The Third Dimension In Cheeseiness: The Merits of ‘Jaws 3’

The 80’s were an interesting time for Hollywood: Synth music was becoming popular, the era of the muscle-bound hero was born, and we got a brief resurgence of the 3D fad that has poked its head up every few decades; while most of the resulting films have been consigned to obscurity, perhaps none have been both as immortalized and derided than ‘Jaws 3.’

Released in 1983, ‘Jaws 3’ marks a major turning point in the Jaws franchise: It’s the first not to star Roy Schenider and to not take place in Amity. It also marks the point when the series, having run out of a natural way to continue the ‘Jaws’ saga, resorted to gimmicks to keep viewers interested. Instead of a shark attacking a seaside down and threatening its residents and livelihood, we have a theme park in Florida being attacked by not one, but two sharks, as well as focusing on on the sequel trope of having a franchise’s main character’s children take over.

To this day, fans of the Jaws series remain divided on which sequel is worse: ‘3’, or ‘Revenge.’ But as stated earlier in this series, we’re not here to settle the argument, but to see what each film does well, and despite its rather tepid reception (and the fact that if you remove Michael and Sean, the film has nothing to do with the previous movies), ‘3’ is a guilty pleasure, with it’s so-bad-its-good visual effects, late 70’s and early 80’s design (just look at that fabulous underwater restaurant!), and an excellent soundtrack that has some of my favorite pieces in the series (Like this, this, and especially this). With that said, let’s take a look at the third dimension in terror to see what stands the test of time:

5. Sea World is a more visually interesting location than Amity:

Compared to the blues, grays, and whites of Amity, Sea World is refreshingly bright and colorful, and the undersea kingdom has a lot of potential for undersea mayhem, complete with a sunken ship that’s the location for a frantic escape from the shark, and an underwater complex where tourists are trapped and have to be rescued, as well as an underwater control room that is definitely resistant to sharks breaking the windows. Compared to the beaches and open water of Amity, ‘Jaws 3’ has a lot of opportunities for more interesting action at unique locations, and takes full advantage of it.

4. Michael and Sean’s relationships

One of the film’s biggest strengths isn’t the shark, the action, or the effects, but a grown-up Michael and Sean. I like how, unlike so many other horror movie sequels featuring kids who are now adults, their experiences with sharks in childhood haven’t emotionally crippled them: they get along just fine with each other, complete with playful, good-natured teasing and satisfying relationships with their girlfriends. It’s a refreshing change to see them not be nightmare-riddled adults who poop their pants at the mere sight of the ocean.

I also like how, while Sean and Michael are emotionally well-adjusted, there are still some mental scars left from their encounters with two killer sharks, especially Sean. He’s not fond of going in the water, and needs to be coaxed by his girlfriend, Kelly, to even go on a bumper-boat ride. I wish this phobia had been explored more (such as Sean having to overcome his fear of sharks and the ocean to save Kelly), but the film is to be commended for having Sean and Michael be mostly well-adjusted adults.

3. The Professionals are… well, professional

In monster movies, so-called professionals often end up being useless, bumbling idiots, or both. Thankfully, ‘Jaws 3’ averts that by having almost everyone in a position of authority be actually good at their jobs, or at least, not losing their heads when things go wrong. FitzRoyce and his assistant Jack initially come off as smug gloryhounds, but are often the first to drop the cameras and jump in to help when the sharks are swimming around, and their plan to capture the shark – by trapping it in a flow pipe – would have worked if it wasn’t for a safety rope that would have come undone through no fault of their own. Likewise, a tour guide in the undersea kingdom manages to keep guests calm and get them out when things get hairy instead of panicking like everyone else. That kind of professionalism is refreshing to see.

Calvin is a bit mixed: He has a greedy, impatient streak to him, but when he realizes how bad things get, he quickly works to try and make things right. Unlike Mayor Vaughn, when things get bad, he doesn’t try to pretend its not happening or to try and cover it up, and he gets a nice moment at the climax where he manages to save an unconscious worker and get her to safety when the shark attacks the control room (presumably; we never actually see the two get to safety, but let’s be optimistic and assume they did).

