****GREAT WHITE SPOILERS AHEAD!!****
1975’s “JAWS” (1975), directed by then-wunderkind filmmaker Steven Spielberg, is simply one of the greatest movies ever made— a perfect synthesis of drama, horror, action and adventure which ushered in the era of the ‘summer blockbuster.’ The movie was smartly adapted from Peter Benchley’s bestseller novel by Benchley himself, with a major overhaul by actor/writer Carl Gottlieb (“MASH”), as well a few brilliant improvisations from the cast (“You’re gonna need a bigger boat”). Roy Scheider is Martin Brody, the newly minted police chief of the fictional New England community of Amity Island. Amity has a shark problem. Over the objections of greedy Mayor Vaughn (Murray Hamilton), Chief Brody recruits young ichthyologist Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) and bitter war veteran shark hunter Quint (Robert Shaw in an Oscar-worthy performance) to deal with the situation. The three characters make for a perfect trifecta of personalities, as they head out to the open sea to hunt this great white threat to the island.
The combination of the actors’ chemistry, John Williams (“Star Wars”) amazing music, living-breathing editing by Verna (‘Mother Cutter’) Fields, and elegant cinematography by Bill Butler is nothing short of magic. “JAWS” has (according to boxofficemojo.com) raked in $260,000 million in box office grosses and is one of those rare movies that truly surpasses the hype surrounding it. While the shark of the film blows up in the admittedly preposterous climax, that didn’t stop producers Daryl Zanuck and Richard Zanuck from getting to work on a sequel…
Just When You Thought It Was Safe… (1978).
“JAWS 2” came out three years later, and was a somewhat troubled production right out of the gate. While the newly commissioned mechanical shark props functioned smoother than their troublesome predecessors, the movie itself would never live up to the classic status of its multi-Oscar winning predecessor. Realizing this built-in limitation, “JAWS 2” chooses to go in a slightly different direction, focusing primarily on Amity’s youth culture instead of the town’s corrupt bureaucracy. While never in danger of outdoing the 1975 classic, the sequel still has much to offer, including returning original cast members Roy Scheider, Murray Hamilton, Lorraine Gary (“Ellen Brody”) and Jeffrey Kramer (“Deputy Hendricks”). Original cinematographer Bill Butler would return, as would Oscar-winner John Williams, who created a very different yet equally compelling new score. The return of these valued elements helped buoy the sequel well the water line.
Sorely missing, however, were Robert Shaw (who sadly passed away that same year) and Richard Dreyfuss, who was too heavily involved in Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” to return for new director Jeannot Szwarc (“The Night Gallery”). After some pacing issues with its meandering middle act (editor Verna Fields is missed), the climax of the movie focuses on a group of sailboating Amity teens in peril (including Brody’s kids) instead of a dedicated shark hunt. Following up a mega-hit like “JAWS” was a daunting challenge, yet “JAWS 2” made a (then) respectable box office haul of $77 million worldwide. Of the four films in the JAWS franchise, “JAWS 2” is the only one that feels like a legitimate sequel to Spielberg’s classic.
JAWS III/JAWS 3D (1983).
Confession time. I’m a lifelong JAWS fan, but I’ve never seen JAWS 3-D theatrically. I first saw “JAWS III” (as it self-identified) on my old 20 inch Sony Trinitron via a muddy, heavily-edited TV print. This was back in 1992 or so, and that was my first, worst impression of the movie; a schlocky sequel not worthy of further attention. Over this past weekend, I noticed that it was still running on HBO Max (along with the other JAWS movies), so I decided to give it a second chance. Well what a difference a clean, widescreen HD print makes. While the sparkling new transfer didn’t exactly turn JAWS 3-D (restored title) into Oscar material, it better allowed me to appreciate it for what it is—an unapologetic B-movie that delights in being nothing more than a gimmicky, silly monster flick. To quote Seinfeld, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that…”
Taking place in a Florida water park instead of the fictional Amity Island, the movie automatically sets an entirely different tone than its predecessors. Showing a group of water skiers rehearsing for the ‘big show,’ this is a movie that’s all about entertainment and entertainment only. Director Joe Alves helms the movie with a shaky confidence not unlike the water skiers forming their unstable human pyramid. The music by Alan Parker is a major step down from John Williams, though it wisely retains Williams’ original cues for the shark. Cinematographer James Contner shot this native 3D film using uniquely ’80s optical processes that left 3-D movies with fuzzy edges and/or rainbow ‘haloing’ artifacts around foreground objects and people. You’ll see this in other 3D-to-2D converted films of the time, such as “Friday the 13th Part 3” or “Parasite” (not to be confused with the recent Korean Oscar winner). The effect is similar to wearing glasses that don’t quite match one’s prescription. So if the movie looks a little ‘weird’ at times, you’ll know why.
