Jaws 3-D Is Your Weekend Cheesy Movie

by Erik Amaya

Cheesy movies are a special joy. Despite an earnest attempt to create compelling stories, filmmakers often miss the mark. Some movies turn out simply mediocre. Others become entertaining in spite of their flaws or authorial intent. They become cheesy. In Your Weekend Cheesy Movie, we’ll examine some of these misguided efforts for what they fail at achieving and what they manage to do right.
This week: Jaws 3-D

Over the course of film history, there have been three great moves by the film industry to adopt 3D filmmaking. The idea each time was to give moviegoers an experience they could not find on television. Each time, it was entered into with high hopes, but ultimately petered out as the technology could not overcome the use of glasses to achieve the effect. The current 3D trend is by far the longest lived, but it is fading. The 1950s 3D wave may be the most nostalgic as many forget 3D had a resurgence in the 1980s as a way to combat the growing threat of video games and the ever-present power of Steven Spielberg crowdpleasers.
Universal Studios, Spielberg’s first employer, was particularly keen to recreate the success he brought to the company as he moved on to other studios for films like Close Encounters of the Third Kind and the Indiana Jones series. But Universal, being a fairly cheesy studio itself, really didn’t understand why a movie like Jaws worked, so they just kept counterfeiting it in the hopes of catching the lightning again. Jaws 2 is a fairly unremarkable film which sees the shark become a teen slasher while Sheriff Brody (Roy Scheider) combats some serious PTSD. It still made money, so Universal commissioned a third installment. The producers initially ordered a self-parody known as “Jaws 3, People 0,” but reconsidered as it might damage the brand. Instead, they made Jaws 3-D, an unintentional self-parody which definitely damaged the brand.
The plot centers on a grown-up Michael Brody (Dennis Quaid), now working as a structural engineer at Sea World in Florida. When not combating the engineering challenges of an underwater aquarium attraction, he spends time with his girlfriend Kathryn (Bess Armstrong); one of the park’s dolphin trainers and aquatic animal experts. As the film begins, Michael anticipates the arrival of his younger brother Sean (John Putch), who avoids the seaside thanks to the memories of the time they were almost eaten by that teen-slasher shark in Jaws 2. Well, maybe. When Michael tells Kathryn about it, he seems to be talking about the pond attack in the original film.
And, wouldn’t you know it, a great white shark has found its way into the gated lagoon waters of Sea World. When the park’s general manager, Calvin Bouchard (Louis Gossett Jr.), hears about it, he dispatches wild-life photographer and hunter Philip FitzRoyce (Simon MacCorkindale) to kill it. Kathryn talks him into capturing it and, for a brief time, Sea World has the only great white in captivity. But soon after it dies — and the body of one of Michael’s workers turns up on the side of the underwater exhibit — Kathryn makes a shocking discovery: the great white didn’t come to SeaWorld alone. It swam into the park with its mother. And once mom is discovered still hunting inside the park, all hell breaks loose.
If the whole thing sounds just one step too removed from Jaws, that’s part of the charm. Despite the Michael Crichton premise and a script draft by Richard Matheson, Jaws 3-D cannot help but feel as desperate as Jaws ripoffs like Tentacles. It probably doesn’t help matters that none of the original cast appear in the film. Instead, Quaid and Armstrong do their best to lead the picture even when it cannot decide if Michael and Kathryn are mature adults or a couple of kids. For his part, Quaid puts in a fine budget Harrison Ford performance here. Armstrong, meanwhile, does her best with the compassionate scientist role. But as both are sort of milquetoast protagonists, they get pushed aside by the more vibrant performances of Gossett, MacCorkindale and Lea Thompson in an early role as fish food.
Well, she’s almost fish food. She and Sean spend much of the film together and it feels like they’re being served up as lunch. But when Mama Jaws finally attacks SeaWorld, Thompson’s character ends up with just as few lacerations. Unlike any other Jaws film, Jaws 3-D is strangely gunshy about killing people. Sure, that one worker gets eaten — and we see his maggot-riddled corpse lovingly rendered in a 3D close-up — but the actual moment of his death, and the few other deaths in the film, are composed of indistinct close-ups edited together in a confusing manner. It’s possible director Joe Alves cut around more gruesome death scenes as the end result feels like a compromise with nervous studio bosses or the Ratings Board.
Or it may have been Alves’ overall approach. Because of the 3D technique used, the film’s 2D version is strangely murky. Everything is in a soft focus, giving the movie a cheaper feel than the Universal logo at the beginning would suggest. Then again, the logo was specially made for the 3D version, so who knows?
But that’s certainly part of the fun here. Between the misguided story, the rip-off feel, and Gossett’s rather eccentric choices for Bouchard, Jaws 3-D is an exercise in a movie studio just plain getting it wrong. The best and funniest example comes at the end when Mama Jaws attacks Bouchard, Michael and Kathryn in the underwater aquarium’s command center. The shark slowly lumbers across the screen. Because it was originally presented in 3D, the creature is strangely divorced from the background and utterly lifeless. The shot cuts to slow motion reaction of Quaid, Armstrong and Gossett. It cuts again to the shark, who has made little headway in her journey toward the center of frame. Reactions again. Finally, super-imposed glass shatters in front of the shark, intending to startle the audience and suggest that Mama Jaws was powerful enough to punch through the tempered transparent polymer widow of a pressurized, submerged command center. Like most of the other lame 3D gags in the film, the overall effect in 2D is just magical. Just not the magic Alves or Universal intended.
This is why you come to see Jaws 3-D. At this point, there’s no real continuing story of the Brody clan. Indeed, Jaws: The Revenge ignored this film entirely. But what you get is a movie as foolhardy as Bouchard’s attempt to contain a great white. The result is a briny sort of cheese.
Jaws 3-D is currently available on Netflix. It is also for sale on Blu-ray with the option to watch it in its original 3D format.

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