Joe Alves’ “Jaws 3-D” arrived a year after the shockingly successful “Friday the 13th Part 3 in 3-D,” which led a fleet of 3-D B-movies that kept the format alive for about a year before an extended hibernation.
A sign of both the film’s quality and its legacy pop up in the first few minutes – during the opening credits, an unseen shark bites the head off a fish, which floats awkwardly in the frame long enough that even the audience gawking over the 3-D likely finally shouted, “Enough already!”
What follows is hardly better, as we meet the various characters/shark chum who work at a busy sea life park during a heavy tourist season.
Dennis Quaid, Bess Armstrong, Lea Thompson and other appealing actors work at the park which experiences a sudden surge in shark attacks
Quaid is the film’s star, but his performance is busy but disinterested, giving his co-star and love interest Armstrong zero chemistry to play off. The biggest name here was Louis Gossett Jr., who is visibly trying to invest some bluster and gravity into his role as the mastermind behind the amusement park.
Had the film, later retitled “Jaws 3” for television and videocassette release, given Gossett Jr. a chance to play the equivalent of John Hammond, the film could have at least had a dramatic center. Considering that Gossett Jr. had previously won an Oscar for “An Officer and a Gentleman” (1982), his misuse here is especially disappointing.
An aspect of Alves film that is historically noteworthy for cinephiles is its place in the amusement-park-run-amok genre. The movie arrived a decade after “Westworld” (1973) and a decade before “Jurassic Park” (1993).
An especially odd touch here is that, unlike the prior films mentioned, “Jaws 3-D” doesn’t take place at a fictitious amusement park, but, no kidding, Sea World in Florida!
Did the depiction of tourists and park employees being devoured by sharks help or hurt the image of the park? Did they at least sell “I Survived my Summer at Sea World! Jaws 3-D Now in Theaters” T-shirts? It’s difficult to imagine Disney ever promoting a film where their world-famous parks are portrayed as mismanaged and full of bloodshed.
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Presumably because Richard Matheson is among the screenwriters, there is an ambitious idea that surfaces: a portion of this aquatic park is now underwater, with a tunnel and observation deck for tourists willing to go beneath the surface.
It’s a cool concept with a lite sci-fi angle, but nothing more comes of this beyond the initial reveal. Because there’s a killer shark on the loose, it’s a given that this attraction will get chomped into oblivion.
However, you’d think that the filmmakers were capable of more than showing us the obliviously phony, unmoving shark, slowly coming toward the camera, breaking through a massive wall of glass in slow motion. Like much of the visual effects here, it might have been somewhat compelling in 3-D but in 2-D, the effects are painfully phony, and the action scenes are functional but never exciting.
FAST FACT: Dennis Quaid struggled with addiction during the 1980s, later admitting he was “high in every frame” of “Jaws 3-D.”
The important connecting point between this and its predecessors isn’t the shark but the Brody boys. Quaid and John Putch are playing Mike and Sean Brody, the sons of Sheriff Brody (Roy Scheider, who wisely decided against appearing in this).
It’s a meager olive branch to the original, vastly superior films that came before it.
A spirited argument can be made that “Jaws the Revenge” (1987), the fourth and, to date, the final entry in the series, is the worst one. However, whereas “Jaws 3-D” offers an underwater theme park (feeling more like a set piece from an Irwin Allen flick than something that belongs here), “Jaws the Revenge” has a game performance from Michael Caine, ample use of John Williams’ beloved theme music (which is barely used in the third film) and lots of unintentional hilarity.
The fourth “Jaws” movie at least feels like it exists in the same universe as “Jaws” (1975) and “Jaws 2” (1978). Aside from the tossed-off reference to the Brody boys, there’s little here to attach it to the lived-in charm of “Jaws” or the first sequel’s depiction of teenage discovery falling victim to sharkus interruptus.
Nevertheless, despite awful reviews and the early problem of traditional cardboard 3-D glasses (watching a movie through blue and red filters for longer than a few minutes is no fun), “Jaws 3-D” made a whopping $45 million at the box office and was the top grossing 3-D movie for the latter stretch of the 20th century.
The effective marketing campaign touted “the third dimension is terror.” If only…