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White sharks are dangerous. I know ’em. My father, my brother, myself. They’re murderers.

Movie

Jaws 3-D
(1983)

 

Well, not 3-D the way I saw it, although you’d have to be deluded, or have fallen asleep (the latter most likely) not to (sporadically) be alarmed at the manner in which Jaws 3 was configured for that format. A belated sequel, five years down the line from Jaws 2, it showed Universal all at sea and floundering, rather than making the most from their unexpected cash cow. Jaws 3-D’s premise (more commonly known as simply Jaws III outside of theatres) was arrived at after Steven Spielberg nixed a much more daring shake up of a franchise that was already lacking any spark with its first follow-up, but his dogmatic resistance to Joe Dante’s version only underscored that this was a drowning franchise gasping its last.

Joe DanteThere was a lot of power play on Jaws 3, People 0. It was the first time I’d ever been in a real Hollywood situation. I’d go to these meetings and there’d be all these different people in the room and somebody would say something and then I’d look and everybody’s eyes would look around to everybody else to see what they thought of what was said. Could they endorse that? Was that something they could buy? Did they take issue with that?… And I realised I was really in over my head because I was just the hired director.

Dante had come aboard Jaws 3, People 0, pitched by series producers David Brown and Richard Zanuck; it would cash-in on the Airplane! spoof boom, already several years old at that point, and a National Lampoon producer and writers (including John Hughes) were tapped to come up with the goods. The suitably self-reflexive concept concerned the titular shark hunting the makers of a sequel and included Peter Benchley being eaten by a shark in his pool, as well as a shark’s stomach being emptied to reveal an unending and voluminous number of items.

The reasons for its permanent beaching have variously been put down to chagrin on the part of the studio (on the Jaws 2 commentary, Brown said their attitude was that it would be like “fouling your own nest. We should have fouled the nest. It would have been golden, maybe even platinum”) and Spielberg himself nixing the project, threatening to walk away from Universal if they went ahead (“He though it demeaned him and demeaned Jaws” said Simmons; how exactly 3-D and The Revenge didn’t is not a matter of record).

One can only speculate, but it may have been for the best; if Spielberg was sour on the idea, he might have been soured on the director, by extension, and then we might never have got Gremlins. Or Gremlins 2: The New Batch, which would have been a disaster for western civilisation. It’s curious though, that the ’berg has birthed two similar moribund franchises he’s eventually kept a distance from, but has rejected sequel concepts for both that might have laid claim to a wholly different approach, most notably John Sayles’ (him again) human-dinosaur hybrids in Jurassic Park IV.

Funnily enough, what we got with Jaws 3-D was a conceptual precursor to Jurassic Park; a brand spanking new aquatic theme park (SeaWorld Orlando, but with new underwater tunnels realised via lousy green screen) goes awry when a violent predator is unleashed (gets in). There’s a clueless millionaire behind the project (Calvin Bouchard, played by Louis Gosset, Jr, who may have been a recipient of an Oscar earlier that year but was understandably singled out for Razzie attention here) and a push-pull between destroying the creature and arguing for its preservation (Bess Armstrong as marine biologist Kay Morgan for the latter, while Simon MacCorkindale’s Philip FitzRoyce’s hunter bears some similarities Bob Peck’s Muldoon).

Spielberg’s movie stops short of humans killing any dinosaurs (the franchise’s biggest hand-wringing flaw is pinning a thematically ludicrous environmentalist badge to its chest) so doesn’t need Dennis Quaid blowing velociraptors up with grenades. That aside, the most salient difference between the two is directorial competence.

Screenwriter Richard Matheson certainly thought so, suggesting Joe Alves (who had worked on the first two movies) was “a very skilled production designer, but as a director, no”. He also – having evidently seen the picture in cinemas – thought the 3-D, further aligning the series with the horror genre, which was experiencing a minor resurgence during the early ’80s, added nothing (“It was a waste of time”) There are a couple of nice 2-D shots of sunsets in the picture, but otherwise a marked absence of anything suggesting style or basic acumen (it remains Alves’ solitary motion picture).

