More Than Meets The Mogwai

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Jaws 3/People 0 - Script Review

A project destined never to go in front of the cameras, Jaws 3/People 0 would have been the second official sequel to the extremely profitable Jaws franchise for Universal, and could have thankfully taken the place of Joe Alves’ disappointing, often embarrassing, 3-D outing in 1983.

Partnered with National Lampoon, David Brown and Richard D. Zanuck, producers of the original Spielberg picture, commissioned the script and signed on as Executive Producers. The draft I was able to locate is dated August 28, 1979, and written by John Hughes and Tod Carroll, from a story by Matty Simmons (also listed on the title page as producer).

This was to be Joe Dante’s first film outside of New World Pictures, and it’s not surprising that he was courted, as the script seems to be a cross (unconsciously or not) between Hollywood Boulevard (co-directed with Allan Arkush, 1976) and Piranha (1978). The latter, of course, being a quick Corman-style cash-in on the Spielberg blockbuster in the first place -- these waters are inherently incestuous! For the time being, and at least up until The Howling (1981), Dante was the go-to guy for killer shark/whale sequels, as he was also being considered for the never-filmed second installment of Orca: the Killer Whale (Michael Anderson, 1977).

The opening sequence takes place at the home of the original creator, novelist Peter Benchley, as he is just finishing up the title page of a third Jaws script. Deciding to take a dip in his pool, he leisurely strolls out and onto his diving board, as Hughes/Carroll cut to the shark’s POV as the ominous John Williams’ score strikes up on the soundtrack. The shark jumps up to attack Benchley mid-jackknife. Fade out.

And then, presumably, the opening credits.

After another gag which would have involved the participation of Steven Spielberg and whether or not he would play with an amputated left leg and right arm (which the writers’ clearly didn’t anticipate as they simply call him “Director”), the film starts proper: the making of a third Jaws film and the shark attacks on the film company and suits involved in the production. Hughes/Carroll’s script mirrors the original in many of the gags, but never so cleverly as the retread of the opening bonfire scene in Spielberg’s film, with Hollywood bigwigs and bimbos in place of the carefree teenagers. Canterberry, the current Head of Production at Mecca Studios, entices one young blonde out of the fray and out for a swim. He’s attacked in the same manner -- pulled down once, twice, and thrown about -- as the unlucky victim in the Spielberg film.

Canterberry’s death paves the way for Bernie Maven and Carl Droner, his newly appointed Chief Aide, to take over the production. There’s a great throwaway joke at Canterberry’s funeral, presided over by a tongue-tied George Jessel, revealing the business-as-usual credo of the movie studios, with many of the deceased’s associates complaining and challenging each other over how many “moments of silence” they should give poor old Canterberry:

They gave Irving Bernard of Sterling Pictures five minutes of silence when he died.

Sheldon Hirschberger of Swell Pictures got ten minutes. I think we’re being a little stingy with our devotion.

You’re absolutely right, Frank. But we do have a lot of other meetings today. How about if we give him five minutes today and another five tomorrow?

LURKEY (looks at others)
That sounds fair.

Canterberry willed his share of the studio to Erma Gurning, an elderly movie theatre ticket seller in Spudlint, Idaho (Pop. 2,001), but the reason why isn’t really explained. Erma has a son, Sonny, who works in a Modern Times-like plant assembly that installs lint into the pockets of various items of clothing. He has an oversexed girlfriend, Wendy, whom he takes to see “Eggplants from Outer Space” again and again as he speaks of his aspirations of becoming a filmmaker.

After being told of their newly-found fortunes, Erma and Sonny move to L.A. to take over the business, but only accept the position after Marilyn, a straightforward Production Chief, goes over the mischievous heads of Maven and Droner to inform Erma and Sonny on just how much input they actually have inside the studio. Maven and Droner then hatch up a second plan that makes up most of the second act: let Sonny write and direct the in-limbo Jaws 3 with the hopes of him failing miserably, and allowing the powers that be to fire Erma, thus floating her shares on over to Maven.

