There are loads of brilliantly bad shark movies out there... so why the hell have I spent a whole day of my life trying to understand these two?
Jaws 3-D (1983)
Country: USA | Runtime: 99mins | Director: Joe Alves
Starring: Dennis Quaid, Bess Armstrong, Simon MacCorkindale, Louis Gossett Jr, John Putch
The sons of Chief Brody hang out at some sort of fish zoo. Meanwhile, sharks.
Producer Alan Landsburg cleverly identified what made the original Jaws work and was able to incorporate its more popular elements (stuff like Brody's sons) while discarding those that people hadn't responded to (like the score). He also changed the whole setup, ridding us of the pesky character dynamic that ruined the first film and replacing it with an ensemble cast of cartoon characters.
"Nice fins, Danny!"
This could have been a very different movie. Richard Zanuck, producer of Jaws and Jaws 2, conceived it as a comedy spoofing a subgenre that had already exploded in the wake of the first film. He had no less than John Hughes write a screenplay, and even tapped Joe Dante to direct. But with Universal unwilling to make a mockery of what it hoped would continue to be a cash cow, the project foundered. Eventually the property was sold to TV producer Alan Landsburg, who amusingly approached experimental documentarian Murray Lerner to direct. Lerner had recently won an Oscar for From Mao to Mozart, and had created the CGI 3D effects for Magic Journeys, a promotional film for the Epcot Centre (in addition to impressing with earlier underwater 3D work). He took one look at the script and ran. After cycling through a series of writers and directors, each being scared off or backed into a corner by Landsburg's ideas, he finally appointed production designer Joe Elves to helm.
"You're talkin' about some damn shark's mother?"
It helps to understand some of the ridiculousness of Jaws 3-D if you look at it as two different movies spliced together. The first is a melodramatic beach-set thriller built around the Brody boys, with their interminable love lives a backdrop for the ongoing shark attacks. The second is a high-concept disaster movie about people trapped in a futuristic underwater theme park threatened by a giant shark. Both are fully fleshed out, perhaps a result of the two narratives each having started out as complete concepts. One hinges on uninteresting romantic entanglements (Dennis Quaid's Mike Brody is in love with Bess Armstrong's Kay Morgan, but important career decisions need to be made and their relationship faces... this is a fucking killer shark movie! I don't care!!); the other features a full coterie of classic ensemble caricatures (including the cynical executive whose penny-pinching risks lives, the ebullient celebrity with a monstrous ego, etc.). Both those movies would have been awful in their own right, but would make more sense by not doubling up on plots and characters. I guess that's what happens when you double up on writers (at least a dozen worked on the screenplay at different stages). Although this 'narrative idiosyncrasy' renders everything a mess, with major characters left with nothing to do for long spells, it at least necessitates a fast pace in order to fit everything in.
"He don't sleep in, he don't live in. You tell Shelby Overman for me he can take a flyin' leap in a rollin' doughnut on a gravel driveway, you hear?"
The underwater disaster movie is the most entertaining half, thanks in no small part to Simon MacCorkindale's Philip Fitzroyce (apparently an amalgamation of the most English names the writers could think of). He's the definition of the suave, narcissistic, upper class Brit adventurer and seems to be some sort of celebrity naturalist-cum-hunter, which must be a contradiction. His incredible ham factor will be familiar to anyone who remembers him as Manimal, but to the uninitiated his lack of sincerity should be joyous. Pairing him with P.H. Moriarty, a man so cockney he makes Ray Winstone look like, well, Simon MacCorkindale, was a masterstroke. Moriarty's thick accent and awkward delivery suggests he's an amateur, but he had a string of minor roles in early 80s British classics like Scum and The Long Good Friday before his appearance as Hatchet Harry in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels revitalised his career. Louis Gossett Jr. also provides some laughs as the miscast theme park boss Calvin Bouchard, who takes on the mayor role by refusing to shut the beaches because of the commercial harm it will do.
"White sharks are dangerous. I know 'em. My father, my brother, myself. They're murders."
The idea to build up to the crazy big shark by having its baby play antagonist for most of the movie is quite effective. Less effective is the shocking 3D. The matte lines around the roto'd foreground elements make those in Superman IV look discrete. Animation was obviously a problem too. In the prime money shot the shark approaches an underwater window before smashing through it. It doesn't move a muscle, it just drifts up to the glass. After shattering it, the fish freezes bizarrely in mid air for several frames before we cut away. In the coda we see a pair of dolphins in what's meant to be the foreground framing our heroes, but they look like curtains trying to close across the screen in shame.
Somehow the movie was a hit. Business was down on Jaws 2, but it still made $88m from an $18m budget, in spite of the terrible reviews. In fact it was received so poorly by critics that it was nominated for five Golden Raspberries, sadly losing out to 1983's runaway winner, Pia Zadora's pretentious sex-drama The Lonely Lady.
Jaws: The Revenge (1987)
Country: USA | Runtime: 89mins | Director: Joseph Sargent
Starring: Lorraine Gary, Lance Guest, Mario Van Peebles, Karen Young, Michael Caine
A shark with a vendetta pursues the Brody family over 1,000 miles from Amity to The Bahamas.
