Thursday, August 16, 2018

Reserved Seating Jumps the Shark: JAWS 3-D

by Rob DiCristino and Adam Riske
The review duo who has not seen The Meg.

Adam: Welcome to Reserved Seating. I’m Adam Riske.

Rob: And I’m Rob DiCristino.
Adam: Our Jaws retrospective continues with Jaws 3-D, starring Dennis Quaid as a grown-up Mike Brody, Louis Gossett Jr. as Calvin (which you are reminded of in the opening credits and every scene afterwards), the awesomely-named Simon MacCorkindale as the awesomely-named sea adventurer Philip Fitzroyce, and Bess Armstrong as Kathryn, a marine biologist. This time out, the shark (and its baby) have followed a group of water skiers into SeaWorld. This was my first time watching Jaws 3-D in 3-D, and I have to say if you must watch Jaws 3-D, this is the only way to watch it. The 3-D gimmicks are a hoot, but more on that later. I was also lucky enough to see it this time with JB and Jan. Our running commentary throughout was a blast and enhanced the experience. Jaws 3-D in 2-D is how I’m used to seeing the film and it’s a precipitous drop from Jaws 2 (which I don’t love either, but it’s not Jaws 3-D bad). The characters are lifeless, the pacing sluggish, the tension missing, and the shark effects look cheaper than ever. It all combines into schlock that only can be enjoyed under specific circumstances, like in 3-D and with JB and Jan there. What are your thoughts on Jaws 3-D, Rob?
Rob: To start, I’m super jealous that you got to see the movie both in its full 3-D glory AND in the company of The Js B. I watched it in 2-D on my laptop while eating a cold turkey sandwich. Come to think of it, “cold turkey sandwich” is a nice way to describe Jaws 3-D. For all my little quibbles with Jaws 2, that movie is a rollicking freight train of joy compared to this. Nearly every one of my notes was accompanied by some variation of “why?” or “ugh.” It’s just so, so dull. I imagine I wouldn’t have been as frustrated were this not a Jaws sequel but sitting through this only cast that movie’s brilliance in sharper relief. While Jaws spends the time between shark attacks building characters and raising stakes, Jaws 3-D simply has characters putz around and play drinking games with Lea Thompson. That’s not the worst thing under normal circumstances, I guess, but it sucks any life out of a would-be seafaring adventure.

I kept thinking that Jaws 3 is a real “What do we got?” movie. We got the Brody brothers (sort of), we got SeaWorld, we got the British Not Aaron Eckhart guy douching it up, we got Louis Gossett Jr. fresh off an Oscar win, and we got Bess Armstrong as the Hooper stand-in scientist. Surely, stirring those ingredients into a pot will produce something of value? Wait. Can we point out how odd it is that Mike Brody is dating a girl who looks remarkably like Lorraine Gary? Whatever. The point is that new producer Alan Landsburg took the series in a cheap, mindless direction when it should have died with the original Jaws 3, People 0 spoof sequel idea famously developed by the National Lampoon team. That would have been sad and insufferable, and I guarantee I would be shitting on it if we were talking about it here, but at least it would be something different. The only exciting thing about this movie is the bit of trivia I read where Dennis Quaid confesses to being blitzed out of his mind on coke for the entire production.
Adam: If that’s the case, he gave them enough good takes to make it seem like he was not on cocaine. That’s the mark of a true professional. The movie that was in my head the entire time I was watching Jaws 3-D was Jurassic Park III. It has no reason to exist and is mining every possible way to bank on your affection for the original film in its series. At least Jurassic Park III had their Roy Scheider come back with Sam Neill. Jaws 3-D is out of control sluggish, especially in the second half. I’m having trouble engaging with it except in individual moments because as whole it’s barely trying so why should I? And yet, it’s flabbergasting how much better Jaws 3-D is than Jaws: The Revenge. At least with that movie, though, I’ll have more to say about it.

Getting back to Jaws 3-D, I’m glad you pointed out the standoff game sequence where Sean Brody and Lea Thompson first meet one another by pushing each other’s hands. Even if that was a bar game in 1983, that shouldn’t be the type of thing you broadcast to the world in the form of cinema. Other gems are the dumb corral stealers who are something out of a Saturday Morning Cartoon, the crazy mix of real shark footage with a mechanical shark that can barely move or change from its fixed position, and that nuts final shot of Bess Armstrong holding her arms in the air as two leaping dolphins bookend her and Dennis Quaid. I’m already sputtering out on things to say about Jaws 3-D, so I’ll ask you a couple of tough questions next:

-Who is your favorite character in the film?
-What is most responsible for the shark not being scary? The design, how it’s shot, or the situations that are written requiring the shark(s)?
Rob: See, this is where the movie’s sluggish nothingness really comes in. I don’t even necessarily dislike any of these characters! I don’t know them very well at all, nor do I care what happens to them, but I wasn’t constantly rolling my eyes at what they did or said. Their behavior generally seemed logical and true to whatever traits they’d previously demonstrated. They were presented with several medium-sized obstacles, and they took action. I suppose this is a long-winded way of saying that my favorite character was Kelly Ann Bukowski because Lea Thompson is always the right answer.

