break in the action during the second act, when the piranha attacks cease for about ten minutes (in a ninety-some minute picture, ten is a lot). Sayles is able to turn the dread to eleven here, with the summer camp attack then realizing it. But it’s Dante who makes that attack so visceral and affecting.

It’s complicated.

The acting’s decent–Bradford Dillman’s a solid lead, Heather Menzies is fine as the private investigator (though it’s unclear why her boss, a good Richard Deacon, doesn’t trust her). McCarthy, Miller and Keenan Wynn are, no shock, the best. Thomas Scott and fellow camp counselor Belinda Balaski are both good.

I think I’ve seen Piranha before, but it’s been ten or eleven years and I barely remember it if I did. It’s a lot better than I thought it would be; it seems to be overlooked and under-appreciated, regarded as a trifle instead of a credible film. It’s certainly the latter.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Joe Dante; screenplay by John Sayles, based on a story by Richard Robinson and Sayles; director of photography, Jamie Anderson; edited by Dante and Mark Goldblatt; music by Pino Donaggio; produced by Jon Davison; released by New World Pictures.

Starring Bradford Dillman (Paul Grogan), Heather Menzies (Maggie McKeown), Kevin McCarthy (Dr. Robert Hoak), Keenan Wynn (Jack), Dick Miller (Buck Gardner), Barbara Steele (Dr. Mengers), Belinda Balaski (Betsy), Melody Thomas Scott (Laura Dickinson), Bruce Gordon (Colonel Waxman), Barry Brown (Trooper), Paul Bartel (Mr. Dumont), Shannon Collins (Suzie Grogan), Shawn Nelson (Whitney) and Richard Deacon (Earl Lyon).


RELATED


THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED ON BASP | PIRANHA (1978) / PIRANHA (1995).