(1983, Horror/Giant Critter, color)
Janet Varney and Cole Stratton
I hate to superimpose on you, but...
In a Nutshell:
Killer sharks terrorize a water park.
A shark follows stunt waterskiers into a nearly complete theme park lagoon, making it in just before the sea gates are closed. A drunken park worker and a pair of incompetent coral poachers get eaten offscreen while a main character’s cowboy brother falls in love with a lady waterskier. When the missing park worker’s girlfriend complains, park construction foreman Mike (Dennis Quaid) and his marine biologist girlfriend Kate (Bess Armstrong) head down into the lagoon to poke around. Kate's dolphin friends carry them to safety when they discover the ten-foot predator. A well-equipped crew easily captures the shark and transfers it to a holding tank. It dies in captivity the next day.
Believe it or not, it’s taken an entire suspense-free hour to get this far.
The last half hour begins with the first shark’s thirty-foot mommy poking her head out of an intake pipe on the park’s opening day. She proceeds to chase all the patrons and performers out of the water, slightly injuring cowboy brother and his waterskier squeeze. They vanish into an ambulance, never to be heard from again.
Meanwhile, park visitors stroll through glass tunnels near the bottom of the lagoon. This draws the ire of the shark, who batters open a seam, forcing a group of survivors to take shelter in a half-flooded tunnel hub near the center of the lagoon. Rakish shark hunter FitzRoyce (Simon MacCorkindale) offers to lure the shark back into the intake pipe and trap it there while Mike patches the tunnel. This works well enough, except that the shark eats FitzRoyce and then batters her way out of the pipe again. Mike just has time to finish welding the tunnel shut and get towed to safety (again) by the park dolphins with Kate.
They take refuge in an underwater control room with a glass window to the lagoon. The shark batters it open and eats one of the workers while Mike and Kate put their scuba gear back on. The shark opens wide, gives them a good view of its insides, and Mike sees the half-chewed FitzRoyce, still clutching a grenade. Next time the shark’s mouth opens, Mike pulls the pin and swims away really fast (with dolphin assistance, naturally). The shark explodes, flinging superimposed 3D viscera. Kate and Mike surface while the dolphins do victory dances around them.
You might read the above and think it odd that an early eighties 3D horror—a tiny subgenre whose sole reason for existence is to hurl entrails at the audience—would sit on its hands for two thirds of its running time. It’s not like the audience has shown up expecting a stirring tale of love and revenge, or something with any redeeming qualities at all, really. They’re here for the titillation and gore. The original theater patrons must have felt like they’d ordered a hamburger, but only gotten the bottom half of the bun.
This wouldn’t be worthy of discussion if they’d managed to make to the non-horror parts (i.e.: most of the movie) even the slightest bit interesting. That’s what the first Jaws did, holding the threat of the shark like a note of tension over the character development. Jaws 3 can’t hold that note. Doesn’t look like it’s even trying, really, as the shark never eats anyone we care about, and the main characters don’t find out about it until the action’s kicked in for other reasons. (In the case of the coral poachers, no one ever finds out. That little secret stays between us and the movie.) It doesn’t help that the movie’s idea of “character development” is to take the blandest relationship clichés they can think of and then remove all the non-shark-related conflict in a successful bid to make them even blander.
On the other hand, if you’re trying to make your film interesting for its own merits, why film it in 3D?
A few favorite comments: When the title projects itself at us in Roman numerals, Janet calls it, “Jaws Ay, Ay, Ay!” When the shark crisis finally gets underway, Janet says, “You know this kind of crap doesn’t happen at Legoland.” When Mike gives us the list of things he needs to do before the movie can end, Cole adds, “Refund [the audience’s] ticket purchase and beg their forgiveness.” Mike Nelson shows up before and after as the ghost of the irascible shark hunter Quint (from the first movie), regaling us with sea shanties in a thick piraty accent. It’s a laughably bad film with a decent commentary, dragged down a bit by a ferociously dull first hour.
(1983, Horror/Giant Critter, color)