2-D humans vs. 3-D sharks

Jaws 3-D

1983 | 99 min

Joe Alves

Of the four films in the Jaws franchise, the third entry, Jaws 3-D is the only one that has no relation to the others. Two of the central characters mention Amity Island – the site of the prior two Jaws films and where the fourth one begins – but that’s the start and end of the connection. It’s just another shark attack film and shares nothing with the others in the franchise apart from some of the mood music. So either Jaws 3-D is the worst film in the Jaws franchise or it is an unrelated bad film from the mid-1980s. I leave the choice up to you.

Jaws 3-D opens at a Sea World animal prison where we can see droopy dorsal fins on both dolphins and orcas that indicate their depression and physical stress from lives in captivity. We meet Mike (Dennis Quaid), a structural engineer at the park and Kathryn (Bess Armstrong) an animal trainer, along with Calvin Brouchard (Louis Gossett Jr.) the park’s owner. There’s a little more to the characters than that but if the filmmakers don’t invest significant effort into the characters, why should this reviewer? Basically you’ve got a greedy park owner whose greed leads to Man vs. Shark.

Jaws 3-D exists primarily to cash in on the 1980s 3-D movie revival and the success of the two prior Jaws films. It was never anything but a gimmick that, with Gossett Jr. and Quaid, managed to get a couple big names attached. Because of this you’d think the effects would be better but they’re not. The sharks are inconsistent and even the basic underwater scenes look like badly integrated stickers placed onto the film, and that’s not even counting the 3-D imagery which is sometimes fun, but often shockingly terrible. In one major scene they forgot to even have the shark 3-D effect move, it just floats forward.

Like all shark attack movies, Jaws 3-D has a baseline silliness in that it never pauses to ask: Could a shark actually do any of this? Can a great white shark eat two adult men within two minutes? No. It would struggle mightily to do so over two weeks. Can a great white shark chase down water skiers? Also no. The only part of shark biology that they get right is when a great white dies almost immediately upon being placed in captivity. The filmmakers have to exaggerate the capabilities of sharks because they don’t understand that you can build drama around a 16-foot long predator with sharp teeth that can be, in very rare circumstances, dangerous to people. But they’re lazy. So they make up monsters instead.

From one point of view, Jaws 3-D is the third film in the Jaws franchise. But to get back to the point at the beginning of this review, it’s not really connected to any other Jaws film. Instead, let me suggest that it is the unintentional prequel to the 2013 documentary Sea World exposé Blackfish. Like Blackfish, Jaws 3-D explores the violences inherent in places like Sea World. Early in the film we see two dolphins ramming a gate and trying to escape. The film wants us to think they’re trying to escape proximity to the great white shark but Blackfish tells us that they’re probably trying to escape their horrible caged lives. This also changes the meaning of the film. If we know that the staff that gets eaten are cruel jailers and torturers, Jaws 3-D is a tragedy about villains hunting down a couple of noble sharks that are trying to free their mammalian neighbors from their jails. That framing certainly makes the film more interesting, but it’s still not any good.