Jaws 3-D (40th anniversary revisit)

July 22, 1983

JAWS 3-D (viewed by me in its shameful flat version) is another summer of ’83 movie that I’ve previously reviewed. But that was 13 years ago, and if I’m doing a summer movie series I can’t really skip over a sequel to the movie that kinda invented the summer blockbuster. I also thought it would be a good marker on the timeline, much like how RETURN OF THE JEDI and STAYING ALIVE indicate how much culture had changed in the six years since STAR WARS and SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER. In eight years we went from a popular beach read elevated by a knockout directorial vision to a gimmicky studio product sequel with twice the budget but a fraction of the style or substance.

It’s tempting to see sequels as emblematic of the ‘80s, but the truth is I counted almost as many released in 1975 as in 1983*. I suppose a difference is that 8 of the 10 in ’75 were part 2s, whereas 1983 gave us such part 3s as this, RETURN OF THE JEDI, SUPERMAN III, AMITYVILLE 3-D, and SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT PART 3. THE OMEN, FRIDAY THE 13TH, HALLOWEEN and ROCKY series’ had also hit part three in 1981 or 1982. So maybe it really was a different movie landscape. The era of part threes, heading into part fours.

It’s thematically appropriate that this one is set at a theme park and originally presented in 3-D, an idea director Joe Alves got from watching 3-D attractions while scouting theme park locations. It’s being honest and saying Don’t expect a full movie, this is kind of a ride. It’s also a movie that begins in the POV of a shark that munches a large fish, leaving only its head to float out of the screen, mouth still opening and closing, its life force extinguished but not its instinct to mimic the act of breathing. Some might say that was a good metaphor for the JAWS series as of this movie.

Since Roy Scheider escaped appearing in this by doing BLUE THUNDER, the story revolves around Chief Brody’s sons Mike and Sean. Dennis Quaid (between TOUGH ENOUGH and THE RIGHT STUFF) stars as Mike, rapidly aged and working as chief engineer of SeaWorld Orlando. His girlfriend Kathryn (Bess Armstrong, JEKYLL AND HYDE… TOGETHER AGAIN) is the park’s cheerful senior biologist, introduced riding on the back of and then feeding a real orca, and also very fond of her dolphin friends Cindy and Sandy.

Mike and Kathryn are just trying to do their jobs amidst the craziness of famed entrepreneur Calvin Bouchard (Louis Gossett Jr., previously in the Peter Benchley adaptation THE DEEP, now in his first movie since winning an Oscar for AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN) opening a new section of the park called Underwater Kingdom, which includes a fake cave with animatronic squid tentacles, and many windows with underwater views, including from a fancy bar. Honestly The Neptune Bar looks like a pretty cool place to have a drink (when not under attack by a giant shark).

They’re also wary of an unexpected visit from attention seeking celebrity adventurer Philip FitzRoyce (Simon MacCorkindale, CABO BLANCO), whose main character traits are that he loves TV cameras and explosives and wears an ascot with his tan safari outfit.

This reminds me of the early FRIDAY THE 13TH sequels in the way that it centers on young attractive people with a job that’s sort of like a vacation, working on the water during the day and socializing at bars and beaches at night, at first unaware of the predator we know is headed their way, currently circling the less important characters such as some guys who sneak into the lagoon at night to steal coral. (Their raft suddenly deflates and disappears into the water.) We even see some of the park’s water skiers, including Kelly (Lea Thompson in her movie debut) signing in and getting an orientation speech like they would if they were new camp counselors.

Mike is visited by younger brother Sean (John Putch from the sitcom One Day at a Time, later in THE SURE THING and MACH 2), who has reacted to the events of JAWS and JAWS 2 in a more normal way: he avoids water so much he moved to Colorado and reinvented himself as a cowboy. He tries to still stay away from the ol’ H2O while visiting big bro but then he meets Kelly at the bar and soon finds himself in the dilemma of standing on the beach saying nah, no, I don’t do that, not my thing, I’m good, etc. when she’s stripped down to her bikini, kissed him, and tried to lure him in for a swim. Gulp.

