We open on the ocean floor, where something glides along that will eventually prove way too big to be fitting through all these narrow nooks and crannies as the camera moves through them, which soon comes upon a school of groupers. Things begin to move a little faster as the camera zeroes in on one particular fish, then a familiar tune cranks up right before the screen flashes red, followed by a cacophony of crunching sounds, trying desperately to add some menace when all we’re left with is just a decapitated fish-head bobbing in the plume of its own viscera.
Cut to near the shoreline, where we see a tell-tale dorsal fin pop-out of the water behind a pyramid of water-skiers, out rehearsing for the pending gala opening of a new multi-million dollar expansion of SeaWorld, Orlando (-- playing itself. Sort of). Here, not realizing the danger they're in, the two gals on top horse around too much, causing the formation to collapse into the water.
From the shark’s perspective, we see a lot of thrashing legs below the surface and a lot of screaming and cursing. But as the shark closes in -- at least according to the music (-- credited to John Williams as the “Shark Theme”), the troupe has recovered and the boat they’re all tethered to hauls them safely out of harm’s way. (Oh, no! This is gonna be JAWS 2 all over again, isn’t it?! Dammit. EAT SOMEBODY ALREADY!!!)
But the shark continues to pursue this mobile buffet line as they veer into a huge artificial lagoon, which is part of that new attraction. And as the underwater gate closes behind them, securing the lagoon for the night, these metal grates get hung up on something -- and something big, causing them to jump their tracks, rendering them useless until somebody fixes this; namely, Mike Brody, the eldest son of Martin and Ellen Brody of the Amity Brodys, whose family has a particularly prickly history with sharks.
Meantime, a press conference is underway, where a SeaWorld representative trumpets the details of the $34-million dollar, four years in the making, Undersea Kingdom expansion of the park, which is highlighted by a series of pressurized glass-topped tunnels that run 40ft below the surface of the water, giving everyone a fish-eyed view of this new attraction, which all lead to a submerged restaurant and lounge area at the center of the lagoon. He then introduces the mastermind behind all of this, one Calvin Bouchard (Gossett Jr.); a flamboyant cajun entrepreneur of dubious background and means as the gathered press are politely asked not to inquire about where all of his wealth came from.
Here, Brouchard welcomes everyone to this sneak preview. He then introduces Philip FitzRoyce (MacCorkindale) and his faithful companion, Jack Tate (Moriarty), who are there for reasons the film isn’t really clear on. The film also can’t quite decide if Bouchard or FitzRoyce are the Mayor Vaughn of this latest entry, and so, they’re both just kind of there. Anyhoo, eventually we glean that FitzRoyce is a world famous wildlife photographer and/or a big game hunter. Or both. Again, film’s a little murky here. Depends on the scene, really, and how big of an asshole he needs to be. And it doesn’t really matter as Bouchard leads them all into the tunnel for free drinks at the Undersea Bar and Grill.
Meanwhile, back at the busted gate. Even though Bouchard paid for all of this, Mike Brody designed and built it with his crew. And so, being the boss, Mike (Quaid) is able to delegate the job to one of his underlings. Turns out Bouchard is also a bit of a tightwad with certain aspects of his money, meaning he won’t pay for any overtime. Thus, since it’s almost Beer O’Clock, Mike orders Shelby Overman (Grant) to just manually chain the gate shut, a temporary fix, and they’ll deal with it in the morning with a fresh 8-hours.
With that taken care of, Brody then seeks out his girlfriend; the park’s head marine biologist, Dr. Kathryn “Kay” Morgan (Armstrong), who is currently taking a ride on Shamu the Killer Whale. She also wanted to give her dolphins a workout, but Cindy and Sandy are acting up and refuse to leave their paddock and enter the lagoon. But Kay doesn’t have time to figure out why because she and Mike are supposed to meet up with his little brother, Sean, who is visiting them over his spring break.
Thus and so, once these two safely tuck away our melodrama quotient for the picture -- with his job nearly done he’s due in Venezuela in a few weeks for another, but she’s still under contract with SeaWorld for another six months, and then there’s that whole fellowship at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography in California, oh no, What will they ever do?!? -- they round up Sean (Putch), who appears to be trying some kind of urban cowboy thing. Truth is, Sean is still suffering from some PTSD from a close encounter he had with a shark in the last movie, where it ate a girl while she tried to save him. And in an effort to deal with this fear and guilt, he chose to go to college in Colorado to get as far away from the ocean as he could. Mike explained all of this to Kay, guaranteeing Sean will most likely never set foot in the water again.
Now, later we will learn that Shelby Overman was a bit of a screw-up -- stress on the “was.” For after goofing off most of the day, most likely flirting with that girl at the souvenir stand behind his old lady’s back, the sun is setting before he finally gets around to chaining-up the main channel gate, which is designed to keep any unwelcome ocean visitors from swimming into the lagoon. Once he submerges, Shelby wrestles the gate closed and padlocks it shut. But then, his mackerel sense starts tingling? Maybe? Whatever. He then keeps whipping around as if something is constantly sneaking up behind him until something actually does.
We then switch back to kill-cam mode, as Shelby’s shattered goggles fall to the sea bottom, only to get artfully hung up on some coral. We then cut to his severed arm, floating in situ in his own gore, as we slowly realize that whatever ate him has also been locked-up on the wrong side of that gate...
