The Ninjabot

Oh, the Horror: Looking Back at Jaws 3-D

Posted on November 15, 2014 at 7:12 pm by Nathan Tolle

jaws 2Many years ago when Bravo ran their Top 100 Scariest Movie Moments special, a majority of us surely predicted that the number one slot would be reserved for The Exorcist, but it ended up going to another 70’s film that’s equally revered among film historians, critics, horror fans, and the general public. Much like The Exorcist, Jaws is one of the genre’s greatest achievements, deservedly placed on a pedestal so high that hopefully nobody will ever be able to reach high enough to even attempt a remake. From the sunrise attack on Chrissy (which is the scene that Bravo chose to declare as the scariest movie moment ever) to Brody and Hooper kicking towards shore under an audience of seagulls, Jaws is as entertaining and flawless a movie you’ll find, and not a single moment has lost any impact after 40 years. As celebrated and sacred as Jaws and The Exorcist were, it wasn’t long until sequels started coming that threatened to derail their legacy. However, unlike the disastrous Exorcist II: The Heretic, Jaws 2 was actually a pretty decent movie, mostly thanks to a slew of beloved returning characters (the Brody’s, Mayor Vaughn, and many Amity locals) , and a couple brilliant action scenes that somehow managed to rival the suspense of the original.

Yes, it was over-the-top and a little goofy, but I think that was a smart approach because the layer of mystery to the shark had already been peeled away: there was no point in hiding it from the cameras since we already knew what it looked like and what it was capable of, so this time the shark got a lot of screen time and it mostly looked very convincing, even when it was chewing on the side of a helicopter. I’m not sure people really appreciated what a fun and exciting summer shark movie Jaws 2 was until Part 3 came along, which incorrectly prognosticated that the third dimension was terror. At this point, Jaws 3-D has taken more whippings than The Wet Bandits and you’ll have a very hard time finding somebody to passionately defend it.

Due to a successful theatrical re-release of House of Wax in 3-D and decent showings for low-budgeted 3-D pictures like the futuristic Parasite, director Steve Miner and producer Frank Mancuso Jr. were influenced to try something different for the third installment of the Friday the 13th franchise. It was clear that adults were enjoying the nostalgic experience of once again wearing those glasses that brought them much happiness on Saturday afternoons in the era of William Castle, and that kids were excited to see severed limbs and monsters leap off the screens to touch them. Friday the 13th Part III, which promised a new dimension in terror, was the movie to finally knock Steven Spielberg’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial from the #1 slot at the Box Office, where it had been champion for an astonishing 16 weeks. After this, two more popular, established horror franchises, Jaws and The Amityville Horror, took advantage of 3-D’s resurgence for their respective part 3’s. Jaws 3-D was the one to earn the most money but it also, for good reason, received the harshest criticisms.

jaws 3We lose hope in for Jaws 3 almost immediately thanks to some awfully lame title credits and the silly sight of a freshly severed, still-gulping guppy head taking about 20-seconds to come closer and closer to the camera. Making matters worse is the godawful music that sounds more appropriate for a Michael Bay trailer, which fails to set any kind of mood other than annoyance. There is no breathtaking beauty beneath the surface and we never get a sense of just how spooky and mysterious the ocean is. Instead what we get is murky, muddy, blurry water and the occasional crab. When you compare this opening to the unforgettably horrifying opening to the original, or even the hypnotic, psychedelic beauty from Part 2’s, it’s just depressing, and it only gets worse from here.

The failed technology continues to take center stage throughout the 99-minute running time, so without interesting characters or dramatic storylines, all we’re doing is waiting for these moments when the corny music suddenly gets louder and props are thrown at us with as much precision as dangling plastic toys in front of a baby. How can a movie carrying the prestigious Jaws name have nothing more to offer than this? It’s shocking how far away we are from Amity Island in both proximity and tone. Does Jaws 3 get anything right? Well, the dolphins, named Cindy and Sandy, are really cute, and it’s hard not to crack a smile when the pretty, perky Bess Armstrong does a pantomime dance with a Shamu, the killer whale.

While most of the shark scenes are unconvincing and bland, there is one unforgettable attack that wisely places us inside of the shark’s mouth, where the dashing, pompous British undersea explorer (played by Philip FitzRoyce) is trapped inside, trying to sneak out of the opening-and-closing jaws before being swallowed whole, but the slippery conditions inside are making an escape improbably unless the shark happens to yawn. This makes up for a previous scene in which the mother shark chases after a pyramid of water skiers—about ten people in total—and once they all tumble down into the water, supposedly right in front of the shark, none of them suffer so much as a stubbed toe.

The Undersea Kingdom, equipped with fog machines and animatronic tentacles, is the kind of ideal setting that any horror movie would be lucky to have, and if that monotonic, robotic voice that gives instructions to the tourists had been used at the right times, it could have had the same effect as the elevator music in Dawn of the Dead. It’s a real shame the movie didn’t do a better job of exploring the possibilities of a great white shark hunting people trapped inside an underwater funhouse. And the concept itself, of all hell breaking loose in SeaWorld when a killer shark preys upon the staff and the visitors, is one hell of a terrific idea so it’s baffling how much of a crushing bore Jaws 3 turned out to be.

