Jaws is a classic film. A master work, really. It’s a textbook example of great editing, suspenseful direction, and delicate character work that suggests much of the soapy details of its source novel without letting those things get in the way.
Its sequels are about cashing in on the fond memories movie-goers had of that initial experience. While Jaws 2 merely just sits there, content to have roped back the survivors of the first film, the later two sequels are much more fun. And though my love for the fourth film, Jaws: The Revenge, runs deep, we have only had the opportunity to induct Jaws 3 into the rolls at Yakmala. It’s a worthy addition complete with extraneous subplots, bizarre commentaries on modern courtship, and Louis Gossett Jr as “Calvin Bouchard.”
Plot: Michael Brody, the son of the first two film’s Sheriff Brody, is all grown up and working as an engineer at Florida’s expansive Sea World. The timeline of these movies gets a little foggy, so it’s hard to say how Michael turned from a 17 year old into Dennis Quaid in four short years. At least we’re getting a change of venue with Florida replacing the quirky local people of Amity.
Michael and his dolphin trainer girlfriend Kathryn (Bess Armstrong) are anticipating the arrival of his younger brother Sean. It also happens to be a preview week at Sea World for the parks new “Undersea Kingdom” attraction. Built under under 40 feet of water, the complex features a fun house, stunning ocean views, and a full services bar/restaurant at the hub. It’s all the brainchild of Sea World boss “Calvin Bouchard.” He’s also invited famed marine photographer and game hunter Philip FitzRoyce to shoot the park during the celebrations.
I am telling you about all these characters for a reason.
At the bar, Sean meets Kelly (Lea Thompson), one of the water skiers employed at the park. I never mention the “meet cutes” in these movies, so here’s one. They play a game of “Stand Off.” It doesn’t involve guns or slow motion. It mainly revolves around people pushing each other.
Maybe it’s a Florida thing.
So with the couples now set (no, really, Sean manages to snag Kelly with his superior Stand Off prowess), we can get down to the nitty-gritty. Michael and Kathryn get to some hot make-out action whilst Sean and Kelly sneak off to Sea World’s lagoon for a little kissy-kissy party of their own. I’m not entirely sure why the filmmakers are so cutesy and middle-school with this aspect of the story, but in the midst of it we learn Sean doesn’t go in the water. He’s clearly more traumatized from the events of the previous films than Michael. Well, at least until Kelly gets involved.
Oh, here’s a funny aside. During Sean and Kelly’s watery date, Michael and Kathryn sneak up on them claiming to be park security. Kelly offers the best excuse ever in a movie like this for their hanky-panky: “I’m from the ski team!”
There’s also a weird plot cul-de-sac about some incompetent poachers who get eaten by the shark.
With daybreak, Michael investigates the disappearance of his subordinate, Shelby Overman. During a prolonged search, Michael and Kathryn encounter a great white shark, but are saved by Sandy and Cindy, the park’s star dolphins. “Calvin Bouchard” is overjoyed by this turn of events and FitzRoyce suggests hunting the beast down. Kathryn manages to talk them both into taking the shark in alive as great whites have never survived in captivity. Overman later appears as chum in a lame example of 3D trickery.
After a grand chase and some more 3D gags, Kathryn and FitzRoyce manage to capture the shark, but the rejoicing is short lived as the creature has a hard time adjusting to life at Sea World. Kathryn and her assistant have to keep moving the shark by hand to get it to breathe. Once she does get it to swim on its own, she stresses the need to keep it calm and free from stress.
So “Calvin Bouchard” orders it moved to a viewing pool where it quickly dies in front of park patrons. It’s not his best decision as boss of Sea World and even FitzRoyce seems choked up about it. This would seem to be the end of the movie, but Kathryn makes a startling discovery. The bite radii on Overman’s body indicate the shark could not have killed him. In fact, it wasn’t the shark that caused any of the trouble at Sea World. It was it’s mother! Oh, and she’s still in the park. Once discovered, Mama Jaws goes on a spree of destruction that puts the Undersea Kingdom and all of the people inside in jeopardy. She also takes a bite out of Kelly’s leg, which happens to move both her and Sean out of the movie.
