Skip to main content

White sharks are dangerous. I know 'em. My father, my brother, myself. They're murderers.

Jaws 3-D
(1983)

(SPOILERS) Well, not 3-D the way I saw it, although you’d have to be deluded, or fallen asleep (the latter most likely) not to (sporadically) be alarmed at the manner in which it was dressed for that format. A belated sequel, five years down the line from Jaws 2, showed Universal all at sea and floundering, rather than making the most from their unexpected cash cow. The premise of Jaws 3-D (more commonly known as simply Jaws III outside of theatres) was arrived at after Steven Spielberg nixed a much more daring shake up of a franchise that was already lacking spark with its first follow-up, but his dogmatic resistance to Joe Dante’s version only underscored that this was a drowning franchise gasping its last.


Joe Dante: There was a lot of power play on Jaws 3, People 0. It was the first time I’d ever been in a real Hollywood situation. I’d go to these meetings and there’d be all these different people in the room and somebody would say something and then I’d look and everybody’s eyes would look around to everybody else to see what they thought of what was said. Could they endorse that? Was that something they could buy? Did they take issue with that?... And I realised I was really in over my head because I was just the hired director.


Dante had come aboard Jaws 3, People 0,  pitched by series producers David Brown and Richard Zanuck; it would cash-in on the Airplane! spoof boom, already several years old at that point, and a National Lampoon producer and writers (including John Hughes) were tapped to come up with the goods. The suitably self-reflexive concept concerned the titular shark hunting the makers of a sequel and included Peter Benchley being eaten by a shark in his pool as well as a shark’s stomach being emptied to reveal an unending and voluminous number of items. The reasons for its permanent beaching have variously been put down to chagrin on the part of the studio (on the Jaws 2 commentary, Brown said their attitude was that it would be like “fouling your own nest. We should have fouled the nest. It would have been golden, maybe even platinum”) and Spielberg himself nixing the project, threatening to walk away from Universal if they went ahead (“He though it demeaned him and demeaned Jaws” said Simmons; how exactly 3-D and The Revenge didn’t is not a matter of record).


One can only speculate, but it may have been for the best; if Spielberg was sour on the idea, he might have been soured on the director by extension, and then we might never have got Gremlins, or Gremlins 2: The New Batch, which would have been a disaster for western civilisation. It’s curious though, that the ‘berg has birthed two similar moribund franchises he’s eventually kept a distance from, but has rejected sequel concepts for both that might have laid claim to a wholly different approach, most notably John Sayles’ human-dinosaur hybrids in Jurassic Park IV.


Funnily enough, what we got with Jaws 3-D was a conceptual precursor to Jurassic Park; a brand spanking new aquatic theme park (SeaWorld Orlando, but with new underwater tunnels realised via lousy green screen) goes awry when a violent predator is unleashed (gets in). There’s a clueless millionaire behind the project (Calvin Bouchard, played by Louis Gosset, Jr, who may have been a recipient of an Oscar earlier that year but was understandably singled out for Razzie attention here) and a push-pull between destroying the creature and arguing for its preservation (Bess Armstrong as marine biologist Kay Morgan for the latter, while Simon MacCorkindale’s Philip FitzRoyce’s hunter bears some similarities Bob Peck’s Muldoon). Spielberg’s movie stops short of humans killing any dinosaurs (the franchise’s biggest hand-wringing flaw is pinning a thematically ludicrous environmentalist badge to its chest) so doesn’t need Dennis Quaid (as Mike Brody, grown up an awful lot in half a decade and seemingly confident enough in the water) blowing velociraptors up with grenades, but that aside, the most salient difference between the two is directorial competence.


Screenwriter Richard Matheson certainly thought so, suggesting Joe Alves (who had worked on the first two movies) was “a very skilled production designer, but as a director, no”. He also – having evidently seen the picture in cinemas – thought the 3-D, further aligning the series with the horror genre, which was experiencing a minor resurgence during the early ‘80s, added nothing (“It was a waste of time”) There are a couple of nice 2-D shots of sunsets in the picture, but otherwise nothing that suggest style or basic acumen (it remains Alves’ solitary motion picture). Matheson had been given a shopping list of elements to include (the Brody siblings, Mickey Rooney – who proved unavailable) but nevertheless felt he had turned in a decent screenplay, one series old hand Carl Gottlieb promptly revised. As these things go, I wonder if the movie didn’t have a subliminal impact on Cameron’s Aliens, with Mike ordering FitzRoyce not to use grenades during his shark hunt because of the danger it would pose to the infrastructure.