Note: One of the earliest ideas pitched for “JAWS 3-D” was a MAD magazine-style parody called “JAWS 3, PEOPLE 0.” While I’m grateful the series didn’t go the “Airplane!” route, the next sequel, “JAWS 4: The Revenge” (1987), would be arguably worse; despite its stronger connection to the events of the first two films.
Park engineer Mike Brody (Dennis Quaid), son of JAWS’ Martin Brody, is dating the park’s senior dolphin expert and trainer, Kay Morgan (Bess Armstrong). The two notice the flurry of media attention surrounding the park’s manager, Calvin Bouchard (Oscar winner Louis Gossett Jr), who is hyping things up for the opening of the parks new multimillion dollar undersea attraction which allows visitors to experience marine life of the open sea from the safety of pressurized tunnels and observation lounges/restaurants. The slick, media-friendly Bouchard is clearly the Mayor Vaughn of this film. Bouchard watches proudly as the skiers head back within the park’s water gates, which separate it from the open sea… unaware that a great white shark has followed them in.
Note: Louis Gossett Jr, like JAWS 4 costar Michael Caine, was a recent Oscar winner when he appeared in JAWS 3-D. Gossett played tough-as-nails Naval Gunnery Sergeant Emil Foley in 1982’s “An Officer and a Gentleman.” His performance in that film was a force of nature. No matter how many questionable career choices he’s made since then (the “Iron Eagle” movies), nothing can take away from Gossett’s amazing performance as Sgt. Foley.
Later that evening, Shelby (Harry Grant), one of Mike’s welders for the park, is finishing work on the gates surrounding the new undersea attraction. The sun sets over the ocean, and the welder is working below the water at night. Cue shark theme. Pretty sure you know what happens next…
Note: The ridiculously obvious ‘in-your-face’ 3D effects are also part of its post-3D charm, as when Shelby’s severed arm floats towards the camera with laughably thick matte lines surrounding it. There are many such ‘pop-out’ moments throughout the film, including a leaping frog, a harpoon being fired directly into the camera, and the shark’s teeth floating right off the screen after it’s blown to smithereens. Good times. Enjoy the popcorn.
The next morning, Mike is blissfully unaware of Shelby’s fate when he checks up on Kay, who’s riding cowgirl-style on a killer whale (after the death of a real-life Sea World at Orlando trainer in 2010, this scene feels a lot more dangerous). Mike tells Kathryn that he has a new career opportunity in South America. Not knowing exactly how it will impact their relationship and careers, the two agree to talk about it later. Mike and Kay’s dilemma is interrupted by Ethel (Lisa Maurel), the angry live-in girlfriend of Shelby. Ethel is peeved that her welder beau didn’t come home last night, and she’s worried he’s got a cheatin’ heart. Mike assures her that Shelby probably got drunk and is sleeping it off in the park somewhere (because being an untrustworthy alcoholic is much better, I guess…?). Dissatisfied with his own explanation, Mike does a bit of digging later on and learns that Shelby left behind his wallet, ID and credit cards. If he ran out on Ethel, he didn’t go far…
Note: Something very strange to me about the casting of openly Texan actor Dennis Quaid as Mike Brody, the New York-born son of Amity Island police chief Martin Brody. In his scenes with trainer girlfriend Kay, Quaid wears a cowboy hat, makes jokes about his ‘spurs,’ and seems to telegraph the fact that he is from Texas… never mind that his character of Mike Brody was neither born nor raised in Texas. I don’t know if the Texas cowboy schtick was an improvisation of the actor, but it’s very much at odds with the character’s bio from the previous two movies. The character of Mike Brody changes forms about as much as John Connor does in the Terminator sequels. This is one of the many reasons the movie feels so loosely connected with its predecessors, which can be seen as both a good and bad thing.
