Treading water in 3D 


There's not much to say about Piranha 3D. If you're in the mood for an incredibly gory big-budget Hollywood version of a SyFy channel original film that's also overflowing with T&A, or if you want to see prehistoric fish chomp through teenagers and castrate Jerry O'Connell, then this is exactly the film for you. But based on the very limited pleasures to be found here, I'll make a Pascal-believes-in-God-like wager that Alexandre Aja's remake isn't as fun as Joe Dante's 1978 original, which I haven't seen.

Although Piranha 3D isn't much more than what its trailer promises, its existence certainly calls for some speculation on the future of movie exhibition if not the future of the movies themselves. Shabby monster movies like this human-flavored bouillabaisse will always be around, but will there come a time when everything will be shot in 3D?

Some industry professionals and film critics seem to think that 3D might actually be a revolutionary technological innovation as transformative as the advent of sound and color. But if that is true, then it's still far too early to evaluate 3D's impact on the evolution of the movies. There simply haven't been enough 3D films made to draw any meaningful conclusions about their impact.

Right now 3D feels more like a market-driven gimmick than an industry-altering structural and stylistic change. The more legitimate precedent for 3D is not sound or color but the widescreen Cinemascope process that emerged in the mid-1950s to lure movie-goers away from their televisions and increase box office receipts. The aims of 3D are the same, and so far, it's been reasonably successful. Even when slapped on something like The Last Airbender, 3D is putting moviegoers in seats that, thanks to the 3D surcharge, are now more expensive than ever before. And as critic Sam Adams notes, "the stereoscopic image has the added advantage of being impossible to bootleg."

But is the average 3D movie image worth bootlegging? No. Because of the artificially flat pop-up book/View-Master quality of the layered 3D image as it currently exists, viewers are robbed of the freedom to let their eyes roam over the screen and look at whatever they want. This loss of visual autonomy is not balanced by any sense of heightened realism, either. There's no mistaking 3D imagery for the way your eyes actually perceive depth and shadow — which may be why F/X fantasies like Coraline and Avatar, which take place in wholly imaginary worlds, have been the most successful examples of this technology so far.

Alas, Piranha takes place on Earth during spring break, so it's no surprise that its 3D effects don't add much to the film's overall impact. Based on the jutting boobs on display during a wet T-shirt contest and the two scenes featuring onscreen vomiting, 3D is still used as a novelty to spruce up inferior product. If that's the only way filmmakers can find a use for it, then the future looks bleak.

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Piranha 3D
Rated R · 89 min. · 2010
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Director: Alexandre Aja
Writer: Alexandre Aja
Producer: Alexandre Aja, Mark Canton, Grégory Levasseur and Marc Toberoff
Cast: Jerry O'Connell, Ving Rhames, Elisabeth Shue, Eli Roth and Richard Dreyfuss

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