Eleven things to appreciate about Jaws 3-D
1983’s Jaws 3-D—one in a brief spate of super-hyped early ’80s 3D films—is considered the joke of the franchise, even though it was #1 at the box office and got its own prop exhibit at SeaWorld Orlando (then called Sea World of Florida), where it was filmed. There are still, however, some neat things that make 3-D eligible for at least a one-time watch.
At the time, underwater attractions were novel, dangerous things.
In 1964, the founders of SeaWorld San Diego (then called just Sea World) abandoned plans for an underwater restaurant because it “wasn’t feasible.” In 1980, the Shark Encounter, an under-the-surface walk-through, was on Sea World of Florida’s maps; in October of 1983—four months after Jaws 3-D’s theatrical release–Epcot’s Living Seas, which featured the aquarium-facing Coral Reef Restaurant, broke ground. While this new technology “wowed,” it also terrified: what happens if you’re in that tunnel and something fails? 3-D not only illustrates this scenario, it illustrates the solution. So while it’s clear that 3-D’s submerged multiplex was inspired by and publicized the real park’s exhibit, it heralded a new age: today, so many major aquariums have time-tested underwater attractions we take them for granted.
Kay Morgan is a strong heroine.
Today, strong female characters with complex choices are all over cinema. When this movie hit theatres, we were only a decade beyond the thick of the Women’s Lib movement. Kay Morgan (Bess Armstrong) is in the then-non-traditional, leadership position of Senior Biologist, facing the difficult decision of following her career or the man she loves. She’s also no slouch: she revives a baby Great White Shark in her arms, swills beer from a bottle and proverbially slaps Philip (Simon MacCorkindale) in the face when he gets fresh. If that’s not enough, she stands up to her profit-obsessed boss, her strong-willed over-protective boyfriend and the visiting monster hunter in one fell swoop by persuading them her clever idea wins. When Barbies were still hot? She was one with balls.
It showed aquarium behind-the-scenes and husbandry techniques/challenges.
From my life-long affair with fish films I’m guessing that Jaws 3-D is one of the earliest to show aquarium behind-the-scenes and husbandry techniques as well as some of its challenges; in fact, it was what inspired me to become an aquarium volunteer (I have a combined 1700 hours of experience at two facilities). There was also no fooling around in the making of: Bess Armstrong spent months in training, and the man playing one of her assistants—Dan—wasn’t an actor, but a Sea World trainer.
Alan Parker’s score.
Parker had the unenviable job of following up Williams’ classic Jaws score, yet other than those famous notes that are possibly a reference to Dvorak, Williams didn’t quite pull off a leave-the-theatre-humming melody as well as Parker does. Parker’s sweeping, triumphant work with an instantly memorable motive is a perfect match for the grandeur that is a Florida theme park. A complete restoration is available here: http://store.intrada.com/s.nl/it.A/id.9653/.f.
An on-the-cusp cast.
Cast members were about to do big ’80s things. Dennis Quaid before The Right Stuff and The Big Easy. Simon MacCorkindale before Manimal and Falcon Crest. Bess Armstrong before High Road to China. Lea Thompson before Back to the Future. Louis Gossett Jr. before Enemy Mine.
Once these get in your head, they’re not leaving: “He can take a flyin’ leap at a rollin’ doughnut on a gravel driveway, you hear?” This is probably a PG take on the famous phrase from a Vonnegut short story – “Why don’t you take a flying fuck at a rolling doughnut?”) “Champagne of the working classes” refers to beer. A hung over character is offered coffee. His response? “Just throw it my eyes, it’ll work faster.”
The body has some baggage.
Shelby’s body was considered, at the time, exceptionally graphic due to its realism—this was the early 1980s, and make-up effects weren’t what they are today. The way it floats up past the windows in the Undersea Kingdom at the moment it’s discovered is a noticeable callback to a shot in 1978’s star-studded Gray Lady Down.
The romance has chops.
Unlike disaster films in which the romance develops, this one comes pre-established with all of its problems—and it’s realistic in that it goes from playful to stressed to evolved—all in under fifteen minutes of screen time. It’s also spread evenly throughout the film and happens in the throes of the action. That’s one tight three-beat that doesn’t slow down the pacing.
It’s a time capsule.
An orange rotary wall phone, a goldenrod refrigerator, a wallpapered kitchen. A vintage Dunkin’ Donuts box, the original Diet Coke cans, the Wheaties Jingle Contest. Waitresses dressed like Aerobics instructors, men smoking under stress, people riding around seatbelt-free.
The way it used to be.