He goes for it, but suspense takes its time, so they don’t get eaten yet. They’re interrupted by a spotlight and megaphone telling them they’re in trouble, but of course it’s Mike just messing with them. The next day at breakfast Sean says, “I was this close to doing it in the water last night, and that’s a first.”

There’s a whole issue about the gate into the lagoon, Cindy and Sandy being afraid to go out into it (sensing the shark just as bunnies sense Jason Voorhees), and a musclebound mechanic named Shelby Overman (Harry Grant, who later wrote, co-directed and co-starred as “Vince DeCola” in a bodybuilding movie called FLEX) getting eaten by a shark while trying to repair the gate. When Mike and Kathryn realize he’s missing they go down in a submersible, swim around in scuba gear, and encounter a great white. I like that the dolphins Cindy and Sandy intervene and lead them to the surface, though I agree with my old review that it’s too bad they don’t end up doing much more than that. Also I wonder if they ever looked into the rights to Flipper, to make this an official crossover.

Kathryn and others believe it would be groundbreaking to catch the great white, because there’s never been one in captivity, while Mike (due to certain life experiences) thinks it’s a stupid fucking idea. But he loses that argument. He at least wins the “no, FitzRoyce, you moron, you can’t bring dynamite into our multi-million dollar sculpted-in-acrylic wonderland” debate. Sorta like Ripley telling them they can’t use bullets in ALIENS.

They succeed in catching the shark, keeping it in a pool just like the one later in DEEP BLUE SEA. But he’s not so healthy, and they’re pretty quickly displaying him for tourists, and suddenly he dies in front of a live SeaWorld audience. I think it’s actually a nice development for this series that these zoologists are sad about a shark dying and about it being caused by their intervention.

But then Shelby Overman’s body shows up – this gruesome head and skinned partial body floating up to a window and saying peek-a-boo to some teenage guests is one of the movie’s highlights. Then there’s some drama around everybody taking turns getting up the nerve to lift up the sheet, take a quick glance at the body, and try not to puke. Kathryn determines that it could not have been their little shark (R.I.P.) that ate him, there has to be a larger mother shark also in the lagoon.

And she’s right, so pretty soon the mama shark gets flushed out of the tube where she’s been hiding and the mayhem begins. This includes biting Kelly, bashing a tunnel so hard it leaks and floods, and breaking through the glass into the control room in an extremely goofy shot that you gotta hope was cooler in 3D.

Before all that our intrepid park employees run around trying to find ways to warn people, evacuate people, etc. I like the part where Mike commandeers a popcorn vendor’s golf cart, drives off so fast the popcorn dumps off, then immediately crashes.

By the way, I would like to share an interesting t-shirt slogan with you:

The theme park idea obviously sorta foreshadows JURASSIC PARK, with Bouchard being closer to a cool John Hammond than the mayor in JAWS, since he tries to put on a show but then tries to do the right thing. And it’s a cool premise in the spirit of sequels that go bigger. It allows for more victims, more witnesses, some destruction, some disaster, some water skier pyramids.

When I wrote about JAWS 3-D in 2010 I wished that it would be remastered for digital projection along with FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 3D, HOUSE OF WAX and DIAL M FOR MURDER. I do believe that’s happened for all of them, though I’ve only been able to see DIAL M FOR MURDER 3D in a theater so far. They’re definitely available on 3D blu-ray, though I don’t have the equipment and I’m not sure they even make it anymore. But I respect gimmicky 3D, so even in two dimensions I smile every time there’s a shot that was obviously to show off: the waterski jumps, the orca jumping in slow motion (followed by a long splash right into the lens), a tranquilizer syringe squirting at us, the protruding tongue of a serpent statue, a wriggling animatronic eel, the triumphant dolphin spin jumps at the end to celebrate that ding dong the witch is dead.

Oh, of course you also get some body parts. The shot of the severed arm floating out of the screen must’ve looked cool, despite the obvious matte lines.

Fittingly, the best 3D shot in concept (though not execution, at least from what we can see) is the death of the shark. She has dead FitzRoyce stuck in her throat holding a grenade, so Mike uses a pole to pull the pin and blow up the shark, with results in a cloud of bloody water, then a gigantic red splatter of stylized goo, with only her eyeballs, a couple bits of intestine and her jaws intact.


