Jaws 3 – Can Sharks Swim Backwards?

** Stars --**** for 80's Cheese

Yes, I’m one of those goofy guys who likes to revisit badly written movies from the eighties.Not only are they fun to watch, you get to pointlessly examine the mistakes of the special effects. I know when I’ve written on other movies concerning biology I’ve upset a few people who say it doesn’t matter because it is fiction. Well, if it is fiction I guess we could have the shark fly but wouldn’t someone say enough is enough. This is Freethunk, so I think I can be forgiven for pointing out the obvious.

Jaws 3 features Dennis Quaid playing Mike Brody who is one of Sheriff Martin Brody’s sons from the original Jaws film, something I never realized when watching the picture as a kid (how I was I supposed to know, they kept changing actors!). He along with Calvin Bouchard played by Louis Gossett, Jr are running Seaworld and a new underwater exhibit where you get to explore tunnels within a lagoon area. Somehow a baby great white gets into the lagoon and scares the hell out of everyone until they catch it with the aid of a great white hunter (which I say sarcastically, he’s sort of like the now-passed crocodile hunter, but he prefers to kill things than rescue them) named Phillip FitzRoyce who happens to be played by Simon MacCorkindale. Now I remember Simon MacCorkindale very well because as a kid I watched his TV series Manimal(1983) where he investigated crimes by turning into animals–I loved it! Plus, he’s in Sword and the Sorcerer (1982), one of the first R-rated films I was able to see at a friend’s slumber party…yes, good times. Oh, back to Jaws 3.

The baby great white doesn’t survive captivity for the main reason that he is treated as an exhibit rather than an animal in need of special care. The irony is that they emphasize moving the animal forward to make sure it gets oxygen as sharks continually have to move to breathe. “A shark usually swims with its mouth open to force oxygen-rich water to pass over a set of gills housed in a cavity behind its head–a process known as ramjet ventilation,” as stated by an article in Science World, May 2001. Why is it irony? The Seaworld crew discovers that the baby shark’s mom is also in the lagoon but apparently she is a super shark that can go forward, backwards, come to a complete stop and a variety of nature defying wonders. She also growls like a dog.

In one of the scenes intended to be a climactic action-packed rollercoaster of events leading to the death of Jaws (or whoever this shark claims to be) the momma shark gets trapped in a filtration pipe after snacking on the great white hunter. Bouchard has his employee cut the power in order to suffocate the shark– the intent was to stop the moving water so the shark wouldn’t be able to process oxygen. No problem for the shark though, it begins to swim backwards and busts out of the pipe’s cage-like door. Then, similar to a car, it takes itself out of reverse and steps on the pedal forward again. Hilarious. If you don’t get the humor, sharks cannot swim backwards. “Sharks cannot swim backwards. Unlike the fins of telelosts (bony fish), sharks’ pectoral fins do not bend upwards, and so they are unable to back up. Sharks are also unable to stop swimming suddenly,” per Answers.com.

As far as stopping suddenly, the shark smashes the glass of the operations booth and wags its tail like a dog while it tries to munch on everyone being flooded by the water. When the glass first breaks it looks thinner than a bedroom window, how it withstood the water pressure up until the attack is an engineering marvel.

As usual, the filmmakers can’t think of a better way to kill a great white than to blow it up, this time with a grenade. I wish I had seen this movie at the actual theater so I could have witnessed the 3D spectacle of a pair of jaws coming at the screen and floating there. My wife, who got to see all kinds of violent films as a kid while I was stuck in a conservative religious household, said she was laughing all throughout Jaws 3 at the 3D effects.

I guess we shouldn’t pick on this film too much. After reading some background on the making of Jaws 3 it was a mess because of too many cooks in the kitchen. Apparently, at one time it was going to be a big satirical comedy of the first two films which might have been a better choice. Still, if you grew up in the eighties this is one of those summer features you remember and it is nice to return to it even if it is a biological disaster.

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