(Original Air Date: July 22, 1983)
At the time of this writing, I'm 34 years old and I can say in all honesty that the above paragraph actually serves to outline what's wrong with Jaws 3-D... it's the kind of horror movie that appeals to nine year olds. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not insulting the intelligence of nine-year-olds. Hell, I was a smart kid in the gifted program and all that. Looking at what appeals to nine-year-olds and you'll see why this isn't exactly a shining, glowing gold star in the second sequel to Jaws' Column!
That said, it's hard to absolutely detest Jaws 3-D, because it's affable enough, unlike the following film in the fractured, waterlogged series. The actors are cool, the script, well-intentioned and the bikini-clad women are lovely (which is always a bonus). The problem is that Jaws 3-D is massively overproduced and lacking in any of the real edge that made the first one and its premiere sequel so interesting!
The 3D Effects start immediately as the Universal Studios globe shoots forward with a unique and lovely animation. This is soon followed by the title "JAWS III" rocketing at the audience and leaving tracing trails behind it. Cool. It's not long before the credit sequence itself becomes a bit trite in its repetitive use of its gimmick. A fish head hangs on the screen for a long time. Quick thrusts of Jaws' jaws erupt to give us a start. Peaceful underwater scenes turn into bloody clouds of carnage, usually with an obvious second layer to enhance what must have looked really cool on the big screen, way back then. This is only the beginning of the usual employment of the "Thrust Things at the Camera! THIS IS 3D!!!" motif!
That's when we move from the sea world to... SeaWorld... or a close approximation thereof where we are lucky enough to meet up with the familiar offspring of the Brody Family in the form of the now-grown Mike Brody (Dennis Quaid). He's doing well for himself as a high-ranking SeaWorld official in charge of building some of the coolest attractions in theme park history (some of them so spectacular they don't even exist in the real SeaWorld). Even better, he's involved with a cute Marine Biologist named Kathryn Morgan (Bess Armstrong) and he's got his options open for the future. The only thing missing from the package is his baby brother Sean! Luckily he shows up too, in the form of actor John Putch. This, of course, leads to an additional missing piece, that being a love interest for the lil' bro. Luckily we're gifted with the presence of sweet, sweet Lea Thompson whose character Kelly Ann Bukowski spends most of her time in a bikini. Throw in Louis Gossett, Jr. as SeaWorld head Calvin Bouchard (ready to run some lines with Quaid for Enemy Mine) and under-sea adventurer and pre-croc-hunter Shark Chaser Philip FitzRoyce (Simon MacCorkindale) and we round out our list of leads.
Okay, cool, you've got the cast down and that Lea wardrobe is especially working. That's great! But... what about the crew?
Well, after throwing out the original idea for a Planned Parody called Jaws 3 People 0, Universal brought in Guerdon Trueblood (of TV's Automan) and Michael Kane (whose next project, All the Right Moves featured Lea Thompson again... this time in the nude)! Still not impressed? How about one of the writers of both Jaws and Jaws 2, Carl Gottlieb and, best of all, the great, great Richard Matheson to work on Peter Benchley's well-imagined characters? Pretty great, huh? And the director? Oh, how about Bruce The Shark-designer and second unit director of the first two films Joe Alves! Series Veterans AND Richard Matheson? How can we lose?
Well, unless you're nine, somehow you still don't get a great film out of all this.
You see, so that they don't have to change the name of the film, the peaceful and fun tourist destination is soon terrorized by a Killer Shark of the Great White breed. The Park Boss is determined to keep the peace, stay open and hopefully even profit from the whole thing, while the Brodys and their allies are all about saving the day. Sound familiar? Yeah, sounds just like Jaws and (to a lesser extent) Jaws 2! Meanwhile, Kathryn is fascinated by the shark itself and FitzRoyce is already measuring Sea Food Restaurants for places to mount the damned thing once it's dead as a Meg Fossill! But what if there isn't just one shark? What if there's two? Did they think of that? Hmmm?