I would also like to pay my respects to the opening credits for doing the FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 3D style dimensional lettering, but having them split open like a shark mouth. Even the dash in 3-D becomes a pair of teeth. Now that’s a logo!

Cinefantastique’s extensive 1983 3D issue (my most frequent reference material for this series) calls JAWS 3-D “the most elaborate and most expensive 3-D feature ever made” and goes into detail about what a pain in the ass it was to achieve this element that most of us have never even seen when watching the movie in the years since. They used the 2-camera Arrivision system, but it was so brand new it wasn’t ready when they started filming, so they spent two weeks messing around with other methods, shooting footage that was mostly abandoned, and with their team of 3D consultants often contradicting each other about the best ways to shoot. One article has a quote from producer/second unit director Rupert Hitzig that hints at how many things they had to worry about that never would’ve occurred to us when we’re watching it:

“Once the director has decided how he wants to shoot the scene, he must confer with the 3-D technician. The technician may say, ‘You must get rid of the verticals’ or ‘You should put up a background because we have too much distance between the foreground object and background. Let’s mask it. Let’s put in some hanging plants. That will make the scene more palatable to the eyes.’ If we shoot a character against a wall two feet away, that’s easy. But if there are verticals [such as trees or tall buildings] far enough in the background, the left and right eye images are going to separate to the point where the picture is literally unwatchable. Deciding on where to converge is not a simple matter. You have a table of statistical choices. Then you have to go to a director who already has a short schedule and say, ‘Wait a minute. You can’t have three people in the foreground.’ Or, ‘That guy can’t wear contrasting colors.’ You find yourself putting shackles on the director.”

All that just to add in some terror! (According to the poster, “The third dimension is terror.”) The magazine spends just as much time chronicling the making of all the special effects “including miniatures, blue- and green-screen composites and even stop-motion animation” that created the illusion of a giant shark in a non-existent section of SeaWorld, and how much all of that was complicated by the needs of 3-D. It sounds like a total nightmare. Of course, knowing all that background information didn’t stop one of the magazine’s reviewers from ending his three sentence capsule review, “The 3-D and special effects looked rushed and sloppy.”

Although I’m a sucker for these kinds of FX, there are plenty of laughable shots. The article hypes the new technologies used for compositing, but those shots tend to look like magazine collages – especially the final freeze frame where they wanted to make it look like the dolphins were swimming next to Mike and Kathryn.

The article talks about an idea they had early on for reversing the real-people-working-with-a-fake-shark approach of the first film. They built half-scale diver models with motorized, kicking feet, which were supposed to be filled with chum and fed to a real, regular-sized shark. It’s unclear if they actually went through with it, so I’ll put that one next to ALIEN 3’s “dressing a greyhound as a xenomorph” test in the Cool FX Ideas That Didn’t Work Out Hall of Fame. But there are a bunch of miniatures used for the Undersea Kingdom, the submersible, even the shark. Some shots look better than others, especially in-camera ones like the shots from inside the shark’s chewing mouth. Others really take you out of the reality of the movie.

Even setting aside comparisons to how it was done in the original JAWS, it’s jarring to see the artificiality of the shark’s Undersea Kingdom antics when there’s some nice, natural photography of real water and animals in the scenes set on the surface. The credited d.p. is James A. Contner (CRUISING, TIMES SQUARE, NIGHTHAWKS).

I noticed that there are some night scenes that are extremely dark, but in a way that looks very real to me. People get so mad at shots like this in modern, digital movies and TV shows. I’m curious how it worked with the 3-D, because it doesn’t seem like it would’ve. But it looks good on standard blu-ray.

The writing credits for JAWS 3-D are legit. Story credit for Guerdon Trueblood (writer/director of THE CANDY SNATCHERS), screenplay by I Am Legend novelist Richard Matheson and part 1 scribe Carl Gottlieb. IMDb says there is uncredited additional dialogue by Michael Kane (SOUTHERN COMFORT). Matheson said in an interview with Fangoria that his version involved a man-made lake, not SeaWorld, and that the studio made him change the characters to the Brody sons. He was not generous in his appraisal of the rewrites, the 3D, or the director.

