Franchise Rewind: Jaws 3-D (1983) Jaws: The Revenge (1987)

Jaws 3-D, 1983 (Dennis Quaid) MCA/Universal

Jaws: The Revenge, 1987 (Lorraine Gary) MCA/Universal

“You’re talkin’ about some damn shark’s mother?”

Jaws III (in 3-D) was one of my purest, truest pleasures as a child. There was a long line around the Sam’s Place theater chain on Chestnut Street in Philadelphia waiting to get in, sit down in the dark in an air conditioned auditorium on a hot July day in 1983. We used to go to Sam’s Place all the time, at least twice a week. Tickets (first-run, mind you) ran about two bucks each, maybe a buck-fifty for kids and seniors. We got our tickets and 3-D glasses, our popcorn and soda, got out of there without spending ten bucks.

If I remember correctly, even the previews were in 3-D, which was unusual (even though the most recent 3-D movie, Spacehunter, was released a few months before). I vaguely remember, one of my earliest memories was watching the original Jaws at a drive-in. I remember having nightmares. Jaws 3-D might be considered schlocky celluloid junk to purists, but it was incredible fun for me.

When Jaws 3-D came to cable television (retitled Jaws III, denoting the lack of 3-D effects), it lacked the punch of the big screen in your face, wearing the glasses and watching such items as severed arms, bifurcated fish, and papier-mâché sharks flying off the screen, but the movie still worked as schlock-horror. Dennis Quaid plays Mike Brody (Chief Brody’s oldest), all grown up and working as an engineer for Calvin Bouchard’s (Louis Gossett Jr.) SeaWorld.

His girlfriend, Kay (Bess Armstrong, again!), the senior marine biologist at the park, wonders why her dolphins are so scared and flighty (dolphins can sense sharks, you know). Meanwhile, Mike is investigating the disappearance of one of his employees, drunken ne’er-do-well Overman. Kay and Mike conduct a search, but are soon beset by a great white shark. They capture the shark, and Brouchard puts it on display, but it promptly dies in captivity.

Pretentious naturalist filmmaker Philip FitzRoyce (an appropriately douchey Simon “Manimal” MacCorkindale) and his trusted unintelligible assistant, Jack Tate are there to document the opening of SeaWorld’s underground tunnels, so that spectators can view sea life from inside the water (actually a great idea). Overman’s remains are found, but Kay ascertains that their shark didn’t do the damage. It’s mother did! A big bitch they estimate to be about 35 feet long (it gets bigger every time they tell the story!), the shark gets into the park and attacks performers.

The shark blocks the park’s filtration system, so Brouchard tries to flush her out, but she won’t budge. FitzRoyce, using himself as bait, tries to blow her up with underwater grenades. He is eaten. The shark finally breaks through (a very bad 3-D effect) the window of Brouchard’s underwater control room. Now, why would you put a control room under water? This park is supposed to be a triumph of engineering, but you put sensitive electronic equipment under the water?

There are some surprisingly good character beats in a script about an enormous shark terrorizing a theme park. Quaid and Armstrong are exceptional as a couple not quite ready for a long-term commitment. The running subplot of their relationship has them wondering which partner will give up his/her livelihood to join the other in a great job opportunity. There’s a great bit where Quaid’s Basset Hound is eating on the kitchen counter and Quaid is holding the dog’s floppy ears up, so the dog doesn’t make a mess.

Quaid’s kid brother, Sean, visits and hooks up with a cute Lea Thompson. FitzRoyce flirts with Armstrong. These are nice beats in an otherwise flawed piece of entertainment. Despite some of the 3-D pitfalls and gaps in logic, this movie is a lot of fun. The effects aren’t as bad as in The Man Who Wasn’t There (a film that didn’t really require 3-D visual effects), and admittedly it is a cheap gag to sell a Jaws franchise movie in 3-D, but they look a lot cleaner than previous attempts.

Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone was probably the most successful in terms of the visual quality, but that movie’s inflated budget killed the concept for a time. Friday the 13th Part III, Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn, and Amityville 3D were also released around this time, to mixed results. In 2003, 3D enjoyed a resurgence with James Cameron’s Ghosts of the Abyss.