Mike and Kay take a mini-submarine to scout around the new undersea attraction’s parameters in search of the missing welder. Stopping at the attraction’s sunken Spanish galleon, they don’t find any signs of Shelby, but they are chased by a 10 foot great white shark. Realizing they can’t get back to the sub quickly enough, Mike and Kay are then rescued by her two trained dolphins, Cindy and Sandy. Awwww….
Note: The visual effects of the submarine tour of the new complex are some of the worst I’ve ever seen in a post-Star Wars film. The matting of the sub against the miniature undersea attraction (shot in smoke-for-water) looks about as convincing as something from 1974’s “Land of the Lost” TV series, with blue screen spill causing some of the sub to literally disappear on-camera. Once again, if you are forgiving of such cheesiness, you’ll have a much better time with this movie going forward. There are many other such “money shots” later on that are just as laughably bad. Such inexcusably terrible optical FX only add to the movie’s camp appeal.
Following their harrowing rescue by the dolphins, Mike and Kay breathlessly tell of their undersea shark encounter with Bouchard, who is busy schmoozing it up with world-renowned shark hunter Philip FitzRoyce (Simon McCorkindale) and his surly assistant Jack Tate (P.H. Moriarty). Kay tells Bouchard that the shark is contained within the park, posing a threat to all of the marine life safely inhabiting it. FitzRoyce offers to kill the pesky new arrival in exchange for live-TV coverage. Kay comes up with an equally bad idea; how about keeping the great white shark in captivity for the benefit of paid human gawkers instead? Bouchard is swayed by Kay’s argument and plans are made to sedate the great white and transfer it to another section of the park. Needless to say, attempts to revive the shark following its stressful sedation fail, and the animal dies later on. Nice going, Kay…
Note: Really hard to listen to either Kay or Philip’s rationales with modern sensibilities, given the great white shark’s current status as a protected species. One of the reasons that great white sharks have never been captured is because it would be cruel to box in an apex predator that uses thousands of miles of open ocean as its backyard. 38 years later, Kay’s suggestion to contain the wild animal sounds just about as cruel as Philip’s plan to kill it on camera for a live TV audience.
A subplot is tacked onto the film involving Mike’s kid brother Sean (John Putch), who has just flown in from the University of Colorado to visit. Immediately attracting the park’s water skiing star Kelly (Lea Thompson of “Back to the Future” fame), Sean goes on a double-date with Mike and Kay. Over dinner, waitress Ethel pays them a visit and angrily demands to know what’s become of Shelby. Mike tells her he doesn’t know. Later, Sean sneaks off to do a bit of late-night swimming with a bikini-clad Kelly. The crazy kids are later spotted by Mike and Kay, who scare the two by pretending to be park rangers (hardy har-har).
Over a carefully planned breakfast of product-placement (Tropicana orange juice, Wheaties cereal, etc) the two Brody boys discuss their lives, their past in Amity and the present situation with their women-folk. It’s a bit weird that Sean is already college-age in 1983 when he was only about six years old back in 1975. By math, he should be about 14 years old in this film, which would make his seduction by Kelly 100 times more creepy…
Note: It’s when Sean Brody comes to visit that the movie tries to strengthen its JAWS connection. Sean still has considerable trauma over his childhood spent in Amity Island, hence the reason he goes to school in Colorado—to be as far from the ocean as geographically possible. This is the one of the few scenes in the sequel to attempt any connection with either “JAWS” or “JAWS 2.” JAWS 3-D could’ve just as easily been made with no JAWS connection whatsoever, and the entire subplot with Sean (which ultimately goes nowhere) could’ve been dropped. These omissions might’ve freed this campy, silly monster movie from the formidable shadow of “JAWS.“
The park’s undersea attraction opens, and the tourists come flooding in (excuse the pun). As the guests ooh and ah in the undersea tunnel ways, the half-eaten head of welder Shelby floats by a portal, making a grisly appearance for the crowd! Pulling Shelby’s remains from the water, Kay does a quick check on the corpse’s wounds, and determines that the shark which killed Shelby was at least 35 feet in length (?!). She also surmises it was probably the mother of the shark they killed in captivity (don’t ask). It further dawns on Kay that this giant shark is somewhere within the confines of the park…
Note: Kay’s quick autopsy on Shelby’s remains is, of course, a nod to Hooper’s autopsy on the remains of ill-fated swimmer Chrissy Watkins in the first film. The Shelby corpse prop is truly grotesque, and is one of the most hideous bits of trauma-fuel in the film. The 3D effects of severed body parts floating in water are laughably unconvincing, but the corpse prop is so well done it that it looks right out of “The Walking Dead.”