After a tumultuous production plagued with technical difficulties that ran them both way over schedule and way over-budget, producers David Brown and Richard Zanuck were really sweating it out during the post-production phase on their latest film as the release date loomed for what was shaping up to be a giant boondoggle. Having scored a smash hit with The Sting (1973), these two were given a lot of rope by the brass at Universal on their big fish movie, based on Peter Benchley’s best selling novel, betting everything they had on a young wunderkind director named Spielberg, whose debut film, The Sugarland Express (1974), also produced by Zanuck and Brown, had laid a giant egg at the box-office just the year before.
History, of course, shows these two were worried over nothing as JAWS (1975) became a runaway smash-hit, annihilating box-office records and indefinitely scaring people out of the water as it went, and officially ushered in the era of summer mega-blockbusters. Thus and so, now with two smash hits under their belts, Zanuck and Brown basically could do whatever the hell they wanted to next.
But oddly enough, they decided to do a sprawling World War II epic like Zanuck’s dear old dad, Darryl F. Zanuck, used to make for 20th Century Fox -- Twelve O'Clock High (1949), The Longest Day (1962), Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970); a biopic on General Douglas MacArthur, starring Gregory Peck and directed by Joseph Sargent.
Now, Sargent is no Spielberg but MacArthur (1977) wasn’t all that bad, a little dry, but it lacked the all-star cast and visual momentum of the other big war film that year, Richard Attenburough’s A Bridge Too Far (1977). (Nor did it have Joseph E. Levine’s well-oiled publicity machine.) It also had the misfortune of opening in the summer of 1977, where they quickly learned they were kinda hoisted by their own petard as after JAWS people weren’t really going to see movies like MacArthur anymore and were instead flocking to see things like Smokey and the Bandit (1977), Saturday Night Fever (1977), and, of course, Star Wars (1977), which blew everything out of the water that summer, while Spielberg’s follow up without them, Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), came out that winter, which also went way over time and way over budget and nearly bankrupted Columbia, only to wind up saving the studio when it dominated the holiday box-office and beyond.
Thus, MacArthur could only manage 30th place in terms of box-office receipts for 1977, behind even the likes of Kingdom of the Spiders (1977) and Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo (1977), and only slightly better than The Kentucky Fried Movie (1977), which was a new kind of comedy -- a full-frontal spoof, that was about to launch the careers of John Landis, who went on to do National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978), and Jim Abrahams and the Zucker brothers, David and Jerry, who would go on to do Airplane! (1980), another spoof based on the film Zero Hour (1957), which would prove relevant down the road when JAWS franchised-out.
Speaking of that franchise, needing a rebound and needing it fast, Zanuck and Brown were both listening when Universal started making noise about doing a sequel to both JAWS and American Graffiti (1973). And while Zanuck and Brown were quick to sign on, as was George Lucas on the other film, they had a helluva time bringing anyone else back from the original feature. Spielberg wasn’t interested, saying sequels were nothing more than cheap carny tricks, and was now under contract elsewhere; and so, they went with John D. Hancock, who was recommended by screenwriter Howard Sackler, who had contributed to the original film’s script and was now hired on to write the sequel, which he originally envisioned as a prequel involving Quint’s experiences with the sinking of the Indianapolis. This, of course, was rejected by the studio outright and the sequel wound up being about yet another shark once more waging war on Amity Island and the Brodys.
The picture ran into some luck when they were able to get Roy Scheider to return as Sheriff Martin Brody, who agreed to reprise the role only because it would help him get out of his three-picture contract with Universal one picture early. Lorraine Gary would also return as his wife, Ellen, who also just happened to be the real wife of Sid Sheinberg, the current CEO of Universal, who demanded her part be expanded, which went over like a wet-fart with his producers. And this political turmoil behind the scenes along with a mechanical shark that proved just as temperamental as the first soon led to Hancock’s dismissal, who was then replaced by Jeannot Szwarc, who, for a hot minute in the early 1970s, was considered Spielberg’s chief rival as the Next Big Thing in Hollywood. And at some point during the production, Carl Gottlieb was once again brought in to do a massive rewrite on the script, just like he did with the original, working on the fly on location as the film was already well into production. Is it any wonder, then, why the film they were all working on was such a tonal mess?
Anyways, despite the greatest tagline of ever -- Just When You Thought It Was Safe to Go Back In the Water, JAWS 2 (1978) only made about half of what JAWS reeled in at the box-office. Personally, I think it would’ve made more money if the shark had eaten more of those snotty teenagers. (Or maybe a second helicopter.) But that’s just me. Still, that was an awful lot of money and Universal wanted to make more; and so, a second sequel was soon in the works. And here’s where things get a little farcical as this franchise was soon poised to go completely off the rails.
Now, one of the biggest hits of 1978 that also leeched well into 1979 was Animal House, a ground-breaking comedy, which was co-written by Doug Kenney and co-produced by Matty Simmons, the founders of the National Lampoon magazine. And after basically doing the same shark attack movie twice, which other studios by now had ripped-off ad nauseam -- some obviously with films like Tentacles (1977) and Orca (1977), others not so much in films like Grizzly (1976) and The White Buffalo (1977), both Zanuck and Brown felt the franchise, already on the verge of self-parody, needed to go in a new comical direction to breathe some life back into it.
