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Release Date(s)1978 (August 3, 2010)
Studio(s)New World (Shout! Factory)
When I joined Team Bits lo these ten years ago, my very first DVD review was Joe Dante’s Piranha from Roger Corman’s New Horizons. In those innocent days, there were three things I could never have imagined. 1) Another format, even better than DVD, would one day appear and that day would come sooner than I thought. 2) Piranha would be the subject of a big-budget 3D remake. 3) Even if I’d known about the first two, I wouldn’t have believed I’d ever have to write another review of the original Piranha.
Oh, how little I knew. But once Shout! Factory began releasing its Roger Corman’s Cult Classics line, a new release of Piranha was a foregone conclusion.
If anything, Dante’s movie has gained in popularity over the years. Sure, it’s a blatant ripoff of Spielberg’s Jaws. But of the many, many imitators of that classic, it’s one of the very few that actually works. It would probably come in second place on most lists of the Greatest Killer Fish Movies of All Time (with the understanding that there’s a pretty steep drop-off after number one).
I already said everything there is to say about Piranha back in that original review but to summarize, Piranha works because the filmmakers, including screenwriter John Sayles, know that they’re making a Jaws knock-off. More importantly, they know we know it’s a Jaws knock-off. Instead of trying to hide it, they embrace it, wink at it, and gently tweak our expectations. I suspect part of Piranha’s original appeal also has to do with its being released the same summer as Jaws 2. Audiences were primed for more underwater terror and frankly, Dante’s movie delivered the goods better than Jeannot Szwarc’s misbegotten sequel.
I’m pleased but not entirely surprised to say that if you’re a Piranha fan, Shout’s new disc is definitely worth the upgrade. The film is presented in anamorphic 1.78:1 widescreen for the first time and, despite a minor glitch here and there, looks splendid. As has become the norm for this line, any flaws in the image seem to be inherent to the source material and not a failing in the digital transfer. Audio quality is consistently good throughout, with Pino Donaggio’s score sounding better than ever. All of the extras from that original DVD are carried over, including a top-notch commentary by Joe Dante and producer Jon Davison, Davison’s behind-the-scenes footage (also with commentary), and a blooper reel.
New extras include the 20-minute The Making of Piranha, featuring new interviews with Corman, Dante, actress Belinda Balaski, and, best of all, the great, indefatigable Dick Miller! I continue to be impressed at how willing the crew members from these movies are to discuss their work. The Piranha line-up includes Oscar winners Phil Tippett and Chris Walas and Oscar nominated editor Mark Goldblatt. It says a lot about the camaraderie built around the Corman School of Filmmaking that folks like this are so generous with their time and memories.
The disc also includes new footage included in the TV version of Piranha, a nice bonus that I complained about being omitted from the original DVD. It’s great to finally see this material, as any new footage featuring Dick Miller, Paul Bartel, Kevin McCarthy and Barbara Steele is good footage as far as I’m concerned. You also get radio and TV spots, trailers (including a version with commentary by Jon Davison from Trailers from Hell), galleries of poster art, marketing material and behind-the-scenes photos, a booklet featuring an essay by Michael Felsher, and reversible cover art featuring the even cooler, bloodier Piranha poster. All in all, a nice little package.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say this will be the last review of Piranha I ever write. Maybe ten years from now someone will release the hologram version but I doubt I’ll be interested. Shout! Factory’s Piranha on Blu-ray is more than enough to satisfy this man-eating fish fan.
- Dr. Adam Jahnke