Sunday, July 25, 2010

July 21, 2009: The Lost World: Jaws 3, People 0

Developing a movie project is such a convoluted process that it’s amazing any films ever get made at all. There are the budgetary problems, and the casting difficulties, and the conflicts between directors and producers that have caused more than a few projects to be aborted before reaching term. In this new series I’ve dubbed The Lost World, I’ll be looking at some of these sweet abortions.

Jaws 3, People 0

Steven Spielberg’s Jaws was one of the most commercially successful films of the 1970s, basically birthing the “blockbuster” and riling countless “serious cineastes” for allegedly killing the gritty cinema then in vogue (stuff like Straw Dogs and Mean Streets) and opening the doors to big special effects and lowest-common-denominator action. The critics apparently missed the complex characterizations and smart dialogue in Jaws (not to mention the fact that the special effects weren’t all that spectacular), which are so overwhelmingly the focus of the picture that it barely feels like a horror film at all. Still its shark-attack sequences scared scores of movie-goers shitless… movie goers who so adored the bowel-voiding experience that they returned again and again until Jaws had grossed well over $470 million. Typical of Hollywood, producers Richard D. Zanuck and David Brown didn’t know when to leave a good thing alone, and Jaws 2 followed in 1978. The sequel lacks the delightful exchanges between Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, and Robert Shaw, but gains a scene in which the shark eats a helicopter. Despite its mediocrity, Jaws 2 became the highest-grossing sequel of all-time (a title it held for a paltry two years until The Empire Strikes Back swept in and snatched it up).

Inspired by the continuing success of their series, Richard D. Zanuck and David Brown revisited the Jaws cash cow again in 1979, but their approach to this second sequel was genuinely inspired. With a title worthy of Mad magazine, Jaws 3, People 0 was to be an Airplane-esque spoof of the entire Jaws phenomenon. Zanuck and Brown hired a pair of writers from the comedy mag National Lampoon—Todd Carroll and ‘80s teen-flick maestro John Hughes— to pen the script, which would have begun with Jaws novelist and screenwriter Peter Benchley diving into his swimming pool and being devoured by the shark mid-arch. From there on the movie would have continued along as a sort of proto-Wes Craven’s New Nightmare as an attempt to make a second Jaws sequel is constantly derailed by a peckish pesce. Richard Dreyfuss and Bo Derek (!) were apparently on board to star.

Last month, a web site called Forces of posted the fabled Jaws 3, People 0 screenplay in its entirety. While the idea was a lot cleverer and more original than just another lazy “sit back and watch the shark dine” thriller, the jokes are mostly lame and don’t come with the velocity that elevated Airplane’s lame jokes to the exhilaratingly absurd. Spielberg took greater issue with the way the script skewered a character called “The Director” (but often referred to as “Steven”), who is basically portrayed as buffoonish fish food (the shark bites bits and pieces off the Director throughout the film). After Spielberg barked “you make this movie, and I’m walking off the lot” to Universal Pictures chairman Sid Sheinberg, the script was shelved. In place of Carroll and Hughes, the producers hired a couple of likely lads— Carl Gottlieb (The Jerk) and Richard Matheson (who’d written such classic “Twilight Zone” episodes as “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” and “Little Girl Lost”) — to adapt a story that basically ripped off the Creature From the Black Lagoon sequel Revenge of the Creature (i.e.: the monster goes on a rampage in a marine animal park in 3-D). The resulting picture, Jaws 3-D (1983), was a piece of crap that eschewed the originality of Jaws 3, People 0 for more lazy kills and lukewarm chills. Jaws: The Revenge, a film that’s greatest cultural contributions are its status as one of the worst sequels ever made and the deathless tag-line “The Time It’s Personal,” arrived four years later. Chances are neither of these movies would have been made had the Jaws 3, People 0 folly come to fruition, because a spoof would have likely either brought the entire series to a hasty conclusion or led to additional spoofs. Still, I don’t think the spoof would have done much to sully the reputation of the original Jaws considering that none of its vastly inferior sequels have had that effect. As far as I’m concerned, the most worthy thing Jaws ever spawned was a nifty game in which the player has to use a hook to pull pieces of garbage out of a shark’s mouth without causing its jaws to snap shut. Hmmm, is that a reel of Jaws 3, People 0 I see among the rubbish?
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