Written by: Carl Gottlieb & Richard Matheson
Directed by: Joe Alves
Starring: Dennis Quaid, Bess Armstrong, and Louis Gossett Jr.
Reviewed by: Brett G.
"You mean we talkin' about some damn shark's mutha?"
After the success of Jaws 2, another sequel was inevitable. However, the production of what would become Jaws III isn't nearly as cookie-cutter as one might expect, as series producers David Brown and Richard Zancuk actually planned to take the franchise in a bold direction: comedy. Initially pitched as National Lampoon's Jaws 3, People 0, the film was to be a spoof helmed by Joe Dante (of Piranha fame). However, this was soon shot down, and a more traditional script was commissioned with the idea that the series should boldly go where many other second sequels ventured: the third dimension.
The film opens several years after the events of part 2 and transports us to Florida, where Mike Brody is now an engineer for Sea World, which is about to open a new under-sea attraction. Younger brother Sean is in town, and his relationship with Kay, a senior biologist at the park, is going well. Everything's going swimmingly until a Great White shows up and starts wreaking havoc in the park; amazingly, the park's crew manages to capture the shark, but it ends up dying in captivity, which only proves to enrage its 35 foot mother who has also found her way into the park.
In many ways, part 3 is the odd Jaws out. There are no returning actors from the original film, and the setting is completely removed from Amity Island. In fact, it almost feels like a generic shark film that was christened with the Jaws name. As far as overall quality goes, it's not as notoriously bad as Jaws: The Revenge. However, it is far more bland and even less entertaining than that film. While that sequel has a "so bad it's good" quality, Jaws III can't even boast that, as the characters are lame, the action is lacking, and the effects (3D or otherwise) are poor.
The overall concept of Jaws III isn't poor, as I think the premise of a giant shark terrorizing Sea World is fine. However, the execution here is poor from a plot perspective, as the entire first hour really feels like an advertisement for Sea World. Of course, the film is really trying to set up some characters, but it fails in this respect because we're saddled with Dennis Quaid doing the best he can with a bland Mike Brody, and Bess Armstrong playing one of the most annoying characters in the series in Kay, who is overly perky to the point of extreme annoyance. Rounding out the cast is Sean (similarly bland and seemingly only there to provide some personal stakes for Mike) and a very cute Lea Thompson in her first screen role. Also of note is Louis Gossett Jr. as the park's owner and operator, and he's pretty much the only character that brings some spark to this film.
As my reviews for the other Jaws films have revealed, I'm a sucker for some good shark action no matter how bad anything else is. However, Jaws III is even a bit lacking in this department, as the first shark rarely does anything, and the film is nearly over by the time his 35 foot mother shows up. I will say that business does pick up once she finally shows up during a couple of suspenseful sequences, but the film could have used more of this throughout instead of just sticking us with the aforementioned lame characters. It should also be mentioned that even though the animatronic sharks in this series have never looked especially convincing, the one here is especially bad, particularly in a climactic scene where it basically torpedoes itself at an underwater control center (this sequence is also accompanied by hilariously bad slow-motion reaction shots from the cast).
This sequence is indicative of the poor effects as a whole, as there are a lot of optical shots that just look downright silly. Furthermore, the film is full of 3D sight gags that feel even more forced than the usual 3D fare. Perhaps the biggest travesty is that the film is pretty much devoid of any gore, save for one especially chewed up corpse. I know everyone involved was probably trying to make a character-driven movie instead of focusing on the schlock aspects, but, in retrospect, that was a big mistake because the film isn't too horrific at all from a visual perspective. Director Joe Alves (the production designer on the first two Jaws films) does handle the shark attack scenes well, as there's a good mix of first person camera work and the shark itself.
I've got to think that the original parody concept would have ended up much more interesting than this final product. As it stands, Alves turned in this workmanlike effort that never reaches above mediocrity and often sinks much lower than that. Were it not for the extreme nostalgia the film elicits from me, I'd be far less kind to it. Plus, it's hard to say that this is a truly terrible film, as from a technical perspective, it certainly displays more competence than Jaws: The Revenge. Universal has released the film once on DVD with a solid 2.0 mono soundtrack; however, the transfer isn't nearly as solid as it's riddled with softness and blurred colors (no doubt as a result of the 3D photographic process). The film has not been made available in its native 3D format as of this writing. The available DVD is serviceable enough, one that you'll no doubt watch once before tossing it back into the sea of other mediocre shark movies. Rent it!
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