The movie opens on a swimming pool in Palm Springs. Peter Benchley has just finished writing JAWS 3 and is now enjoying a relaxing dip in his pool. A great white shark suddenly bursts out of the water and devours the legendary writer. It’s a strange way to open the third film in the JAWS franchise, but don’t worry if you don’t remember seeing this scene, because it was never actually shot. JAWS 3, PEOPLE 0 was an almost-realized sequel to the JAWS franchise from the comedic geniuses at National Lampoon.
The National Lampoon was founded in 1969 as a spinoff of Harvard University’s satirical publication the “Harvard Lampoon”. The publication not only grew rapidly, but went on to produce some of the greatest comedic talents of all time. By 1975, many of the magazine’s top icons made their way on to SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE. Then by the late ’70s and early ’80s, stories that had once graced the pages of the National Lampoon, such as ANIMAL HOUSE and VACATION were being made into feature films.
Bringing in over $77 million, JAWS 2 was one of the highest grossing films of 1978, making a third sequel inevitable. That’s when producers David Brown and Richard Zanuck said, “screw it, let’s just make it a comedy”. So they went to National Lampoon and ANIMAL HOUSE producer Matty Simmons to see what he could put together. Simmons’ first call was to VACATION writer John Hughes, and both came on to write the screenplay along with National Lampoon writer Tod Carol. The next step was to find a director. For that task Simmons turned to Roger Corman film school alumni Joe Dante who had just released his JAWS-inspired aquatic horror flick PIRANHA.
Hughes and Carol’s script was a “behind-the-scenes making of” featuring Steven Spielberg (or an impersonator should the director decide to pass on the project). The script’s plot was fairly straight forward- a great white shark is picking off members of the cast and crew while they struggle to finish the film. Even though it utilized many of the tropes from the original movie, JAWS 3, PEOPLE 0 was more a spoof of Hollywood than it was JAWS.
Some of the great inside Hollywood moments include the director complaining about his lead actor putting on too much weight, much like Francis Ford Coppola complained about Marlon Brando packing on the pounds right before he stepped onto the set of APOCALYPSE NOW. Another great moment occurs when Hollywood executives push the film into completion, refusing to shut the troubled production down in much the same way Mayor Vaughn kept the beaches open in JAWS. The script also played with actual problems plaguing the original JAWS set like an uncooperative shark prop that kept breaking.
In the end, Brown and Zanuck decided the world didn’t need a funny JAWS sequel. Believing it would be the end of the franchise, they decided it was best to go with a more conventional sequel, 1983’s JAWS 3-D. I still can’t help but wonder if JAWS 3, PEOPLE 0 might have been a better way to end the franchise.