And so, they took Simmons to lunch at the Friar’s Club in New York City and pitched their idea. An intrigued Simmons quickly concocted a scene on the spot, where author Benchley goes for a midnight swim in his pool only to be eaten by a revenge-seeking shark hiding in the chlorinated waters. And from that tiny nugget, National Lampoon’s JAWS 3, People 0 sprung. From there, Zanuck and Brown would back out of the way as executive producers, signing Simmons on to produce the parody, who turned scripting duties over to his Lampoon writers, Tod Carroll and John Hughes, who would go on to oversee the teenage yuppie armageddon of the 1980s with Sixteen Candles (1984), The Breakfast Club (1985), and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) -- a film whose main character I still contend did more damage to the youth of America than Freddy Krueger, Jason Vorhees, and Michael Myers combined.
I had managed to read this completed script (draft unknown) when it surfaced online about ten years back, which did parody JAWS and the tropes it had entrenched, as well as taking several self-aware pot-shots at studio executives and the movie industry in general. It also wasn’t very good. Alas, all efforts to find it again to confirm this opinion and shore up my faulty memory on what it all entailed has failed. Thus, this is what I remember with a little help from some online reviews of the script.
After an opening salvo where Benchley is indeed eaten mid-dive into his pool, the rest of the script deals with the futile attempt to get yet another JAWS sequel made. (I think Benchley had just finished writing the script for this before he was eaten.) We then cut to a familiar beach party scene, where the head of Mecca Studios lures a young woman out for a swim only to get eaten by that same shark. This untimely death leads to a conflict between his studio underlings, which were thinly disguised versions of Zanuck and Brown, as I read it, who want to take over, and his heirs, who inherited his majority stake in the studio when the mogul died -- some old lady who ran a movie theater out in Idaho with her idiot son, who dreams about making movies while working in a lint factory, who move out to Hollywood and take over the studio and the production of JAWS 3.
And while the faux Zanuck and Brown, here, Bernie and Carl, sabotage their efforts, the son, Sonny, is assisted by a friendly producer named Marylin, who runs interference for him as he works to get the script finished with the help of a bellhop, who concocts a plot where the shark is actually part of an alien invasion. As shooting commences with a guy in a shark costume instead of the always malfunctioning mechanical menace to save money, that real shark continues to eat both cast, crew, and equipment.
Despite the loss of life, delaying the production will cost the studio even more money, and so, Marilyn hires a renown shark hunter named Cockatoo, who is part Quint and part Jacques Cousteau, allowing for a ton of French jokes and gags, to fix the problem, who proclaims the shark is not out for revenge at all but is suffering from Licking Bowl Syndrome, meaning once he ate one member of the production it would not stop until it's eaten them all -- thus, licking the bowl clean.
Cockatoo does manage to catch a shark, but in a parody of a scene from the first film an autopsy of the stomach reveals all kinds of things, including a bag of pot, but no body parts. Alas, further sabotage by Bernie and Carl results in Cockatoo’s death, leaving it up to Sonny and Marilyn to hunt down the shark in the third act and save the production, which premieres back in Idaho with a promise of a JAWS 4 coming soon.
“There’s a million schmucks out there who’ll watch anything,” says the film’s producer in the JAWS 3, People 0 script, which was completed in August of 1979 and sent to Universal, who gave the green-light to develop things further. To direct the picture, Zanuck, Brown and Simmons wanted Joe Dante, who had directed Piranha (1978), one of those JAWS knock-offs, and co-directed Hollywood Boulevard (1976) with Alan Arkush, which had spoofed making movies for Roger Corman’s New World Pictures, making him tailor-made to handle both the action and the humor of JAWS 3, People 0.
Dante was also rumored to direct Orca 2 for Dino de Luarentiss at the time, which failed to ever materialize. As for casting, Stephen Furst was rumored for Sonny and Mariette Hartley for Marylin. Simmons would also later claim Richard Dreyfus and Bo Derek were interested in playing the leads in the film within the film, which required a nude scene from Derek.
But as things progressed, they also started to unravel. There was some friction between Simmons, who was going for an R-rated comedy, and Zanuck and Brown, who wanted to keep the film rated PG. And as things started to languish, Dante officially bowed out to do The Howling (1981). And then, after spending nearly $2-million in pre-production -- the majority of which I think was spent on cocaine, the whole thing fell apart.
The official word from the collective cold feet at Universal was they felt the ultimate direction of the spoof “diluted the brand” too much and was akin to taking a giant dump in your own nest. Simmons always blamed a miffed Spielberg for pulling some strings with Sheinberg to get the production stopped, since he was also portrayed as an unflattering character in the script, who loses most of his limbs to the shark, who only became aware of what was going on when they asked him to cameo as himself. “We should’ve fouled the nest,” said Brown in a later 'making of' interview. “It would have been golden, maybe even platinum.” (A turd is a turd is a turd, I guess. Even a golden one.) After this blow-up, Zanuck and Brown left Universal, vowing to never work for them again. Enter Alan Landsburg.
Now. Landsburg might be a fairly familiar name to all my fellow cryptid and UFOlogy nuts out there. He was a documentarian by trade, whose Alan Landsburg Productions had produced In Search of Ancient Astronauts (1973), The Outer Space Connection (1975), Secrets of the Bermuda Triangle (1978) and Manbeast! Myth or Monster? (1978).
