Jaws 3D: Not As Terror-ble As You Remember

1983 was a vintage year for sequels, we had the (then) conclusion to the Star Wars trilogy, with Return of the Jedi, we still believed a man could fly in Superman III and had not one, but two James Bond films - Octopussy and Never Say Never Again. And we also had the second Jaws sequel...and it was in 3D.

At that time there was a (short) trend for 3D, with much of it being horror third instalments, including the previous year’s Friday the 13th part 3D and 1983’s Amityville 3D, which also happened to be the screen debut of the future once Mrs Dennis Quaid, Meg Ryan.

Jaws 3D gets an awful lot of hate, but I love it. I’ve got a real soft spot for Jaws 3D, it’s a real guilty pleasure. Scrub that, for me it’s just a pleasure. I didn’t see it until its TV premiere on UK television on Boxing Day 1986. It was on ITV early afternoon and had been cut to ribbons – for years I’d not seen the full carnage inflicted on Overman - but I instantly fell in love with it.

Is it an unnecessary Jaws sequel? Of course it is, they all are, but they are here to stay. And I have to say, all things considered, Jaws 3D is my second favourite Jaws film after the original.

I was pretty much obsessed by it when little and must have worn out my Memorex E180 that I’d taped it on, sat at the front of the tape with Monty Python and the Holy Grail bringing up the rear. I’d even taped the finale on audio cassette and used to listen to it getting dressed for school.

That excitement was still there some 30 years later when I finally got to see it in 3D, having bought it on Bluray. Neither the film nor the 3D disappointed.

Jaws 3D is Jaws writ large, and we don’t just mean the biggest great white of the series, at 35 feet it’s a full ten feet longer than the original Bruce. We mean that it is larger in scope and breaks out of Amity to Sea World (yes we know in real life it is landlocked but they establish in the film that it isn’t).

In some ways Jaws 3D is akin to another threequel released in 1983, Halloween 3: Season of the Witch. Both previous films had taken place in their established settings, both third films were trying something new and both had first time directors who had worked their way up through the ranks on the first two instalments, in the case of Halloween 3 it was Tommy Wallace and for Jaws 3D it was the respected Production Designer of Jaws and Associate Producer of Jaws 2, Joe Alves. Verna Fields must have been spinning in her grave as she’d so wanted to helm Jaws 2 alongside Alves. To date it is the only time Alves has stepped behind the camera, which I think is a real shame as there is some real flare in some scenes.

In Jerry Maguire speak, Jaws 3D, you had me at ripped in half guppy fish, from the hanging in the air effect on the billowing cloud of blood to the ghastly crunching sound effects and music I was hooked. We then had the bristling Jaws theme variation and the chomping Jaws 3D logo jumping out at you like Superman titles could only dream about. I was sold.

I must admit I was convinced it was going to take out the full line up of water skiers we are introduced to at the start when their boat’s engine is flooded, perhaps I’d just been excited by the great poster.

I could sit here and unpick the storyline of Jaws 3D and why Mike Brody would ever want to work near water - hey it never stopped him having a boat in Jaws 2 - and at least his visiting brother Sean had the sense to go and live somewhere landlocked, Colorado.  Arguably he had the more traumatic experience in Jaws 2 with Marge eaten whole in front of, with Mike knocked out and essentially playing Bernie from Weekend at Bernie’s for the second half of the film. The grown up Michael (here played by Dennis Quaid) is now head engineer at Sea World.

Hands down Quaid is the best Mike Brody, he’s always had that air of Harrison Ford about him for me and I’d have loved for him to have carried on that role in a sequel. Mike essentially steps into his father’s shoes as the main character as Roy Scheider ensured he was busy flying Blue Thunder to be unavailable for this second follow up to Jaws.

Carl Gottlieb, who had writing duties on both Jaws and Jaws 2, was brought in (late) again for a rewrite and polish from the original writer, Richard Matheson, perhaps most famous for writing I Am Legend and a certain Steven Spielberg TV movie about a killer truck, Duel, that helped get him that gig about the killer shark.

Matheson’s original idea didn’t even dip its toe on Sea World, instead his take was about a shark that would up in a river and attacked people, sounding more like the 1916 attacks that helped inspire Peter Benchley to pen the Jaws novel. His original version didn’t even feature Mike and Sean Brody, but the studio insisted on that link. They also oddly insisted on a part being written for Mickey Rooney, not sure what that was about, but it never came off. If we speak to Joe Alves, we’ll ask him.

I for one think the inclusion of the Brody brothers was the right move, of course it stretches our belief, but the Brody family are as integral a part to the Jaws story as the shark is. The past is touched upon nicely in two short scenes, one with each brother. The first with a beautifully shot night time scene on a beach with Mike and his partner, Kate, played by Bess Armstrong. And then another where Sean Brody hints at his aversion to going into the water due to something that happened when he was little, it’s all through away stuff but neat little touches for us dedicated Jaws fans and I think helps those characters become instantly more rounded.