2. This unsettling death

Chrissie’s death at the beginning of ‘Jaws’ is rightfully regarded as one of the scariest deaths in horror cinema (sweet Zeus, those screams), but ‘Jaws 3’ has a pretty good one of its own with FitzRoyce’s demise: through a rather unfortunate series of circumstances, he ends up being sucked alive into the shark’s mouth. It’s unnerving to see him still alive in the shark’s throat and unable to get out. Much like the helicopter pilot in the previous film, FitzRoyce faces an awful choice: he can die either by drowning, being shredded by the shark’s teeth, or by blowing himself up with one of his grenades. All the options are horrible, and knowing that there’s no way he’s getting out alive only makes it worse.

1. The most unique climax of the series

If there’s one thing that ‘Jaws 3’ nails, it’s the climax, where the shark rams the underwater control room, floods it, and traps our heroes, who have to kill it by activating the grenade being gripped by FitzRoyce’s corpse, blowing it to smithereens. This is a really unique scenario: our heroes are trapped in an environment that will eventually kill them (they’re underwater and only have a limited amount of air), cornered by a beast that wants to eat them. They have no weapons and no way to defend themselves, and the only way to win is to risk being eaten by the beast to trigger a hard-to-reach weapon that can save them.

While the effects of this sequence are… not that great, the idea behind it is a really cool one, and in my opinion, it’s the most unique climax in the ‘Jaws’ series. The first is unquestionably the best, but in my opinion, ‘Jaws 3’ has a more interesting idea behind it.

While the below-average story, lack of cohesion with the previous two films, and subpar effects drag ‘Jaws 3’ down, it’s helped out with likable characters, a unique location, a pretty horrific death scenario, and the most unique climaxes in the series. But is that enough to make it better than its successor? The debate will no doubt rage for years to come, but tune in next time as we take a look at ‘Jaws: The Revenge’ and see if we can find some redeeming factors in one of the most legendary bombs in Hollywood history.

I know Kung-Fu: A look at the duels in the Matrix Saga – Part 5

Last week, we took a look at the two duels featured in ‘The Animatrix,’ and today we’ll look at the only two duels in the final film of the Matrix franchise, ‘The Matrix Revolutions.” But as the old saying goes, quality is better than quantity, and in my opinion, these two duels are among the best in the series.

Neo vs Smith in Real Life

Emotional Context: Neo fights to keep Smith from killing both him and Trinity before they can reach the Machine City and end the war between man and machine.

Analysis: After the spectacle of tightly-choreographed duels in ‘Reloaded’, ‘Enter’ and ‘The Animatrix,’ the first duel in ‘Revolutions’ is surprisingly brutal: Neo or Smith, unable to use their otherwordly abiliites, try to kill each other with whatever they can get their hands on, whether it be their fists, the walls, or power cables. This brutality leads to Smith’s face being coated in blood, poor Neo having his eyes burned out, and ending with Smith’s head being bashed into bloody chunks.

What sets this duel apart from any other in the series is its brutality and horror atmosphere: Neo and Trinity are trapped inside a tiny hovercraft in the abandoned sewer tunnels of humanity’s old cities, miles from help. They’re initially outmatched and outsmarted by Smith, and if they fail to stop him, both humanity and the machines are doomed. And when the fighting begins, there’s no fancy martial arts and no elegant, dance-like fight choreography: Neo can’t fly, stop bullets, effortlessly jump around, or tirelessly fight off hundreds of opponents. Smith can’t dodge bullets, punch through concrete, or otherwise use any of the powers he normally has. Both are evenly matched,  and fancy moves are thrown aside in favor of banging faces against walls, throwing punches as hard as possible, and trying to choke Smith to death, followed by Neo getting an eyeful (haha) of exposed power cables. It’s a visceral example of how brutal fights can be more memorable than fancy ones.

Yet, for how dark and grim this duel is, it smartly lightens the mood by having Neo – having sacrificed his eyes – gain the ability to see the energy put out by machines, allowing him to kill Smith… and even crack a joke to Trinity about how she’ll need to drive, ending an otherwise deadly serious fight with some much-welcomed levity.

