Sunday, June 19, 2016

JAWS 3: Blu-ray (Universal, 1983) Universal Home Video

Right off the bat, I sincerely warn the reader of this piece my blood pressure is presently boiling. I am not going to spend a lot of time on Jaws 3 (1983) in 3-D (or 2D for that matter), if for no other reason than Universal Home Video’s complete lack of appreciation for remastering catalog has reached a new all-time low with this Blu-ray, absent in any sort of quality control that would make me even remotely want to recommend this disc to my readership. Abject disgust is the best way I can officially describe what I am seeing here; digitized film grain, so harsh and unappealing, it all but renders practically every scene photographed at night virtually unwatchable. If you are viewing Jaws 3 in 3D, then the amplification of this digitized grain is absurdly and inexplicably more pronounced in the right eye than the left. But if you are viewing the flat version, then the all-around image quality is an unmitigated mess. This anomaly – I repeat – ‘this anomaly’ IS NOT the result of the over-and-under 3D system employed; the standard 35mm film frame split down the middle to create two separate and slightly misaligned images, reconfigured during projection in theaters to mimic the illusion of a ‘third dimension in terror’. Rather, Universal Home Video has been horrendously remiss in their remastering efforts. What a crock and a sham – advertising ‘Jaws 3 in 3D’, and, in HD with theater quality sound without adding the word ‘bad’ in front of it.  
To repeat yet again, if ad nauseam, it is NOT in the nature of any film-based elements to so inexplicably alternate between normal ‘obvious’ grain patterns to dense as sand grit imagery; especially as both the left and right images are presumably culled from a single ‘split’ frame of exposed camera negative. But herein, it is as though the left eye elements went through some sort of digital clean-up, while the right eye’s were all but ignored and/or given no consideration. Even more lethal, is the vertical misalignment of the two images when viewing the 3D version, causing disturbing – and headache-inducing halos of color. The question then remains, why release Jaws 3 – either in 3D or 2D – if time, attention and moneys were not to be allocated to ensure even a base level of quality control. Few Blu-ray releases of this past decade have so completely outraged me. And Jaws 3, for all its wonderment and woes, is hardly the idiotic turkey most critics have come to regard it over the last few generations. Unquestionably, the production suffers from some tedious special effects. I mean, the palsy-stricken shark, approaching SeaWorld’s central command post during the climactic showdown, is not even wagging its dorsal or tail fins; the moment taken to the height of absurdity by a slow-mo reaction shot of the principal cast attempting to flee, seconds before shards of window pane glass and a flood come hurtling at the audience. Virtually every stereoscopic shot of the great white gives immediate recognition to some very sloppy model and matte work.  Point blank: it’s impossible to take any of it seriously.
That said, at least by 1983 standards, the cheese – laid rather thick from end to end – is salvageable; the tone of the piece suggesting a good time was had by most of the cast, even if story elements are a wafer-thin retread of everything that has transpired in the first two movies. Indeed, David Brown and Richard Zanuck, the apparent custodians of this franchise, had absolutely no part in this mangled third bite at the box office; Brown and Zanuck each proposing to Universal they gird their creative loins to make a riotous satire rather than another serious movie to scare the hell out of their audiences. In hindsight, Brown and Zanuck unintentionally got their wish; director, John Alves quite unable to do anything more or better than occasionally fill the screen with some truly grotesque bloodletting. While Jaws and Jaws 2 could effectively be classified as PG-rated ‘suspense’ movies, with a little bit of horror seeping in from the peripheries, Jaws 3D is an unabashed feeding frenzy, delving deep into every horror movie cliché run amuck. Still, as transparently realized ‘camp’, it’s not all that bad and, on occasion, still manages to entertain.  
