As the saying goes: another year, another Shark Week. Between July 28th and August 4th, we at Full Circle Cinema have decided to celebrate by digging our teeth into a variety of shark movies. For this review, let us go back to a film in which the product placement for a facility that houses sharks was more crucial than any monster spectacle: 1983’s Jaws 3D.
I love trash, I really do. Nothing could make me happier than going to the video store on a Friday night with a few friends to rent a trash film. We typically gravitate towards the horror genre. After all, horror reigns supreme of camp and cheese. With selections like Chopping Mall and Slumber Party Massacre, how could you go wrong? Well, it is very possible that you could make the wrong choice. I imagine that in the days of Blockbuster and Hollywood Video, one title lingered in the murky darkness. It is the kind of title that waits for the right moment to snatch you with your passing eye. Not only might it seem appealing with its connection to a popular franchise, but it is also in retina-burning 3-D. By all accounts, Jaws 3D should fit the bill as a delightfully goofy bit of trash.
But if I were you, I would close my eyes and walk back to the shore because Jaws 3D is far from good entertainment. It is not ‘good’ bad or naughty ‘John Waters’ bad, it is simply just bad. The story follows the Brody brothers and their misfortune of sharks hating their guts. Nothing new, but this time we are at SeaWorld. And this film will not let you forget it for a moment. I have nothing against Shamu or water-ski pyramids. But I watch shark movies for the sharks. And when a thriller about sharks forgets itself, then it just becomes an exercise in observing just how long one hour and 39 minutes can last.
It takes a while before we get introduced to the principal characters. And even when we do, it takes just as long for us to figure out that we are supposed to care about them. This movie may be in 3-D, but its characters lack the same number of dimensions. Quaid could not be any more flat as Mike. At first, I thought his performance was deliberately soulless. He could have been riffing on Robert Bresson’s auteur technique or Brecht’s alienation effect, for all I know. It didn’t take too much research to discover that Dennis Quaid was high on great white clumps of cocaine during the shoot. He admits that he was high “in every frame”. Well, Dennis, we can tell.
And then we have Kay Morgan, the senior marine biologist of the park, who at least gives this movie the impression that it might actually be about something other than blowing up sharks. Maybe her character opens up a dialogue about whether or not we should kill animals that threaten the lives of those in public spaces? Unfortunately, this movie never addresses this question beyond the murkiness of a ‘maybe’. At one point, she makes an argument that SeaWorld would get more publicity if they successfully captured a shark than killed it. Something tells me that this concern with publicity is not quite the same as the merits of animal conservation.
Despite all of my misgivings, the ending is truly a sight to behold. There is something special to be said about a superimposed image of a shark sluggishly approaching us from the POV of the characters. The shark does not wiggle its way through the water or do anything remotely life-like (kind of like these characters). Mamma Jaws just kind of floats towards the camera really, really slowly. Some stuff happens later in a blurry mess, and then Jaws 3D ends in a celebratory moment with dolphins. You can bet your bottom dollar that I also shot my hand up in the air and yelled “ALRIGHT” knowing that pain, much like bad movies, is temporary.
Jaws 3D is available on Blu-ray and Digital HD.
The film stars Dennis Quaid, Bess Armstrong, Simon MacCorkindale, and Louis Gossett Jr.