He was also responsible for several Made for TV Movies in the same vein with things ranging from the Killer Bee movie The Savage Bees (1976), Tarantulas: The Deadly Cargo (1977), and It Happened at Lakewood Manor (1977), where army ants attack a hotel and several celebrity guest stars. Also for the small screen, Landsburg unleashed In Search Of… (1977-1982), one of my all time favorite programs, where host Leonard Nimoy took us on a journey as we explored “lost civilizations, extraterrestrials, myths and monsters, missing persons, magic and witchcraft, and unexplained phenomena."
But it wasn’t always about disputed topics as Landsburg also produced the original Biography series hosted by Mike Wallace back in the 1960s, several National Geographic Specials, The World of Animals, and the TV-series The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau. And there were several other true-life TV Movies, too, which covered the horrors of McCarthyism with Fear on Trial (1975) or the aftermath of the Kennedy assassination in Ruby and Oswald (1978), as well as several biopics like The Jayne Mansfield Story (1980) and Bill (1981). But his most famous work outside cryptid circles would probably be his documentary, Kennedy, The First Thousand Days (1964).
Meanwhile, screenwriter Guerdon Trueblood had written several feature films -- Welcome Home, Soldier Boys (1971), The Candy Snatchers (1973) -- one of the most vile things I have ever witnessed, and The Last Hard Men (1976). He also wrote several seminal Made for TV Movies, including Sole Survivor (1970), a wonderful ghost story involving a lost plane and her crew, who don’t realize they’re already dead, and The Love War (1970), which is an apex example of how weird and demented these things could get back in the 1970s as aliens fight a clandestine war on Earth.
Trueblood also wrote all of those ecological terror telefilms for Landsburg -- Tarantula: The Deadly Cargo, It Happened at Lakewood Manor, The Savage Bees and its sequel, Terror Out of the Sky (1978). He had also written a script where after a hurricane and some massive flooding a great white shark finds itself trapped way up stream in a lake, where it terrorizes and eats several tourists, which would’ve fit right into Landsburg’s MFTV milieu. And this would serve as Landsburg’s pitch to Universal when he licensed the rights to turn this idea into JAWS 3 (1983).
As I’ve firmly established in a couple of earlier reviews, Universal was always extremely litigious when it came to what they thought was their intellectual property. And as another case in point, they had just sued Enzo Castellari’s film Great White (1981) out of theaters right before Landsburg showed-up. Made and released first in Italy as L'ultimo squalo, Castellari had used a quirk in Italian copyright law to basically do an unsanctioned remake of JAWS with elements of JAWS 2 thrown in for good measure. And then Edward Montoro got involved.
Montoro had made a killing in the early 1970s importing and distributing dubbed-over Italian imports, scoring huge hits with the Bud Spencer and Terence Hill slapstick Spaghetti Westerns, They Call Me Trinity (1970) and Trinity is Still My Name (1971), and a rip-off of The Exorcist (1973) called Beyond the Door (1974) for his Film Ventures International. Warner Bros. tried to sue him over Beyond the Door, just as they would do with William Girdler’s Abby (1974). And while the distributors of Abby voluntarily withdrew their film, a blaxploitation spin on demon possession, which had already made back twice its production costs in one weekend, Montoro stuck it out and won his case.
And with that legal victory tucked in his back pocket, feeling brave, Montoro tried again and repackaged L’Ultimo squalo as Great White, even though it basically was just JAWS all over again with the serial numbers filed off. Universal was not amused. And after several injunctions, a Federal judge agreed with their plagiarism claim and the film was pulled from theaters after a massive publicity blitz, sending Montoro and FVI into a financial tailspin it would never recover from.
However, it should be noted that the climax of Great White, where the hero (James Franciscus) triggers some primed explosives held by the half-eaten Quint surrogate (Vic Morrow), stuck in the shark’s gaping maw, was kind of ripped-off in turn by Landsburg and a series of screenwriters, who collectively switched the action from a lake resort to a SeaWorld type tourist attraction during its myriad rewrites and punch-ups once Universal was onboard.
Going through the credits on JAWS 3 shows four total contributors on the script: Peter Benchley, because several characters were suggested by his novel; Trueblood, for his now abandoned story idea that got the ball rolling; Carl Gottlieb, because apparently you can’t have a JAWS movie unless he rewrites the script first; and Richard Matheson, who wrote the first draft adapted from Trueblood’s original idea and made several changes to appease Universal’s demands, including that change of scenery.
The studio also demanded the film revolve around the Brody children, Michael and Sean, in the interest of continuity, since there was no way in hell Scheider would ever return for another sequel -- who went so far as to sign on to do Blue Thunder (1983) to make sure he wasn’t available in case the studio tried to strong-arm him into being in the picture. And while Matheson thought this was a dumb idea, feeling it pigeonholed the story, he found their other demand even dumber: they wanted the shark to be the same one their dad had electrocuted at the end of JAWS 2 for … reasons.
Also quite inexplicably, either Landsburg or Universal demanded a part be written for Mickey Rooney, who wound up being not available and the whole idea was scrapped. Matheson also felt several more hands and their typewriters had a go at doctoring his script, too, judging by the finished film, which, in the end, was starting to resemble a mash-up remake of Revenge of the Creature (1955), where the fabled Gill-Man is captured, put on display at MarineLand, and then goes on a rampage, and Gorgo (1961), where the captured beast only turns out to be the baby and mama monster is about to come looking for him.