No, I am not one of those who continue to attest to ‘the greatness’ of the picture, citing such things as the shark’s deliberately calculated propensity, manifested with the psychological complexity of a serial killer. Rather than simply attacking its victims to feed its insatiable base hunger, this great white systematically picks off its prey in new and truly horrifying ways. It skins one man alive, severs another in two and to the bare bone, and, precisely chews on another it has only just swallowed whole until the victim is crushed to death and simultaneously drowned, left lying in half-bloodied repose on the big fish’s soft palette, clearly visible by another targeted victim who narrowly escapes a similar wrath. The great white threat in Jaws 3D is diabolically villainous; a trait generally not ascribed to…well…fishies in the sea; although expertly inculcated in humanity’s overall impressions as well as nature’s design of the beast itself; those dead ‘doll’s head’ eyes pointing left and right; that massive line of crooked, razor-sharp teeth; its cadaver grey outer skin with silent breathing gills to make it virtually undetectable beneath the surface of the water until it is much too late to do anything except scream, have an accident in one’s swimming trunks and ruthlessly perish. Within the human psyche there are few perils to so completely haunt and upset as effectively as the thought of being devoured by a thirty-five foot really ugly sea monster. Now, juxtapose this elemental fear with a location of sheer tranquility and escapism, a place where we are meant to assume nothing bad could ever happen, and you have some idea as to where the makers of Jaws 3 are prepared to take their audience. Think Disney World and alligators. Or don’t, if you would rather not lose any more sleep over the possibilities. 
We could almost forgive Jaws 3 its innumerable artistic foibles; except, a few are just too awful to recall without a mild chuckle. Paramount among these delectable misfires is Dennis Quaid’s delirious meltdown after being called in to examine the gruesome remains of Sea World’s muscleman, Shelby Overman (Harry Grant), severed, gutted, wormy and missing an eyeball; generally mutilated in all other manners befitting a homicidal maniac. Quaid is cast as Mike Brody, despite the fact he in no way resembles the physical contents of character actor, Mark Gruner, who assumed the role of Chief Brody’s eldest in Jaws 2. Nevertheless, it is Quaid we have to contend with; almost tossing his cookies before commandeering a popcorn go-cart and hurtling like a diarrhea-stricken mad man desperately in search of the loo, whizzing past thoroughly confused bystanders, tearing up a stage platform and wrestling the microphone away from an MC playing host to a garishly staged hoedown; screaming at the top of his lungs for the water skiers sailing past the platform to get out of lagoon before it is too late. I suppose we must cut dear ole Dennis some slack here, because he is, after all, playing a guy thoroughly shell-shocked by the events preceding this movie; quite enough to leave most anyone as clammy as a mackerel tossed from the surf and left to bake and suffocate in the noonday sun.
Until the release of this Blu-ray, Jaws 3 was something of a hallucinogenic anomaly on home video; its various sequences specifically crafted to take full advantage of the stereoscopic process, never able to be fully appreciated in the comfort of one’s living room.  And Alves, knowing full and well he is making a 3D movie, is perversely determined to give the audience what they have paid good money to see – a screen filled with projectile objects, some more inanimate than others – careering from the screen, or, even more disturbingly, trapped and looming in this ethereal third-dimension, like the disemboweled head of a catfish, barely a minute into the main titles, the fish itself snapped in two by the unseen shark, the head left floating in a bloody pool of guts with its reflexive motor functions still opening and closing its mouth. Without the benefit of 3D, Jaws 3 is a 90 minute odyssey into the gaping, and cadaver encrusted mouth of madness. With it, one can better see – or perhaps even appreciate – the proverbial forest for its kelp, the entire movie preying upon a cacophony of human fears: confinement in tight spaces, drowning, being eaten alive, and quite transparently, death – premature or otherwise, and, in whatever manner the reaper may choose to hasten us into an early grave.
