Jaws 3D (Joe Alves, 1983)
It’s been five years since Amity Island’s Sheriff Martin Brody last breathlessly spouted out an audience applause line as he blew away another Carcharodon carcharias into smithereens (for the second time – well, as far as we know anyway, who knows at this rate, maybe there were more) and his two sons, Mike (Dennis Quaid) and Sean (John Putch), both who have somehow seemingly doubled the aging process in being at least ten years older, have settled into SeaWorld Orlando where – in some kind of astronomically improbable, possibly karmic event (at least the Brody kids might wanna start thinking about that) a marauding shark gets mistakenly captured within the compound and puts them and everyone around in danger… all seems well, however, as they capture the sharp-toothed baby fish, but they should’a known better when they realized it was only ten foot long… as its thirty foot mama has also broken in, and she’s looking to create some serious 3D havoc (well, trying to at least).
It was the 80’s and the eye-popping gimmick was back in fashion, leading to a whole slew of genre movies whose main goal was, when not simply hurling any number of objects directly at the audience, to suddenly stop the narrative and leeringly shoot some long erect implement so fetishistically it was practically pornography, maximizing the feeling that the big member was gonna squirt a load right into your face (with some enterprising pornographers actually making that literal). Unfortunately, with the main focus on the lowbrow (but admittedly really fun, like continuously waving your hand in the air at the objects that aren’t really there) technological marvel, many of these films lacked more than a bit in the narrative and filmmaking side of things, with quick-to-cash-in-on-the-fad producers thinking of our favorite genre as the stomping grounds to slum, where the audience didn’t give a care about story as long as they could go ‘ooh!’ and ‘ahh!’ (well, in many cases, unfortunately, they’re not entirely off-base with that).
While this worked just fine with sensational entries like Friday the 13th Part III and the like, which were already admittedly kinda high concept and low-brow (I always find it so ironic how well those terms go together) in its approach, the “Jaws” series had managed (improbably considering how absurd of a premise it relied on with the second film in the series) to remain classy, well realized… and exciting.
Alas, probability, and shrinking inspiration, finally caught up to the franchise. Handing the reigns over to first time (and one-and-done) director Joe Alves (who was the production designer on the first two shark films), not only is the film not particularly interestingly directed, but the optical effects are mostly silly (with a wonky severed arms and, later, cartoon blow-up shark teeth floating up to the front of the screen) and the overall experience tepid. In direct opposition to the previous entry, this time around you nowhere near see enough of the shark (or experience any effective attack scenes, which you’d think they’d at least give you that)… then again, when you do, it’s shot so poorly you constantly can tell how limited its mobility is (with dolphins and our heroes constantly managing to avoid the immobile thing as all it can manage to really do is kinda shift).
B-level British strapping action hero Simon MacCorkindale shows up as, I guess, a sort of Quint figure of the film (well, a poor man’s version, that is), willing to get in there and fight that big bugger of a shark, which only reinforces just how lame the whole thing is. Louis Gossett Jr, who is never afraid to overplay though always remaining watchable, is perhaps the most engaging actor in the proceedings, as the opportunistic Calvin Bouchard, the park manager, serving as the obstinate Mayor Vaughn stand-in, in being not a bad fella necessarily, but one constantly swayed by corporate greed against the safety of unaware folk ending up as shark food (though feeling at least some pangs of guilt for it afterwards). Though, by the end, he just kinda disappears, with the filmmakers little bothering in finishing up his arc.
Don’t get me wrong. Sitting in my loft apartment with my early teen daughter, both of us wearing those silly glasses, and having the opportunity to watch the film projected in 3D on my big screen is not an event without some considerable enjoyment (even if the image quality is a bit frustratingly murky here and there – especially in a number of the underwater scenes – I find myself struggling to focus in the best of times with 3D, let alone when it’s all too dark – but the opening credits jumping at ya’ always look amazing!), but if only the movie wasn’t such an uninspired mediocrity (with some truly awful bits, that I guess with a little bit of effort you could call so bad they’re funny, but not really, such as the shark image horribly green-screened coming right at us to break through the glass and flood the underwater control room).
Yeah, we had fun with all the swirling objects floating at us and back, but we certainly weren’t feeling like Mike Brody and his cute little girlfriend Kay (Bess Armstrong), the park’s senior marine biologist (gee, a female head scientist and a black man running the show? – the film was certainly thinking ahead as far as in the politically aware direction, too bad not so much in the cinematic one), at the conclusion, as they raise their arms in triumphant cheer (then forever frozen in freeze frame) as they realize their two protector SeaWorld dolphins have managed to survive without getting eaten (while seemingly not all that concerned with the human casualties). In fact, I wished those human deaths had at least been a little more gizzly.