Halloween Scene: Piranah 3D (2010)

Well, it’s October and you know what that means: I will attempt to watch a horror movie a day in honor of my upcoming favorite holiday. With Lu being old enough to know when someone’s getting killed on screen, it might be trickier than ever, but I’ll do my best.

Back when I watched the original Piranha, I was pretty excited about checking out the 2010 3D remake in theaters. As it turned out, I didn’t make it to the theaters and only just watched it on Netflix Instant, so much of the post-converted 3D hijinks were lost on me.

Like the original, the film follows the adventures of people trying to stop an onslaught of super piranhas intent on eating a group of spring breakers. However, unlike the original film, this one seems to only exist as a parody of the earlier film and others like it. The problem here is that, I felt like the original had an earnestness to it that was both funny and bad that this one lacks. When you go so hard for the jokes and to look bad, it’s hard not to come off as bad all around.

My main complaint is the CGI stuff looks terrible. If it’s supposed to look terrible because that’s the joke, then that’s not the kind of joke I like. I had a similar problem with Tarantino’s Death Proof, which felt like he was trying too hard to poke fun at something that maybe isn’t as funny as he thought going in. As it happens, crappy CGI just looks like bad CGI isn’t particularly funny, even when it’s used to show a piranha eating a dismembered member.

However, there are some pretty great gore scenes. That bit where the wire snaps and you get a good pair of cut/slides is pretty great as is the look of what happens to Jerry O’Connell’s legs. And, of course, there’s plenty of nudity in here if that’s what you’re looking for.

Man, this makes me sound like something of a fuddy duddy, but this movie just really didn’t do it for me. I guess dumb jokes, intentionally bad effects and boobs just aren’t enough to really sell me on a flick anymore. I guess that’s a sign of my increasing maturity. Now to read more comics and watch more fictional people get killed!

The Chronological Spielberg: Close Encounters Of The Third Kind (1977)

Another reason I got behind on my viewing of Steven Spielberg’s movies, aside from being so familiar with Jaws, was that I’d seen Close Encounters twice in recent memory, once for the first time all the way through when I rented it from Netflix and again on TV while visiting the inlaws a few months back. Still, I loved the movie, so when I decided to do this project I looked around for a DVD copy and found out there’s a multiple disc pack that includes the theatrical release, a director’s cut and a special edition each of which are different. The only other set I have like this is for my beloved Dawn of the Dead. I honestly can’t remember the differences in that set and haven’t really dug into this one yet, but will let you know when I do. For the purposes of this post, I simply watched the original theatrical version.

I’m realizing after watching Spielberg’s initial offerings that he succeeds the most when working with a story that hadn’t been done before that has an epic quality to it that’s treated as such. Duel‘s murderous truck is scary and familiar, but more from real life than film; no one had seen a shark like the one in Jaws; the aliens in Close Encounters aren’t necessarily scary themselves, but what they do to people is. Meanwhile, Sugarland Express and 1941 (which I’ll review shortly) lack that epicness and newness.

What makes Close Encounters so epic? Well, just about everything. Richard Dreyfuss heads out to help during a black out unknowingly caused by visiting aliens only to find himself directly in their path. After that, he becomes increasingly obsessed with a mountainous shape he can’t quite fully remember that will not leave him alone. It gets so bad that his family leave him and he winds up driving towards an area that’s said to be the center of a chemical spill. He eventually finds a place where a group of scientists have set up a lab to communicate with the aliens by way of musical tones. We also follow a few of those scientists who discover some WWII planes that look brand new and eventually come to understand that they’re dealing with aliens and a woman whose son gets abducted himself who joins forces with Dreyfuss.

As if I already wasn’t from Jaws, this movie made me an even bigger Richard Dreyfuss fan. The subtle ways he plays his character in this film are just amazing. He takes zoning out and growing obsession to a new level without ever going over the top or getting too scary. That’s not to say that his wife and kids don’t get scared. There’s actually a great balance between the kids freaking out because he’s acting weird (the mashed potato dinner scene) and them getting excited about dad’s weirdness (throwing dirt in the house). This might seem like uneven characterization, but I think it’s a wonderful use of children and how they see the world. They want dad to be the dad and take care of them, but there’s something cool about him acting like a big kid and trashing the house in such a strange way.