Alas, all of the existentialist nonsense in Richard Matheson and Carl Gottlieb’s screenplay, cribbing from an atrocious story idea by Guerdon Trueblood, and with ineffectual dialogue added by Michael Kane (that could have equally come from inspiration gleaned while sitting on the toilet as exercising his creative muscles via real concentration), is obfuscated by shoddy hi-def mastering on Universal’s new Blu-ray. Even so, Matheson was hardly pleased with the results back in 1983; Jaws 3 incongruously shot mostly at SeaWorld Orlando, a landlocked water park, with the illusion cobbled together from inserts of Florida’s Navarre Beach, to suggest a more coastal locale, thus allowing the great white direct access from the ocean to the theme park without having to take the shuttle bus. Universal imposed restrictions upon Matheson; first, that Jaws 3 would continue as the saga of the Brody boys - Michael and Sean (John Puth), now all grown up and ready to become entangled in even ‘fishier’ romances; Michael with forthright marine biologist, Dr. Kathryn ‘Kay’ Morgan (Bess Armstrong), and Sean, brought out of his shell (so to speak) by Kelly Ann Bukowski (Lea Thompson) – a water-skiing tart, all fizz and bounce, with zero substance. Matheson was also ‘requested’ to write a custom-tailored part for Mickey Rooney. This proved utterly pointless after it was discovered Rooney was unavailable to partake. Assessing Jaws 3 shortly after its debut, Matheson had practically nothing good to say. “I’m a good storyteller…if they had done it right and if it had been directed by somebody who knew how to direct, I think it would have been an excellent movie. Jaws 3-D was the only thing Joe Alves ever directed… a very skilled production designer, but as a director - no. It was a waste of time!”
Production notes indicate Jaws 3 began shooting in StereoVision (traditional 3D since the fifties), but then switched over to using ArriVision lenses, virtually untested and therefore unreliable. The difficulties of shooting in 3D were compounded by the heavy use of green screen matte work, the decision to shoot Jaws 3 anamorphically, and, also by special considerations for its underwater photography, necessitating endless retakes. At the time of production, Alves employed two 3D consultants; Chris Condon and Stan Loth, each promoting their own system of 3D. In the trades, Alves went about endorsing Arrivision as the superior 3D; the process employing a special twin-lens adapter fitted to the camera, thus splitting each standard 35mm film frame down the middle; one half capturing the left-eye image, the other, the right-eye. This allowed the studio to keep costs down, as traditional 3D employed a two-camera/two projector setup, each running the left and right eye exposures independently, though perfectly synced to create the stereoscopic illusion. Alas, because the image captured for Jaws 3 was only half the traditional width of standard 35mm; its grain structure was amplified in direct correlation to a loss in overall picture resolution; creating roughly the equivalent image integrity found on an 18mm print master. 
StereoVision’s lenses may have been more fragile than Arrivision, but they produced a more refined image on the whole. Throughout Jaws 3 image quality toggles between a few very crisp and impressive shots inserted here and there, while most of the movie regrettably registers less than, and, on occasion, of a ridiculously poor grade, also slightly out of focus. It is impossible to know for sure (without access to Universal’s private archives) which scenes were shot in StereoVision vs. Arrivision. But there is little to doubt the visual discrepancies, transparently on display throughout Jaws 3. The most disconcerting aspect of Jaws 3 in 3D when projected from its current Blu-ray source is an untoward magnification of onscreen parallax. Actors in extreme foreground have substantial negative parallax, their upper bodies suspended far out into the theater space; while people and objects behind them have virtually none at all and extreme background information has wide positive parallax separation. The effect is both uncanny and unnatural and, I am not entirely certain, inherent to the original source elements. The Blu-ray mastering amplifies these convergence issues. Bottom line: the result is a highly unattractive and artificial-looking 3D image with ringing to the extreme left and right of center; frequently, with the added hindrance of ever so slight misalignment, resulting in messy halos of color. Want a headache? Watch Jaws 3 in 3D. But get your Tylenols out first!
Jaws 3 is basically an extended press junket for the then newly designed SeaWorld theme park, with its underwater caverns playing host to the film’s climactic showdown between man and leviathan. There is not a whole lot of exposition to sink one’s teeth into, but our story begins as yet another great white follows a team of water skiers from their dress rehearsal in the open waters back into the artificially controlled conditions of the park’s man-made lagoon. Distracted by the brawny grace of musclebound scuba diver, Shelby Overman, skier Kelly Ann Bukowski inadvertently causes their water-skiing pyramid to collapse; flailing arms and legs cast downward into the sea. The great white is nearby, but unable to catch up as the skiers are rescued and taken back to the relative safety of SeaWorld. Nevertheless, the shark manages to enter the paddock moments before its security gates are closed, resulting in some minor damage, but otherwise virtually undetected. The construction of this impressive water park has been overseen by Mike Brody, an engineer desperately in love with marine biologist, Dr. Kathryn Morgan. Mike’s just been offered a new gig overseas, Kathryn troubled by the prospect of losing him for eighteen months abroad – later, electing to give up her career instead. 