Alves had been production designer of JAWS and JAWS 2 (where he was also second unit director and associate producer). Cinefantastique reveals that he’d “been doggedly attempting to mount a project of his own” for half a decade, having developed ten doomed directorial projects including CONAN THE BARBARIAN, NINJA (I’m betting that’s the one based on the novel by Eric Van Lustbader, which Irvin Kershner and John Carpenter had also been attached to), the INVADERS FROM MARS remake, and a George Pal killer iceberg movie called VOYAGE OF THE BERGS (cancelled when Pal died).

The difficult 3D shoot was not enjoyable for the first time director, and then producers “cut about 20 minutes out of the personal relationships,” possibly contributing to the overall negative reviews. Or maybe not. It was a hit, but he did not sound proud of it in interviews. At any rate, he never directed again, but he worked as a production designer through 2001, with highlights including DROP ZONE and FIRE DOWN BELOW.

My opinion of JAWS 3-D hasn’t changed much since my previous review. I don’t think it’s a particularly good movie, and it certainly fails in the department of living up to Spielberg’s film. But I can have fun watching it in the tradition of other disposable but watchable horror sequels of the ‘80s. I think JAWS 2 is a better movie, but this one being so much more different from the first film, and therefore not having to compare it as much, is a strength.

I do eye the depiction of SeaWorld with a little more skepticism now thanks to the controversy spurned by the 2013 documentary BLACKFISH, which centers on an orca captured the year this came out who later killed his trainer at the same park where it was filmed. I haven’t seen that movie and can’t say how fair or unfair it is about the topic, but seeing on the end credits that the names Shamu, Cindy and Sandy are all trademarks of SeaWorld did make Kathryn seem a little phony. I couldn’t find any info about Cindy and Sandy, but the original Shamu lived in the San Diego park and died in 1971, and they reused the name for shows at all their parks. Here Kathryn is seeming to have this deep bond with these animals, but she’s calling them by trademarked character names. But I guess maybe the JAWS movies take place in the fictional world of the SeaWorld shows. The Shamuverse.

I didn’t mind watching this again, but I think I’ve worn it out, it’s a little boring once you’re familiar with it. If I ever watch it again it won’t be soon, and/or it will be in 3-D, the way Joe Alves and SeaWorld Orlando intended it to be seen.

tie ins: There were collector cards which came with red and blue 3D glasses for viewing of certain illustrated 3D cards. It did not have an official novelization, which is weird since JAWS: THE REVENGE did.


This entry was posted on Thursday, July 20th, 2023 at 11:10 am and is filed under Reviews, Horror. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

18 Responses to “Jaws 3-D (40th anniversary revisit)”

  1. Can confirm it’s quite fun in 3-D on Blu-Ray

  2. “an extremely goofy shot that you gotta hope was cooler in 3D”

    I saw this in theaters when I was 12. It was not cooler in 3D.

  3. I would love to be the guy that shows up at a Jaws convention with a “Let A Gargoyle Sit On Your Face” shirt. The deepest of deep cuts, like walking around wearing Harry’s swimming cap.

  4. Apparently it was\is a reference to a brand of sunglasses, which were imortalised in THE TERMINATOR the following year. That’s not definite though. Most hits are for JAWS 3-D posts.

  5. It seems legit. I found other merchandise bearing the slogan, and the logo for the eyewear company is in the O on the T-shirt.

  6. The 3D is enjoyable for the normal shots but once you have anything to do with matte shots it gets really weird and fake, but in a very entertaining way. This is one of those not very good films that I have a soft spot for but I don’t know why.

  7. I wonder if there are more Brodys who’ve personally battled a shark or MacLeods who’ve fought to receive the Prize.

  8. I may be in a minority here, but I don’t think this one is much better than the hated REVENGE. You just gotta love the “if you’re finished with me, I’ll be over at the beach bar with a gin & tonic” kind of acting Michael Caine provides. And Castellari’s THE LAST SHARK is better than both of them. You just can’t beat Vic Morrow fighting a shark with Yahoo Serious hair and the craziest accent since Inspector Clouseau.

  9. I saw this in theaters way back and while I recall nothing of the plot, the floating severed arm—which was VERY effective in 3D—haunted me for years.

