Tuesday, 24 August 2010

PIRANHA 3D review: the third dimension finally grows some teeth

Avatar ushered it in – only for Alice in Wonderland to have worked better without it, while Toy Story 3seemed completely indifferent to it. 3D has arrived, but has it really sunk its teeth in yet?

When you find yourself submerged in a dark polluted lake, and suddenly, out from the gnarled weeds and empty cans in one knicker-soiling second, a shoal of thrashing piranhas makes its way towards you, you know that 3D has finally found its purpose.

Piranha 3D makes no false claims to cinematic originality, but in doing so comes up trumps. It wears its gimmicks on its sleeve, the poster telling us to expect a Piranha/Jaws rehash while announcing glorious 3D as the unique selling point. Doing exactly what it promises, its refreshingly satisfying fun. By focusing purely on the visuals, in Alice in Wonderland Tim Burton neglected his talent for telling a good story, somehow managing to turn Lewis Carol’s psychedelic tale into 2 hours of grey, limp austerity. Even James Cameron missed the three-dimensional point, more than anything else wowing audiences with just how annoying it is to watch a film from between the leaves of a tropical bush. But in the horror genre, 3D seems to have made itself useful.

Juggling predictably cheap shocks with almost unbearable tension, Piranha 3D drags us down into that phobia-rich territory of the dark, unexplored watery depths and puts us face to face with those hidden carnivores we always suspected since that first beach holiday to Devon. With 3D horror, that pane of glass which protects us from on-screen danger has been shattered.

In this example, a pick and mix assortment of actors – all selected, presumably, from wet t-shirt competitions rather than auditions – make their way through a script full of lines that sounded better on the trailer: An earthquake has split the floor of a lake somewhere in America, opening up a sealed-off underwater cave unfortunately inhabited by prehistoric man-eating fish. And all this just in time for the boat parties of spring break. Aquatic experts are drafted in from afar, while the police have a hard time evacuating drunk teens from the waters, etc etc.

But despite this thrill-by-numbers plot, you can’t fault Piranha 3D for being unfocused. Its lean 90 minutes afford little room for the fatty plot stunts and (inevitably dull) characterisation dialogues in which the third dimension becomes obsolete. What we get instead is set piece after grizzly set piece of dire situation, all of which end with the inevitable satisfaction of the kill, (which, by the way, range from predictable and swift to imaginative and memorable).

There’s an erotic subplot in there too, with Kelly Brook as the porn star shooting out on the lake threatening to capsize the film with her avid gyrating, but before long the gore flows thick and fast enough to prevent any long-term erections. Breasts, for example: one minute they’re having tequila drizzled over them, and the next they having chunks torn out of them. You’re never quite sure where to look. The producers evidently did their research when aiming a hook for the testosterone-haemorrhaging 17 year olds males in the audience, although viewers with blood still remaining in their head might see Brook and co’s slow-mo nude swimming as the shameless, fun and unapologetic joke that it is.

Considering his subject matter he probably didn’t have much choice, but director Alexandre Aja seems fine to let his film loose into the pools of absurdity – a piranha spitting out the porn-director’s over-worked penis, for example, or a desiccated victim making a sudden and unwelcome encore – before reeling it back to just this side of believability (almost).

It all makes for bloody good fun that meat-eaters and pescatarians alike should lap up. And for the first time I left the cinema convinced that 3D is here to stay...

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