Another aspect of the film I fell in love with was Spielberg’s treatment of the aliens from a director and storytelling perspective as well as within the logic of the story. Instead of having a group of military dudes waiting with guns drawn to “talk” to the aliens like in just about every other movie with extra terrestrials (including ET now that I think about it), it’s a group of scientists there trying to make contact. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate seeing awe and excitement on the faces of the crowds instead of grim determination or fear. Heck, even the people who were on the ship don’t seem harmed, just a little confused. Great stuff.

This might be a little random, but I also liked how real the houses and settings felt. I’m particularly partial to authentic looking scenes set inside the bedrooms of children and I think that was nailed in the beginning of this movie. I even liked seeing the McDonlads a little later in the film. I know some people consider these instances of product placement annoying or cheap, but that’s real life. I had some of the toys in that room and I absolutely went to McDs that looked exactly like that. It’s an easy way to bring me into a film and I have no problem when directors use it.

I really don’t have a single complaint about the film. Everyone played their parts perfectly and worked together to create a movie that perfectly balances how this kind of invasion changes a particular person while also showing the larger process of how the government deals with it. That scene with the military guy and his crew trying to figure out what kind of story to sell the American people to get them away from the landing zone is quick and spot on. The flick also looks just fantastic. Every time I watch a Spielberg movie from the 70s I can’t help but think how crappy a lot of the CGI looks these days. People need to step up their game.

The Chronological Spielberg: Jaws (1975)

Jaws is one of my all-time favorite movies. It’s an amazing combination of real world drama and horror with so many amazing comedic and dramatic moments mixed in. I truly love this movie. So, why did it take me almost six months to watch after checking out Spielberg’s first two movies Duel and The Sugarland Express? No, it’s not because I didn’t particularly like Sugarland, but more so because I wasn’t as excited about watching a movie I’d seen before. I’ve talked about this here and there on the blog, but since graduating high school I’ve been really enjoying watching new things instead of rewatched movies I love. This actually worked in my favor as I sat down to watch Jaws today because it had been a while since I watched it (I’m shocked I’ve never blogged about it before, actually, but then again I’ve never blogged about The Usual Suspects, Reservoir Dogs or Lost Highway either and those were wildly influential on me).

Everyone knows the plot of Jaws, right? A great white shark starts terrorizing a New England island community in the summer. This presents a problem because the greedy mayor doesn’t want Sheriff Brody (Roy Scheider) to shut down the beaches for fear of losing tourist money. After more and more attacks, Brody teams up with out of town shark expert Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) and off kilter local shark hunter Quint (Robert Shaw) to go out on Quint’s boat and kill the fish.

What makes Jaws such a great flick is that, in addition to having some truly scary moments (the underwater head in the boat still creeps me out on the same level that Michael Myers sitting up does at the end of Halloween), there are so many great moments with humor and emotion. That bit where Brody’s wife looks at the shark book and yells at her kids to get out of the water is fantastic as is the wonderful scar-comparison scene on the boat. Chills, you guys, chills.

Even better? The film itself has an equally epic behind the scenes story. It took forever to get some of the shots and the studio was freaking out. The mechanical shark — Bruce — didn’t work well which is one of the reasons you only see the shark briefly in the film. This bit might not have been in the script, but it certainly made the film more dramatic. After seeing just bits and pieces, can you get a better reveal than the “We’re gonna need a bigger boat” one? I think not. And this goes to show that Spielberg’s not just a great technical director (as seen in Duel), but has also had great instinctual storytelling instincts.

I really can’t say enough good things about this movie, but I think I’ll just stop here. Gallons of ink both real and digital have been spilled about the movie. If you’ve never seen it, do so immediately. You will absolutely not be disappointed. And if you are? Well, I probably don’t want to talk to you.