“I wrote a very interesting script,” said Matheson in a later interview with Tom Weaver for his book, Science Fiction Stars and Horror Heroes. “And if they had done it right and if it had been directed by somebody who knew how to direct, I think it would have been an excellent movie. Jaws 3 was the only thing Joe Alves ever directed; the man is a very skilled production designer, but as a director, no … It was a waste of time."
Originally, Landsburg had wanted fellow documentarian Murray Lerner to direct JAWS 3 based on his recent 3D short, Sea Dream (1978), which “took you beneath the waves,” where you wound up face to face with a shark and other marine predators as they sought out their prey. Lerner was flattered but took one look at the script and immediately said, No thanks. Alves, meanwhile, had been the production designer on both JAWS and JAWS 2 (and Close Encounters), who was instrumental in the design of Bruce the mechanical shark, and who Variety proclaimed to be the “unsung production hero on both the first two pictures.
It should be noted that when Hancock was first fired off of JAWS 2, before Szwarc took over, Zanuck and Brown kicked-around the idea of having the film co-directed by Alves and Verna Fields, who had served as an editor on JAWS and also deserved a lot of credit for that film’s success. And while I agree with this assessment, as the man produced some cinematic miracles under some very trying circumstances, this was shot-down by the Directors Guild of America (DGA) over The Clint Eastwood Rule, which had instituted a ban on any existing cast or crew members taking over as director during a film's production. This all stemmed from the making of The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976), where Eastwood had the original director, Philip Kaufman, fired off the picture and took over, earning them a hefty fine and a new set of rules from the DGA.
Alves did serve as a second unit director on JAWS 2, and JAWS 3 would, indeed, be his only time in the director’s chair and, well, it’s kinda easy to see why as thing clunk and splutter along be it a shark attack, a massive plot dump, or an attempt at character development as we pick things up in a bar, where Mike is getting an earful from a waitress named Charlene (Starling), who happens to be the late Shelby’s aforementioned old lady, who was upset because he failed to come home after work and wants to know where he is. Mike has no idea. Yet.
Meantime, Sean makes the acquaintance of Kelly Ann Bukowski (Thompson), whom we recognize as one of those gals at the top of the water-skiing pyramid from the opening and is immediately smitten. And, well, turns out there is one thing that will get Sean back into the water as Kelly coaxes him into the shallows of the lagoon for a little canoodling. But this is interrupted when Mike and Kay catch them in the act and playfully roust them out of the water. It’s quite the ruckus -- so much so it drowns out the sound of the shark eating two coral thieves, who had snuck into the park under cover of darkness in a subplot so dumb just to up the shark's kill count that I have already dedicated way too much of this paragraph even bringing it up.
Come the dawn, after a brief but adorable glimpse at Mike and Kay’s homelife -- seriously, these two compromise one of my favorite onscreen power couples, they’re both soon back at work while Sean sleeps off his hangover. Here, Kay has a run in with the pompous FitzRoyce, who is looking for someone in authority and is dumbstruck to find out that person is a lay-dee. Meanwhile, Mike has another run in with Charlene, who dumps all of the still absent and now evicted Shelby’s belongings into his lap.
Fearing the worst, Mike and Kay man the park’s submersible, and in a fairly embarrassing sequence -- FX-wise, we get a tour of the underwater facilities as they putter along, looking for a body, including the establishment of the main control room and nerve center of this operation, whose main observation deck is located well below the waterline.
Following the currents, they can find no trace of Shelby and decide to abandon the sub and take a closer look inside the facsimile of a sunken pirate ship, where the skeleton of Davy Jones himself endlessly waves from his watery grave.
But then Cindy and Sandy suddenly show up out of nowhere, who are still acting up -- almost as if they were trying to warn their favorite handler about something, he typed ominously ... Anyhoo, into the galleon our heroes go, where they are kinda menaced by a moray eel before -- EEK! A great white shark comes crashing into the hold!
Well, maybe not so great as this one appears to be a little fella compared to his other cinematic brethren as it skip-frames along in hot-pursuit as Mike and Kay try to swim away. All seems lost until the dolphins come to the rescue, letting them both hitch a ride on their fins as they break for the safety of their paddock. And once they’re through the gate, it's slammed shut by the help, causing the pursuing shark to pull a Wile E. Coyote as it smashes and pancakes into it.
When word of the attack reaches FitzRoyce, he actually starts salivating over the opportunity to kill the great white on camera and tries to sell this idea to Bouchard, promising him they’ll make a fortune because "shark’s die beautifully when they’re bellies are slit open." Kay, rightfully, is appalled by this notion but is smart enough to angle her own pitch to Bouchard, saying they could garner even more publicity and make even more money if they could keep the shark alive and be the only aquarium to have a great white in captivity, which could be viewed daily by paying customers instead of being killed just once.
Now, my understanding is this was all pretty much a pipe dream on Kay’s part because great whites have not and do not survive in captivity for myriad reasons. But, with dollar signs dancing in his beady eyes, Bouchard gives her the go ahead to try and capture the big fish. FitzRoyce will still be involved, wanting to capture it all on film -- but he will have to leave his anti-shark grenades behind due to the fragile artificial environment of the lagoon and those pressurized glass tubes. And after several suspenseful turns, including a harpoon shot right at the audience, the great white shark is successfully tranquilized, captured, and moved to a holding tank.
