3D Classics review–Jaws 3-D, when the gimmicks aren’t enough

Jaws 3-D movie poster 1983

Review by C.J. Bunce

When I was a kid I remember paying $5 at the geek show part of a carnival to see a giant great white shark. We were taken into a long trailer and were able to walk around it, suspended in some kind of clear block. It was sad, horrifying, and shocking that someone would display an animal this way.  After watching Jaws 3-D for our review of Halloween films, I had some of the same feelings return.

You’re not supposed to cheer for the monster in a monster movie like Jaws 3-D.  And yet I found myself hoping the shark would consume all this early 1980s fashion and bad moviemaking.  Every actor earns his or her sea legs in a different way, and here was Dennis Quaid (Enemy Mine, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra), Bess Armstrong (House of Lies), Lea Thompson (Back to the Future), and Louis Gossett, Jr. (An Officer and a Gentleman) before they all would make names for themselves in much bigger and better films.  There’s even the son of All in the Family’s Jean Stapleton, John Putch, before he would have small roles in several series, including playing Mordock the Benzite in Star Trek: The Next Generation.  Putch plays Sean Brody, brother to Quaid’s Mike Brody, and they are the sons of Chief Brody from the original Jaws.  The Brodys find themselves again pursued by a giant shark, the latest some 35 feet long.

Jaws 3-D scream

Where Friday the 13th III in 3D is an example of over-the-top 3D effects that–absurd or not–you can still appreciate at least for its humor, Jaws 3-D reflects all that is bad about 3D.  The fundamental requirement of any movie, with or without special effects, is a good story.  This story doesn’t know what it wants to be.  At times it could be a poignant look at compassionate marine biologists caring about their animals and their work, with Armstrong and Quaid going about their jobs in a nice summer setting.   In a different genre years later this would be the backdrop for a movie like Summer Rental.  But a movie called Jaws requires chilling suspense.  Jaws 3-D doesn’t earn the title.

Were it merely a vehicle for three-dimensional whiz-bang action, this might have resulted in something like Friday the 13th III.  But the directorial choices are bad.  The images shown in 3D are superfluous to the plot.  The film sulks along and the only action comes about after an hour of the film has passed by.  As to story the movie doesn’t make sense even on paper.  A shark accused of killing people is finally caught, put on display at an aquarium, and then its mother sneaks into the park and torments the staff and guests until it breaks through the aquarium walls to get revenge on the facility manager (sounds like the movie Orca, right?).  Remember last year’s Syfy B-movie hit Sharknado?  Jaws 3-D is the original Sharknado, but without the necessary tongue-in-cheek humor.

Jaws 3-d shark

We’ve looked before at the question of what it takes for a tie-in or sequel to succeed.  What elements of Star Wars must be retained for an animated series to be fresh and successful without being too derivative?  Star Wars Rebels relied to a great extent on John Williams’ programmatic Star Wars music queues.  The result seemed to work.  Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls, however, over-relied on the Indiana Jones theme.  Jaws 3-D misses one of the defining characteristics of the Jaws franchise: John Williams’ chilling, tension-building shark theme.  Too much of the film leaves the viewer with anxiety: we want something to startle us, make us jump a bit out of our seats.  But we have a full hour without delivering any satisfactory scares.

The special effects are absent for so much of the movie and when they show up they are very poorly done, even respecting the technology of yesterday compared to technology of today.  We viewed the Jaws 3-D DVD on a 3-D capable television with the 2D to 3D converter.  Jaws 3-D is one of those rare 20th century releases actually filmed in 3D, but it’s never been released on video in 3D, so few if anyone has been able to watch Jaws 3-D in three dimensions in 30 years.  The show begins with a floating fish head in 3D.  We later see a severed arm, and other oddities that only sporadically seem to suggest anyone was paying attention to this being an intended 3D release, like floating shark parts, and a yellow submarine.  The crazy thing is that the intended 3D gimmickry doesn’t compare to the modern 2D to 3D upconvert that allows the 1980s itself to come alive in 3D.  For example, watching the Quaid brothers have breakfast has better dimensional feel than any of the shark scenes.

Quaid in Jaws 3-D

Fans of Dennis Quaid and Lea Thompson are likely to be the only potential viewers these days for Jaws 3-D.  For them, you can pick up Jaws 3-D at Amazon.com here.  In the era of binge watching of classic TV and film franchises, this is likely to end up in someone’s Jaws boxed set someday.  But there’s plenty more in the realm of great Halloween flicks to be tracking down this time of year than to spend your time on Jaws 3-D.




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