Summer of the early 1970s. A cinematic dead zone. Nobody ever went to the movies in the summer. Why would you? You were on vacation. You were at the beach. You were hiking. Camping. At a theme park. With your family. Only a fool would release big movies in the summer. One movie changed all that. Jaws.
Expecting nothing like the success it eventually garnered, Universal dumped it in the dead zone and was then somewhat amazed when it absolutely smashed all records. After accidentally inventing the summer tent-pole blockbuster. Jaws then went on to perform another cinematic miracle. It pretty much invented the serious sequel.
Before Jaws 2 in 1978, sequels were a bit of a standing joke. They were regarded as cheap. A cash-in. Even sequels to well-regarded movies such as The French Connection were almost thrown together, with few returning cast members.
Spielberg himself regarded sequels as a “…cheap carney trick” at this stage in his career, hence his refusal to return for Jaws 2 and make Close Encounters Of The Third Kind instead.
However, Jaws 2 set the benchmark for following up a smash hit with a movie that created its own hype and made a handsome return, showing that sequels should be a serious endeavor. This effectively sealed the deal. There would have to be a Jaws 3.
Laugh? We Nearly Killed A Franchise!
Airplane was a great success over at Paramount in 1980. Slapstick comedy was all the rage. For some reason, this led Brown & Zanuck to consider the slapstick and spoof route for a third Jaws movie. To be titled Jaws 3 – People 0, they grabbed National Lampoons Animal House producer Matty Simmons for the project.
Simmons outlined a story that involved shark-like aliens invading the Earth. National Lampoon writers John Hughes and Todd Carroll came aboard to turn this outline into a workable script.
Joe Dante was hired straight from Piranha, the best of the Jaws homages, to direct. The opening scene was to feature a Chrissie Watkins-style attack, but the victim was to be Spielberg himself, being devoured in his own pool by one of these aliens.
The moment Universal started to see the drafts, they were aghast. Here they were, sitting on a franchise that included the most successful movie in history until Star Wars came along. It also included a very profitable sequel. The suits pulled rank. The slapstick comedy approach had to go.
Arguments raged. Threats to quit and fire were made. Eventually, Alan Landsburg stepped in. Alan Landsburg Productions would make the movie and it would be a serious sequel. Landsburg had made over 2000 hours of television, some of it Emmy-winning, but very few feature films. Not to be put off by this lack of experience, they set to work.
They were not messing around. They reached out to legendary writer Richard Matheson (I Am Legend) who they had worked with in the past and asked him for a story idea. An enthused Matheson returned to the New Jersey shark attacks that inspired Benchley to write the original novel.
In his story, a Great White swam up a saltwater river and terrorised an inland fishing community around the lake it was trapped in. You can already see the genesis of what became Jaws 3 in this idea.
Landsburg was in charge this time around, not Sid Sheinberg, so his wife Lorraine Gary was not slated to return. They did, however, consider how to bring Brody into the story. Matheson had written an all-new story without the Brody connections so was not supportive of this idea.
Roy Scheider had only returned to do Jaws 2 under duress and under contract. Clear that they would probably offer him such an amount of money to do Jaws 3 that he could not say no, he deliberately made himself unavailable. He accepted John Badham’s offer of the lead role in Blue Thunder instead.
It was at this point that things started to go very badly wrong. When Brody was no longer in the plans, the producers insisted that Brody’s two sons were included in the story. Having won an Emmy with Mickey Rooney for the television movie Bill, the producers also wanted a role specially created for him.
Having had enough of these sorts of requests, and seeing his treatment radically altered by non-writers to try and accommodate them, Matheson quit.
Guerdon Trueblood (The Savage Bees) was then brought on board as a writer and today this causes some controversy. It is unclear which elements of which story belong to which writer. Matheson has expressed anger over “some other writer” being credited with his story. They are credited as co-writers but don’t appear to have ever actually met or discussed the project.
A team of Hollywood script doctors was brought in, alongside Jaws and Jaws 2 writer Carl Gottlieb. Hollywood met the 80s and suddenly the small town community on the banks of this saltwater lake became a generic, ocean-based aquarium and theme mark – Marine World. So you can see where this is going.
The movie switched from being a thriller like Jaws and Jaws 2 into being something like a disaster movie just with the shark at the center of that disaster.
The Brody brothers remained and Dennis Quaid was cast as Mike after his time working with Landsburg on Bill, even without Mickey Rooney present.
The Matheson script is a thing of internet myth and legend. Every script online is already the theme park version. In nearly 30 years online nobody has been able to locate a copy of the Matheson script featuring the lakeside community. History says it exists, but it does not appear to be available on the internet.
When it came to shooting, a generic marine-based theme park became Sea World as a deal was struck to provide huge amounts of product placement for the nearly new park. In the movie, the park is located on the coast of Florida, connected to the sea via a canal and sea gate.
In reality, the park was located in the middle of the state and miles from the sea.
Movie magic makes the park look vast and sprawling. A lagoon that allows a huge shark to lurk around a network of underwater tunnels is, in reality, a slightly oversized pond.
Original Jaws Production Designer Joe Alves was hired as director. He and Director of Photography James A. Contner should be praised here for just how big they make the park feel with careful shot selection. Sea World is tiny compared to other parks in Florida.