Several days pass and Mike is starting to get lonely since Kay is spending all of her time with the so far non-responsive shark (-- easy to see why with its obviously stiff fiberglass origins), either walking it around in the shallow pool or blowing oxygen through its gills with an air-hose to keep it alive. And so, he agrees to pitch-in to spend some quality time with his girl, jumps in the pool, and starts to help her push the shark around when it suddenly thrashes to life! (He’s a dreaded Brody. You think that thing can smell it on him?) Taking this as a good sign, Kay wants a constant vigil kept on the shark at all times, and under no circumstances should anyone do anything to traumatize him. Unfortunately, these orders are totally ignored by Bouchard.
See, today was also the grand opening of the Undersea Kingdom, and while the place is already packed as people watch Shamu, the dolphins, and the water-skiing stunt show, Bouchard feels they can pack even more people in if they put the great white on display. Thus, he countermands Kay’s orders and has the shark moved to one of the display pools.
Meantime, the search for Shelby Overman continues as Mike maps out where they already searched on a giant diorama of the lagoon. Asked if the body could’ve been sucked through the massive filtration pipes that pump a ton of sea water into the lagoon every day, Mike says that’s impossible because the flow of the water is going the wrong way -- or something. Also of note, there are two filtration pipes, and one of them has been malfunctioning for several days now, apparently plugged-up by something, something big -- he typed ominously, again.
Elsewhere, Sean meets up with Kelly, who is in between shifts on the stunt-show, who drags him off to the bumper boats. (You know, when I visited SeaWorld back in 1976, the aquatic stunt show I saw involved a menagerie of DC Comics superheroes water-skiing and performing boat stunts. It was one of the greatest things a six year old could ever see. Here, though, the crowd seems to be stuck watching selected scenes from Lil’ Abner.) Meanwhile, below the waves in those pressurized tubes, visitors are menaced by animatronic tentacles and sea snakes. And when it's announced over the PA-system that a live great white shark is now on display, this brings a distressed Kay on the run, who arrives just in time to watch her prized specimen go belly-up for the last time.
Meanwhile, meanwhile, the search for Shelby concludes rather gruesomely when those same tourists in the tunnel watch in horror as his bloated corpse floats past one of the portals. When these remains are recovered, Mike can barely hold down his lunch when he properly identifies the body, whose many orifices are teeming with squicky marine life. Kay would also like to take a look, to see if her shark was the cause of death. Mike tries to stop her, but she assures if it was a shark attack she’s seen the same kind of carnage before.
But when she pulls the sheet back and takes in the damage, Kay cries out in horror while holding her hands about a yard apart. And then, without a word, she turns and sprints out of the room with Mike right behind her.
Obviously, Kay needs to raise the alarm about something; and to do that she needs to find Bouchard, who is currently in the underwater lounge on the phone with the control room. Seems one of those filtration pumps is about to burn-out due to that obstruction, and so Bouchard orders them to just turn it off to save him the expense of replacing it. This action allows whatever was jammed-up in there to finally dislodge itself and enter the lagoon. He then returns to his party, FitzRoyce and Tate, just as Kay and Mike arrive in a highly agitated state.
Telling them to sit and keep their voices down, Bouchard and the others then listen as Kay reveals Shelby was killed by a shark with a bite radius about a yard long. That’s ridiculous, says FitzRoyce, as that would mean a shark of some 35-feet in length -- nearly twice as big as any great white ever recorded. But it’s true. In fact, the one they caught was a juvenile and was most likely birthed inside the park, just as Shelby was eaten inside the park, meaning mama shark is also inside the park.
And then, almost as if on cue, this theoretical giant mutant shark, who was apparently hiding in that tube this whole time, swims into view for all to see. She then goes on a rampage, damaging one of those tunnels, compromising the seal, causing several air-tight doors to shut as the enclosures flood, trapping about a two-dozen people underwater in one of the anchoring pods with no air supply. Then, the shark swims for the stunt-show.
Meantime, our protagonists split-up to try and save as many as they can. And after a fairly hilarious crash and burn in a stolen golf cart, Mike reaches the staging area for the water-skiers just as the sight of a pursuing dorsal fin causes the pyramid to collapse (-- though the math doesn’t quite add up here given the shark’s length).
But as several boats rush in to save them, the shark loses interest and moves on toward the swimming area and the bumper boats, where it just so happens to draw a bead on the one occupied by Sean and Kelly, capsizing the craft. When it swings around again, Kelly is either bitten or slashed or something, resulting in some massive leg trauma.
But they’re safely hauled to shore by FitzRoyce just as the shark sinks a floating platform, sending another group of people plunging into the water. But then, quite inexplicably, the shark just up and disappears without eating one single solitary person. Some rampage, toots.
Of course the priority now is to save those people trapped in the tunnels. But to do that, they need to fix the breach, then re-pressurize the tunnels so those doors will open, which will allow them to escape to the surface. And this they will have to do with a 35-foot shark lurking about in the murk. Not to worry, says FitzRoyce, because he has a plan. That plan being luring the shark back into that filtration tube where they can trap it and then kill it at his leisure, allowing Mike to make the patch in relative safety.
