Review Date: October 24, 1999
Released by: New Horizons
Release date: 10/26/1999
Region 1, NTSC
Pan & Scan (?) 1.33:1
Filmed for $660,000, Piranha became New World Picture's most successful film ever, grossing over $30 million domestically. Piranha was director Joe Dante's (The Howling, Innerspace, Small Soldiers) first feature film.
Two hikers come across a small fenced off area during their hike through the Texas mountains. After exploring inside the fenced area they find a pool that they decide to take a swim in. Shortly after entering the pool the two are attacked by flesh eating piranha that have been genetically-altered for military purposes. The piranha have intelligence and are capable of surviving in both fresh water and salt water.
The hikers families hire Maggie McKeown (Heather Menzies) to find out what happened to the missing hikers. Maggie travels to the mountains and teams up with a man named Paul Grogan (Bradford Dillman) who lives alone in the mountains. Their first stop is the military area containing the pool or piranha. Maggie has been told the hikers are excellent swimmers and one of the initial suspicion is that they may have drown while taking a swim.
Upon arrival at the military area Maggie decides it would be a good idea to drain the pool to see if there are any bodies at the bottom of it. They proceed inside the control building and throw the switch to flush the pool. Immediately a man named Dr. Robert Hoak (Kevin McCarthy) enters and tries to prevent them from draining the pool. Dr. Hoak is knocked unconscious and the pool is drained into a local stream.
The piranha are swimming their way towards the ocean where they'll have access to rivers all across the country. Along their path to the ocean is a summer camp full of kids swimming and a resort full of families swimming. It is now up to Paul and Maggie to warn everyone and stop the piranha before they make it into the ocean.
Piranha is a fun movie as long as you don't take it too seriously. Director Joe Dante does a terrific job in bringing suspense, horror and humor to this film. Given the time it was made and the budget it had the special effects are surprisingly convincing.
If you haven't seen the film try renting it. It's worth the price of a rental. Piranha gets a bad rap because of the James Camerson directed sequel, Piranha 2: The Spawning, which was absolutely terrible. The original is a true classic, however. I recommend you all see it at least once.
Piranha is presented in 1.33:1. I'm a little confused as to whether this is P&S or not. The Internet Movie Database lists Piranha as being shot in 1.85:1 but the insert that comes with Piranha contains the following:
In preparing for the re-release, one question loomed larger than most - should this film be released in a letter-boxed version? The definitive answer comes directly from Joe Dante who explains that the movie was originally filmed in "full frame" ratios.
I'm going to assume the IMDB is wrong and that New World Pictures knows that they're talking about and that 1.33:1 is the original ratio. One other thing to note, however, is that during the commentary director Joe Dante seems a little perplexed as to why the opening credits are shown in letterbox.
The image quality in Piranha is a mixed bag. Some of the scenes look incredible with colors being solid and well balanced. However, during other scenes the colors are faded and washed out. Another fault in the transfer is that there's lots of grain that appear throughout the entire film in both night and day scenes. The grain is light and if you're sitting at a distance from your TV then you may not notice. However, upon closer examination you'll see that there are numerous scenes containing grain throughout the film. Again, there are numerous scenes where the transfer looks incredible but others where grain appears. I'd say the percentage of grainy scenes is probably around 20-25%. I noticed very few speckles throughout the film.
Piranha DVD contains a stereo soundtrack. The sound is clear and quite exceptional throughout most of the film. There was one scenes where Bob says, "...before they let them through with the water", that echoed when it wasn't supposed to. Besides that one particular spot the track was fine. I won't knock them too hard for that.
Lots of supplements on this DVD. The menus are animated with a piranha swimming around in the background. When you switch to different section the piranha swims up towards the screen and bites the section that you're going to. It's pretty cool and I've attached a screenshot to the left for you to see what I'm referring to.
There is a commentary track by director Joe Dante and producer Jon Davison. The commentary is enjoyable with very few gaps throughout the film. They discuss the making of the film, the various actors and actresses, a lot of the budget restraints they faced, the special effects and even some scenes they wanted to do but didn't have the budget to create. They goof on the film a number of times and right away admit that this was a "Jaws ripoff".
There is some "never-before-seen footage of the making of Piranha" that Joe and Jon comment on throughout. The footage contained nothing too exciting. It was mostly some behind-the-scenes footage. There was a brief bit on the actual making of the rubber Piranha that were used in the movie and how they were operated which I found enjoyable. The bloopers and outtakes section didn't contain anything too exciting but is also behind-the-scenes to a small degree.
Two inserts - a reproduction of the original Theatrical Marketing Guide and an 8 page booklet on "The History of Roger Corman". They're both good reads and they both contain a number of spelling errors.
I'm sure this DVD is superior to every other release of Piranha that exists. However, the transfer still could've been much better. I really hate grain and it was disappointing to see so much throughout the film. For Piranha fans this DVD is a must own for the extras alone. For anyone else you're better off renting it first to see if the image quality is acceptable to you.
Movie - B
Image Quality - C+
Sound - B+
Supplements - B+
- Running time - 1 hour 32 minutes
- Rated R
- 1 Disc
- Chapter stops
- All-new digitally remastered sound and picture
- Never-before-seen footage of the making of Piranha
- Bloopers and outtakes
- Interactive menus
- Original theatrical trailer
- Cast biographies
- Commentary by director Joe Dante and producer Jon Davison
- Reproduction of original Theatrical Marketing Guide
- Bonus - 8 page booklet "The History of Roger Corman"
- Scene index