Thursday, September 02, 2010

Culture Shock 09.02.10: James Cameron takes a bite out of 'Piranha 3D'

While some may think it's just a gimmick, and film critic Roger Ebert deems it mostly a headache-inducing annoyance, James Cameron is definitely serious about this whole 3-D thing.

He's so serious about it, he has appointed himself arbiter of what is and what isn't proper 3-D. And he has an unambiguous message for the producers of "Piranha 3D."

That message: You're doing it wrong.

In an interview last week in Vanity Fair magazine, Cameron didn't hold back.

"I tend almost never to throw other films under the bus, but that ('Piranha 3D') is exactly an example of what we should not be doing in 3-D. Because it just cheapens the medium and reminds you of the bad 3-D horror films from the '70s and '80s, like 'Friday the 13th 3-D.' "

In other words, 3-D should be reserved for true works of cinematic genius, like a remake of "Dances With Wolves" set in space with furry blue cat people standing in for the American Indians. It demeans 3-D to use it the way it has almost always been used in the past — as a gimmick to add a few thrills and chills to B-grade horror movies.

Well, Mark Canton, one of the producers of "Piranha 3D," wasn't going to just sit back and let Cameron have one of his now familiar "I'm the king of the world" ego trips without comment. He fired off an e-mail to — apparently — every entertainment reporter in the business.

His missive starts off with a low blow, noting that Cameron's directorial debut was a little B-movie called "Piranha 2: The Spawning," the sequel to the film of which "Piranha 3D" is a remake. He then mentions that Cameron didn't actually finish directing "Piranha 2" because he got fired.

The rest of the e-mail goes downhill from there. To tell the truth, I only skimmed the rest. It's a bit long and rambling. I believe the phrase these days is, "TL;DR" — translated: "too long; didn't read." Let's just say the word "dictator" comes up.

Improbably, Cameron does still seem to be smarting from his "Piranha 2" experience nearly 30 years ago. As he tells Vanity Fair, "I worked on 'Piranha 2' for a few days and got fired off of it; I don't put it on my official filmography. So there's no sort of fond connection for me whatsoever."

I could understand if Cameron's point were that "Piranha 3D" is bad because it isn't really filmed in 3-D. Rather, like most of the other 3-D films released this year, it was converted into 3-D in post production. That sort of "fake 3-D" doesn't look nearly as convincing as the true 3-D Cameron used for "Avatar" or that Disney is using for its upcoming "Tron: Legacy." But what Cameron seems to be saying is Piranha 3D's subject matter is unworthy of the 3-D format.

Again, this from the man who gave us giant cat Smurfs.

In its long history, involving various technologies, 3-D has mostly been used in films just like "Piranha 3D." Whether it was "Creature from the Black Lagoon" or "The Stewardesses," 3-D has had a long association with dangerous aquatic monsters and topless females, both of which "Piranha 3D" provides in abundance.

If I have to pay double the normal ticket price to see a movie in 3-D, I know what I'd rather see, and it's not giant cat Smurfs.

Now the Cameron/Canton debate is raging across the Internet, with partisans taking sides. Meanwhile, I can't believe this is an argument at all, but at least it gives me a chance to dust off my "Avatar" jokes.

Clearly, Cameron has ambitions of revolutionizing the movies, not unlike when Orson Welles invented modern film-making with "Citizen Kane" in 1941. And he's frustrated that 3-D still seems like a cheap gimmick because, well, it's a cheap gimmick.

Except for the cheap part, because ticket prices for 3-D movies are outrageous.

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