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A Look Back at Jaws 3D

2010 has been haunted by the sea-soaked specter of Jaws 3D in ways we never could’ve imagined. In February, weird rumors surfaced regarding a possible remake starring Tracy Morgan. Then Heidi Montag infected the tail end of March with mad gibberish about how much she wants to make a 3D shark film, in which she would battle the beast with her super-tits.

Meanwhile, Shark Night 3D (story here) news just broke, and we’re all anticipating Alexandre Aja’s Piranha 3D. Jaws 3D has never strayed too far from my mind – in fact, I’m somewhat obsessed with the thing. And thanks to these recent rumblings from Hollywood, now seems like a good time to roll up the sleeves and revisit the most disgusting entry in the series, birthed in 1983.

If the script had been better, we would know the film today as National Lampoon’s Jaws 3, People 0. That ’79 spoof died on the vine after Universal decided A.) the script sucked and B.) it would’ve been bad practice to ”foul the nest” of such a mega-moneymaker franchise. It was the brief rebirth of 3D in the early 80’s that generated delicious box office returns for Friday the 13th Part 3D, and the good people at Universal took notice. It was time to collect. It was time for Jaws 3D – the Third Dimension in Terror.

A Look Back at Jaws 3D

Some people will tell you to watch the film with friends and beer. Others will recommend taking three tablespoons of Tussionex Suspension cough syrup or watching it stone-sober, and I agree with the latter suggestions. It is not the thrill-ride that the eager advertising campaign seemed to suggest: A baby great white wanders into SeaWorld’s underwater park, expires after being captured and put on display for SeaWorld visitors, and is quickly avenged by its 35-foot-long mother who breaks into the park to maul her way to vengeance. The end result is a queasy viewing experience. The unintentional laughs aren’t frequent enough to warrant a giggly night of rib-poking, and the gross-outs (not scares) are just nasty enough to make you wonder what a shark’s mouth smells like.

Before we continue, this is not going to be another bitchfest about the film’s 3D effects or their loss of intrigue on video, television and DVD. Fair warning. It’s the film residing within the 3D tricks that we’re investigating today. Were 3D effects the only reason this movie was made? Bet your ass. Was I born in 1981, thus incapable of enjoying those effects in the theater and asked to take the film at home video/television value like many of you? Yes. So for now, let’s acknowledge but not masturbate upon the 3D factor – here we are, and here we go.

The audience’s true reward is taking in a film so fascinatingly off-kilter. This may be because master Richard Matheson penned the first script, creating a scenario and characters that were intended to feel fresh. Then o.g. Jaws contributor Carl Gottleib was asked to monkey with the script. Then the studio tried to muscle in on the story. Pat Jankiewicz covers the film’s odd development from start to finish in his book Just When You Thought It Was Safe: A Jaws Companion, which informs readers that what was once supposed to be a spoof then became a Creature from the Black Lagoon 3D project, and ultimately wound up as a strange tale of sunshine, commerce, family, murder, and heroic dolphins.

PLOT:

After being terrorized throughout his childhood by supernaturally vicious sea creatures, Mike Brody (Dennis Quaid) has taken an engineering job at SeaWorld. Whether this is therapeutic or not is never addressed. He works there with his special lady friend, Dr. Kathryn “Kay” Morgan, who spends her days caring for and training the park’s dolphins to perform for the tourists. Mike’s younger brother, Sean, comes to visit after wrapping up college finals, and despite his understandable fear of the water, falls for SeaWorld water-skier, Kelly (a free-spirited Lea Thompson). Sean and Kelly’s relationship is interesting – she will not let him touch her until he strips and gets into the ocean at night, then insists they ride bumper boats during her breaks at work. Even though these unexpectedly adorable characters are pretty happy-go-lucky, no one’s really comfy. Kay and Mike are about to split up, thanks to career opportunities in different locales. Sean and his new gal, Kelly, don’t have anything in common except an admiration of that strange early 80’s cowboy fashion, and their polarized ideas of the sea. Kelly’s joy is Sean’s misery – the wicked water…

And in that evil water are the sharks – our sharks. The first time we meet the baby Great White, it’s acting like a spoiled brat, scaring the piss out of Kay and Mike while they’re underwater looking for a missing employee (poor Shelby Overman, who we’ll discuss shortly). The approximately 10-foot thing pops in out of nowhere and darts all around them, additionally upsetting Kay’s pet dolphins, who have come along for the search and will later act as underwater taxis for Mike and Kay’s escape. We’ve already seen the mother in action. Before the opening credits, the beast crunches into a large grouper and leaves the fish’s head floating in a red cloud so it can drift closer to our faces in 3D. Yes, this is the beginning of the film. Then two thieves break into the park to steal coral, and disappear into the night’s inky ocean. Later, Mike’s beefy co-worker Shelby has to check out a rather shoddy gate, underwater and alone at dusk.