The Super Burly Brawl

Emotional Context: Neo faces Smith one final time to stop him from destroying both humanity and the machines.

Analysis: And so, after four years, we finally come to the final confrontation of the Matrix series, the final showdown between Neo and Smith that would decide the fate of Earth and everyone – mechanical or organic – who lived upon it. And like any climax, ‘Revolutions’ holds nothing back in giving us a spectacle worthy for the ages, featuring:

*A fight that will decide whether good or evil will prevail

*A battle at night in the rain

*A fight that spans multiple locations

*Superpowers

*Gigantic sonic booms.

In terms of sheer spectacle, the Super Burly Brawl has no equal in the Matrix saga, both in fighting, and emotional weight: Neo’s fighting to stop Smith from destroying everyone and everything. If he fails, then not only will every single human on earth die, but so will every single machine. That gives every moment where he falters or stumbles dramatic weight, because the consequences of failure are so high. Yet, even as the fight gives us awesome, god-like beings fighting (to one of the most incredible fight scores I’ve ever heard), it does something so many of these series-ending fights rarely do: it has the good guy fail. In what may be the biggest twists in the series, Neo loses the climactic fight. All of his powers, all of his skills, all of the gifts he’s been given as The One aren’t enough to save him.

When I first saw ‘Revolutions,’ I loved seeing Smith and Neo beating the tar of out of each other. But when Neo fell from the sky, and was subsequently beaten into the mud, I was shocked. That wasn’t supposed to happen! Neo’s the good guy, the savior of humanity! He couldn’t lose! I was gripped, trying to figure out on how on earth Neo could still win; after all, lots of protagonists get beaten to a pulp, yet still manage to achieve victory at the last second. But not here. Neo’s beaten so badly that he can barely stand, and then lets himself be absorbed and killed. I was stunned… and then (like so many other fans) spent the next few weeks trying to figure out what happened when all those Smiths exploded.

What makes the final battle of the Matrix saga so good is that it delivers not only spectacle, and emotional weight, but also subverts expectations by having Neo lose, gripping audiences as they try to figure how how he can turn things around in his favor. Then it subverts them even further by having Neo sacrifice himself to let the machines delete Smith through him, showing that a protagonist can lose a battle, but win a war in the process. There’s more than one way to victory, and it isn’t always the path of beating an opponent to a bloody pulp.

And so, with Neo’s sacrifice, we’ve finally finished looking at all the duels in the Matrix saga… Well, almost. Come back next week, where we’ll take a look at one last duel in the series, which may be the most satisfying… and one of the most unique.

What We Can Learn from ‘Sharknado’

Sharknado poster

Every so often, an idea comes to Hollywood: an idea that changes the world of cinema forever, that revolutionizes the artform, that makes people look at life through a new perspective.

Sharknado is one of those movies.

Okay, perhaps it’s not a life-changer. It may not make it onto AFI’s top 100 movies of all times list, but there’s no denying that in a genre as stuffed as the killer shark one, the idea of shark-filled tornadoes stands out, and somehow lasted for six films, featuring mech suits, worldwide devastation, sending the sharks into outer space, and even time travel. It’s impressive that a goofy, made-for-tv movie turned into a series that lasted as long as it did.

With that said, let’s take a look at where it all began, and see what we can learn from one of the goofiest shark films ever made.

No monster, no matter how outrageous, is out of bounds when it comes to storytelling

We’ve had robot sharks, snow sharks, countless giant sharks, and even multi-headed sharks in fiction over the years. In a crowded genre, you need to really work to stand out, and Sharknado manages this with a premise that is as impossible as it is cool.

A good rule of thumb: If your monster/disaster idea makes people stop and do a double take, that’s a good thing, because they’ll want to know how such an outlandish beast could work out.