Now, this plan goes off without a hitch until FitzRoyce’s safety line snaps after he successfully lures the big fish into the pipe, which Tate then seals, allowing the shark to finally eat somebody! Meantime, with Kay watching his back, Mike is able to complete the weld, even as word reaches Bouchard in the control room that FitzRoyce didn’t make it and the monitors show the shark has once more broken loose! And so, the good news is those trapped people managed to escape. The bad news is, the shark is about to eat Mike and Kay only to have their hash saved one last time by Cindy and Sandy, who pound the shark’s gills, allowing them to reach the airlock that leads to the control room.
Meantime, the shark appears to have killed either Cindy or Sandy in the resulting underwater melee. In the control room, Mike and Kay join Bouchard and two technicians, thinking they’re at last safe, not realizing the shark is currently drawing a bead on the observation window!
And here is where JAWS 3 goes completely bonkers, and is so better for it! Shattering the window and flooding the control room, as Mike and Kay struggle to get their scuba gear back on, Bouchard manages to scoop up one of those technicians and escapes to … somewhere?! Meanwhile, that other technician bites the dust most righteously as he is basically bitten in half. The shark also now appears to be apparently stuck in the hole it created. Here, Mike and Kay notice -- get this, FitzRoyce’s corpse stuck in the shark’s mouth. And in his hand is one of those grenades.
Working quickly, Kay tries to distract the beast as Mike makes a crude metal hook to try and snag the pin out of the grenade held by a corpse stuck inside the shark’s mouth. I’m gonna repeat that for clarity. Working quickly, Kay tries to distract the beast as Mike makes a crude metal hook to try and snag the pin out of the grenade held by a corpse stuck inside the shark’s mouth. (As I said, all of this is ringing awfully familiar from not one, but now two, count 'em, two, different familiar sources. More on this in a sec.)
And when Mike miraculously hooks the pin and primes the grenade, he and Kay swim to shelter behind the control console. The shark goes boom! It’s innards fly at the camera until they assume the standard position and float for a bit in the grue.
Then, showing no detrimental effects from the concussive force of that explosion, Mike and Kay swim to the surface, where the sun is rising and our happy ending is punctuated when both dolphins, alive and well, break the surface in the lousiest FX-shot in a film full of lousy FX-shots.
At the dawn of the 1980s, StereoScopic Three Dimensional (3D) pictures suddenly came back into vogue with films like Comin’ at Ya! (1981), Parasite (1982), Treasure of the Four Crowns (1983) and Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn (1983). There were also a set of franchise sequels due for Friday the 13th (1980), The Amityville Horror (1979) and, of course, JAWS, who were all serendipitously lined-up numerically in a marketer’s wet-dream to cash-in on this fad, resulting in Friday the 13th: Part III 3-D (1982), Amityville 3-D (1983) and JAWS 3 officially became JAWS 3-D.
The decision to shoot in 3D added a whole ‘nother layer of headaches for the production -- on top of once more dealing with another temperamental mechanical shark. When production began, they used a StereoVision rig which required two cameras. This, of course, led to a lot of ghosting and blurring problems when the film was later screened via two projectors if they didn’t properly sync, something that has always hamstrung the process since the 1950s. But about a week into the shoot, a new single camera ArriVision rig became available, which used a special twin-lens adapter to capture the needed 3D effect, where each 35-mm film frame was split in half horizontally, capturing the left-eye image in the upper half of the frame and the right-eye image in the lower half; a technique known as over/under.
This new process saved a lot of money on the front end and a lot of headaches on the back end. First, it saved a lot of expense because it only needed one camera and one roll of film per take. And once the film reached theaters, it no longer required twin-projectors to make the gimmick work. Instead, all theaters needed was a special prism to combine the images properly, meaning the film could be shown on any projector, on any screen, anywhere.
To save even more money, JAWS 3-D was one of the first productions to use video equipment to combine their special-effects shots instead of the usual optical film printing. Private Stock Effects handled all the video opticals, where the live-action elements were matted in with the miniatures; and they were almost done when Landsburg suddenly panicked. Seems this first generation of video editing equipment was pretty low-res, resulting in images that looked really soft and a little fuzzy around the edges compared to the film stock. At first, since most of these opticals took place underwater it was decided this was okay -- until it wasn’t.
And so, Landsburg freaked-out at the last minute and ordered all the opticals to be redone with the traditional process by Praxis Film Works. Time was not on their side as the release date loomed, meaning over two-thirds of the planned composite shots were just cut from the movie, while others were simplified to make the deadline. Thus, things were rushed, and it shows. Badly, explaining why most of the composite FX-shots and blue-screening in JAWS 3-D look pretty janky, especially with the underwater miniatures or when people are walking in the tunnels of the Undersea Kingdom, which were shot dry for wet. The shark’s final charge into the control room for the climax is both glorious and awful. And if you keep your eyes open, you might even spot a few blank screens in a few portholes that were overlooked or they hoped we wouldn’t notice lurking in the finished film.
The 3D effect itself works okay in a few scenes and not at all in others. When you watch it flat, streaming or on DVD, everyone has a bit of a halo shimmering around them. Everything just looks a bit off. Again, 3D always worked best in a depth of field sense, with things layered from the foreground to the background, where the eyes are given enough time to register this before we cut to the next scene -- which is why rapidly chucking crap at the audience seldom works and leaves little impression.