This mother of all sharks (all 35 ft/11 meters of her) soon makes her appearance known, stalking a group of water skiers in full view of a live audience. Skiing star Kelly just happened to be on her break at this exact moment, of course, but she is in just as great a danger as the skiers, as we soon see…
Note: There is simply no such thing as a 35 ft. great white shark; that’s as preposterous as a 17 ft. tall NBA basketball player. The largest great white sharks ever reported were closer to 21 ft. at most. A 35 ft. shark would more likely be an undiscovered species, or perhaps a surviving megalodon, the prehistoric predecessor to the great white which was believed to grow as large as a modern whale shark (30-60 ft). I’m no ichthyologist, but I would sooner believe either of those explanations over a 35 ft. great white.
Meanwhile, as Kelly and Sean’s subplot goes nowhere fast, the two are floating in the pond on rubber rafts, attempting smalltalk. She tries to cheer up her aqua-phobic boyfriend just as the s#!t begins to hit the fan. Sean’s hysterical brother Mike grabs an announcer’s megaphone and screams like a madman for everyone to get out of the lagoon right NOW. Sean and Kelly jump from their slow moving raft into the water, as the great white bites deeply into her leg! Sean overcomes his fear of the ocean to help rescue his girlfriend, and later volunteers to ride with her in the ambulance, leaving brother Mike to deal with the giant great white shark loose in the water. This is Sean’s exit from the movie as well.
Note: While the scenes of Sean helping wounded girlfriend Kelly are nice, their entire subplot only slows down the middle act of the film. This movie really doesn’t have much for them to do, and their romance kinda goes nowhere. “JAWS 4: The Revenge” would seemingly omit JAWS 3-D from the admittedly shaky JAWS canon entirely, as Sean Brody is seen following in his late dad’s footsteps to become Amity’s new police chief (so much for his fear of the ocean). Older brother Mike also changes faces and careers, inexplicably going from construction engineer to ichthyologist (like Matt Hooper). In JAWS 4, ichthyologist Mike (sans Texas accent, and played by “The Last Starfighter” actor Lance Guest) is now studying sharks in the Bahamas with his wife and daughter. Mike’s wife isn’t Kay, either.
As Bouchard woos potential investors in the park’s underwater lounge, Kay and Mike plead their case for him to shut down and evacuate the water park right NOW. Much like Mayor Vaughn in “JAWS,” Bouchard doesn’t want to recognize the danger “until it bites (him) in the ass.” This it nearly does, as the mother shark makes an appearance outside the glass of the undersea lounge, quickly browning the underpants of its wealthy patrons. Meanwhile, FitzRoyce and his partner Jack hatch a plan to destroy the shark by trapping it in one of the pipes and destroying it with a grenade. The plan goes to hell, of course, as FitzRoyce is swallowed whole by the shark—the grenade still clenched in his dead hand (don’t ask—movie). Mike and Kay then don wetsuits and go into the tunnel themselves and do whatever they can. Bouchard then makes the questionable decision to shut down the water pumps into the tunnel; in the hope of suffocating the shark, instead of simply blowing it up. This plan fails too, of course, and the shark breaks free and goes after Kay and Mike—but they are rescued by Kay’s dolphins Cindy and Sandy once again.
