Vintage Cable Box: Jaws 3-D, 1983

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“White sharks are dangerous. I know ’em. My father, my brother, myself. They’re murderers.”

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Jaws 3-D, 1983 (Dennis Quaid), MCA/Universal

Jaws III (in 3-D) was one of my purest, truest pleasures as a child.  There was a long line around the Sam’s Place theater chain on Chestnut Street in Philadelphia waiting to get in, sit down in the dark in an air conditioned auditorium on a hot July day in 1983.  We used to go to Sam’s Place all the time, at least twice a week.  Tickets (first-run, mind you) ran about two bucks each, maybe a buck-fifty for kids and seniors.  We got our tickets and 3-D glasses, our popcorn and soda, got out of there without spending ten bucks.  If I remember correctly, even the previews were in 3-D, which was unusual (even though the most recent 3-D movie, Spacehunter, was released a few months before).  I vaguely remember, one of my earliest memories was watching the original Jaws at a drive-in.  I remember having nightmares.  Jaws 3-D might be considered schlocky celluloid junk to purists, but it was incredible fun for me.

When Jaws 3-D came to cable television (retitled Jaws III, denoting the lack of 3-D effects), it lacked the punch of the big screen in your face, wearing the glasses and watching such items as severed arms, bifurcated fish, and papier-mâché sharks flying off the screen, but the movie still worked as schlock-horror.  Dennis Quaid plays Mike Brody (Chief Brody’s oldest), all grown up and working as an engineer for Calvin Bouchard’s (Louis Gossett Jr.) SeaWorld.  His girlfriend, Kay (Bess Armstrong, again!), the senior marine biologist at the park, wonders why her dolphins are so scared and flighty (dolphins can sense sharks, you know).  Meanwhile, Mike is investigating the disappearance of one of his employees, drunken ne’er-do-well Overman.  Kay and Mike conduct a search, but are soon beset by a great white shark.  They capture the shark, but Brouchard puts it on display, but it promptly dies in captivity.

Pretentious naturalist filmmaker Philip FitzRoyce (an appropriately douchey Simon “Manimal” MacCorkindale) and his trusted unintelligible assistant, Jack Tate are there to document the opening of SeaWorld’s underground tunnels, so that spectators can view sea life from inside the water (actually a great idea).  Overman’s remains are found, but Kay ascertains that their shark didn’t do the damage.  It’s mother did!  A big bitch they estimate to be about 35 feet long, the shark gets into the park and attacks performers.  The sharks blocks the park’s filtration system, so Brouchard tries to flush her out, but she won’t budge.  FitzRoyce, using himself as bait, tries to blow her up with underwater grenades.  He is eaten.  The shark finally breaks through (a very bad 3-D effect) the window of Brouchard’s underwater control room.  Now, why would you put a control room under water?  This park is supposed to be a triumph of engineering, but you put sensitive electronic equipment under the water?

There are some surprisingly good character beats in a script about an enormous shark terrorizing a theme park.  Quaid and Armstrong are exceptional as a couple not quite ready for a long-term commitment.  The running subplot of their relationship has them wondering which partner will give up his/her livelihood to join the other in a great job opportunity.  There’s a great bit where Quaid’s Basset Hound is eating on the kitchen counter and Quaid is holding the dog’s floppy ears up, so the dog doesn’t make a mess.  Quaid’s kid brother, Sean, visits and hooks up with a cute Lea Thompson.  FitzRoyce flirts with Armstrong.  These are nice beats in an otherwise flawed piece of entertainment.

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Despite some of the 3-D pitfalls and gaps in logic, this movie is a lot of fun.  The effects aren’t as bad as in The Man Who Wasn’t There (a film that didn’t really require 3-D visual effects), and admittedly it is a cheap gag to sell a Jaws franchise movie in 3-D, but they look a lot cleaner than previous attempts.  Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone was probably the most successful in terms of the visual quality, but that movie’s inflated budget killed the concept for a time.  Friday the 13th Part III,  Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn, and Amityville 3D were also released around this time, to mixed results.  In 2003, 3D enjoyed a resurgence with James Cameron’s Ghosts of the Abyss.  The Polar Express and Cameron’s Avatar would follow in the years to come.  Now, it seems every action or animated film is released in 3D.  I don’t like this particular process (a kind of photographic layering of disparate elements in the foreground) as it makes me somewhat dizzy and a little nauseous.  Give me Jaws 3-D over Avatar any day!  It’s a lot more fun and a hell of a lot less preachy.

Next time, I keep the 3D glasses on for the third installment in the Friday the 13th franchise; Friday the 13th Part III (in 3-D!).

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.

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