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It’s hard to muster any interest in any of the characters in Jaws 3, even when two of them carry the sacred last name Brody; this is not a knock on the actors because they aren’t given any scenes to shine. Not even Sean Brody (played by John Putch), who was apparently so disturbed by the events in the previous two films that he had the sense to move to the non-coastal state of Colorado, gets to display any real range of emotions other than playful cockiness. Played by Dennis Quaid, the character of Michael “No Overtime” Brody is surprisingly one-dimensional—I’m not expecting him to come close to matching the nuances, pathos, or chemistry of Chief Brody, Matt Hooper, or Quint, but I can’t think of a single time in the entire movie I was rooting for him. He and his girlfriend are the kind of obnoxious couple that nobody wants to be around, reminiscent of Jerry & Schmoopie in Seinfeld due to their constant public displays of affection.

Bess Armstrong fares much better playing the girlfriend, SeaWorld trainer, and big-hearted supporter of the captured great white shark. Even when unintentionally hilarious things are taking place, such as the infamous scene where the motionless shark slowly crashes through the seaquarium, Armstrong gives it her all and looks like a consummate professional. I am guessing that Louis Gossett Jr.’s character of Calvin Bouchard, the immaculately-dressed President of SeaWorld, was supposed to garner the same kinds of reactions as Murray Hamilton did playing Mayor Vaughn in the previous two Jaws films: a decent and highly-respected man who sometimes forgets to use common sense when money in an issue, and will often side with profits over protection of the public.

At first, Mayor Vaughn was a character we loved to hate, but then discovered that he was a deeply complex character whose humanity would be showcased even more in the sequel, as he became one of the last defenders of Chief Brody, whom everyone else believed was too bonkers to keep his job. Even while behaving like a slimy, corrupt politician, there was something intrinsically warm and lovable about him. We should despise him for mugging to the camera and announcing that a “a large predator that supposedly injured some bathers” has been caught to try and lure as many people-as-possible to potentially dangerous waters, after being told that doing so would be practically ringing the dinner bell for a shark even larger than the one that was hanging from its buster browns. However, Hamilton is just so damn entertaining at playing this part that we can’t help but smile every time he’s on screen.

Last week I watched Jaws 3-D for maybe the fifth time in my life, and I still have no idea what to really think of Calvin Bouchard. Even worse, I can’t remember a single line of his that stood out or even a specific moment that taught me anything significant about his character. Surely he was intended to be more than a power-hungry boss who knows the correct way to hold cigar? It’s hard to place any blame on Louis Gossett Jr. because just three months before Jaws 3-D hit theaters, he walked down the aisles of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion to join Susan Sarandon and Christopher Reeve on stage as he accepted his Best Supporting Actor award for playing Sgt. Emil Foley in An Officer and a Gentleman. He managed to beat Charles Durning, John Lithgow, James Mason, and Robert Preston, and unlike Michael Caine four years later, got to accept his prestigious award in person. Michael Caine was unable to attend the Academy Awards in 1987 when he also won for Best Supporting Actor (for Woody Allen’s Hannah and Her Sisters) because he was stuck in the Bahamas filming Jaws: The Revenge.

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While its $13.4 million haul on opening weekend clearly showed that interest in the series was waning, it still managed to swallow the competition whole to become the #1 movie. The great white shark would get another chance to swim, and after being confined in the cramped SeaWorld, this time it would stretch out its gills and make it from Amity Island, New York to the Bahamas for Jaws: The Revenge, a film even more incomprehensible and silly than its predecessor, but at least its third dimension was hilarity.

Jaws: The Revenge falls into that “what were they thinking?” category due to its utterly preposterous plot, poor editing choices, ill-advised dream sequences, and for missing key shots in what should be really important scenes, making them incoherent. You gather from reading the synopsis that this was meant to be a spoof on Jaws because of how can anyone take seriously the idea of a great white shark having a psychic link to the Brody family and being able to follow them on their 1,300-mile-long flight?

Not withstanding the idiotic storyline, the characters in part 4 are so much more believable and interesting then the SeaWorld staff; Lance Guest (who horror fans should know from Halloween II) gives a strong performance as Michael Brody, who of course works as a marine biologist. His little brother, Sean, chose to follow in his father’s footsteps and become chief of police on Amity Island. Played by Mitchell Anderson, this character earns our affection immediately, making what happens to him so early in the film such a ballsy and shocking move. With his arm suddenly missing and excruciating screams being drowned out by a children’s chorus singing carols, this is one of the most intense moments of the entire series. It was a smart move to set the movie during the Christmas season—a time not particularly associated with shark attacks—because it adds to the nostalgia of seeing Amity Island again after all these years. Also contributing to the nostalgia is seeing Lorraine Gary reprising her role of Ellen, who, after losing her husband to a heart attack and her youngest son to a shark attack, refuses to lose her other son so she repeatedly pleads with him to quit his job. Michael reminds her that he works in the warm waters of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas, a place that great white sharks have no interest in until Mrs. Brody pays her son a visit.

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I know Jaws: The Revenge deserved each lashing it received from the critics and moviegoers, but the bar was set so low from Part 3 that this is at least an improvement in every way, except perhaps the look of the shark. Notwithstanding the laughable shark, it’s still extremely satisfying and thrilling to see it force Michael out of his yellow submarine, and then proceed to chase him inside of a sunken vessel. I have to defend Jaws: The Revenge for at least being a fun movie (especially with alcohol), even if we spend more time laughing at it than laughing with it.

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