Matheson had been given a shopping list of elements including the Brody sibling; Quaid is Mike Brody, grown up an awful lot in half a decade and seemingly confident enough in the water. There was also Mickey Rooney – who proved unavailable. Matheson nevertheless felt he had turned in a decent screenplay… one series old-hand Carl Gottlieb promptly revised. As these things go, I wondered if the finished article didn’t have a subliminal impact on Cameron’s Aliens, what with Mike ordering FitzRoyce not to use grenades during his shark hunt because of the danger it would pose to the infrastructure.

Jaws 3-D is more interesting as a curiosity of several nascent careers than the players’ actual performances. Quaid toplines, the same year he made far greater impact via a supporting turn as Gordon Cooper in The Right Stuff. The role is curiously muted, aside from some “teenage” hijinks early on when he embarrasses his baby brother. It isn’t until the climax that he’s required to jump in the tank for some standard-issue heroics, instead making way for the picture’s actual star turn, MackCorkindale.

FitzroyceIf we kill this beastie on camera, I can guarantee you media coverage.

The thesp, who also appeared in infamous/much-loved and short-lived TV show Manimal the same year, effortlessly steals the proceedings by assuming the unapologetic manner of a days-of-the-Empire big game hunter. He’s sexist (surprised that Kay is in charge, although he should have been more surprised by Armstrong’s simpering, insipid performance), endlessly self-impressed and self-promoting, and up for any interaction or altercation with the beastie, aided by more reserved assistant Jack Tate (PH Moriarty). Naturally, this leads to Fitzroyce being chomped (in particularly squelchy and screamy fashion).

Lea Thompson also makes her movie debut, as water-skiing park performer Kelly Ann Bukowski, designated the romantic interest for Sean Brody (John Putch, now better known as a TV director). It’s something of a bimbo part, most notable for Kelly Anne actually being on the receiving end of the shark’s gnashers (though not fatally). As Bouchard, Gosset Jr does the slightly manic manager thing and is asked to deliver some faintly suspect dialogue with a grin (“It’s what we call marine segregation”).

Kay’s preservation instincts are so ridiculously out of touch with what we, as the audience, know about sharks of this ilk, she’s practically begging to be bitten. And yet, she somehow escapes intact. As for the Brodys being in the vicinity of yet more shark carnage, if there’d only been a few allusions to that in the dialogue, 3-D might have had the drop on Die Hard 2. It also warrants mentioning that there are a couple of saviour dolphins in the mix, aiding Mike and Kay during a particularly stressful shark interlude.

Alan Parker – not that one – delivers a lacklustre score, failing to make the most of the riffs he’s inherited. There’s a reasonable fake-out in which the baby shark is assumed to be the predator, but we also had a less protracted one of those in the original movie. As for the kills, they’re mostly ruptured by reliance on superimposed 3-D effects, severed limbs standing out listlessly in sequences devoid of any accompanying suspense (the climactic shattering of the viewing gallery window is particularly risible).

Despite being rubbish, Jaws 3-D made a pretty penny. It was much cheaper than Jaws 2 – and there was no expense in securing Roy Scheider, who’d gone off to make Blue Thunder for the express purpose of being far away from sharks at the time of production – and much less popular. It still hit number fifteen for the year at the US box office, beating out the aforementioned Blue Thunder, as well as  ScarfacePsycho II and Porky’s II, and coming within snapping distance of Never Say Never Again and Superman III. Yes, it was a year for patchy sequels.

And yet – despite being rubbish – the opprobrium for another entry in the series has managed to lave Jaws 3-D uncherished but relatively forgotten; Jaws: The Revenge would further confirm the familial bond of the Brody family with the unholy killer fish, but it would become best known for providing Sir Michael Caine with dinner-party anecdotes. But was it really worse than III/3/3-D?

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