FILM (1981)


Rewind film: Piranha 2, directed by James Cameron

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 28 July, 2013, 5:33pm

Piranha 2: The Spawning
Tricia O'Neil, Steve Marachuk, Lance Henriksen
Director: James Cameron

He's helmed the two most successful films of all time ( Avatar, Titanic), created a sci-fi franchise ( Terminator) and explored the deepest parts of the ocean in documentaries. But before all that, James Cameron was a struggling filmmaker given the opportunity to direct the sequel to a popular genre flick, Piranha 2: The Spawning.

We open with a pair of divers journeying deep in search of naval wreckage - and as one does in this kind of situation, they strip off underwater and are about to get it on when a piranha attacks them. The next day, diving instructor Anne hears of their death and is sure it is piranhas - but the town ignores her calls to avoid the water until it is too late. It's then up to her to battle these flying, feeding creatures.

That sounds like a Jaws rip-off - but keep reading: the stories behind the production are arguably greater than the film itself.

Devout Cameron fans whisper in hushed tones about the exploits of the filmmaker: how he stayed up nights single-handedly building rubber piranhas; how he posed as a waiter to sneak into a police station and steal a uniform; how he spent days sailing dangerously through storms to get a shot of a cloud shooting out lightning.

But all of them pale in comparison to the oft-disputed tale of ambition that turned to crime. Fired from the film's production after clashing with the producer and going far over budget, Cameron was determined to showcase his auteur-like vision of flying killer fish to the world. He flew to Rome and under cover of night, slipped into the well-guarded studio where his film was being stored. There, he broke into an editing room and began putting together his first masterpiece.

But Cameron was caught red-handed by the film's producer, and the two became embroiled in an epic brawl that saw the two stumble across highways with fists flying. Cameron was banned from the studio and the producers recut the film into what we see today.

One can't help but wonder what Cameron's grand spectacle would have been, with many of the film's themes later recreated in his future oeuvre: the strong-willed heroine in Aliens, the fear of an endless terror in The Terminator, the gloomy underwater setting of The Abyss.

OK, not really. Piranha 2 is awful and has no redeeming features: a decade or so ago, Cameron made a deal with the film's distributor that allowed him to create and release his own director's cut - and the reviews were just as bad.

Pavan Shamdasani