Jaws 3-D is more interesting as a curiosity of several nascent careers than the players’ actual performances. Quaid toplines, the same year he made much more impact for a supporting turn as Gordon Cooper in The Right Stuff, but the role is curiously muted, aside from some “teenage” hijinks early on when he embarrasses his baby brother. It isn’t until the climax that he’s required to jump in the tank for some standard-issue heroics, instead making way for the picture’s actual star turn, MackCorkindale.

FitzroyceIf we kill this beastie on camera, I can guarantee you media coverage.


The thesp, who also appeared in infamous/much-loved and short-lived Manimal the same year, effortlessly steals the proceedings by taking the unapologetic manner of a days-of-the-Empire big game hunter. He’s sexist (surprised that Kay is in charge, although he should have been more surprised by Armstrong’s simpering, insipid performance), endlessly self-impressed and self-promoting, and up for any interaction or altercation with the beastie, aided by more reserved assistant Jack Tate (PH Moriarty),. Naturally, this leads to Fitzroyce being chomped (in particularly squelchy and screamy fashion).


Lea Thompson also makes her movie debut, as water-skiing park performer Kelly Ann Bukowski, designated the romantic interest for Sean Brody (John Putch, now better known as a TV director). It’s something of a bimbo part, most notable for Kelly Anne actually being on the receiving end of the shark’s gnashers (though not fatally). As Bouchard, Gosset Jr does the slightly manic manager thing and is asked to deliver some faintly suspect dialogue with a grin (“It’s what we call marine segregation”).


Kay’s preservation instincts are so ridiculously out of touch with what we as the audience know about sharks of this ilk, she’s practically begging to be bitten, yet somehow escapes intact. As for the Brodys being in the vicinity of yet more shark carnage, if there’d only been a few allusions to that in the dialogue, 3-D might have had the drop on Die Hard 2. It also warrants mentioning that there are a couple of saviour dolphins in the mix, aiding Mike and Kay during a particularly stressful shark interlude.


Alan Parker delivers a lacklustre score, failing to make the most of the riffs he’s inherited. There’s a reasonable fake-out in which the baby shark is assumed to be the predator, but we also had a less protracted one of those in the original movie. As for the kills, they’re mostly ruptured by reliance on superimposed 3-D effects, severed limbs standing out listlessly in sequences devoid of any accompanying suspense (the climactic shattering of the viewing gallery window is particularly risible).


Despite being rubbish, Jaws 3-D made a pretty penny. It was much cheaper than Jaws 2 (and there was no expense in securing Roy Scheider, who had gone off to make Blue Thunder for the express purpose of being far away from sharks at the time of production) and much less popular, but still hit number 15 for the year at the US box office, beating out Blue Thunder, Scarface, Psycho II and Porky’s II and coming within snapping distance of Never Say Never Again and Superman III. It was a year for patchy sequels. And yet – despite being rubbish – the opprobrium for another entry in the series rather leaves this picture uncherished but relatively forgotten; Jaws: The Revenge would further confirm the familial bond of the Brody family with the unholy killer fish, but it would become best known for providing Sir Michael Caine with dinner party anecdotes. But was it really worse than III/3/3-D?



Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

Must the duck be here?

The Favourite (2018)
(SPOILERS) In my review of The Killing of a Sacred Deer, I suggested The Favourite might be a Yorgos Lanthimos movie for those who don’t like Yorgos Lanthimos movies. At least, that’s what I’d heard. And certainly, it’s more accessible than either of his previous pictures, the first two thirds resembling a kind of Carry On Up the Greenaway, but despite these broader, more slapstick elements and abundant caustic humour, there’s a prevailing detachment on the part of the director, a distancing oversight that rather suggests he doesn’t feel very much for his subjects, no matter how much they emote, suffer or connive. Or pratfall.