As for the shark, it’s not scary for the exact reason the shark in Jaws was scary. It’s photographed with absolutely zero style or energy. It appears director Joe Alves (production designer on Jaws and second unit director on Jaws 2) knew better than to attempt anything resembling the scale or pacing of the action in those movies, likely because they wanted to avoid those well-storied mechanical problems. But boy, does it take a toll on the audience. The one interesting bit of shark action might be the diver/grenade gag which, while clearly backward-engineered, offered us a look inside the shark’s mouth for the first time. So, that’s something. Right? I kept imagining everyone saying, “Yeah, we’ve never seen this before. This is new ground being broken in the Jaws universe. We can talk about this on The Tonight Show to get everyone excited.”

It’s almost as if the SeaWorld complex/control room stuff was designed to take the pressure off location shooting or character work and push all the narrative weight to the set pieces. But why should we care? Brody and Dr. Morgan work there, sure, but what else is there for them to learn from this? Isn’t Sean the one with fear of the water? They don’t even bother with anything like that for Mike. I suppose he’s afraid his girl will dump him once they go long distance? She seemed pretty ride-or-die, though. Remember Robert Shaw?

Adam: How did fake Aaron Eckhart stay in Jaws’ mouth for so long without getting swallowed or digested in some way? You’d think it would have slid down finally from the reverse momentum of the shark crashing its nose into the control room window. I think my favorite thing about Jaws 3-D, besides the 3-D (which inexplicably always looks better at home than in a movie theater), is that Sean Brody just peaces out of the movie when Lea Thompson gets taken away in the ambulance. It makes you wonder why everyone else didn’t do the same thing.
The 3-D on the Blu-ray was amazing when they were showing off the depth of field in the daytime sequences and also effective when shit was deliberately pointing at you (I think I remember being shot with a spear or something by Quaid at some point). Oh, and the opening credits looked great too. The underwater 3-D effects were more murky and blurry which is a problem because that’s where most of the money shots are for the 3-D. I laughed out loud at the 3-D gag when the shark died. At first it SPOILER blew up END SPOILER and I was like “Well that was disappointing” and then the teeth shot happened and I was laughing out loud. I always forget how dumb it looks until I see it again. What was your favorite 3-D gag in 2-D?

Rob: There’s nothing good about these 3-D effects in 2-D. Everything is flat, awkward, and left to go on for far too long. Worst of all was that slow-motion shot of the shark approaching the glass. Remember those books you had a kid where you put the decals of superheroes and dinosaurs on backgrounds and whatnot to create a little scene? They never scaled properly, but you could always peel them off and move them around. That’s what the shark looked like against the water in that scene. It was incredible.

What do you think of the series’ continued reliance on the Brody family? Is there another version of Jaws 3 you’d have rather seen?

Adam: I think you could make a good shark in a theme park movie. Part of the problem with the theme park in Jaws 3-D is that they use it in such a limited fashion. Especially for a 3-D gimmick movie like this one, why not go completely loony and have the shark get into more shenanigans around the park? It’s like they had this control room set and were unreasonably impressed with it. It feels like the entire second half of the movie is set there. As for the Brody reliance, it’s just dumb because it’s barely recognized in Jaws 3-D except by name. The filmmakers have no interest in the characters, so why not write new ones that they are interested in?

Let’s talk 3-D again for a second. I’m guessing you’re not a huge fan because most people aren’t, but if you had to choose a best 3-D movie experience what would it be?
Rob: I’m not a fan at all. I know this sounds super film school, but we’ve spent a hundred years developing techniques to create depth and dynamism using light, lenses, set design, and even sound. 3-D always feels cheap and easy to me, a trendy gimmick hauled out when ticket sales are dipping. All that said, my one positive 3-D experience is probably Jurassic Park. It was a packed screening with people of all ages, at least 50% of whom had (apparently) never seen it before. I didn’t get to see it on the big screen in ‘93, so tasting a bit of that energy during the T-Rex escape sequence or the raptors in the kitchen scene made it fun.

A lot of people have made 3-D home viewing a niche attraction and defend it pretty adamantly. I appreciate that, of course (everyone has the right to their kinks), but I honestly don’t understand how you’d prefer that over traditional viewing. More 3-D Blus for them, though, right?

Adam: Right. So, we have to get to Jaws: The Revenge soon. Looking forward to that? It’s godawful, but I have a sliver of affection for it because it was the first Jaws movie I ever saw. More on that later. For now, though, Mark Off for Jaws 3-D.

Rob: Agreed. I want to get a copy of the novelization and read it before we talk Jaws: The Revenge. Legend has it that there is some bonkers shit going on in that book. First thing’s first, though: Next week will be a very special Reserved Seating.

Adam: We’ll do our annual Philadelphia trip report from the Monster Mania convention and maybe a brief review of a new release should we see anything in theaters. It’ll be fun. Come with us vicariously!

Rob: Or physically! We can meet you in Jersey! Until next time…

Adam: These seats are reserved.

1 comment:

  1. When I was a wee lad I loved Jaws 3D. Probably because it was on HBO all day every day during one summer, and even at that age I was powerless against the raw charisma of Dennis Quaid. Haven't seen it in 35 years and it sounds like I should keep it in my memories. Excellent article as always fellas!