Tuesday, July 18, 2017

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Year: 1983
Director: Joe Alves
Cast: Dennis Quaid, Bess Armstrong, Simon MacCorkindale
Run Time: 1 hour 39 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG

One of the most common jokes you’ll hear people make when they’re coming up with silly-sounding fake sequel titles is “[Insert Name Here] 2: Electric Boogaloo.” But the second most common joke is “Part 3: In 3-D!,” and that is at least forty percent the fault of Jaws 3-D, which arrived on the scene smack dab in between the releases of Friday the 13th Part 3D and Amityville 3-D. Two titles is a coincidence, but three is a trend, and thus the world will never forget it. That is the one and only way Jaws 3-D has contributed to world cinema.

You’re welcome.

The Brody family must have some issues with object permanence, because Jaws 3-D begins with an average day in the life of Michael Brody (Dennis Quaid), who has moved from Amity Island to the equally oceanbound Florida coast to serve as an engineer at SeaWorld (a real life theme park/aquatic gulag providing some of the most ill-advised product placement in human history).

Although his visiting brother Sean (John Putch, director of American Pie Presents: The Book of Love) still retains a healthy fear of the ocean after surviving two devastating Great White attacks, Michael seems to have forgotten that sharks ever existed, to the point that he shouts “What the hell is that?!” when he spots his newest fishy nemesis for the first time. Also, in the five years since Jaws 2, the Brody bros appear to have aged a decade and a half, so I guess this film takes place in the mid-90’s. Wazaaaap!

Anyway, to nobody’s surprise except Michael’s, a brand new Great White shark descends upon SeaWorld during the grand opening of its new underwater exhibit. It’s up to Michael, his marine biologist girlfriend Dr. Kay (Bess Armstrong), the park’s owner Calvin Bouchard (Louis Gossett Jr.) and random British photographer Phillip Fitzroyce (Simon MacCorkindale, and I don’t know which name is more hilarious), and SeaWorld dolphins Cindy and Sandy to stop it. The movie completely forgets Sean exists after a while. 

Just like his father.

So, a Jaws movie in 3-D. Sounds like an opportunity to really explore that vast undersea environment with newfound depth, right? …You know where I’m going with this. There isn’t an effect in the entire picture that’s not hot garbage, but the 3-D effects especially are hot garbage on a hot tin roof. Really, all it takes to be an amusing 3-D movie is to shove long stuff in the camera until your arms get tired. Friday the 13th did this just fine, commandeering laundry poles, eyeballs, yo-yo’s, and even a harpoon gun (in a gag that’s lifted verbatim by Jaws 3-D) to general delight.

Jaws 3-D doesn’t even seem entirely aware that it’s in 3-D. Sure, water splashes into the camera sometimes, and bloody bits of people and fish float into the middle distance for an uncomfortably long time, but the visual gags are few and far between. Around the end of the second act, the camera just sort of lazily drifts toward any object on set that happens to protrude a little bit. It’s uninteresting to such a degree, it feels almost maliciously intentional.

Somebody on this crew wants my eyes to suffer.

Then there’s the rest of the effects, which seem to go out of their way to be terrible. A submersible vehicle putters across the lagoon in a bad composite effect that would have looked embarrassing in a Star Trek episode, let alone the sequel to a Spielberg movie. Seriously, did this film not have the budget to fill a tank with water and stick a  yellow dinghy in it? This is a goddamn Universal Pictures production, for crying out loud! And if you have to cut a few water ski pyramids to give us good underwater action sequences, you freaking do it!

I can understand the terrible compositing of the shark scenes, because who wants to deal with an actual Great White, but the erratically sped-up stock footage turns it into a Speedy Gonzales cartoon with teeth. Hell, it’s less scary than your average Looney Tunes joint. And don’t get me started on the disastrous, dysfunctional animatronic that can’t even gnash its teeth properly, or those dead eyes that look like glued-on Rolos. The fact that the shark roars like a lion I can actually forgive, because at least it’s amusing in its maniacally piecemeal little way.

But seriously, all I ask of one of these movies is some fun shark kills, and Jaws 3-D doesn’t even come close to clearing that low, low bar.

That bar is so low, it’s in the Mariana Trench.

But a Jaws movie is more than its effects (at least a tiny bit), so let’s stop griping about them. And start griping about the dizzying inscrutable geography of every chase scene. Or the fact that the most visually arresting elements of the movie are the beefcake extras playing non-speaking employees.

There is a modicum of fun to be had here, especially in the warm, sometimes quite sexy relationship between Sean and entertainment staffer Kelly (Lea Thompson), but it’s not enough to keep the entire production afloat. The campiness of 80’s sequeldom keeps trying to creep in along the edges (actual line of dialogue: “He can take a flying leap in a rolling donut on a gravel driveway!”), but it doesn’t quite burst through until the very last scene, which features the hilariously batty and instantly iconic dolphin cheer freeze-frame.

It’s perhaps more genially dumb and thus amusing than the flat-out dull Jaws 2, but watching a crowd of Jurassic Park rejects being menaced by the stiff, unmoving mandibles of death isn’t my idea of a good time. When actual SeaWorld is more horrifying than your thriller film, something has gone terribly awry.

TL;DR: Jaws 3-D is stupid even by the standards of a Jaws sequel.
Rating: 4/10
Word Count: 1000
Reviews In This Series
Jaws (Spielberg, 1975)
Jaws 2 (Szwarc, 1978)
Jaws 3 (Alves, 1983)
Jaws: The Revenge (Sargent, 1987)


  1. "a real life theme park/aquatic gulag providing some of the most ill-advised product placement in human history"

    Ha! And yeah, it's pretty lousy: "Come to SeaWorld! Get eaten by a freaking shark!"

    I do remember liking this one way more Jaws 2: The Yawnening, though. A good movie? I doubt it, but I'll definitely revisit it again one day.

    1. Yeah, I also found that the dumber the sequels got, the more they divested themselves from the original and made themselves more fun to watch.