Shelby is immediately eaten. Well, not really eaten – the shark has other plans for him. It’s weird: Shelby’s death happens fast, and we’re treated to his arm lingering toward us like the grouper’s head.

A Look Back at Jaws 3D

This would imply that the arm is all that’s left of Shelby, but oh no. There’s much more than that, Bright Boy. Much more. And the gruesome fate of Shelby Overman is the perhaps the main reason this entry in the series plagues me so much. As such, I feel it’s appropriate to discuss the poor bastard separately.

WHATEVER HAPPENED TO SHELBY OVERMAN?

Continuing the series’ distressing tradition of shark victims’ remains frightening the living, Shelby’s corpse appears onscreen a total of four times. Four. The dwelling on Shelby’s torn torso is notably repulsive in a way that distances this flick from the previous entries just as much if not more-so than anything else in the film, from characterizations to relocation. Ben Gardner’s head quickly popped out to maximum effect in the first one – a nice jolt. The scorched corpse of the Boat Lady in part 2 swiftly scares the hell out of Brody while he’s digging around in the surf. The Shelby shocks are handled differently here – more nauseatingly, as if the series felt it necessary to compete with the early 80’s slasher splatter.

A group of happy SeaWorld guests are enjoying a portion of the Undersea Kingdom, wandering around in glass canals constructed underwater for premium sea life observation. While looking out a particular window, a young girl is blessed with seeing Shelby’s gnawed body drunkenly float into view. The rest of the tour group loses their shit and tries to flee, during which some panicky bastard shoves the girl right up against the glass, bringing her nose-to-nose with a man who looks like he was murdered by an Ed Gein-werewolf.

A Look Back at Jaws 3D

What has happened to Shelby Overman is a large part of what makes the film so strange. I always wondered how the shark in the original film was able to carefully eat out only one of Ben Gardner’s eyes, but the shark here has done such an immaculate job on Shelby, I wonder if this Mama Jaws was, in fact, responsible for the London Ripper murders.

We’re treated to a better look at Shelby’s damage moments later, when Mike and Kay are asked to come to a sterile basement to identify Shelby’s body. Mike raises the red and white sheet draping the remains, and the camera smash-cuts to a close-up of Shelby’s face. The shark has managed to chew around one of his eyes without eating the entire ball, and has torn off a portion of his neck, chin and cheek without disrupting Shelby’s moustache. This is amazing. For a 35-foot long shark, the precision of the injuries is remarkable, considering that the thing has teeth the size of an upside down 40 oz. beer bottle. While the camera hangs inches from Shelby’s ruined face, a tiny crustacean skitters about Shelby’s forehead. Then a small black seaworm wriggles out of Shelby’s mouth. A soft choking sound effect is employed to implicate that this is Shelby’s final breath. I always assumed this small, black critter was a baby eel, and it still disturbs me that not a single SeaWorld employee in the room makes any effort to save either of the eel or forehead crustacean’s lives. We’re not through with Shelby yet, though. Kay decides that she must see the damage for herself, despite everyone in the room warning her not to look. She’s a big girl, and reminds them all that she’s a professional. She whips the sheet off, and we get a different angle of Shelby’s torso, which has been skinned. Skinned. Like, Predator-skinned. So a shark that could swallow a Van Halen drumkit took out Shelby by A.) biting off his arm but not eating it, B.) chewing most of the skin off of his right side and C.) mildly snacking on his face. Incredible.

A Look Back at Jaws 3D

A Look Back at Jaws 3D

MOVING ON …

From here on, it’s a race against time to either trap and remove or kill Mama Jaws. We get a little closer to the park’s head honcho, Calvin Bouchard (Louis Gosset Jr.), a character we’re often encouraged to like, but shouldn’t.