I think the only think that doesn’t really ring true for me is in the first encounter with the Great White, where Mike and Kay escape the sea wreck with the help of dolphins, Cindy and Sandy, and clamber onto the side as the shark rams the gate. Brody asks what an earth that was, after two close encounters you’d think he’d know – after all his dad could spot a shark in a fuzzy photo at 20 paces. Mike doesn’t even know a dolphin is a mammal.

The Brody family, the shark and the Jaws theme, all essential Jaws returnees but there are also plenty of echoes from the original classic as well, intentional or not.

The coral reef thieves have several echoes, from the beach fence they have to clamber over that looks a lot like the one Chrissie runs across during the opening of Jaws to their scene being like the dark version of the holiday roast scene in Jaws. It probably didn’t help them much that they were in a yellow dinghy.

Talking of yellow, there may not be any yellow barrels being fired into the shark this time around but those same barrels – this time painted blue – make a cameo appearance when we first meet Mike Brody.

There are several nice echoes for Mike Brody back to the original, including a blink and you’ll miss it that same frightened look on his face when he see the 35 foot monster announce itself through the bubble screen to the entire underwater restaurant. It’s that same look as when the shark glided past him in the pond, fusing the two films and franchise closer together than ever.

Mike also gets to ape his old man, his firing a crossbow akin to Chief Brody’s finale at the end of Jaws. Of course, it’s also Mike who gets to make the shark go boom at the end of Jaws 3D as well, just by slightly different means.

Kelly’s scene in the lagoon also has plenty of echoes with the Chrissie opening from the original, her coaxing of Sean into the water, even practically saying ‘c’mon in the water’ – with the parallel events of the coral thieves unfolding we initially wonder whether that shark will make it over to them and filmic history will repeat itself.

There’s also a lovely little ‘in joke’ when the baby shark is on display in the pool, the makeshift sign says ‘sh sh shark’ which is exactly what Director Alves’ girlfriend shouted when she saw Bruce slinking into the pond in the original Jaws.

That scene is where that shark dies and planned or not there is a great moment where you hear a child cry in the background as it dies. In retrospect that scene perhaps says more about our perception of Sea World today, especially after the likes of Blackfish. It is a horrible scene and for a film where the shark is the monster, it is the first time we have seen it as a vulnerable creature and not a remorseless killing machine.

Even if you aren’t watching Jaws 3D with the glasses on and are just experiencing it in 2D, you know what format it should be in, not just from the obvious floating fish head, Overman’s arm and the exploding Jaws that are spat out at the screen at the very end, but the lingering shots of reeds jabbing the camera or the tongue of the snake at the entrance to the Undersea Kingdom, the camera hangs on some of these items waaaaay too long to hammer the 3D point home.  Some of the shots have that layered feel to it as well, where people are purposely put into the foreground to help give the £D some depth (foreground my ass!). One of the opening scenes featuring the guides at Sea World has a man doing just that in the foreground – be amazed at his arranged flowers as they protrude out the screen at you!

The shark action and underwater scenes look great in 3D, even the rather awkward yellow sub turning evvvvvvvver soooooooo sloooooooowly to camera works and the Sea World setting really lends itself to showing off the format, whether it be a killer whale jumping up to camera and the splash that it creates engulfing you or the silver bullet water ski stunt team jumping over ramps toward you in mid-air. It’s filler, a bit like many of the sailing scenes in Jaws 2 and doesn’t really drive the story forward but certainly lends itself to its setting.

Jaws 3D director Joe Alves

Jaws 3D director Joe Alves

Jaws 3D has some of the most memorable deaths of the series, from the guppy fish to the death of Shelby Overman – performing double death duties as the film’s first victim a la Chrissie – and a mortuary scene – and doing his Ben Gardner bit when he pops up to greet some guests in the Undersea Kingdom. Talking of Overman’s mortuary scene, this is where Kate – essentially fulfilling the Matt Hooper role – figures out the bit radius and that the shark that died in her arms was only a baby. That blew my mind when growing up, I never saw it coming. I also never saw the red and black sign in the background that looked a bit like Polly was doing some moonlighting printing for Sea World. In joke or coincidence? You decide.

The standout death for me though is that of the elegant Philip FitzRoyce (Simon MacCorkindale) – think of him as having the obsession of Quint, the wallet of Hooper and the suave of James Bond. He gets devoured whole by the shark and – for the first time in the series – we see the view from inside its mouth, it rows of teeth, hear the horrible crunching as FitzRoyce is eaten alive. The crunching sounds, along with the death cries and plume of blood are something else. You also see his limp body lying inside its mouth, stuck like an irritating piece of food, still clutching a grenade ready for the finale.

And your heart has to go out to his cockney mate, Jack Tate (played by P H Moriarty hot off The Long Good Friday) when he realises he has been gobbled up, his reaction and impassioned reaction brings a man tear to your eye. Guvnor!!!!!

There is also some great memorable dialogue in Jaws 3D, but perhaps the most memorable has to be from Kay to FitzRoyce, Jack and the wonderfully named Calvin Bouchard, played with aplomb by Louis Gossett Jr.  He’s our Larry Vaughn and doesn’t get as much screen time as he should, but makes it count when he does. He devours the scenes he is in, giving the shark a real run for its money, of course he’d just come off winning an Oscar from An Officer and a Gentleman – still the only actor to start a Jaws film with an acting Oscar under their belt. Caine didn’t know he had won his until he was doing reshoots for Jaws the Revenge.