  10. One of my earliest movie memories miiiiiight have been about that movie. I was probably just 4, maybe a bit younger. I remember sitting one Saturday night with my sister and mother in the living room and my mother wanted to watch JAWS, but we had a blanket over our heads, so that we could cover our eyes when something gruesome happened. Obviously we didn’t apply, so at some point she turned the TV off and sent us to bed. And the point where that happened was when that partly eaten body showed up.

    At least I think it was. Due to the young age my memory isn’t the clearest. The chewed up body even looks different in my head. And the fantasy image haunted me for years.

  11. I believe I have this on CED for the RCA SelectaVision, but I never watched it– Jaws 1 scared me too much as a kid. That format probably doesn’t have the red/blue or any other kind of 3D, but I’d have to check. (I think I also have AMITYVILLE 3D for the format.)

    Didn’t know James A. Contner shot this (or CRUISING). I know him as a TV director from Buffy and Angel. I see he reunited with Lea Thompson in the Jane Doe mystery TV movies.

    This review and that Cinefantastique issue are the only Google results for “VOYAGE OF THE BERGS,” but I would 100% watch a killer iceberg movie. (I’d change the title to DEAD AHEAD.) (Let’s get Peter Berg to direct it. Starring Mark Wahlberg, of course, with appearances by Adam and Whoopi Goldberg.)

  12. That reminds me of the time I made a fake Microsoft Paint poster for THE SAVAGES with Macho Man Randy Savage, Fred Savage, Ben Savage, Dan Savage and The Savage Dragon, directed by Savage Steve Holland with music by Savage Garden, and then a picture of those guys.

  13. No room for the Bergman twins in this one?

    Post credits scene with the survivors being refused entry to Berghain.

  14. grimgrinningchris

    July 21st, 2023 at 6:41 pm

    This is the only movie from the golden age of 80s 3-D that I saw in the theater and it was pretty mind blowing at the time.

    The wiki says parts of this were filmed in Navarre, FL but that is incorrect. Although almost ALL of Jaws 2 was filmed there (I live about 15 minutes from the hotel/resort from the beginning of 2- sadly wiped out in Hurricane Ivan). Also the power junction “island” from 2 (which was man made for the movie) is still floating out in the gulf here. Somehow 45 years of time and hurricanes haven’t swept IT away.

  15. A few years ago the American Cinematheque showed Jaws 3D in 3D. It was a DCP but that probably ensured the 3D worked better than a 35 year old (at the time) film print would have.

    Unfortunately the audience was not there to respect Jaws 3D. They got really annoying but o tried my best to shut them out and enjoy the gimmicky 3D.

  16. A.L.F.- Here is something related to the band Savage Garden that I think will amuse you and it is (very, very tangentially) related to JAWS 3D via Mr. Spielberg (People have my permission to ignore this post if the phrase “Darren Hayes lyrics” doesn’t fill you with excitement)

    On his first solo album Mr. Savage and/or Garden himself Darren Hayes had a song called “Good Enough”, which is him admitting to his love interest about a bunch of uncool opinions he has that he fears could make him unattractive c.2002, liking Britney songs etc. It features the lyrics “Can I confess that art house doesn’t turn me on; but I like every single thing that Speilberg’s done” and then he whispers, sort of buried in the mix and with some kind of weird effects treatment, the words “except A.I.!” I’ve always found it really funny imagining how that came about. The album came out early 2002 and so was probably written around Summer of 2001 when A.I. was in theatres. I imagine Mr. Hayes happily walking out of the studio, having just written the song where he confesses his bold pro-Spielberg stance, going to see his favourite director’s new film, and leaving thinking “damn! That’s the first one I didn’t like! I can’t lie to my fans, but I still like the song. What can I do? Wait. What if I…Yes!!!”

    Any Hayesheads can hear it around the 0:50 mark

    Good Enough

    Provided to YouTube by Sony Music EntertainmentGood Enough · Darren HayesSpin℗ 2002 SONY BMG MUSIC ENTERTAINMENTReleased on: 2002-03-18Electric Guitar: Vern...

  17. Hey Vern…THEY CLONED TYRONE is a must and it seems like Netflix is doing very little to promote it.

    Also JAWS 3-D is an entertainingly silly inferior sequel.

  18. Thanks Booker. Planning to watch it when I get a chance.

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