“We would like to avoid references to his colorful past,” a SeaWorld spokesperson tells a press junket before they interview Bouchard in the film’s early moments. Described as only an ”entrepreneur”, Bouchard wears a pinky ring, has the air of a lucky and confident criminal, and loves the idea of killing the baby shark on live television. Once he’s convinced to keep the young shark alive for ticket sales, he orders it to be moved prematurely from its recuperation tank to a public tank – which instantly kills it. Ah, Bouchard…a freakish character that I still wonder how much Louis Gossett Jr. was paid to play. Nevertheless, Bouchard’s unpredictable stance as King of the Undersea Castle contributes to the odd amount of suspense in the flick: when Mama Jaws’ brilliance can’t be denied after she uses her tail to batter a down a steel barricade, Calvin decides to ”suffocate the bitch” by shutting down the park’s pumps.

A Look Back at Jaws 3D

Since Mama Jaws is brilliant, she knows what Bouchard is up to and decides to strike first. It’s here that we also realize she has figured out how to do blow underwater. I didn’t know sharks enjoyed coke, but heroic amounts of cocaine can be the only explanation for the way the shark ceases her ominous lurking about the park, and simply blasts headfirst into an underwater office during the film’s finale to reign hell on Bouchard and his precious little park.

The office instantly floods while the shark gnashes about. Mama Jaws crunches into Bouchard’s nephew – another SeaWorld employee in the wrong place at the wrong time. The bastard screams like hell while the sharks chews him into an ugly blood-flesh cloud. Bouchard seems to escape with another employee while Mike and Kay stick around to fight the beast. How to kill it, though? Luckily, the shark has not swallowed the body of Philip Fitzroyce – a rooster of a man who had come to SeaWorld to shoot the park’s wildlife and expand his legendary photography portfolio, but instead wound up incensed with filming either the capture or murder of Mama Jaws.

A Look Back at Jaws 3D

A Look Back at Jaws 3D

A Look Back at Jaws 3D

He does neither, and winds up in the shark’s mouth instead. We can see his frozen face and rigid rigormortus arm resting on the shark’s enormous palate, and in his hand remains a grenade. A piece of metal is bent by Mike and used to yank the pin out of the grenade, and presto. The shark explodes and it’s jaws float towards the screen, but not the corpse pieces it was savoring in its mouth. I still don’t know if I resent that. Mike and Kay then float to the surface with the dolphins to celebrate.

A Look Back at Jaws 3D

There is a high affection that many have for Jaws sequels, and depending on the film, the levels of loyalty are fascinating. On the whole, Jaws 2 seems to maintain a strong support group, perhaps due to the return of Martin Brody – an All-American hero that we can all be proud of. The fourth film, Jaws the Revenge is usually treated with the same consideration as a whoopee cushion – it’s fun, but only once in a while and not for long. But the third film…that’s where Jaws fans really seem to succumb to most Franchise Fans’ love/hate scenarios: if the thing had to be made, how good can we feel about including it on the shelf next to the others? As a fellow conflicted soul, I feel I share a common ground with many: if it had to be made in 3D, at SeaWorld, and without Chief Brody…at least Shelby Overman died hard. Really, I never cared for the guy – he comes off like a creep and I’m glad he’s dead. His girlfriend didn’t even like him.

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Chris Haberman

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Chris Haberman

  • The Woman In Black

    Not even a mention of Bess Armstrong? Other than that the flick’s set in SeaWorld, she’s the only thing I remember from watching it so many years ago.

    Otherwise, great job, Chris! People are really digging your articles.

    • Chris Haberman

      It’s true… Despite a strong childhood crush on Bess, she somehow took a backseat to my lust for Shelby Overman. How could that happen?

      Bess does indeed deserve credit. Her Dr. Kay was plucky, personable, smart and resourceful, and shame on me for not shining a brighter light on her.

      Please forgive me and thank you so much for the kind words! ; )

  • The Buz

    This is one of my favorite articles I’ve ever read! I demand more.

  • rexhonk

    Hell… Remeber seeing this in the 80s. Lots of fun and I still got the glasses with a big shark between the eyes. The audience looked pretty goofy. 😀