Odds are good that if you've been to the movies lately, you saw something in 3D. There's also a decent chance that you've recently seen a cheesy TV movie about a tornado full of sharks. In addition, maybe you're aware of Blackfish, the documentary about SeaWorld's mishandling of large ocean-dwelling animals. And lest you doubt that history repeats itself, this week marks the 30th anniversary of Jaws 3D, a terrible 3D shark movie set at SeaWorld Orlando. Truly, there is nothing new under the sun.
Also, if you remember when Jaws 3D came out -- it was July 22, 1983 -- You're Old®.
Steven Spielberg's Jaws (1975) is credited with launching the age of the summer blockbuster, but it also helped kickstart another trend that's now an accepted fact of life: movies that make a lot of money get sequels with numbers in their titles. Sequels have always been around, of course, but it wasn't until the 1970s (starting with The Godfather Part II and The French Connection II) that Hollywood quit bothering with titles like Return of... and Revenge of... and just starting numbering them.
The shift was subtle but meaningful. Gone was the pretense that a sequel meant someone had a terrific idea for a new adventure featuring an established character. Now the studios were just crankin' out product, green-lighting follow-ups based on box office, coming up with story ideas later. Didn't matter what it was called. Jaws 2, Jaws 5, Jaws 12, what difference does it make? It's another Jaws movie.
The massively successful Jaws 2 (1978) opened the floodgates for other unimaginatively titled hits like Rocky II, Superman II, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, etc., and life was never the same again. Meanwhile, the gimmick of 3D, which had seen its heyday in the early '50s and petered out after that, was making a comeback for unknown reasons, possibly the result of a gypsy's curse. When it came time for the inevitable Jaws 3, it too was caught up in the trend. Other 3D movies in 1982 and 1983 included Friday the 13th Part III, Parasite, Amityville 3D, Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn, Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone and The Man Who Wasn't There -- all totally forgotten now except for the ones that were part of franchises.
Initially, the concept for the third Jaws film was National Lampoon's Jaws 3, People 0 The screenplay was a spoof, written by John Hughes and Todd Carroll, about a studio trying to make a third Jaws movie. Very meta, as we would say nowadays. But that idea was scrapped (allegedly because Steven Spielberg threatened to leave Universal if they went the mockery route), so they started over with a new, more straightforward concept, and it was all downhill from there.
Multiple writers. A director, Joe Alves, who'd never directed a movie before and thought shooting in 3D would be a good way to start. (He never made another film.) Music by someone other than John Williams (though his iconic theme was incorporated). None of the actors from the first two movies wanted anything to do with it, but the studio insisted that the main characters be the sons of Sheriff Brody anyway. Universal wanted it to be the same shark, too, but were talked out of that.
Unsurprisingly, the movie turned out not to be very good. (Ahem.) Just as unsurprisingly, it was a hit, albeit not as gigantic a hit as its predecessors, and became the 15th highest grossing film of 1983. It was enough to justify yet another sequel, Jaws: The Revenge (1987), which was finally bad enough to end the series. We still love our sharks, our 3D and our sequels, though.
When Jaws 3D was released on July 22, 1983...
- It opened on 1,300 screens and handily won the weekend, earning $13.4 million (about $34.7 million at today's ticket prices) and knocking the previous weekend's debut, Staying Alive, down to second place. Return of the Jedi, which had opened eight weeks earlier, was in third place. The only new releases competing with Jaws 3D were prep-school comedy Class and soon-to-be-a-hit Mr. Mom.
- If Jaws 3D was sold out and you'd already seen Return of the Jedi, your other options at the multiplex included Trading Places, WarGames, Octopussy, Superman III, Twilight Zone: The Movie, Porky's II: The Next Day and a reissue of Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
- A month earlier, Sally Ride had become the first American woman in space, traveling on the space shuttle Challenger with four men. The gravity situation prevented any arguments about leaving the toilet seat up.
- Director Luis Buñuel and actor David Niven both had a week to live. (That makes it sound more dramatic than it was. I just mean they both died on July 29.) Singer Michelle Branch was a few weeks old, and Greta Gerwig, Mamie Gummer and Chris Hemsworth were all cookin' in their respective mothers' wombs, to be released in a matter of weeks. (Gummer was in Meryl Streep's womb, so it was probably super classy.)
- There wasn't a lot happening on TV because it was summertime, but NBC was a week away from debuting its new program Friday Night Videos, a 90-minute showcase of these new things called "music videos" that were all the rage on MTV. Many American viewers didn't have access to cable, and not all cable systems carried MTV, so Friday Night Videos was the next best thing.
- Albums released around the same time included Madonna's self-titled debut, Oingo Boingo's Good for Your Soul and Metallica's debut Kill 'Em All.
- On the radio, you couldn't avoid hearing "Every Breath You Take" by the Police, which was in the middle of an eight-week run as the number-one song on the Billboard Hot 100. (It was eventually Billboard's top song of the year.) Also on the radio were Irene Cara's "Flashdance... What a Feeling," Michael Jackson's "Beat It" and "Billie Jean," David Bowie's "Let's Dance," and Dexys Midnight Runners' "Come on Eileen." Thirty years later and I'm pretty sure I've heard all of those songs within the last six months. Timeless classics!