Monday, June 17, 2013
30 Years Later, Jaws 3D Swims Back to the Movie Theater
My source of disposable income has been tight as of late, so I've fallen behind on this summer's recent blockbuster releases such as Iron Man 3 and Man of Steel. However, my financial problems haven't kept me from squeezing out enough cash to see a limited release of a film that I missed seeing in the theater during its original release in 1983: Jaws 3D.
As I wrote in a previous post about Jaws 3D, "I have a soft spot for the third entry in the Jaws franchise because it was THE film that got me interested in 3D movies. ... Before Jaws 3D, I had a ViewMaster toy and a few sets of reels, and I also knew about previous horror and sci-fi movies from the 50s that were shot in 3D--movies such as Creature from the Black Lagoon, House of Wax and It Came from Outer Space--courtesy of the Crestwood House books and their ilk. But Jaws 3D solidified in my mind just what the illusion of three dimensions meant in terms of movies (as well as comic books and later video games), thus starting my lifetime affair with 3D entertainment. Furthermore, Jaws 3D was the only one of the 3D movies from the early 80s that caught my eye, since it was the only film to offer the chance of seeing one of my favorite movie monsters jump out of the silver screen and into the audience."
The rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia aside, I believe that if you can't see Jaws 3D in a 3D format then it's not worth seeing, because most of the film's effects vanish in a 2D format. In the era before digital filmmaking, studios didn't have the option of converting a film to 3D in post-production. A film had to be shot in 3D for it to be released in 3D, and 3D cinematography required additional planning, funding and technical expertise as part of the production process. When seeing an older 3D movie in 2D, you're missing half of the movie; hence, I've spent the last few years trying to find a DVD copy of Jaws 3D in 3D to see what I was missing in the third Jaws movie.
So far, I've picked up two low definition copies of the Japanese laserdisc release from the 80s, with one copy in anaglyph 3D and one in field sequential 3D. Yet because I never saw the film during its original theatrical run, I had no standard by which I could evaluate these copies to determine how accurately they imitated the original theatrical 3D experience. Thankfully, the nearest Alamo Drafthouse Cinema solved my problem when it announced that it was going to hold a one-night showing of Jaws 3D in 3D last weekend as part of its "Summer of '83" series. Read on for more details about my retro-Jaws experience at Alamo, and what it might mean in regards to future Blu-ray releases of the Jaws sequels.
If you've never been to an Alamo Drafthouse Cinema theater, you're missing a fun movie experience. Alamo holds all sorts of film-related events, and it includes an on-site restaurant that allows you to order food--from snacks to dinner platters--to eat during the movie. For its showing of Jaws 3D, Alamo offered its own Jaws 3D dinner special of fish and chips (see below). I didn't order the special for fear that I would somehow smudge my 3D glasses.
Since this showing was part of Alamo's "Summer of '83" series, it was preceded by a half-hour's worth of various video clips from the early 80s in order to get the audience in the right mindset before showing the big block of 80s cheese that is Jaws 3D. The clips included the SCTV Count Floyd "3D House of Beef" skit, game play clips from Activision's Fishing Derby video game, advertisements for public aquariums, and beach-themed commercials for brands such as Coca-Cola and Wrangler. Inserted between the clips were 2D ads for other 3D movies from the 80s: Amityville 3D, Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn, Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone, and Treasure of the Four Crowns. I suppose that Alamo's inclusion of these ads were to remind the audience that 3D movies made a brief comeback in the 80s, but they also reminded me that a lot more money was spent to make Jaws 3D than was spent for most of the 3D titles from that decade.
As for the movie itself, I was amazed at how good the 3D effects were. Many of the notorious gimmick shots (e.g., the bleeding fish head, the floating dismembered arm, the partially disappearing mini-sub, and the pirate skeleton in the lagoon) looked exactly how a good 3D gimmick shot should look, with objects appearing to hover in the air over the audience. There were some minor flares of ghosting from time to time and some of the gimmick shots didn't work at all (e.g., the "biting" Jaws 3D title graphic in the beginning of the film), but none of these glitches were enough to ruin the overall 3D experience. Futhermore, I now believe that Sea World must have been more satisfied than anyone else with how Jaws 3D looked as a finished product. Each of the 3D shots that involved things specific to Sea World--dolphins, killer whales and acrobatic waterskiing--were nearly flawless.
I have heard over the last few years that a digitally remastered version of Jaws 3D has been appearing in theaters and 3D festivals around the world, so I can only assume that what I watched at Alamo was one of the remastered prints. The film didn't have any blemishes and scratches, the colors were vibrant, and the sound quality was clear, so I obviously wasn't watching a 30 year old print. However, there were enough inconsistencies in the print to indicate that if this was a remastered print, the remastering process only went so far. Many shots were sharp with minor film grain, but some others were very grainy. I also noticed a few shots that were flat in hue and/or slightly out of focus, and almost all of the scenes that involved blue screen composites were of poor quality.
I'm not sure if the remastering process exposed flaws that were already present in the original print or if something else was at fault. Unfortunately, I couldn't find any information about when the remastering was done, who did it, and to what extent. I even stayed through the all of the credits to see if extra information was added to identify the remastering team behind the Jaws 3D print I was watching, but nothing was there.
So, while I was satisfied with finally seeing Jaws 3D on the big screen, the print quality left me wondering what Universal has in store for the three Jaws sequels. Since Jaws appeared on Blu-ray last August in a fabulously restored format, there has been much speculation in the fan community about if and when the sequels will appear on Blu-ray. On the basis of what I saw, I think that the sequels will either not be released on Blu-ray or if they are, they will be of low quality with little to no bonus features. I'm also basing this prediction on two other details:
* Universal has been very stubborn about the Jaws franchise over the years, so much so that it frequently has been left to the fans to share information about the movies and preserve artifacts from them because Universal refuses to do so itself.
* High-definition versions of Jaws 2 and Jaws: The Revenge have already appeared on on-demand video services but not on Blu-ray.
Between the on-demand releases of the sequels and the limited theatrical re-releases of Jaws 3D, Universal probably believes that it will get the greatest return on investment with these venues of distribution and not through Blu-ray. This is very frustrating, especially since Universal has the resources to correct the misaligned 3D shots in Jaws 3D but won't anyway. With that in mind, I strongly recommend that fans of the Jaws franchise and 3D movies in general should watch Jaws 3D on the big screen whenever it's possible, because I doubt that it's going to be available in any other format.