The park’s president, Calvin Bouchard (Louis Gossett Jr.) is too self-involved with the debut of SeaWorld's latest attraction, a series of glass-enclosed underwater tunnels, to be concerned with minor ‘safety’ issues.  Besides, he has hired high-profile photographer, Philip FitzRoyce (Simon MacCorkindale) – something of a spare-time mercenary precursor to the Crocodile Hunter – to preserve the occasion for posterity.  Hence, Bouchard all but ignores the warning signs his tourist destination is about to become a very fertile feeding ground for a great white shark. First of the victims is Shelby, ordered by Mike to repair a loose-fitting safety mesh below the water line. Aside: is it just me, or are an awful lot of such repairs and other extracurricular activities vital to the park’s operation inexplicably conducted after dark at SeaWorld when visibility beneath the water’s surface is low to impossibly murky? But I digress. Shelby suits up and dives in for closer inspection. But before he can deduce the cause of the mesh’s malfunction, Shelby is made a midnight snack by the shark. The next day, Shelby’s gal pal, Charlene Tutt (Dolores Starling) demands to know the whereabouts of her stud, suspecting he has run off with Kelly Ann. Mike and Kay are perplexed and more than a little concerned. After all, Shelby did not show up for work. So, they elect to take a submersible to the last place where Shelby was seen. While they find no trace of Shelby, the pair is assaulted near the wreck of the Spanish galleon by the great white, narrowly escaping with the aid of Kay’s benevolent and well-trained dolphins, Cindy and Sandy.
Meanwhile, what’s left of Shelby Overman’s brutalized, half-eaten and rotting remains are loosened from the shark’s hiding place, drifting past the windows of the underwater cavern and causing a general panic from the unsuspecting audience to ensue. The grotesquely mangled corpse is brought to the surface for inspection. Bouchard elects to allow FitzRoyce and his second in command, Jack Tate (P.H. Moriarty) a crack at this contemptuous sea monster; FitzRoyce, preparing himself with some homemade grenades. Mike intervenes. He is not about to let FitzRoyce turn his architectural achievement into a demolition site, simply to kill a very large fish. FitzRoyce reluctantly obliges. After some harrying moments underwater, the shark is subdued with a crossbow and tranquilizers. Kay hopes to make it SeaWorld’s proudest attraction – the only great white in captivity in the world. Mike is dead set against it, but gradually comes around, though mostly, to placate his girlfriend. Alas, Bouchard cannot wait for the fish to become properly acclimated to its new surroundings. He orders it moved to a new observation tank. Without proper care, the great white suddenly turns over on its belly and dies. Meanwhile, Shelby’s autopsy confirms some rather disturbing truths. The captured shark could not have killed Shelby Overman. The bite radius is too small. Instead, Kay reasons, its mother did. Before the point can be debated, the great white materializes; larger and meaner than Bouchard had anticipated.
Reacting more out of panic than reason, Mike sprints across the concourse towards the lagoon where the water skiers’ program is already in progress.  One of the skiers swerves to avoid the shark’s dorsal fin, creating a chain reaction that topples all the skiers into the water. Miraculously, no lives are lost. But the shark now turns its attentions on the underwater caverns, striking at their glass suspension bridges and rupturing the watertight compartments. A small group of tourists becomes trapped inside one of these observation hubs, forcing Mike to order immediate repairs to the compromised structure. FitzRoyce and Jack attempt to lure the great white into one of the drainage sewers, trapping it inside. Alas, FitzRoyce’s plan backfires. He is swallowed whole by the vicious creature, crushed inside its soft pallet before he can detonate his hand grenade. Now, the shark turns on SeaWorld’s central command post; Bouchard unable to fathom the audacity of this perfect killing machine as it breaks through the glass, flooding the room and killing his nephew, Fred (Alonzo Ward). Narrowly escaping the deluge, Bouchard and an assistant flee for their lives, leaving Kay and Mike to play a dangerous game of chicken with the shark. As the monster opens its mouth, Kay sees FitzRoyce’s remains loosely bobbing about inside; his arm still clutching the hand grenade. Using a metal hook, after several failed attempts Mike manages to pull out its pin. Kay and Mike take cover under a sunken desk moments before the shark is blown to bits. Unharmed by their ordeal, Kay and Mike swim to the surface, accompanied by Cindy and Sandy.
