At the end of Jaws 2, Chief Brody once again defeats a Great White Shark off the coast of Amity Island. While the film was a success - even making only 45% of what Jaws made, it was at the time the highest grossing sequel ever - it strained credulity to imagine a third go-round between Brody and a shark. And that’s if Roy Scheider would even want to come back; he barely returned for the sequel, showing up only because he had quit Deer Hunter (terrible move, Roy. He would have played the John Savage role) and Universal pressured him into the part.
An idea was hatched: rather than just do man versus shark again, why not try something very different? Why not a spoof? And so Jaws 3, People 0 was born.
Producers David Brown and Richard Zanuck saw the success of Airplane! and thought there was a possibility there. They reached out to Matty Simmons, then publisher of National Lampoon and the producer of Animal House. He came aboard as producer, and John Hughes - yes, The Breakfast Club’s John Hughes - was hired, along with Tod Carroll, to write the script. The director they wanted? Joe Dante, fresh off Jaws rip-off Piranha.
The script is fairly bizarre. It’s a total inside joke movie, a film about a film crew trying to make a Jaws sequel (the premise of this film is that the shark is an alien) while being hunted by a Great White. The movie opens with Jaws novelist Peter Benchley being eaten by a shark in his swimming pool, and there’s even a part written for Steven Spielberg, if he felt like being a good sport (the script actually just calls him Director, so they could have been prepared to use an impersonator).
Some of the best jokes in the movie are plays on scenes in the original Jaws, including a redo of the bonfire beach party and first shark attack, except that in the script it’s a bunch of Hollywood execs partying it up. There’s also a sequence where a shark is killed and gutted and a litany of items is pulled out of its stomach, including a violin, a coat and some weed. There’s a tough as nails marine specialist named Pierre Cockatoo, a mix between Jacques Cousteau and Quint.
If the town fathers of Amity were the villains in Jaws, refusing to close the beaches, this time it’s the Hollywood suits, unwilling to shut down the troubled production, even as people die. The film makes a strange third act turn into seriousness, as the hero and his leading lady battle the shark to the finish, and film it as they do. The evil studio execs get their comeuppance, Jaws 3 premieres and at the end we’re promised Jaws 4.
Jaws 3, People 0 never happened, of course. Zanuck and Brown decided it was a bad idea - maybe because it spoofed Hollywood too much, or because it was too bold (on the Jaws 2 DVD commentary Brown says making Jaws 3, People 0 would have been akin to “fouling your own nest”), or maybe because the script is sort of hit or miss, with a lot more misses - and instead they went a little more conventional, with the movie that would eventually become Jaws 3D.
Originally published in the Alamo Drafthouse Summer of '83 guide. For tickets to Jaws 3D and any other Summer of '83 screening, go here.