Whoever comes, I'll kill them. I'll kill them all.

John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) There’s no guessing he’s back. John Wick’s return is most definite and demonstrable, in a sequel that does what sequels ought in all the right ways, upping the ante while never losing sight of the ingredients that made the original so formidable. John Wick: Chapter 2 finds the minimalist, stripped-back vehicle and character of the first instalment furnished with an elaborate colour palette and even more idiosyncrasies around the fringes, rather like Mad Max in that sense, and director Chad Stahleski (this time without the collaboration of David Leitch, but to no discernible deficit) ensures the action is filled to overflowing, but with an even stronger narrative drive that makes the most of changes of gear, scenery and motivation.

The result is a giddily hilarious, edge-of-the-seat thrill ride (don’t believe The New York Times review: it is not “altogether more solemn” I can only guess Jeannette Catsoulis didn’t revisit the original in the interven…

I don’t think you will see President Pierce again.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
(SPOILERS) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and other tall tales of the American frontier is the title of "the book" from which the Coen brothers' latest derives, and so announces itself as fiction up front as heavily as Fargo purported to be based on a true story. In the world of the portmanteau western – has there even been one before? – theme and content aren't really all that distinct from the more familiar horror collection, and as such, these six tales rely on sudden twists or reveals, most of them revolving around death. And inevitably with the anthology, some tall tales are stronger than other tall tales, the former dutifully taking up the slack.

Can you float through the air when you smell a delicious pie?

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
(SPOILERS) Ironically, given the source material, think I probably fell into the category of many who weren't overly disposed to give this big screen Spider-Man a go on the grounds that it was an animation. After all, if it wasn’t "good enough" for live-action, why should I give it my time? Not even Phil Lord and Christopher Miller's pedigree wholly persuaded me; they'd had their stumble of late, although admittedly in that live-action arena. As such, it was only the near-unanimous critics' approval that swayed me, suggesting I'd have been missing out. They – not always the most reliable arbiters of such populist fare, which made the vote of confidence all the more notable – were right. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is not only a first-rate Spider-Man movie, it's a fresh, playful and (perhaps) surprisingly heartfelt origins story.

I don’t know if what is happening is fair, but it’s the only thing I can think of that’s close to justice.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)
(SPOILERS) I think I knew I wasn’t going to like The Killing of a Sacred Deer in the first five minutes. And that was without the unedifying sight of open-heart surgery that takes up the first four. Yorgos Lanthimos is something of a Marmite director, and my responses to this and his previous The Lobster (which I merely thought was “okay” after exhausting its thin premise) haven’t induced me to check out his earlier work. Of course, he has now come out with a film that, reputedly, even his naysayers will like, awards-darling The Favourite

There's something wrong with the sky.

Hold the Dark (2018)
(SPOILERS) Hold the Dark, an adaptation of William Giraldi's 2014 novel, is big on atmosphere, as you'd expect from director Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin, Green Room) and actor-now-director (I Don’t Want to Live in This World Anymore) pal Macon Blair (furnishing the screenplay and appearing in one scene), but contrastingly low on satisfying resolutions. Being wilfully oblique can be a winner if you’re entirely sure what you're trying to achieve, but the effect here is rather that it’s "for the sake of it" than purposeful.

Never compare me to the mayor in Jaws! Never!

Ghostbusters (2016)
(SPOILERS) Paul Feig is a better director than Ivan Reitman, or at very least he’s savvy enough to gather technicians around him who make his films look good, but that hasn’t helped make his Ghostbusters remake (or reboot) a better movie than the original, and that’s even with the original not even being that great a movie in the first place.

Along which lines, I’d lay no claims to the 1984 movie being some kind of auteurist gem, but it does make some capital from the polarising forces of Aykroyd’s ultra-geekiness on the subject of spooks and Murray’s “I’m just here for the asides” irreverence. In contrast, Feig’s picture is all about treating the subject as he does any other genre, be it cop, or spy, or romcom. There’s no great affection, merely a reliably professional approach, one minded to ensure that a generous quota of gags (on-topic not required) can be pumped out via abundant improv sessions.

So there’s nothing terribly wrong with Ghostbusters, but aside from …