Calvin Bouchard: Was it the shark? 

Kathryn Morgan: It was a shark. It was a shark with a bite radius about a yard across.

Philip FitzRoyce: Don't be silly. That would indicate a shark of some 35 feet in length.

Kathryn Morgan: Our shark couldn't have killed Overman. Its mother did.

Calvin Bouchard: You're talkin' about some damn shark's mother?

Kathryn Morgan: Overman was killed inside the park. The baby was caught inside the park. Its mother is inside the park.

Boom! Right on cue we then get the mother (at 35 feet long it is the mother of all sharks) appear through the bubble screen to say hi, causing much screaming and slacking of jaws – the human kind.

My main problem with Jaws 3D is that once the big momma comes along – a highlight of the film through that bubble screen – there aren’t that many more deaths – save for FitzRoyce and one of the control room operators – again wince inducing sound effects, it really does have some great sound design.

There is a huge scene of panic in the park with water skiers falling left, right and centre, even a wooden platform full of people that collapses into the water – no cheeky morsels here, just a bit of a scratch on Kelly (Lea Thompson) even though we see there is lots of blood. These scenes deliver on the build-up, just not the pay off. The chaos in the park scene has to be that featuring the people in the tunnels of the Undersea Kingdom. It’s great when the huge behemoth is first spotted by a little girl.

Girl: daddy, daddy, look at the fish.

Dad: Holy shit!

The shark then rams the undersea chamber and it starts filling with water, I was convinced that shark was somehow going to get in there and eat them all up. I’d have quite liked it if they’d had either Mayor Vaughn or Mrs Taft on a day trip in this scene, with them getting all caught up in the mayhem and trapped in the flooded area. I think it would have really added to the scene.

I dare anyone who has watched Jaws 3D to not think of it when walking under a tunnel system at an aquarium. You can’t. It must be surreal if you are actually at Sea World doing it.

One of the real highlights of the film also has to be the score, Alan Parker with his big screen debut. He also went onto score What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? (perhaps he should have rereleased his Jaws 3D score as What’s Eating Philip FitzRoyce? I’ll always remember his music for 80’s cop show show Dempsey and Makepeace though. Jaws 3D is an exciting score with a real sense of foreboding that leaves you breathless in some of the action scenes, with new material and a great weaving in of the Jaws theme. Some of the use of strings evokes memories of Lalo Schifrin’s score for The Amityville Horror.

Re the action scenes, I’m thinking particularly of where Cindy and Sandy (or is it Sandy and Cindy as Quaid seems to keep on saying, he didn’t even release dolphins were mammals. That must have been some job interview for Sea World) save Mike and Kate, where they have the initial sub search, the night capture and everything beyond where the shark shatters the control room window flooding it and setting up the finale.

That scene gets a lot of stick, with the shark ‘gliding’ towards camera and then touching the glass that makes it shatter. Sure, it isn’t the greatest moment ever committed to celluloid, but, alongside the slow motion screaming of Mike and Kate and co; it is something I’ve always had a real fondness for. For me it is a real highlight of the film and things ramp up a notch here as we head to the conclusion.

I also loved that, again, it was a similar set up to the ending of the first film, and something set up earlier in the mouth of the shark will be used to destroy it. In this instance it isn’t an oxygen tank but a yellow (of course) hand grenade in the grip of the lifeless body of FitzRoyce

Like that original ending it takes several attempts – here getting a couple of growls from the shark and some risible stop motion of the shark’s tail shifting back and forth that must have had Ray Harryhausen shaking his head in disbelief. To be honest, by this point I don’t care.

And when that grenade blows, it blows in real style hurling the exploded upper and lower jaws of the shark to the screen where they come to rest before it dissolves to Mike and Kate and the jumping dolphins. That final pause shot, with the dolphins inserted into the sides of the frame is actually the worst shot of the entire film. The look like transfers from a packet of Shredded Wheat (who actually did do a tie in with the film).

Even with that last shot it is still a lot better climax than Jaws 2, which lacks hardly any tension at all. So, for all those reasons above and more that is why Jaws 3D is my second favourite Jaws film.

For many it seems Jaws 3D was where the series jumped the shark, I’ve always enjoyed it as a fun shark thriller that expanded upon the Jaws universe away from Amity Island. Now, having finally seen how great the the 3D works on Bluray it’s less about Jaws 3D jumping the shark and more about that shark jumping off the screen.

Flawed but fun, Jaws 3D is a brilliant b-movie with a budget, essentially it was remade a couple of years ago as Jurassic World. I enjoyed that as well but Jaws 3D will always have a very special place in my heart and on my Memorex tape. And now, finally on my 3D Bluray, as it was always meant to be enjoyed.

Is Dean just viewing Jaws 3D through rose (and green) tinted glasses? Let us know if you love or loathe Jaws 3D in the comments.

By Dean Newman 

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