If Jaws 3 fails thanks to its inept attempts to update the formula, Jaws 4 fails through blind stupidity. Its premise is even dumber than it first seems. For a shark to have a grudge against a specific family is ridiculous enough, but for the Brodys to know about it thanks to a psychic link between fish and family matriarch (Lorraine Gary's Ellen) is indefensible. It all begins with the needless death of younger Brody brother Sean (Mitchell Anderson), who since Jaws 3 has un-aged and taken over his dad's old job. Gary is one of those fragile, over-emoting actresses who seems constantly on the brink of tears at the best of times, so to give her a reason to be distraught for the whole movie just guarantees it will be an exhausting watch. There's no need to ramp up the stakes with Sean's death. Ellen already blames the shark for the demise of Chief Brody (he died of a heart attack but she still blames the fish), and doesn't need an excuse to be further invested in the protection of her family. It just casts a miserable, melodramatic shadow over everything, turning what should be a fun, blockbuster thriller into the study of a woman suffering a slow mental collapse under the weight of psychosis, trauma and abject grief. Yay!
"I need a couple of boats, fast. And someone who can kill a shark!"
Many of the movie's problems can be put down to an extraordinarily rushed production. It took just nine months from idea to release, which is less time than it takes to gestate a shark. Producer Joseph Sargent is the man responsible for the dumb heart of the movie. But his mystical bullshit was the result of a desperate attempt to come up with a concept that studio head (and husband of Lorraine Gary) Sid Sheinberg liked. Sheinberg wanted to make the movie about humans, in particular the Brody family, and was adamant it had to be much more up-market than the previous movie.
"When I get back, remind me to tell you about the time I took 100 nuns to Nairobi."
Ultimately it's impossible to underestimate how stupid a movie about a shark with both a grudge and a telepathic human link is. The premise swamps everything, but there are other highlights. Sadly my memory lied to me about how much Michael Caine is in the movie, if not how funny he is. He philosophises comically about the sea (“It's a big ocean out there”), tells inappropriate jokes about nuns, and quips about how the shark might have had a heart attack because humans are so full of cholesterol... to the woman whose son was just eaten by the shark. And whose husband recently died of a heart attack. Caused by the shark. He doesn't quite match his own high watermark from The Swarm, though. Not enough shouting. Mario Van Peebles is also amusing as Jake, largely thanks to a Jamaican accent so preposterous it's flat out racist, mon. But the most consistent entertainment stems from the idiotic choices made by writers, producers and director.
"If I go any faster this thing will turn into a flying Cuisinart and we'll all be diced into oblivion!"
Ellen is so terrified of sharks that she won't go in the water. But she chooses to live on an island, and when she needs to recuperate from Sean's death she goes on holiday to a different island. Older Brody sibling Mike (the unbelievably dull Lance Guest, sadly replacing Dennis Quaid and un-aging even further than his younger brother) finally realises his mother isn't crazy and that the shark is in fact after his family. But he decides not to mention that it's followed them to The Bahamas and attacked him twice, even though his young daughter spends her life in the water smack bang in the middle of its hunting ground. In fact, from the moment Mike recognises it's after them, he hardly steps foot on dry land. But for all its absurdities, this is a movie that struggles to translate idiocy into entertainment. Jaws: The Revenge is generally considered the worst in the series. It trumps 3D for Golden Razzie nominations (boasting seven) and scores an impressive 0% on Rotten Tomatoes (against 3D's 11%). Critics went nuts, with the LA Times describing it as, “dumb beyond belief, hollow and nonsensical.” Gene Siskel wanted Lorraine Grey to be eaten, and Variety likened the experience of watching it to being trapped inside a washing machine. That would be more interesting.
Video: The Top 10 Stupid Things in Jaws 3-D and Jaws: The Revenge
Universal/MCA/Alan Landsburg Productions
So which is better, by which I mean worse... I think
If 3D is half schlocky fun and half inept family melodrama, The Revenge is all the latter. With its main draw (the insanity of the concept) only a fleeting amusement, it's unquestionably more boring than its predecessor. Regardless of which should be objectively considered the worse, 3D is certainly the more entertaining watch.
The sheer volume of close-ups on Lorraine Gary's distraught face, and the romance which fails in every way, makes even the melodramatic element at the centre of The Revenge weaker than the one on the edges of 3D. At least 3D features dynamic characters and doesn't bugger about with endless melancholy mood shots.
In terms of acting, Michael Caine is the single funniest contributor to either movie. But the combination of MacCorkindale, Quaid and Gossett Jr. offered by 3D trumps even him. I may not have emphasised how funny Quaid is, but he puts everything into his performance, never offering a slight frown when a face-bending scowl will do.
The plot to 3D is fairly reasonable, but the world it creates is less believable. Conversely, the plot to The Revenge is the stupidest thing ever, while its world is vaguely sensible. 3D is like an Italian shark movie, The Revenge is like an up-market blockbuster gone horribly, horribly wrong.
Going into this double bill my memory suggested 3D was the worse movie. And while it probably features more basic failures, the ones conjured up by The Revenge are so monstrous that it has to take the trophy. Objectively it's the worse film. Subjectively it's by far the worse film.
The Evolution of Jaws Opening Titles
It's striking how each opening title sequence perfectly reflects the philosophy behind each movie. Jaws (top left) is simple and classy, no messing about. Jaws 2 (top right) just copies the first film. Jaws 3-D (bottom left) throws everything at the screen and ends up with a naff, over the top cliche. For Jaws: The Revenge (bottom right) nobody gave a shit.