Note: This part of the movie gets a bit mired in its own technobabble about reversing pressure to the pumps, blah, blah, blah. JAWS 3-D sometimes lacks the visceral power of the first movie’s shark hunt or even the second movie’s flotilla of teenage boaters. I can certainly get the movie’s intention to bring the giant shark’s wake of destruction into the ‘high tech wonderland’ of Sea World (c. 1983), but it lacks the more primitive, firsthand survival drama of its predecessors. 2016’s “The Shallows” (starring Blake Lively) did a fantastic job of bringing back that human vs. predator danger lacking in the latter two JAWS sequels.
Making their way back to the undersea attraction’s control room, Mike, Kay, Bouchard and the various technicians watch in horror as mama shark swims towards them and shatters the window to the booth! The control booth floods rapidly, as the ravenous mother shark tries to munch on a technician or two as well.
Note: Remember what I said earlier about JAWS 3-D’s cheesy effects and subpar visuals? The scene of the 35 ft. great white shark shattering the glass to the control booth is the mother of all cheesiness. It’s so cheesy it could top a pizza. This ‘money shot’ sees a terribly unconvincing dry-for-wet panel of breaking glass optically printed over a heavily-matted shark miniature. Watched in HD, you can see the shark literally freeze in place for a second after it breaks through, as the FX artists clearly had no idea how to transition this scene from dry to instantly submerged. The shot has since become a universal GIF/meme for cinematic gaffes. It is also the unintentionally funniest scene in the entire film, since the actors build the tension up to a ridiculously high level. If you don’t have a good laugh at this scene, then I can’t help you. Say what you will about the rest of the movie, but the shark shattering the control booth’s glass is pure camp gold. I say without reservation that it’s my single favorite moment of the film.
Sharing the now-flooded control booth with the snapping head of the 35 footer, Mike and Kay are only temporarily safe because the behemoth fish can’t fit its entire body into the relatively small space. As the shark’s gaping jaws snap open and closed, Kay and Mike see the bobbing corpse of FitzRoyce inside, the bright yellow grenade still clenched in his “cold, dead hand.” Mike pulls the pin and the two of them swim away just as the show blows itself into a red cloud of floating fish matter and teeth…
Note: Like the shattered control booth glass moments earlier, the shot of dismembered shark bits (including the titular ‘jaws’) floating in 3D toward the camera after the grenade goes off is hilariously inept. But at this point in the movie it doesn’t matter, because it’s just so wildly entertaining. Grab some crackers, sit back and enjoy the cheese…
Kay and Mike flee the submerged control booth and reach the surface of the water. Searching the horizon, Kay wonders aloud if dolphins Cindy and Sandy swam clear of the grenade’s blast in time. Pessimist Mike thinks her two dolphin friends are goners until they jubilantly breach the water and jump in the warm rays of the sunset…
Note: The final freeze-frame image of the twin dolphins breaching the water near Kay and Mike at sunset is another obvious 3D shot (take a drink). The twin creatures are clearly mirrored images of the same dolphin placed on opposite ends of the screen. They are also wildly out of scale with the human actors in the background of the shot, making Kay and Mike appear as giants. This final shot is so laughably incompetent that it almost feels as if the producers got their wish and made their parody of “JAWS 3, PEOPLE 0” after all. Yes, it’s bad, but in an entertaining, Ed Wood kind of way…
Directed by “JAWS” production designer Joe Alves, “JAWS 3-D” was written by legendary horror author/screenwriter Richard Matheson (“Stir of Echoes,” “I Am Legend,” “Hell House”) and a returning Carl Gottlieb. This second sequel has its roots in 1950s and 1960s monster movies, borrowing specific beats and plot points from a couple of B-movie classics.
“Revenge of the Creature” was the 1955 sequel to the 1954 Universal monster classic, “The Creature from the Black Lagoon.” While the original “Creature” feature took place entirely on an expeditionary hunt in the Amazon, the sequel would sedate and capture the monster in its first act; delivering the creature to the fictional “Ocean Harbor Oceanarium” (aka Sea World in Florida). In addition to the similar Sea World settings of both, there are other visual nods to “Revenge of the Creature” as well—such as Mike and Kay trying to revive the baby shark by floating it in a shallow pool, or the larger shark terrifying the park guests. JAWS 3-D and the first two “Creature” movies were all filmed in 3D (though the “Creature” films used a less sophisticated, red/blue anaglyph system for black and white film stock).