Jaws 3D is a benign actioner at best with some truly hokey bits inserted to anesthetize the senses. As a serious third installment to the franchise, but especially as a 'horror movie', it miserably flops and flounders. However, as minor camp with some truly horrific examples of blue-screen/matte process work as inarticulately stitched together with stereoscopic SFX, it has both its place and pleasures to be had. One can find a soft spot – either in the heart or head – for such truly awful movies, chiefly because all the participants are pulling together rather desperately to make everything work. Louis Gossett Jr.’s performance is so dim-wittedly over-the-top, one can easily forget that here was an actor destined to win an Oscar for his role as the crusty drill sergeant in 1982’s An Officer and a Gentleman. Oh, how the mighty have fallen! From a purely narrative perspective, Jaws 3 is a total washout. The brotherly bond between the Brody boys is rendered moot midway through the movie. In fact, the Matheson/Gottlieb screenplay rather unceremoniously tosses Sean back into the sea, or rather, beached off to the sidelines, as the arc of tension shifts to Mike and FitzRoyce’s various booby-hatched plots to put an end to this underwater killer.
After only a few bromantic sequences, a cute meet with Kelly Ann, and, one moonlit swim and make-out session in his underwear, the movie completely forgets this younger Brody even exists. It’s probably just as well; John Puth isn’t much of an actor or even a presence. The least successful is Dennis Quaid; suffering an attack of the ‘stud factor’; attempting to harness the reins of his supposed ‘authority figure’ as Jaws 3’s ‘big man on campus’; arguably, misguided in believing his own PR as the picture’s (choke!) leading man. Silly boy – it’s the shark they have come to see! I honestly do not get why Quaid has had a career. He never rises above a rank and very bland incarnation of himself in anything I have ever seen him in; Jaws 3 about par for the course of his proficiency – or lack thereof – as an actor. Stardom is often built on far less, but in Quaid’s case I will make the exception. He is nothing like a good actor or a memorable movie star. The most underrated in this piece is Bess Armstrong; an all but forgotten and discarded actress, despite a steady list of credits, relegated mostly to cameo parts; she showed infinitely more promise in Jaws 3 than almost any of her stilted male counterparts. Badly scripted, ill-conceived, and utterly relying on the gimmick of 3D as a crutch to draw in the audience and generate its thrills, Jaws 3D is sickeningly bad with very few redeemable qualities to recommend it. Oddly enough, I still fondly recall the movie as a highlight of my own Saturday matinee experiences growing up; then, as an impressionable eleven year old, exactly the sort of navel-gazing rube for which such drivel was designed and would marginally appeal as diverting fluff, if a very – very - poor excuse to go into the theater.
It is criminal what Universal has done to this Blu-ray transfer. Just when you thought it was safe to buy Blu-rays from Universal Home Video again comes this monumentally atrocious effort; so completely bungled, I am obliged to offer up the following advice – do not waste your moneyperiod! For all of the aforementioned reasons discussed, Jaws 3D is a painful experience to muddle through. The plot is excusable. The quality issues are not. Graininess aside, it is the over-processed image, suffering from hideous amounts of pixelization, and encumbered by some genuinely flawed misalignment, further marred by age-related artifacts and other anomalies not inherent in the original film elements that lead me to so completely reject this disc as anything better than a Frisbee. Fling – into the ash can with you. The 5.1 DTS audio is average and passable. But the image quality, either in 3D or 2D, is so overly processed, so utterly digitized and so woefully substandard to anything I have seen in a very long while, I simply cannot recommend it. DO NOT BUY THIS DISC! Enough said.
FILM RATING (out of 5 – 5 being the best)

1 comment:

David M. said...

I had the misfortune to see "Jaws 3-D" on opening night. It was, hands down, the worst 3-D presentation of anything that I ever saw in a theatre. It was nearly impossible to watch, and a headache enducer if ever there was one. However, I now want the Blu-Ray just so I can show people how terrible it was. I'm not sure they've believed me all the years. Forgive me, Nick!