Pierre Cockatoo, a Jacques Cousteau-type explorer (or, more simply, the Quint-like character of the piece), is then introduced. He’s hired by Marilyn to try to kill the murderous shark during the filming, as shutting the movie down would be cost prohibitive. Cockatoo explains that the shark has been attacking because of the “Licking Bowl Syndrome”, a condition that makes the shark hungry for everything and everyone involved with the film. Another doubled gag has Cockatoo’s assistant rescuing various items out of a slaughtered shark’s stomach -- McDonald's hamburgers, a violin, a sports coat, an Egyptian vase, and a bag of pot. Cockatoo’s sole attempt is thwarted by both of his assistants, Antoine and Charles, who are hired by Mavin and Droner; he’s last seen floating in the water as a Charles Aznavour song plays faintly in the background.

Sonny, captivated by living his dream of actually making a movie, settles in to write the screenplay, but finds he lacks talent in doing so. A Bellhop drops off some food, and ends up finishing the script as he’s had some earlier experiences in Hollywood (“You wrote ‘Chihuahuas from Hell’!” Sonny says when he finds out). The plot fashioned by the Bellhop is a ludicrous Sci-Fi take, with an alien arriving on planet earth in the form of a giant shark, who eventually gives up on his conquering plans in order to become a chiropractor in a small coastal village. The lead actress, Darlene De Puerque, doesn’t think of it as a winning story, but the Bell Captain explains:

There’s a million schmucks out there who’ll watch anything. The people who lock their car door and leave the windows down, the light beer drinkers, the low-tar cigarette smokers, the people who use scented tissue papers - this is their movie!

Unfortunately, the rest of the plot seems a bit hackneyed, as it tries to spoof the famous and torturous behind-the-scenes stories of the first film, complete with a Man-in-Suit costume nicknamed “Bruce 3”. There’s a stock footage sex scene tailor-made for the Zuckers, and a drawn-out, semi-serious action sequence making up the last act, with Sonny and Marilyn realizing the shark is still on the hunt, and deciding to dangerously film the climax anyway. Wendy hitches (read: sleeps) her way to Hollywood, while Sonny has an affair with his leading lady.

The final sequence takes place at the movie premiere, with everyone in tow, including the unsuccessful villain Droner as a candy counter worker. There’s one typically Dante moment during the screening, with Erma helping the characters out of a jam up on the big screen.

Hughes/Carroll intercut the premiere with Maven at the docks, as he belittles the shark for making him lose his job and helping to make the film a success. He’s chased back to the location of the premiere – back in Spudlint, Idaho – as the crowds gather out in front and the camera tilts up to reveal the marquee: “Coming Soon – Jaws 4!”

With all of the villains being movie studio businessmen and executives, it’s little wonder that the film never came into being. The producers apparently got cold feet and decided to go with the more conventional sequel. While this would have been a more welcome experiment, the script, which I’ve long wanted to read, is a dissapointment, essentially showing us a typically myopic-Hollywood hiring Dante to make a lesser film that he’d already made – quite well, I might add -- twice before.


Saturday, February 11, 2006

RIP - "Beach" Dickerson (1924-2005)

While idly browsing through the internet movie database tonight, I belatedly found out that one of my favorite Roger Corman-American International Pictures bit players/miscellany crew members/producers passed away in early December. Biographical information is limited, so I’ll link to Variety’s medium-length obituary.

A Jack of All Trades who even designed and built Corman’s office building for either his New World Pictures or Concorde-New Horizons, Dickerson remained in the Corman camp until the early 1990s. His last appearance was as a Hotel Clerk, according to the IMDb, in a Don “The Dragon” Wilson vehicle, produced by Concorde-New Horizons.

Pictured above is Dickerson as The Kid, a promising pugilist with an overzealous manager and a girlfriend who just wants him to quit the fighting life, in Rock All Night (1957). It’s probably his largest role.

He'll be fondly remembered by those emotionally invested in b movie fare.