During the 1990’s I can scarcely remember a time when one television station or another wasn’t playing at least one of the four JAWS movies, TBS, TNT, or WPIX often devoting an entire day to films about killer oceanic creatures. Still, of the four films JAWS 3 (or 3-D, if you like) was one of the b-movies that was always making the rounds, and it’s gratuitous special effects make it an easy target for this week’s cheesy movie selection.
Although I didn’t realize it as a kid, JAWS 3 picks up the story of the Brody family at a Sea World theme park (Sea World Orlando, a landlocked theme park, to be precise), the two brothers Sean and Michael being all-grown-up and looking absolutely nothing like their younger predecessors in the first two films. Maybe I shouldn’t complain too much about the continuity issues, given that the film was originally planned as a National Lampoon’s spoof with the title Jaws 3, People 0. The comedy was never made, though, as Steven Speilberg through a hissy fit about it and a straight story was penned involving a shark swimming upstream and munching on vacationers at a lake, script doctors eventually hashing together the story as released in 1983. Anyway, the overall “plot” of this movie should be no surprise to anyone; cue the scary music, people find stupid excuses to go swimming, shark manages to fit a few down its mouth, shark goes boom, everyone’s happy and says “That surely won’t happen ever again, right?”. For the sake of a few laughs, though, let’s have a closer look at this hunk ‘o’ movie cheese.
Even though this is the third installment of the film and we clearly know what the villain looks like, JAWS 3 opens with a large grouper being attacked by a POV shot, groupers apparently squirting out blood and ripping off their own heads when confronted with a predator. This isn’t a sound defense strategy for a fish (the sea cucumbers told them it would work), and the unsatisfied killer shark decides to mill around the entrance to Sea World’s lagoon while the credits roll. After we’re told that the film was “suggested” by Peter Benchley’s original book (a warning sign if ever there was one), we’re introduced to a large group of water skiers, the filmmakers figuring that if a shark going after one water skier in JAWS 2 was exciting, an even bigger shark going after a half dozen would be even more exciting. Maybe it would been if the shark actually caught any of the water skiers, but the toothy terror in this installment seems to be very finicky about its meals, chasing down far more swimmers than it decides to consume.
When the shark does almost accidentally manage to consume its victims, we’re often treated to a gratuitous 3-D shot of the remains (which looks just plain bizarre without the special glasses), floating fish heads and arms giving people plenty of time to appreciate the internal anatomy of the shark’s leftovers. After one such snack the shark manages to get into the park and have a baby, which has the amazing power to swim backwards and a severe case of lockjaw that prevents it from closing its mouth. Such an aberrant specimen surely belongs on display, and our heroes (Mike, his marine biologist girlfriend Kathryn, and “Great White Hunter” Philip FitzRoyce) attempt to capture it for study. While the capture is successful, the shark soon dies on display, just before the 35-foot mother realizes that the movie is half over and the death toll only stands at one grouper, one muscle man, two coral poachers, and a life raft. There is some classic bad dialog all throughout this section, but my one of my favorite snippets is the explanation of white shark gregariousness given by the theme park attendant near the baby shark pool; “A proud animal, it shuns the company of others of it’s species.”
What is also curious about this film is the overall scientific view of sharks presented, there being fleeting references to “Yum-Yum Yellow” and Bubble Barriers. During the period this movie was made, there was a popular idea that sharks were attracted to yellow, orange, and red, a swimmer wearing a bathing suit prominently displaying any of these colors inviting an attack. Today we know that sharks do not appear to have any color preference, although the myth continues by word of mouth. Likewise, some researchers have attempted to find ways to create barriers that sharks will not cross in order to keep swimmers safe, one of these attempts being a “Bubble Screen.” Experiments testing this idea laid a perforated pipe across the bottom of a tank, the hypothesis being that the sharks would not cross the wall of bubbles, but this turned out to be another myth (the sharks in the test swam through the bubbles as if they weren’t even there). On top of all that, the film depicts sharks swimming backward over and over again, something that they can’t do (especially fast-moving lamniform sharks like the Great White). Sharks can’t move their pectoral fins to move themselves backwards like many bony fish, and while some sharks can rest on the bottom and pump water over their gills, most open-water sharks (including the group to which the Great White belongs) need to keep moving in order to actively keep water flowing over their gills. Indeed, the sharks of JAWS truly are fantastical movie monsters more than they are slightly enlarged versions of living predators.
I must admit, though, that there is one scene in the movie that is genuinely frightening. FitzRoyce goes down into a pipe to dispatch the shark and gets swallowed whole, “Gill-Cam” showing us his desperate attempt to escape being crushed by the sharks “chewing” motions. Ultimately we see blood escape from the gill slits of the shark and know the end of the hunter, and despite the poor quality of the rest of the film that scene gave me nightmares when I first saw it. True to form, however, the filmmakers take things too far and have the shark delay actually swallowing FitzRoyce, the hapless victim nearly sticking out of the shark’s mouth (even though the shark consumed at least one other person during this time). Luckily FitzRoyce had a grenade in hand the whole time, Mike pulling the pin and saving the day (although how he saved his eardrums from the underwater explosion, I can’t say). Indeed, it was a tragic end for a shark that just wanted some help removing a stuck diver from her throat; I guess we humans will just never understand.
Best Line in the Movie: “If he didn’t pull that old crotch trick he wouldn’t have won.”
JAWS: The Revenge (with Michael Cain as “Hoagie”!)