FOOTAGE FETISHES: “PIRANHA”

Think of the Children
I’d like to say tragedy is averted, but what fun would that be? Paul and Maggie manage to wipe out the bloodthirsty fish by releasing backed up refinery byproduct into the river (an act that probably rendered downstream sections of the river unlivable for fifty years), but only after they’ve nibbled on the campers and turned the Lost River Lake campground into the hospital scene from “Gone With the Wind.” A reporter ably sums up the carnage with the statement, “Terror, horror, death. Film at eleven.”
Maybe Dante lacked the stones to show kids getting messily devoured, but it comes across a trifle ridiculous that the piranha gnaw on the campers for a good ten minutes and the only person who snuffs it is Betsy (Belinda Balaski), the hot camp counselor. Meanwhile, dozens of swimmers at the resort are shredded. This “protecting the children” theme is a far cry from when Spielberg served up Alex Kintner al fresco to Bruce, yet it continues to this day. Does anybody really think that cinematic children in threatening situations are actually going to come to harm? It’s annoying emotional manipulation that has become far too commonplace, and is especially absurd here.
Aside from my thwarted bloodlust, “Piranha” has a lot going for it. Sayles’ script is quite humorous in places (my favorite exchange: “It’s the piranhas.” “What about the goddamned piranhas?” “They’re eating the guests, sir.”), and the film never takes itself so seriously that you feel dirty watching it. There are other nice touches, like the cop watching “The Monster that Challenged the World” on TV, and – in what has to be the most lowball product placement bid in history – the number of people at the resort sporting Lone Star beer merchandise.
Remake My Day
In addition to three sequels so far (including “Piranha 2,” James Cameron’s historic directing debut), “Piranha” has already been remade once, which kind of steals my thunder. The 1995 made-for-TV remake starred William Katt, “Baywatch’s” Alexandra Paul, and Punky Brewster herself, Soleil Moon Frye. I don’t know how I can beat that lineup, but I’ll give it a shot.
Part of me would like to do this as a Big Trouble in Little China homage and cast Kurt Russell as Grogan and Kim Cattrall as Maggie. I think the interaction between the two characters is very similar to what we saw between Jack Burton and Gracie Law. Hell, let’s go whole hog and cast Victor Wong (“Big Trouble’s” Egg Shen) as Dr. Hoak and James Hong as Buck Garnder. Mr. Hong doesn’t really look like a “Buck,” but we’ll ignore that for purposes of this exercise.
Piranhas never really garnered a reputation as terrifying predators, even when Cameron gave them wings. The same could be said about killer bees, another late ‘70s bugaboo whose buzz turned out a lot worse than their sting. The solution: torque the fishes up a la Deep Blue Sea. Make them three feet long, super-intelligent, and pissed off. That should buy the franchise another couple years, if not that many more followers.




Posted on November 15, 2002 in Features by
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