Jaws 3, a.k.a. Jaws 3-D (1983)

Universal Pictures.  Director: Joe Alves.

Creature Feature Bleachers Award: Worst Use of What Could Have Been the Most Awesome Setting (tied with “Shark in Venice“).

“Jaws 3” fits only loosely into the continuity of the “Jaws” series— Chief Brody’s sons, Mike and Sean Brody (Dennis Quaid and John Putch), very obliquely mention their previous experiences with sharks.  Other than that, the only thing that sets this film apart from the vast catalog of sharksploitation movies is that it features the iconic “Jaws” theme rather than a close knock-off.  (Okay, it also contains hints of Mike Brody’s passion for angry welders, as later revealed in “Jaws: The Revenge.”)  While not an especially bad movie, “Jaws 3” will disappoint fans of the storyline established in “Jaws,” “Jaws 2,” and “Jaws: the Revenge.”  All things considered, the shark is big but not exceptional, the Brodys aren’t at odds with the authorities, and the threat level seems relatively low.  Whereas “Jaws” scared America off the beaches, I doubt that “Jaws 3” could scare anyone away from SeaWorld.

Mike Brody and girlfriend Kay (Bess Armstrong) work at Florida’s SeaWorld.  Mike’s visiting brother Sean takes a liking to one of the water skiers,  Kelly (Lea Thompson).  Meanwhile, the park’s manager, eccentric Calvin Bouchard (Louis Gossett, Jr.), announces the opening of a new attraction: interconnected underwater glass tunnels which allow visitors to see aquatic life in a natural setting.  Lately, however, the dolphins have been acting rather skittish, and the gate that separates SeaWorld from the ocean won’t close for some reason.  When a maintenance worker goes missing, the staff soon discovers that a great white shark has made its way into the park!  Traveling photographer Phillip FitzRoyce (Simon MacCorkindale) offers to kill it on camera, but Kay suggests they capture and display the shark instead.  The attempt is successful, but— surprise, surprise— this shark is just a baby, and Momma’s still somewhere in the park!  Can the gang take her down before she wreaks more havoc?

The DVD Cover

I don’t know about you, but the first mention of the underwater tunnel system set my mind racing.  Vacationing humans, expecting a fun and somewhat surreal aquatic experience, are suddenly trapped underwater with an angry killer shark.  The tunnels begin to flood one by one, the lights suddenly shut off, and a plucky young tour guide in striped shorts must keep the group calm while trying to find a way out.  As the air in the tunnels begins to run low, she frantically transmits an SOS on her radio, until the batteries go dead.  Toward the end of the film, the group climbs to the highest point in the tunnel, where the tour guide uses a now-ironic “Stay Safe and Have Fun!” Larry the Lobster sign to break through the glass.  As the guests swim to safety, she and the shark have their final showdown.  The shark swims at her, intent on ripping its hated foe to shreds.  At the very last second, the guide says “They’re not paying me enough to die, you SOB!” and jams a jagged piece of glass into the shark, killing it instantly.

Sadly, I’ve just described a much cooler movie than “Jaws 3.”  For all the hype, the underwater tunnel system gets about 5 minutes of screen time— the shark rams a tunnel, the tunnel leaks, and visitors are trapped behind a flood door.  Disappointing, right?  An underwater amusement park is the perfect setting for an amazing sharksploitation film, but “Jaws 3” falls far short of its “West World” potential.

Heck, this whale would have been a scarier villain.

They didn’t even exploit this whale’s latent villainousness.

On the plus side, “Jaws 3” has a pretty awesome rescue by dolphins.  Who doesn’t like dolphins?  There’s also riveting dialogue like “I’ll have my beeper beep your beeper” and “We having dinner here.”  Unfortunately, the subplots are decidedly sub par.  For instance, thieves trying to steal coral from SeaWorld.

Black

Black clothes?  Check.
Black face makeup? Check.
Bright yellow boat? D’oh!

Continuing in the tradition of sharksploitation films with unpleasant beach bodies, there are some pretty good fatties in “Jaws 3.”

Literally credited as "Beer Bell on Beach."

Literally listed in the credits as “Beer Belly on Beach.”

Favorite character on the right, there.

Favorite character there on the right.

You’re probably distracted by the tubby guy in the bumper boat, but a keen eye will note that the woman on the left is actually Lea Thompson in a pre-“Back to the Future” role.  According to BTTF chronology, she would have been about 45 in 1983, but for some reason she only looks 22…

Since a full-on BTTF-Jaws crossover film is as unlikely as it is amazing, we have to console ourselves with the fact that Lea Thompson and Jaws both made appearances in “Back to the Future II”:

The highlight of “Jaws 3” is Mike’s mad dash across the park as he attempts to warn people of the dangerous shark.  I don’t know if this was meant to be comedic or not, but it reminds me of nothing so much as the immortal “Some days, you just can’t get rid of a bomb” sequence from the 1966 “Batman” movie.  Mike doesn’t meet any nuns, but he does run through a pack of Hula dancers, knock a guy off a go-kart laden with precariously-balanced popcorn (which children then run up to eat off the ground), drive over a bush, stumble through a row of plastic dolphins, sprint across a deserted path of rainbow ribbons, and push over the emcee of the water ski show, all so that he can shout “GEHOUAWA-A!  GEHOUAWA-A RII OWWW!” at the water skiers.  Presumably this is supposed to mean something to them.

The trailer contains the film’s ridiculous tagline: “The third dimension is terror!”:

“Jaws 3” is available on Amazon.

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