Monster Movie Monday: Jaws 3 (1982)
Script and direction2
Matthew Turner | On 13, Jun 2022
Director: Joe Alves
Cast: Dennis Quaid, Dennis Quaid, Bess Armstrong, Simon MacCorkindale, Louis Gossett Jr, Lea Thompson, John Putch
In the mood for a creature feature? Amazon Prime has a veritable menagerie of monster movies, so we’re working our way through them, one killer beastie at a time. Welcome to Monster Movie Mondays.
Shot in 3D (but sadly only available in 2D on streaming services), the second sequel to Jaws was directed by Joe Alves, who served as production designer on the first two films and as second unit director on Jaws 2. Due in part to the 3D gimmick – similarly employed by other horror movie threequels around the same time, notably Amityville 3D and Friday the 13th Part III – the film was a moderate box office hit back in 1982, but it was panned by critics who clearly saw blood in the water.
The plot moves the shark-based action away from the beleaguered island of Amity, in favour of a new SeaWorld marine park in Orlando, Florida. However, there is a still a connection to the previous movies, in the shape of Chief Brody’s now grown-up sons, Mike Brody (Dennis Quaid) and Sean Brody (John Putch), who still has a fear of water due to his traumatising ordeal in Jaws 2.
Employed as the park’s mechanical engineer ahead of its big opening, Brody is understandably disturbed when a great white shark follows a team of water-skiers into the facility and later kills one of his employees. The news attracts fame hungry hunter Philip FitzRoyce (Simon MacCorkindale), who persuades park owner Calvin Bouchard (Louis Gossett Jr) to let him capture and kill the shark for a television audience, against the wishes of Brody’s girlfriend, the park’s marine biologist Kay Morgan (Bess Armstrong), who wants to keep the shark alive as a SeaWorld attraction.
The shark effects are a crushing disappointment compared to the previous two films, not least because it only surfaces above the water once. Consequently, the majority of the attacks happen underwater and are either obscured with red clouds of blood or restricted to close-ups of teeth.
As with most gimmick-heavy 3D movies, the film has been tailored to include several moments where objects float in front of the audience. While this was obviously fun in 3D, it only ends up looking murky and jarring in the 2D version. The film also has a slight tone problem, in that there are two unexpectedly strong gore moments (both involving the same corpse) that don’t really suit the rest of the film.
On a similar note, the actual shark kills are very disappointing – entire teams of perky skiers escape mostly unscathed, while key characters that practically have “Shark Bait” tattooed on their foreheads either get away without a scratch or are completely forgotten by the script. Indeed, there are a number of unforgiveable missed opportunities. There’s a very promising development early on where it’s clear Sean is still afraid of the water and (rightly) blames Mike for his ongoing trauma, but rather than give him an interesting arc addressing that idea, he has a brief shark encounter – along with Lea Thompson’s water-skier, Kelly – and promptly disappears from the story. Which begs the question: if Sean and Kelly are going to disappear offscreen anyway, why not just kill them off?
The film does have a couple of good moments, although they’re both very brief. One highlight is a terrific shot of the shark fin right behind the line of water-skiers, followed by the line panicking and collapsing into the water (but without casualties). The second great moment is a direct steal from the original movie and involves the unexpected appearance of a severed head in the water – it’s pretty much the only moment in the movie that achieves the desired effect.
Unfortunately, there are also a number of laughably terrible moments, not least the shark swallowing one of the characters whole (cue POV shots from inside the shark’s mouth), or the shark preventing a door being closed by sticking its jaw in the way, a truly risible effects shot that could have been significantly improved by Quaid’s character giving it a kick.
The other key element of the film that doesn’t really work is the dolphins, Sandy and Cindy – they have to rescue the main characters not once but twice and, while it just about works the first time, it’s poorly handled in the climax, so they don’t really earn the love from the audience that the film’s ending assumes. (Both Sandy and Cindy were nominated for Worst Newcomers at the Razzies in 1982.)
The dialogue is also a disappointment, with only Louis Gossett Jr’s delivery of the line “You’re talking about some damn shark’s mother?” offering any fun at all.
To compound the misery, the climactic sequences are poorly shot and edited, to the point where you know the shark eats someone, but you have no idea who it is. The final moments (involving shark bits flying out of the screen) clearly played much better in 3D, but they just look like shoddy effects work in 2D.
Ultimately, the film fails to provide anything resembling suspense or terror and doesn’t even manage to do anything interesting or effective with its central twist. The pacing is seriously misguided in places too – at one point, after the shark is captured, the audience is watching a load of water-based stuff going on without any apparent shark threat in the water at all. That should have been the moment to reveal the film’s big twist, but instead… nothing.