Another source of unofficial inspiration is 1961’s “Gorgo,” the British answer to the Japanese Godzilla films, which features American actor William Sylvester (“2001: A Space Odyssey”) among a crew of fishermen who capture a large, ocean-dwelling dinosaur for exhibition in a London circus. The creature turns out to be a youngster, whose colossal, building-sized mother eventually comes ashore to retrieve her baby. JAWS 3-D’s central story is essentially a one-for-one remake of “Gorgo,” with the captured 10 ft. “baby” great white shark being avenged by its 35 ft. mother. “Gorgo” sheds a more sympathetic light on its creature than most monster movies, with Mama Gorgo eventually being allowed to escort her traumatized offspring back to sea. Regrettably, JAWS 3-D shows no such mercy for its creature, as the movie ends with the titular beast being blown to hell by the dead FitzRoyce’s grenade when Mike pulls the pin. Such wanton destruction of now-protected great white sharks is one of the (many) reasons a remake/reboot of the JAWS movies simply would not work in the 21st century.
JAWS 3-D ultimately retools these familiar B-monster movie elements with a layer of 1980s glitz and just the teensiest nods to Peter Benchley’s classic. Though clearly not in the same depth as its two predecessors, JAWS 3-D takes the series down another league into even murkier B-movie waters. If a viewer is willing to ignore this movie’s greater lineage and uneven execution, JAWS 3D is wonderfully goofy, silly entertainment. It goes down well with popcorn and perhaps even a few beers (its now flattened 3D pop-out visual gimmicks could make for an at-home drinking game, as viewers take a swig whenever they see an obvious ‘pop-out’ effect). As with “JAWS 2,” there are some pacing issues in the middle act, but the shorter 99 minute running time isn’t too taxing.
Smartly, this movie never steps on the fins of its classier predecessors, choosing instead to revel in its less-ambitious, ‘B-monster movie’ status. If you don’t dwell too deeply on its flaws, you may find yourself having a surprisingly good time with JAWS 3-D.
Just when you thought it was safe to go online…
If you’re a JAWS fan who is active on social media (Twitter, Instagram, FaceBook), you owe it to yourself to pay the good folks at TheDailyJaws a visit. Two UK-based JAWS fans, Ross & Dean, run the site, which the largest JAWS fan group online. The site’s social media outlets host daily trivia and other challenges for JAWS fans to enjoy. Whenever I’m having a lousy morning after reading the news, a quick visit to their Twitter or Instagram accounts (filled with wonderful JAWS puns) always makes me laugh. Their home site also features interviews with people associated with JAWS, such as writer Carl Gottlieb and actor Ian Shaw, the son of the late Robert Shaw (Ian does an uncanny impression of his pop, too!).
TheDailyJaws’ articles on all four JAWS films and other related subjects (such as real-world sharks) are clever and thoughtful. If you’re a JAWS fan, give their site a visit and be sure to check out their JAWS “WeMake” as well; a labor of love that features JAWS fans from all over the world recreating nearly every single moment in the first JAWS movie. It’s three barrels of fun! Check it out here:
“JAWS 3-D” (along with the other JAWS movies) can be currently streamed in HD via HBO Max. To my readers, I once again wish you and all of your loved ones good health and strength during the current coronavirus pandemic. The current number of COVID-related deaths in the United States are around 547,000 as of this writing. Meanwhile, several vaccines have been developed and inoculations have began in earnest (I myself have already received my first shot of the Moderna vaccine), but it will take time for herd immunity. Even with vaccines, the overall situation is far from safe. Many questions remain regarding the coronavirus variants, or if vaccines fully prevent unwitting transmission from an asymptomatic carrier. So for the time being, please continue to practice social safe-distancing as often as you can, wear masks in public, and avoid overly crowded outings as much as possible. Some theaters promise safety for their screenings, but the CDC guidelines currently don’t advise indoor dining or indoor theaters, so please bear that in mind.
Take care and be safe.