What follows goes down basically the same as most any sea monster movie or Jaws tributary before or afterward. You've got your midnight kills, your missing persons who turn up dead (as gross, but obviously plastic mannequins) later on, your reality-challenged Boss in Charge and your unsuspecting vacationing swimmers who might as well have the words "Purina Shark Chow! Chow, Chow, Chow!" sewn on their swim-trunks. The only real difference is the backdrop and setting which, on occasion, feel like parts of an infomercial for or documentary about SeaWorld and the GROOVY attractions they have (fictional though many may have been). Case in point: a tour through Seaworld's underwater tunnels feels a lot like one of those Wonderful World of Disney episodes when the Osmonds tour Disneyland and talk about how great everything is. Shamu is even name-checked by Quaid's character.
Then we get into the special effects. While the shark effects are acceptably good (leaps and BOUNDS above those in the mind-numbingly bad Jaws: The Revenge), they're also nothing super-impressive. That said, the original Jaws was an enormous critical and commercial success with only scant views of the shark (which spent most of its time malfunctioning). Aside from the main attraction, however, we're given some underwater sequences that look less like shots from a high-profile Universal Pictures release and more like something out of the 1965 Puppet TV Show Thunderbirds! Again, 9 year olds may still eat these scenes up. Poorly matted-in little subs may have looked cooler on the big screen in 3-D, but today they come off like Fisher Price toys dangled in front of an old Zenith TV and shot on your grandpa's Super 8. I did a few double takes to make sure I was still watching the same movie. The climactic finale works pretty well with a huge, animatronic shark (which makes good work of the claustrophobic space the ending takes place in), but the miniature that doubles as the accompanying underwater outside shot looks terrible and completely out of place. Of course, in 3-D, the bad matting might have been excusable, as it could (theoretically) have enhanced the illusion that the multiple layers were just that, different depths in a large picture. The problem is, this seems to be used not just as a crutch but somehow also as a misguided asset. It almost feels as if the effects team worked hard on one experiment, then said "This will look FANTASTIC in 3-D!" without considering how it might look otherwise. Right on up until the last moments, we're given more objects that thrust out for the audience to try to catch and then they simply linger there clearly not as part of the main picture, but hanging around in the alternate reality of a second layer.
To be fair, it would be wise to go a little easy on this film in hindsight, as 3-D technology has certainly advanced since the film debuted by creeps and zounds. At the time of Jaws III's release the effects were as cutting edge as the title character's molars. Further, the currently available home video releases of Jaws 3 are not in their 3-D presentation, so some of the multi-layered moments that might have looked really cool in the original presentation might look quite, quite lame instead. And, as I said, they do. How ironic that a multi-layered image of the deep sea lacks depth!
It's just too bad, too. Jaws 2 accomplished the remarkable feat of fathoming a Horror Sequel that was not only different from the blockbuster original, but also pretty good in its own right. With modern effects and a quality cast, not to mention the superb pen of Richard Matheson, Jaws 3-D should have been the film that continued a great legacy and kept the ball rolling for a classic, if repetitive, saga. Instead Jaws 3-D sinks and instead of becoming a fin above the rest it stands as a documented reason not to make sequels to classic horror films, especially from Universal!
I don't know what makes me feel worse, the fact that I'm bagging on Jaws 3-D or the fact that part of me still kind of likes it. Yeah, back then I was one of the (almost) 9 year olds who threw his hands in the air to catch those teeth that flew from the screen at us. Now days my reaction looks a lot less like "The Wave" and a lot more like a shake of the head and an eye-roll. Trust me on this one, if you're going to watch Jaws 3-D for any reason whatsoever, please make the time to watch Jaws: The Revenge immediately afterward. By comparison Jaws 3-D will feel like a shining example of brilliant American filmmaking instead of the flotsam and jetsam it actually is! Be that as it may (and most assuredly is), Jaws 3-D is flotsam and jetsam worth Two Stars out of Five! Every time I started to think "Maybe this is worth Two and a Half." I noticed the lame Thunderbirds-like effects and anything-but-seamless matting. Maybe if the suits at Universal had stayed hands off, this one might have breached the surface of high quality. Instead another classic horror series is waterlogged. I'll see you survivors in the Next Reel!
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