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The last two films in the Jaws franchise are terrible. We all know this fact.
What isn’t settled, perhaps, is the question of which entry -- Jaws 3-D or Jaws: The Revenge -- actually takes the crown as the very worst installment of the bunch.
Traditionally, I have favored Jaws: The Revenge (1987) as representing the absolute nadir of the saga. But a recent re-watch of Jaws 3-D (1983) suggests that maybe I had it wrong. Though Jaws: The Revenge is consistently, unceasingly dumb and ridiculous, it somehow manages to be entertaining in its stupidity. You can laugh at it at the same time you acknowledge how bad it is.
Jaws 3-D is dull, over-long and unceasingly dumb too...only without the unintentional laughs. That makes it a bigger drag to sit through.
In short, Jaws 3-D is a horrible, ill-conceived mating of the disaster film format and the shark attack film.
Most 1970s disaster flicks are set in one scenic locale (a tall building, a ship at sea, etc.) and chart how chaos progresses there, often following some form of usually-natural threat, whether an avalanche, an earthquake, or a storm in the ocean.
The Jaws films, by contrast, have focused on the Brody family and its ongoing travails with great white sharks. Aiming for originality, Jaws 3-D blends the two approaches. Here, the Brodys contend with a great white shark at an amusement park populated by thousands.
And hey, isn’t that the plot for this summer’s Jurassic World (2015)?
Anyway, a very young Dennis Quaid here plays the older Brody son, Mike, and John Putch is the afraid-of-the-water Sean Brody.
As the film begins, preparation are underway for “Preview Week” at Sea World (replete with “The Undersea Kingdom,”) a new amusement park/attraction owned by controversial entrepreneur Calvin Bouchard (Louis Gossett, Jr.). Mike is the chief engineer there, and his girlfriend is a marine biologist, Kathryn Morgan (Bess Armstrong) whose job it is to tend to dolphins.
A small great white shark is soon detected in the Sea World lagoon, and publicity hound and D-list celebrity FitzRoyce (Simon MacCorkindale) wants to hunt and kill it for the paparazzi. But Kathryn, realizing that there are no great white sharks in captivity, sees that this incident represents an opportunity for the park, and for science. Sensing dollar signs, Calvin agrees, and the shark is captured rather than killed. It later dies in captivity.
Unbeknownst to any of these individuals, however, the shark’s angry mother is already in the Sea World lagoon too, ready to strike back…on Opening Day.
It’s a cliché, for certain, to say that a Jaws film lacks “bite.” But -- what the hell? -- Jaws 3-D really lacks bite.
The 1983 sequel never generates a real sense of terror, in part because the visual special effects are so bad that they take your attention away from the characters and their predicaments. For instance, a model, or miniature shark is used on several occasions, and it swims right at the screen, in full view, looking absolutely immobile and unreal. A better director might have sought ways to hide the model shark, or feature it more judiciously. It's baffling that the Spielberg approach -- a reliance on P.O.V. and the genius of John Williams -- isn't repeated here, since the effects are so clearly lacking.
The moment when the shark strikes a plate glass window is perhaps the worst use of the aforementioned great white miniature. A fake shark, matted against a background, appears to strike a fake window. It's layers upon layers of incompetence here, one of the worst composites you'll ever see in a major motion picture.
The shark carnage -- body parts, bones, and so forth -- is similarly rendered in a lame way, with sizable matte lines showcasing for posterity their unreality. Even something that should have been simple -- making a run-of-the-mill submersible look "real" while underwater -- is utterly botched here.
The silliest moment in terms of effects, however, arrives in the finale, as two dancing dolphins are matted into the respective corners of the frame while Mike and Kathryn swim to safety. The results are so atrocious that they look like a bad Hallmark card come to life.
Notice below, how you don't even see the entire dolphin bodies, and how they don't seem to be in the water (making ripples or waves), but standing in front of the water.
Beyond the terrible, movie-destroying effects work, the editor on Jaws 3-D tries desperately to gin up tension, and largely fails. The main technique used is slow-motion photography. So suddenly, during the finale, we get exaggerated, interminable close-ups of Louis Gossett, Jr., Dennis Quaid, and Bess Armstrong dropping their jaws in terror, their eyes popping at some off-screen menace.
But the shots last so long that they are kind of funny.
Jaws 3-D also attempts to ape the naturalistic, staccato dialogue made famous by the first two films, but never gets anywhere in the same ball-park. No real human connection is made with the characters here, and so the banter about leaving the park for another country, or Mike and Kathryn getting married largely falls flat. Similarly, Sean’s attempts at pitching woo with Lea Thompson’s character -- a water-ski performer -- seem unimpressive. All these moments reminded me of a bad Friday the 13th film of the 1980s; one populated by interchangeable teenagers who would later serve as victims for Jason.
One can also that the filmmakers hoped to create a new triumvirate here, to replace the classic Brody-Hooper-Quint threesome of the 1975 original. We’ve got our Brody (two for the price of one, actually...), our fish-loving scientist (Armstrong), and the self-confident, somewhat amoral hunter, FitzRoyce (MacCorkingdale).
Suffice it to say that it’s a weak B-team by comparison to the trio we met in Jaws.
Also, the film’s final moments are lacking suspense, and silly to boot. We’re to believe that FitzRoyce -- killed by the shark two-thirds of the way through the film -- is still whole and intact (though not alive) in the shark's mouth, still clutching a grenade for the finale.
So the weapon is right there, on the shark’s tongue, I guess, waiting for Mike to detonate it in time for a happy ending.
Do sharks not chew their food?
Do they just let it sit in their mouths for hours on end, slowly but passively digesting it like a sea-going Sarlacc?
And would not the water loosen the grenade at some point, anyway?
Heck, what about the movements of the shark? Wouldn't they cause the bomb to detonate? And if Fitzroyce's corpse is just lunging there, unchewed inside the shark, how does the shark have room for her next victim?
Let’s just say it’s extremely convenient that when the chips are down, and the shark is in the room with the heroes, that Mike has an easy way to kill it.
Just pull the ring and dive for cover.
One of the few scenes that I liked in Jaws 3-D, or which I felt achieved the desired effect, involves Mike and Kathryn discussing his family history, and the event that changed the Brodys forever: the shark attacks his father dealt with. He talks about the repercussions of those shark attacks in Amity, and the moment serves not just as a call-back to better (and beloved) films, but as an acknowledgment of how a tragedy can change the path of one’s life forever.
But for most of its run, Jaws 3-D is a tired, poorly visualized disaster, with unlikable characters, plenty of clichés, and almost no scares whatsoever.
The film is a suspense-less effort in three dimensions or two. It is unbelievable to me not only that another film in the saga was produced after this floater, but that the follow-up is arguably as bad (if not as dull) as this sequel is.