The Polar Express and Cameron’s Avatar would follow in the years to come. Now, it seems every action or animated film is released in 3D. I don’t like this particular process (a kind of photographic layering of disparate elements in the foreground) as it makes me somewhat dizzy and a little nauseous. Give me Jaws 3-D over Avatar any day! It’s a lot more fun and a hell of a lot less preachy.

“I’ve always wanted to make love to an angry welder.”

I’ve seen Jaws: The Revenge several times over the years and it never occurred to me that this is a Christmas movie. It takes place during Christmas, or at least the start of the movie has a festive holiday feel. If Die Hard can be a Christmas movie, then so can Jaws: The Revenge. Indeed, as the younger of the Brody brothers, Sean, is being torn apart by a vengeful great white shark, carolers are practicing “The First Noel” on the shoreline, thus they are unable to hear his horrifying screams.

It’s actually kind of (I guess) unintentionally funny as Sean first loses an arm to the shark (who has cleverly lured him out to the water to fix a buoy), looks at his lack of an arm and shrieks over and over again. Rest in peace, Sean … and a flight of sharks sing thee to thy … breakfast, I-I think. Anyway, keep on rockin’! I know what I’d be thinking if I were Ellen (Lorraine Gary).

Sharks, all sharks have it in for her family. Her husband, Martin, died of a heart attack. Shark did it. I know it’s not considered canon (why is that?) but Jaws 3-D saw Sean and older brother, Michael, attacked several times by a big nasty great white shark. Shark did it.

Why the Brodys didn’t immediately move to Iowa after the events of Jaws 2 I’ll never know. Maybe the shark cancelled their moving truck and unpacked their boxes. Clever bitch! Michael (Lance Guest) takes his traumatized mother to the Bahamas (I suspect this is why director Joseph Sargent agreed to make the film), where he works as a marine biologist (changed from his job in the previous movie as an underwater engineer). ‘Cuz that’s where you want to take your mother who has survived multiple shark attacks: an island! Unfortunately, wherever Ellen goes, the damned shark follows, and she seems to have developed a preternatural ability to detect when the shark is near.

Michael’s comic relief friend, affectionately named “Dead Meat” (I’m just funnin’ ya! His name is Jake.) played by Mario Van Peebles spots the shark—it has to be the same shark, and this time … it’s personal. The shark has followed what remains of the Brody clan to the Bahamas. There’s a lot to make fun of in Jaws: The Revenge but I’d like to get some praise out of the way. The cinematography is absolutely gorgeous, whether it’s the beach or a simple interior night shot. There’s a clever bit that occurs right after the opening titles in which we see a fish being cooked in a frying pan. You know that’s gonna stink up the kitchen, right? I’m not cleaning that up.

Both Peebles and Lynn Whitfield (who plays his beautiful wife, Louisa) affect some cringeworthy Caribbean accents, and I keep wanting a 7 Up. It’s the “uncola” after all. No caffeine. Never had it, never will! Jake is positively thrilled to study the great white shark, but Mike has doubts. Wouldn’t you? Meanwhile “Hoagie,” (Michael Caine) the airplane pilot who flew the Brodys to the Bahamas, courts Ellen. I think the two of them should move to Iowa together. There’s something off about the shark. The movie relies more on the puppetry of the shark than the mix of real shark footage used in the first movie. It also relies on Spielberg-photographed flashbacks from the first movie.

All this makes me want to do is watch Jaws again. This movie has the feel of a made-for-television production. I don’t know why (could be the puppetry) , but this shark seems stupid compared to the previous two. After the shark crashes a party on the beach and nearly gobbles up her granddaughter, Ellen steals a boat and seeks … wait a minute. Is it possible the “revenge” in the title refers to Ellen and not the shark? This is an entertaining, if stupid, movie, and it’s a damned sight better than Matrix Revolutions!

Note: I’d like to dedicate this review to my friend, Scott Becker, who died a couple of years ago (at the age of 50, much too young). I originally wrote this review in 2016 and he contacted me to let me know how much he enjoyed the review, and that Jaws 3-D was also a moment of pure joy for him as a kid.


David Lawler has written for Film Threat, VHS Rewind, Second Union, and his own blog, Misadventures in BlissVille. Lawler has produced several podcasts including That Twilighty Show About That Zone, Two Davids Walk Into A Bar (with co-host David Anderson), EQ Lawler/Saltz (with Alex Saltz), and Upstairs at Froelich's (with co-host John Froelich).

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