On the more practical side, from what we see, the mechanical shark behaves itself pretty well this time. Look, it’s obviously fake, I get that, you get that, but there are no real glaring errors or equipment visible in its innards like in JAWS 2 and it only really breaks down in the notorious torpedo scene, where the baby shark telescopes a bit when it rams the gate. This also might’ve been the first time a JAWS movie used a stop-motion miniature of the shark in the movie. I also loved how we get a view from inside the shark’s mouth as it chomps down on the few people it actually does eat.
And once its lodged into the control room, it gets pretty exciting as it munches one of the techs, and Brody tries to hook the grenade grasped in FitzRoyce’s hand as JAWS 3-D not only rips off Castellari but also rips off Ideal Toys for the explosive climax. (Also, please don’t tell ‘em sharks don’t have a reverse gear. It’ll ruin the whole movie.)
As for the cast who had to sell all of this, apparently, if you talk to Dennis Quaid about playing Mike Brody in JAWS 3-D his response usually leans toward, “I was in JAWS what now?” Quaid makes no bones that he had a massive cocaine problem during the shoot. (If you watch him close, he’s got the sweats pretty bad in a couple scenes.) Still, even if he can’t remember making it, he’s pretty great in it, always in the moment, no matter how ridiculous it may be. He also has great chemistry with Bess Armstrong, who is so adorable I can’t even even as the no-nonsense Kay. And these two add a lot of juice to Alves’ otherwise lackluster efforts.
This was also Lea Thompson’s big screen debut, but she honestly doesn’t leave much of an impression. John Putch, as little brother Sean, doesn’t leave much of one either, except with all the baggage he carries about getting back into the water after what happened to his character in the last movie. The same cannot be said for Simon MacCorkindale, however, who competes something fierce with Louis Gossett Jr. over who could make their characters the most ridiculous by the film's end. There’s also a pretty good Manimal joke to make when FitzRoyce gets eaten, where we wonder if he tastes like everything. Also a special shout-out to, I think, P.T. Horn if I’m gleaning the credits right, the tour guide who keeps everyone calm and focused when they get trapped in the flooded tunnel. A small part, but she nailed it.
JAWS 3-D was also almost the first R-rated picture in the franchise, too. Seems the censors objected to the violence and protracted deaths of several characters as they were eaten -- singling out the bone-crunching sound-effects, and they were pretty gruesome. And protracted. The whole sound-design on this film, headed by Gordon Ecker, was actually pretty great. I really dug how the sound was distorted when we cut underwater, where people’s screams are diffused in the liquid. It’s creepy, and adds to the dread of what’s lurking below. Now, it does break down a bit when they basically anthropomorphized the dolphin's chatter as they try to warn our heroes about the shark. And in one instance one of them basically exclaimed "Uh-oh!" But Landsburg made the necessary cuts to get a PG rating, but I’m sure JAWS 3-D could be added to the pile of Dreamscape (1984), Gremlins (1984) and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), which caused the birth of the PG-13 rating.
When the film was first released in July, 1983, one month after Return of the Jedi (1983), JAWS 3-D did pretty well on its opening weekend but saw a precipitous fall-off the following week. And then it was just gone, pulled from theaters with no real explanation as to why. I like to think Castellari counter-sued them over that ending, or maybe SeaWorld was threatening to sue over defamation, but who can say for sure.
Now, I have a strange and somewhat sordid history with this franchise. I first saw JAWS when my parents unwittingly dumped their children off for a weekend matinee back in ‘75. I first saw JAWS 2 when my siblings talked my grandparents into taking us all to see it when they convinced my grandfather it was a movie about fishing in ‘78. And then I saw JAWS 3-D all by myself in ‘83 at the old Imperial 3. Sneaking into town on a school permit, I remember wearing the glasses, I remember the stupid fish head, I remember the skeleton waving at me, and I will never forget the climax with the charge and the bang and the boom and the detritus of the shark’s innards floating before my eyes.
This probably goes a long way in why I consider JAWS 3-D to be the best sequel of the franchise -- not saying a whole lot, sure, when all you have to compare it to is the second, where again, not enough people get eaten, and the total shit-show known as JAWS the Revenge (1987), where Lorraine Gary finally got to be the star of the picture, which, technically, retconned JAWS 3-D out of existence. Fie and pfui on that, I say. The schlock could not save the fourth entry because it failed to truly embrace it, but the schlock totally greased the wheels on JAWS 3-D and made it go. And I am here for that, Boils and Ghouls. So c’mon in, the water’s fine. And full of sharks. Big ones.
Well, if you don't know what Hubrisween is by now, Boils and Ghouls, I don't think I can help you. Anyhoo, that's TEN films down with 16 yet to go. Up next, How to Lose Your Head at College Without Even Trying.
JAWS 3-D (1983) Alan Landsburg Productions :: Universal Pictures / EP: Alan Landsburg, Howard Lipstone / P: Rupert Hitzig / AP: David R. Kappes / LP: Ed Horwitz / D: Joe Alves / W: Richard Matheson, Carl Gottlieb, Guerdon Trueblood (Story), Peter Benchley (Novel) / C: James A. Contner / E: Corky Ehlers, Randy Roberts / M: Alan Parker / S: Dennis Quaid, Bess Armstrong, Simon MacCorkindale, Louis Gossett Jr., John Putch, Lea Thompson, Harry Grant, Dolores Starling