The water-ski opening sequence was filmed at Navarre, near Pensacola, Florida as were the lagoon entrance and sea gate scenes. Then the bulk of the movie was shot in Sea World, on sound stages of the tank at Universal.
It’s Coming Right For Us!
In the early 1980s, the use of 3D in the cinema was having something of a rebirth. This was very different from what we would become used to post Avatar in 2009. A Friday 13th sequel and an Amityville sequel used it.
Now a Jaws sequel was to do the same. Like all 3D movies of the time, this meant it was a gimmick. To deploy the gimmick they needed to make gimmick shots.
A submarine floats off the screen. An unconvincing severed arm floats by. A shot lingers on a reed for too long for no apparent reason other than to have it make the audience duck. A crossbow is fired straight at the camera.
Clearly, the technology just wasn’t ready. Witness parts for the sub disappearing as it turns across the screen. Gasp as separate panes of the celluloid seems totally unconnected. Shriek with laughter as a Great White shark looms without movement towards a control room. This causes some of the movie’s worst issues. It’s still a shark movie, right? And this has a truly terrible shark. Which derails the whole show when you are making a shark movie.
The shark is not just a bit useless from a VFX point of view, it’s a bit useless from a sharkin’ point of view too.
It misses out on the water skiers at the start. It only grabs Oberman as it happens to be near the gate when he goes to lock it. It eventually rampages through the park on a busy day and misses water skier after water skier until it eventually manages to nudge a tiny bumper boat just put a nasty cut on Lea Thompson’s leg.
This shark is an abject failure. It eventually gets Simon MacCorkindale whole, forgetting to chew him, after he simply floats into its mouth and can’t even swallow him properly. How the hell did this thing get so big without eating?
The only shark in the history of cinema more useless than the shark in Jaws 3 may be the shark in Jaws The Revenge.
Controversy Wrapped In Opinion
The shortcomings of the shark, as catastrophic as they are in a Jaws movie, is a real shame. I think this is a shame because I have something of a controversial opinion.
Jaws 3 isn’t all bad. In fact, trapped in here, behind the awful 3D effects and the terrible shark, is a good movie trying hard to get out. Honestly. Stop laughing at the back. I mean it.
The central idea is extremely solid. It remains true to Matheson’s original idea of a large, hungry Great White shark trapped in a confined location in close proximity to many potential meals. The aquatic theme park setting is fun and it works. It should be awesome. If made today it probably would be.
Secondly, there is one thing that every, single other shark movie ever made, outside the Jaws franchise, forgets. Because they forget this, their movies are never even in the same ballpark as Jaws.
They have failed to understand this, which is why everything from Deep Blue Sea, to The Meg, to The Reef, Bait, The Shallows all fail.
Shark movies are not about the shark. They are about people. The shark is the incidental thing that drives the narrative, but if you don’t have realistic and compelling characters who behave like real human beings then you are, to pardon the pun, dead in the water.
Jaws primarily works because every single character in Spielberg’s excellent original is absolutely human, perfectly written, and wonderfully played. Everything else is secondary. Outside the ropey shark effect, Jaws 3 actually gets some way towards getting this right.
The cast of Jaws 3 is really good. Despite the fact they are wading through hokiness they all excel. There is something brilliant about them playing it entirely straight among the silliness that reminds me of Flash Gordon, just not that camp. Nothing is as camp as that.
Mike and Katherine make a genuinely believable couple and act like one. They seem genuinely in love. Their hung-over discussion in the kitchen the morning after the night out with Sean plays like a real family, doing real family stuff. Just like Chief Brody’s home life with Ellen did.
Philip Fitzroyce is brilliant. Smarmy, smirking, scenery-chewing. A classic mustache twiddling semi-villain. His long-suffering bag man Jack, grumpily scowling along to everything is almost my favorite character in this movie. Certainly better than those bloody dolphins.
I say almost, because of Calvin Bouchard. Louis Gossett Jr was straight off the Best Supporting Actor win from An Officer And A Gentleman when he came to this movie.
Bouchard should have been a standard corporate villain, a two-dimensional substitute for the Mayor of Amity, however Gossett Jr brings him to life with aplomb. Just like Vaughn he also manages to be sympathetic and not really a bad guy.
Without good characters portrayed by believable actors, it doesn’t matter if a shark movie has the best VFX money can buy giving us as many attacks as we want, all perfectly rendered. I believe Jaws 3 actually makes a decent stab at all this.
Jaws 3 also gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling because I clearly remember it coming out. I was a child who thought these big shark moves were awesome. Me and my little buddies were more excited by this than we were about anything else at the time. And the marketing blitz was all-consuming.
Cereal boxes had 3D glasses attached and cartoon scenes of the movie played out in three dimensions in cardboard. TV ads ran around the clock. There were even toys.
And lobby cards. Oh my God, kids today will never understand the absolute majesty of a movie theatre lobby card.
Perhaps Jaws 3 is just guilty of being a bit too ambitious for a first-time director, with a TV movie producer and technology that just wasn’t up to the job?
What do you think?
We love Jaws, you love Jaws, so remember to check out the rest of our sharky stuff here at the Last Movie Outpost by seeing what we have to say about Jaws. Or read our retro review of Jaws The Revenge. See what became of Bruce The Shark when the royalty checks dried up. Or maybe read the incredible history of the troubled Jaws theme park ride: