Despite surprisingly positive reviews and a rare San Diego Comic-Con ban, the old dogs took a bite out of the big bad fishes over the weekend. According to box office numbers released by the Los Angeles Times, the retread cast of The Expendables held on to the No. 1 spot at the box office, while the much-hyped Piranha 3D finished in sixth place.
A homage to the cheesy drive-in flicks of the 1970s, Piranha 3D is goofy fun, with gratuitous close-ups of severed body parts and an over-the-top performance by Jerry O’Connell as a coke-snorting filmmaker. The failure of Piranha 3D to reach No. 1 for the weekend points to an oversaturation of the 3-D format in the marketplace.
Using 3D only when the story calls for it
Hollywood has always had a tendency to go wild with newer technologies. During the early years of Hollywood, for instance, movies with spoken dialogue, also known as “talking pictures,” were considered something of a novelty. Thomas Edison created some short films with dialogue around 1913, but the first feature-length “talkie” was 1927’s The Jazz Singer, the musical that permanently changed the movie industry. Practically overnight, all films had to have spoken words instead of title cards.
More than 80 years later, the big studios now are going overboard on 3D films. A fad in the 1950s, 3-D films made a strong comeback in recent years, so much so that directors are using the technology on films that don’t really need it. To approximate the feel of a computerized universe, Tron: Legacy, the long-awaited sequel to the 1982 classic, rightly uses 3-D technology. On the other hand, does the new live action Yogi Bear movie really require special glasses and an inflated ticket price?
In Piranha 3D, the 3-D technology is the real star
To its credit, Piranha 3D actually needs to be in 3-D to maximize the campiness of the story. A parody of Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, this horror/comedy puts a tongue firmly in bloody cheek as hundreds of extras are chopped into bloody fish food. Director Alexandre Aja almost has too much fun with the format, especially with close-ups of severed body parts that quickly are gobbled up by fast-moving piranhas.
In Piranha 3D, the actors also play second fiddle to the special effects. Academy Award-winning actor Richard Dreyfus gets to poke fun at his earnest Jaws character in a hilarious opening sequence, but the rest of the cast are just scenery waiting to be chewed by prehistoric piranha. Samuel L. Jackson may have gotten the better of the reptiles in Snakes on a Plane, but here the 3-D piranhas are the real stars.
The future of 3-D movies
For now, the movie pipeline is clogged with 3-D offerings, but the disappointing Piranha 3D box office numbers should cause the studios and directors to pause for a moment. The return of 3-D, especially in a blockbuster like Avatar, has made the format quite attractive, but, as more and more films are released in 3-D, audiences may balk at paying a hefty surcharge to see these films.
Hollywood also needs to keep in mind the viewers who have vision problems that prevent them from seeing a 3-D film without eyestrain or headaches. 3-D technology is great in small doses, but the movie industry needs to use it only when truly needed to tell a story.
Los Angeles Times, “Company Town: ‘The Expendables,’ still No. 1 at the box office,” John Horn
NBC25, “Can’t see 3D? Here’s why!”, Dan Armstrong