I wrote this review the week after Roy Scheider died. That hit me kind of hard, since we're talking about Chief Brody here. On the battlefield of my mind, Jaws has long been engaged in eternal conflict with Die Hard for the title of "Best Fucking Movie of All Fucking Time." It goes back and forth, but Jaws is the sentimental favorite because it represents a watershed moment in my growth as a human being. As a kid, I used to be scared shitless of sharks. It wasn't that I was afraid of getting eaten by one (I went in the ocean without complaint). I just couldn't look at the toothy fuckers, even in photographs. In elementary school, my fellow students would chase me around the library with open copies of National Geographic. But when I turned 12, I decided that it was time to grow up, so I stayed up late and watched Jaws all by myself in the dark. From that point on, it's been in my top two. Even if it didn't symbolize my ability to overcome my (many) childhood fears, it's just a flawless movie in its own right, perfectly mixing scares, adventure, gore, atmosphere, and characters. It's pure cinema. The scene where our three intrepid shark hunters compare scars and sing sea shanties is probably the greatest scene ever filmed.
So when I heard about Roy Scheider going to that great chumbucket in the sky, I watched Jaws in tribute. I drank to his leg. I drank to swimmin' with bow-legged women. I did not make any "We're gonna need a bigger coffin" jokes. Let's have a little fucking class, people.
But that wasn't enough, so to illustrate Mr. Scheider's importance to the series, I watched Jaws 3, which he wasn't in. And if you've seen this movie, you know how well that worked out. The makers of Jaws 3 must have been thrilled when Jaws: The Revenge came out and quickly usurped its spot at the top of the list of crappiest shark movies ever. While Jaws 3 is merely incompetent, Jaws: The Revenge is insultingly preposterous. (Naturally, I own them both.)
Anyway, Jaws 3 is probably better known as The One At Sea World, or alternately, The One That Used To Be In 3-D. The 3-D aspect is what brings in most of the incompetence. Since it's not in 3-D on home video, you're left with all these shots of badly matted objects floating toward you for no good reason. My favorite part is at the very end when the shark is slooooowly approaching the underwater control room, and it's very clearly not moving at all. It just appears to getting bigger because they were dollying the camera toward a tiny model of a shark. Intercut with this are some hilarious reaction shots of the cast screaming in terror as if the shark were rushing at them at high speed. Then it hits the window and the glass shatters, but no water rushes in. They just optically superimposed some very cheap sugar glass over the footage of the model shark, which never seems to actually interact with the glass in any way. It's a very special effect.
But the funny thing is, Jaws 3 as a whole isn't really as bad as I remembered. The premise is awesome, for one. The idea of Bruce the Shark attacking Sea World allows for different kinds of scenes than if they'd just gone back to Amity again. And the cast is pretty solid. Dennis Quaid does his usual Harrison Ford Lite thing, Lea Thompson (in her first screen role) shows off her ribcage in a purple bikini, and Louis Gossett, Jr. is on hand to pronounce the word "here" like Cartman does. (But of course LGJ was in it, because he was in every movie made in the eighties that didn't have Michael Caine in it. But don't worry, they saved him for The Revenge.) And the dialogue is actually kind of okay. The script was co-written by Richard Matheson, of all people, so when the one-dimensional characters are talking about non-shark-related stuff, it sounds sort of natural. I particularly liked the repartee between the two grown-up Brody brothers. In that sense, it follows the tradition of the original Jaws, in that the best scenes don't have the shark in them.
But let's talk about that shark. It is by far the worst of the series. First off, you never really buy that it's supposed to be 35 feet long, ten feet longer than the previous sharks. This is because it never comes out of the water so you can see some scale. I think this was probably a cost-cutting measure. Rigging a giant pneumatic crane to lift a huge animatronic shark out of the actual ocean is far more logistically complicated than just filming all of the shark scenes in a tank on the Universal back lot, which is what it looks like they did. They even resort to stop motion for one shot, something no other film in the series did.
Also, this shark's behavior is absurd. For one, they've got it searching for its lost son. I don't care what Finding Nemo is telling you, fish are not great parents. They pretty much leave their offspring to fend for themselves. It is literally sink or swim. (It's hard out there for a fish.) For two, they've got it swimming backwards and hiding motionless in tunnels. Sharks can't do either. Their fins are made of cartilage, so they don't bend like other fish's do. Think of them as wings that let them glide through the water. Also, if they stop moving, they suffocate. They actually point this out in the movie, but they don't stick to it. They also have the shark growling and roaring, when sharks have no vocal cords whatsoever. None of this is as ludicrous as The Revenge, when a shark tracks the Brody family from Amity to the Bahamas to get revenge for its fellow great whites, but still.
A lot of people swear by Jaws 3, though, and I can see why. Of all the films in the series, it most resembles your basic cheesy monster movie. Whereas the first film transcended its B-movie roots, Jaws 3 wallows in them. Setting it at a theme park lets the filmmakers use the standard eighties titty comedy template, so you've got young people in tight shorts playing pranks on each other while trying to get laid. It's like a Friday the 13th movie with a shark.
Speaking of which, when am I going to get the land-shark movie I've always wanted? How scary would that be? You'd copy the first scene from Jaws, but as a twist, you'd have the chick actually make it to shore, but then the shark just keeps coming. Why have they made 12 Children of the Corn movies but no Jaws 5: This Time, It's Bipedal?
Then for Jaws 6, I want them to follow the leads of the Leprechaun and Hellraiser franchises and set it in outer space. Think about it. You could have a space shark swimming around, ramming spaceships and eating astronauts so their globulous blood droplets float around in zero gravity. Then the hero (Chief Brody's great-great-great grandson, head of security for the starship Amity) could ride the shark back to Earth so it burns up in the atmosphere. Somebody get me Spielberg's number. I think we got a winner here.