Consider making your protagonist a well-meaning loser

While he would later become the stoic everyman who’s thrust into increasingly absurd scenarios, protagonist Fin Shepard isn’t all that memorable here, along with most of the characters. While he is divorced and risks everything to save his family from the sharks, Finn feels like so many other protagonists we’ve seen in these types of films over the years, and does little to stand out, being upstaged by Gerald. At first glance, he appears to be a stereotypical middle-aged drunk and womanizer, but we soon learn that he’s a lonely man who’s too old to enjoy surfing anymore, the one joy he had in his life. Furthermore, instead of being a coward who runs at the first sign of trouble, he stays and does what he can to help. These contrasts make him interesting, and one of the people I was hoping would make it to the end. (Sadly, bar stools just aren’t enough to keep hungry sharks at bay.)

The takeaway? Protagonists who care about their family are easy to do, but well-meaning losers can be far more interesting.

Be cautious with padding action sequences

About halfway through the film, Sharknado has a brief police chase, in which Fin and other survivors fight to reach his daughter while outrunning the cops. While it’s understandable that a father would do anything to reach his daughter, it’s an odd sequence for a film about sharks in tornadoes.

While it’s inevitable that you may have to pad your story at some point to kill time, try making it appropriate to the style of the story. In this instance, the chase scene could have started off with the police chasing Fin, only to then run away with him as sharks start chasing both vehicles.

Save the big event for the climax

Sharknado deserves credit for resisting the urge to unleash its title creation early in the film, instead slowly building up to the big event via the hurricane, then flooding, and then finally unleashing the title monster at the end, and then amping it up even more by having not one, not two, but three sharknadoes for our protagonists to deal with. Had the film unleashed the sharknado in the first act, or even the second, then it would have felt like it was climaxing too early.

Like monster movies, it’s a wise idea to start slowly in our disaster movies and slowly build up to the main event with ever-escalating events, whether it’s natural disasters or monsters out to gobble up everyone in your group. If you must have the disaster/monster show up early, consider having it only appear briefly, and then have it inflict the most damage in the third act.

Keep your focus on the climax once it starts.

When the climax of your story kicks into high gear, all other concerns become secondary: When the Titanic hit the iceberg, Rose and Jack focus everything on surviving. When the meteor in Deep Impact is less than an hour from hitting the earth, all efforts go towards survival or tying up one final loose end before death comes, and when the Death Star is about to blow up Yavin in Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, everyone puts everything aside to deal with it. In Sharknado’s case, Fin and friends focus their attention on stopping the three sharknadoes from devouring Los Angeles.

However, while Fin and the others construct bombs to drop into the sharknadoes, the film slows down to give Nova time to detail her backstory and why she doesn’t like sharks. While character development is always good, putting her past here was a mistake: We want to see our heroes take on the sharknadoes, and stopping to learn about someone’s backstory puts the brakes on that excitement.

When letting us learn about your characters, their motivations, and what makes them tick, do so in the first two thirds of your story. If you’re about to do the climax of your story, and we still don’t know or care about your characters, your chances of helping us do so are low.

Chainsaws are always awesome

Though they may be impractical as weapons in real life, chainsaws are one of the most awesome weapons a character can wield in fiction: it’s noisy, intimidating, and satisfies the primal bloodlust of have a weapon that can obliterate an opponent and leave you looking like a badass. In other words, chainsaws are cool, and Sharknado doesn’t disappoint in its most famous scene, where Finn, to save his daughter, shoves her to safety and leaps into the mouth of a great White Shark, carving it up and slicing his way free from the inside, saving his girlfriend in the process. It’s ludicrous, awesome, and funny all at once, and arguably wouldn’t have worked with any other weapon.

In your own stories, as long as it isn’t out of place with the tone (such as a story that’s trying to be as realistic as possible), having your characters wield a chainsaw in combat is all but guaranteed to get your audience’s attention and end up with them thinking, ‘hell yeah!’ at seeing the antagonist be dispatched with said weapon.

The takeaway:

When it comes to making monster stories, there’s no limit as to how ridiculous they can be, but take care to make sure we have interesting characters to fight them, while doing a steady buildup to the monster’s big rampage scene (being careful not to pad the story too much, or giving background when it’s not appropriate), and making sure the story focuses on that rampage when we reach that point, preferably with a chainsaw or equally awesome weapon.