MAY 30, 2009
As part of my attempt to wash the stink of Terminator: Salvation out of my mind, I re-watched the original film (long gone are the days where a new sequel would be prefaced by my re-watching all of the series’ films up to that point), which in turn got me in the mood to revisit some of James Cameron’s films. Good timing too, because the Aero in Santa Monica was showing Aliens and The Abyss (theatrical versions though, blah). So today I figured I’d finally sit down with Piranha II: The Spawning, which I had never seen (mainly because I still haven’t seen the original, but I discovered that it was a "name only" sequel so I made an exception).
Piranha II is of course a well-documented oddity in Cameron’s career. In addition to being his only feature film that doesn’t begin with the letter T or A, it features none of his trademarks (other than Lance Henriksen, who for a change has his name spelled correctly on the box art but incorrectly on the film itself), has tasteless nudity and bloody gore (re-watching Terminator I was surprised to see how many of Arnold’s kills were off-screen), and essentially kind of sucks. How much of the film he actually directed is a mystery, but everyone agrees that it’s not “his” film in any way shape or form.
However, some things are worth noting. For example, the relationship between Lance and his estranged wife (Tricia O'Neil, who resembles a piece of leather in many scenes) is identical to that of Bud and Lindsay in The Abyss. Hell, it even has the same sort of “reveal” that the two are married after they squabble in front of others. And it has a lot of the underwater photography that has become almost a requirement for his later films (Abyss, True Lies, Titanic, and then his documentaries in the 2000s). So even if these things weren’t his idea, they certainly stuck with him.
As for the movie itself, it’s what I call a “Bev-ready” movie, meaning that I would rather watch it at the New Bev with a bunch of drunks than at home by myself. There are a lot of gory kills and pointless nudity to cheer over, but it’s also too slow (after the opening kill, the fish don’t even appear for another 35 minutes or so) and lacking any real tension. Lance is kept out of the big finale, flying a helicopter around while the wife and her new boyfriend do the real cool stuff (i.e. blowing up a shipwreck where the fish have nested). Since Lance is often killed in movies, it would have been far more exciting to put him down there, instead of the wife/mother (surely a survivor) and the boyfriend who is partly responsible for the piranhas’ existence (a goner).
Also, where the original is a Jaws parody of sorts (from what I understand), this one’s just a straight up ripoff. We get the opening scene with two young lovers (though at least the guy gets killed too), a big annual event with lots of swimmers in danger, a guy who doesn’t want to close the beaches, etc. Plus Lance kind of resembles Roy Scheider at times, and the 3rd act rescue of his son (trapped on a boat) is taken from Jaws 2. Then again, the setting is a resort, which got stolen in Jaws 3, so I guess it evens out. Still, considering the antagonist (flying man-eating fish), more fun could have been had in the proceedings. There are occasional light moments with the supporting cast, but the action and the story are played totally straight.
Unsurprisingly, the DVD has no extra features whatsoever. Still, that didn’t stop Sony from trying to claim otherwise; the back of the DVD has a big box labeled “Special Features” which includes things like “Audio: English” and “Full Screen Presentation”. There are also Thai subtitles, in case some guy in Thailand has a region 1 player and wants to be just as confused as to why a film called Piranha II doesn’t have any piranhas (they are genetically modified grunion).
What say you?