Another feature of...
Jaws 2 -
Jabootu's Bad Movie Dimension
Note: Unlike the fare normally examined at this site, Jaws 2 is not being reviewed because it’s a bad movie. Instead, this review constitutes the second of a series of articles meant to examine the ways in which film series degrade in quality from picture to picture.
I’ve (obviously) chosen the four-entry Jaws series as the basis for this project. My earlier piece on Jaws examined what made it a good film. Now we move to its first sequel. There are elements of this entry that will merit some castigation, but also others worthy of praise. I’ll try to balance the derision with credit, when it’s due.
In writing this piece I’m assuming the reader is either familiar with Jaws or has at least read my review of that picture. Such familiarity will be taken for granted, meaning that characters, settings and other elements established in the previous film will not be re-introduced in any great detail.
Elements Indicative of a First Sequel:
I first saw Jaws 2 on a 13-inch black-and-white TV set—trust me, kids, such things once existed—during its network television premiere. This was early in 1983. Having recently completed Navy boot camp, I was stationed in Meridian, MS, to receive rate training as a Yeoman (a.k.a., an office clerk) for my upcoming reserve stint. In any case, let’s stipulate that these were not the optimal circumstances under which to appreciate a movie. Even so, I vividly remember the moment when I mentally went, "Uh, oh," and more or less gave up on the picture. It was a moment of filmmaking desperation so immense that I’ve never seen it’s equal before or since. More on that later.
Our film opens, as did the first picture, underwater. Composer John Williams has returned to rework his classic themes here, and this score begins with harp music. No doubt the idea is to lull the audience with the ethereal music and the oceans’ languid beauty, and then jar them with some sudden shock.
The opening credits begin playing over these tranquil vistas. Roy Scheider’s name is the first to appear, followed by the respectively second and third billed Lorraine Gary and Murray Hamilton. (Hendricks, Brody’s deputy from the first movie, is also back. That’s nice, but every time he’s on camera, it’s like we’re supposed to be going, "Hey, look! It’s Hendricks! Lovable ol’ Hendricks! Good to see you, buddy!")
Already we’ve gotten a sense of how thing will go. Of the three lead characters from Jaws, only Scheider’s Martin Brody will be coming back. It’s no surprise that Quint hasn’t returned, since he was graphically eaten in the previous film*. However, Matt Hooper is also MIA, presumably because Richard Dreyfuss was working with Spielberg again making Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
[*Following Jaws 2 but before the third entry, the parody show SCTV produced a typically hilarious segment entitled ‘Jaws 23.’ Wittily, the premise is that island the town of Amity has actually become dependent on the numerous shark attacks occuring there to draw its tourists. With no such sharks presently to be found, the townsfolk, including Mayor Vaughn, desperately attempt to create evidence of another marauding fish.
Two things I recall as especially funny. One was Joe Flaherty suddenly rolling in via a wheelchair, playing a Quint who was crippled by his munching in the original film but not actually killed. (This idea is so stupid you could almost see it happening.) His presence is calmly accepted by the other characters, so apparently his return was established in one of the 22 previous films. He attempts to re-ignite tourist interest in the town by relating a chilling encounter with a mackerel.
The other amusing moment occurs when Quint runs down all the ways the various sharks have been offed. "They blew up the first shark," he notes. He describes the beast’s demise in this picture, then notes that "They blew up the third shark, too." This became even funnier after Jaws 3-D came out, since that film’s shark is dispatched by being…blown up.]
Lacking two thirds of the original films’ main cast, Jaws 2 stands like a stool with one leg. I’ve always liked Roy Scheider as an actor, and Brody was indeed the lynchpin of the first movie. However, this worked because he was an Everyman counterpoised against the more eccentric Hooper and Quint. Here he’s pretty much the whole show. While I think he represents a more solid pivot point than Dreyfuss’ somewhat annoying Hooper would have been, the fact remains that the latter would have provided for a more logical follow-up.
Hooper was, after all, a shark expert. Building a sequel around him (assuming Dreyfuss would have been amenable, which he probably wasn’t) would have allowed the film to utilize new locations, characters and other fresh elements. It would also have been interesting to see how a Hooper organized expedition would have contrasted to Quint’s.
Let’s say another Great White begins gobbling up swimmers off the coast of, say, Australia. Hooper might actually already be on scene, since he was scheduled to visit Brisbane before the Amity situation arose. Given his previous experience with killer sharks, it would not be illogical for Hooper to be called upon. Altogether, this wouldn’t have strained credulity as much as simply replaying the first film.
Instead, Dreyfuss’ exit all but ensured that Brody would again act as the fulcrum of the movie, along with the familiar citizenry of Amity. Indeed, I’m sure the studio demanded this. Hollywood sequels generally try to strike a balance between adding a few, non-threatening new elements while also largely replaying the previous entry. With Quint and Hooper, not to mention director Spielberg, absent, I’m certain those behind the film saw basing Jaws 2 in Amity as essential to providing the continuity they presumed the audience craved.
Hence the opening seconds of the film, built around Williams’ music, underwater photography and the names of actors from the first film. In other words, a string of familiar elements meant to assure the viewer that they were getting in large measure what they got last time. Sure, they would be some new stuff, but don’t worry, there won’t be too much of it either.