Lots of people have nostalgia for the theme parks of their childhoods—and it’s no secret that, especially in the past twenty years, SeaWorld Orlando (like its neighbors) has been on crack in terms of remodeling, re-envisioning and expanding (see what’s changed with a film extra here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aDz0-s3XTBM). Because Jaws 3-D was filmed almost entirely at the park, it preserves the Sea World of 1982 and its extinct or even razed attractions. Thanks to 3-D, the Hawaiian Village, the Hatfields and McCoys Ski Show (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_FjQAwu1MFU), and the original Whale and Dolphin Stadium will live forever.
The 3-D is actually awesome.
That’s right! Subsequent TV versions were horrendous; they didn’t have the technology to adapt 3D back then, and household sets were small (let me put it into perspective: LCD was just about to be invented, and the average screen in 1983 was between 13 and 19 inches). If you enjoyed this post and are now inclined, butter some popcorn, pick up the re-master here, where the 3-D is listed as a special feature on a separate disc—http://a.co/bv3jT0Y—and watch it on a 3D television. I guarantee it’s better than you remember—and overall, a lot more fun than you think.
1 Here I am with my brother, Chip, in front of the Shark Encounter at SeaWorld Orlando (then Sea World of Florida), 1987.
2 No-nonsense Senior Biologist Kay Morgan (Bess Armstrong) is a modern-day heroine. Here, she wears a chain-mail shark suit, which at the time was in use only by some of the most daring icthyologists and photographers like Eugenia Clark and Valerie Taylor; something like this certainly wouldn’t have been used for the hell of it in a normal aquarium setting. She’s depicted here on a Topps trading card.
3 The promotion for this movie was quite a machine. The Topps trading cards featured 3D artwork on the back. The artwork could be viewed with tiny little glasses (pictured here) that came in only some packages, meaning you had to keep buying package after package until you got lucky. We used to feel them up at the store while my aunt was buying her cigarettes. Yes…it eventually paid off. Yes, I have the entire set. You can get sets now on Ebay for like twelve bucks, so don’t be shy!
4 The underwater exhibit was cutting-edge technology at the time this movie was made—and this film made fantastic use of preying on people’s fears about what seemed claustrophobic and possibly even not entirely trustworthy.
5 The reveal of Shelby’s body was supposed to be so shocking due to its realism that it was covered by a sheet until the big reveal. TV specials and trailers either cut away or showed only a quick corner of part of it as it was considered too graphic.
6 Because Jaws 3-D was shot almost entirely on Sea World property, the Hatfields and McCoys Ski Show is just one of many extinct or razed attractions preserved forever.
7 Many of the cast members would go on to do big things. From left, Louis Gossett, Jr., P.H. Moriarty, Bess Armstrong, Dennis Quaid, Lea Thompson, John Putch, and Simon MacCorkindale.
8 An original poster hanging on my office wall.
9 I like to think that Jaws 3-D was one of the earliest films to show behind-the-scenes at an aquarium. 1955’s Revenge of the Creature, which was also in 3-D, was shot at Marineland of Florida, and although there were lots of scenes shot in the tanks, I don’t think there was too much in terms of behind the scenes and in the labs.
10 The main title sequence for TV and prior DVD releases. Notice it doesn’t say Jaws 3-D. It was changed for these subsequent releases because effective 3D couldn’t be shown in those formats at the time. The restored 3D version, which I own, contains the original title sequence.
 It was #1 its opening weekend, but only slipped as far as #7 for the rest of its run in a month that also featured Return of the Jedi, Krull, Octopussy, and Mr. Mom. “Jaws 3-D,” Box Office Mojo, accessed March 15, 2017, http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?page=weekend&id=jaws3d.htm
Sea World of Florida was not rebranded as the SeaWorld Orlando we know it as today until the late 1990s. See the exciting description of the Jaws 3-D exhibit in the park’s 1983 brochure here: http://www.themeparkreview.com/parks/photo.php?pageid=204&linkid=8715. “1983 Park Guide,” Theme Park Review, accessed March 1, 2017.
 Robert Niles, “Theme Park History: A short history of SeaWorld San Diego,” Theme Park Insider, July 5, 2013, accessed February 28, 2017, http://www.themeparkinsider.com/flume/201307/3552/
 Payne, Matt. “The Making of Jaws 3-D: Sharks Don’t Die [Full]”. YouTube Video, 47:13. Posted June 20, 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TS3AdNWWCAk Note: This is the prime time special that networks aired the week before the film opened. For the record…I watched it on my Grandmother’s TV.
 Eric Thayer/Reuters, “The Evolution of the Television Set: Changing Sizes,” CBS News, accessed March 3, 2017, http://www.cbsnews.com/pictures/the-evolution-of-the-television-set/10/
 “Throwback Thursday – The Color Console Television – 1983,” Vintage Volts, August 22, 2013, accessed March 10, 2017, http://www.vintagevolts.com/throwback-thursday-the-color-console-television-1983/