Saturday, May 12, 2012

Piranha Part Two: The Spawning (1981)

Well, everybody has to start somewhere and James Cameron started with a film about flying piranhas, which when you think about it is actually a lot cooler than the one about blue, alien cat-hippies. Unfortunately, the execution leaves a bit to be desired and it's not really clear how much of Piranha Part Two: The Spawning Cameron actually shot. But, it's nice to see that our most pretentious living filmmaker started with crap about flying piranha fish.

The original Piranha was a Roger Corman produced Jaws rip-off that was helped along quite a bit by being directed by Corman protege Joe Dante, a director with a real flair for the campy, cartoony, and comedic. Dante injected a weird, anarchic sense of humor to what could have been just another Jaws clone (one of many for Corman) and created a cult classic. He established the sense of humor that has carried over to the Piranha remakes, although with less of a focus on T&A as the new films.
A piranha fish with wings

The sequel was directed by James Cameron, another Corman protege, and retains some of the sense of humor of the first film, while not being particularly funny. There are some goofy characters at the beachfront resort setting of the film, such as a Jewess who falls for a nebbishy dentist, an older woman who wants to screw younger men, and a dork who gets cockteased by some cunty women, but as you can tell from these descriptions, most of the comedy is pretty lame and unfunny. The producers supposedly shoehorned this stuff into the film against Cameron's wishes, although the movie needs comedy, which isn't exactly his strong suit anyway if you remember the lame, unfunny shtick with Schwarzenegger in Terminator 2. He's no Woody Allen. Luckily, piranha that can fly don't really need a punchline.

"I can fly! I can fly! It's off to Neverland!"
Anyway, it's a beachfront resort and people start getting killed by piranha fish that fly out of the water and bite their necks. The piranha with wings were created, naturally, by the military as "the ultimate weapon." In every movie in which the military tries to design the ultimate weapon, it always goes wrong, which is supposed to warn us of the dangers of aiming too high in designing weapons. Why not go for making the most mediocre weapon you can? They're less likely to go awry. Also, at what point in the military LSD research was someone in Army intelligence high enough to suggest that sticking wings on piranha would make the ultimate weapon, or was the brass high enough to agree to that? Finally, would someone please make the war movie in which the terrorists in Iraq are defeated with flying, carnivorous fish? Wouldn't that have made The Hurt Locker a much better movie?

Anyway, the military boat full of flying piranha went down off the coast, but the military doesn't seem too concerned with getting it back. Meanwhile, at the unfunny shtick resort, there are a few serious characters, namely  Anne (Tricia O'Neil), the scuba diving instructor, and her son Chris (Ricky Goldin), who are living there following her separation from police chief husband Steve, played by Lance Henriksen in the Roy Scheider role. This is an early appearance for  Henriksen, grizzled actor extraordinaire, if not America's leading bard of grizledry, and he does a decent job. He's clearly still in love with his wife who is shtupping a young biochemist who knows what's really going on here. Meanwhile, their son goes out with a hot chick in a boat and has to be saved from the rampaging piranha. Oy!

"Excuse me, you're holding up the line!"
Trouble is the fish don't really rampage all that much. Cameron apparently started as a special effects director on the film and there are some pretty neat scenes of schools of piranha attacking underwater, random people getting bitten on the neck by the fish, and one pretty great "spawning" scene of the tourists being assaulted by flying piranha on the beach, but otherwise it's not exactly thrilling and the direction is so inept that there's never any sense of danger. It's also frequently dumb- in one ridiculous scene Henriksen  can't figure out how to pick up his kid with the helicopter he's flying and decides to use a nearby boat instead, which means one thing- jumping out of the chopper and letting it crash into the ocean nearby, killing the kid instantly. He couldn't just use the skids to pick them up like in every other movie?

Cameron has said the producer, Ovido Assontis, was constantly hovering over him, questioning his every decision, and that he eventually had to break into the editing room to cut his own version of Piranha Part Two: The Spawning, which is also floating around, so to speak. Supposedly, the main bone of contention was the comedic scenes, because clearly a flying piranha movie should be played very seriously. Also, they fought over the color of the scenes shot from the piranha point-of-view- Assontis wanted the silly hot pink in the film, while Cameron wanted red- clearly an important plot point. Luckily for us all, Cameron would eventually make a few good movies, earning him the chance to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on his dream of dopey CGI cartoons about blue, hippie cat-aliens.

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