Michael devises a way to save the park guests while FitzRoyce distracts Mama. Michael is successful, but FitzRoyce ends up swallowed whole.
I’m not kidding.
Making their way to the hub’s control center, Michael and Kathryn watch as Mama slowly swims toward them shattering the tempered glass barrier. Swimming out into the lagoon, Michael sees FitzRoyce’s body inside the shark with a grenade in his hand. He manages to pull the pin and blows up the shark. Sandy and Cindy show up one more to save the day as everyone is pretty happy.
Even “Calvin Bouchard” survives.
Analysis: I have a confession to make. I have a soft-spot for Lea Thompson, particularly in Back to the Future. I guess she arrived at a formative time for me. I also suppose that’s why I have a weakness for fair-skinned brunettes.
But I digress.
She’s better known for having brown hair, as she does in Jaws 3, but I find her a welcome screen presence. Even in a movie like this where she’s set up to be a hot lunch. In fact, looking back on it, it is surprising that Kelly doesn’t get eaten. Yeah, it would give Sean more reason to fear the water, but this film seemed to want to roll that way. Similarly, “Calvin Bouchard” would also appear to be on the menu, but survives with only his nephew getting eaten and his $40 million Undersea Kingdom in need of repair.
“Calvin Bouchard” is the single most fascinating character in the film. Played by Louis Gossett Jr., he overfows with character. He has a southern-fried accent, a curious way of bossing his staff around, and the movie hints at a “colorful past” that would lead him to building something like the Undersea Kingdom and hiring FitzRoyce to kill a shark. He’s so awesome that the film had to put his character name in scare-quotes during the opening credits. Gossett got on this movie just before his Oscar-worthy performance in An Officer and a Gentlemen and would begin a proud tradition of actors appearing to slum in Jaws movie after a brush with Oscar gold.
As for the other characters, there’s not much to say. Quaid does his best as economy class Harrison Ford, but Michael as a character is pretty comfortable and really has no adversity to overcome. Even the shark is pretty easy for him to deal with. The film makes one stab at a complication in which he is offered a job in Venezuela that would separate him from Kathryn for 18 months and …. hyubnj
Sorry, fell asleep at the keyboard trying to recount that subplot.
Similarly, Sean is in the movie for no other reason than he’s a Brody they could recast. His problem with the water is overcome by the sight of Lea Thompson in a bikini and other than that, he serves no purpose. The movie just forgets about him for large portions of the story. Like Kelly and “Calvin Bouchard,” I wonder if he was also scheduled to get eaten.
This is the chief creative problem with the film. The shark just doesn’t eat enough people. Interestingly, Jaws 3 began its life as a parody called “Jaws 3, People 0” that Universal canceled after they thought such a film could jeopardize the lucrative franchise. It also seems to have made them reticent to have the shark actually attack anyone. Y’know, the thing sharks do in a Jaws movie. Instead, the keep using Overman’s corpse as a gross out 3D sight gag.
Oh, yeah, this movie is lame with 3D sight gags, from the opening moments of a fish carcass to FitzRoyce squirting tranquillizer from a syringe, to Mama Jaws’s slow-motion swim to the hub’s control room, the gags are really obvious and kind of hilarious considering the film is rarely ever seen in 3D. The process they used also left the 2D version looking very soft and strangely old for a film released in 1983.
It all combines for an unintentionally funny movie. In the end, the studio still made “Jaws 3, People 0,” but went into release believing they’d made another worthy successor to Steven Spielberg’s original classic. (You’ll note this is the first time I’ve mentioned him as he had nothing to do with the sequels.)
At yet, somehow, this movie made enough movie for Universal to go ahead with one more film … but in a cruel twist of fate, it ignores everything that happened in Jaws 3. Michael is transformed into a marine biologist working in the Bahamas, Sean a cop, and Mama Brody returns to confront the family curse with help from Michael Caine.
But that tale is for another day …