Unfortunately, this remains the picture’s most immediate and persistent flaw. The idea of one giant killer shark establishing itself outside a New England island community is one thing. Having another do so a few years later is patently ridiculous. They’re aware of this, too, and admittedly they do what they can to mitigate the essential and all-too-obvious dumbness of the situation. Sadly, these efforts fail miserably.
Moreover, if the credits for Lorraine Gary and Murry Hamilton were meant to provide such reassurance, this too fails. Gary’s Ellen Brody and Hamilton’s Mayor Vaughn were unusually well etched characters in the prior film. However, they were still just supporting characters. In the filmmakers’ wrongheaded attempts to set the clock back to zero, Ellen and Vaughn are written so as to largely replay their actions from Jaws. This is especially noxious in the case of Mayor Vaughn, who unbelievably must again obstruct Brody’s efforts to warn the public about the danger in their midst.
Anyway, where were we? Oh, yeah, the beginning of the movie. Some divers enter the scene. They swim around for a while, allowing the audience to enjoy some admittedly pleasant undersea photography. Oddly, such shots were missing from the first film. (This, presumably, because Jaws was so swift and leanly edited that such discursive footage would have screwed up the picture’s flow.*) Such changes allow our current subject to establish at least some slight difference from its precursor.
[Note: Correspondent Bill Leary also suggests the following: "It would also have served to bollix up the dichotomy between ‘above water, people / below water, mysterious death’, which the other movie played out so well. Even when Hooper went into the water the first time to examine Ben Gardner’s boat, he wore a snorkel, not scuba gear, keeping clear that he was an air-breather. He also didn’t go very deep, certainly less than five feet. They did have him scuba dive later, but by that point we were already seeing the shark itself under water and it had been well established that the shark owned the underwater spaces. Hooper, in going underwater, was in the shark’s space. That Hooper w/snorkel went slightly BELOW the surface, by the way, nicely foreshadowed the shark going slightly ABOVE water to get Quint. The battle was at the surface, but each opponent was capable of reaching somewhat beyond, into the others space, for their own purposes. This element also played out as the boat sinks, bringing Martin closer and closer to the surface.]
The divers happen upon the sunken wreck of the Orca. (Williams’ score now cannily features a haunting echo of Jaws’ ‘sea adventure’ music.) At first this is a nice tip of the hat to the prior film. Until, inevitably, the divers are fatally attacked by Something Unseen. Which, not to blow the movie for you, turns out to be another killer shark. Anyway, setting the first shark attack on this particular spot is simply too twee for words.
Oh, and having one of the divers locate and examine at length the Orca’s nameplate is insulting. If you didn’t see the first movie, this means nothing to you. If you did, but are too stupid to ‘get’ what the wreck is, especially given the smashed deck, etc., then having its identity explicitly identified ain’t going to do much for you. In the first film I congratulated the filmmakers for not beating the viewers over the head with their clever bits. Well, welcome to Jaws 2.
Also…man, am I nitpicky (something our regular readers may have noticed previously), but the shark’s first off-camera appearance is indicated by the same mechanisms employed in the first movie. Specifically, Williams’ ‘duh…duh’ theme music and a shark POV shot as it looks upon the divers.
At least I’m assuming it’s a shark POV shot. The problem being that the shot is stationary. However, if great whites, like most sharks, stop moving they drown. They breathe by constantly forcing water through their gills as they swim. You won’t see a stationary POV shot in Jaws, and you shouldn’t see one here. (Jabootu Minister of Proofing Carl Fink notes that a strong current pushing water through the beast’s gills could substitute for movement. However, there’s no indication of such from the surrounding plant life seen here. In any case, it’d have to be a big freakin’ current to keep such a monstrous beast oxygenated.)
The scene also suggests an idea that was more explicitly, not to mention ruinously, employed in the fourth and (so far) final Jaws movie, which is that the sequels’ various killer sharks were out to avenge the first shark’s death. This notion is explicitly introduced later in this movie, although it remains unsubstantiated. However, having Bruce* II kill a couple of divers after they ‘desecrate’ the scene of Bruce I’s demise with their foolish antics makes the idea seem implicit to the sequence.
[*Jaws’ crew nicknamed the shark Bruce, and the name stuck with the film’s fans.]
Anyway, the divers buy the kelp farm. This is our first example of the movie raising the stakes while failing to keep even with its progenitor. Here we get two victims right off the bat—already equaling half of the total onscreen death count in Jaws—yet the sequence is extraordinarily less affecting than the harrowing attack that opens the previous film.
What’s readily apparent is how much less successful the film’s editing and direction are. (No surprise there, given how few helmers have Spielberg’s chops. Editor Verna Fields, meanwhile, won on Oscar for Jaws, an award that unlike many was richly merited.) Also, there’s way too little blood in the scene, given that two guys are supposedly being chowed down upon by a massive shark. I can only assume the producers mandated that the explicitness of the violence be taken down a notch or two, presumably so as to make the film inviting to a broader audience.
This theory was substantiated by the ‘making of’ documentary featured on the Jaws DVD. While the second film’s deaths are much less emotionally involving than those seen in Jaws, there are a lot more of them. Not wanting to limit their audience by receiving an ‘R’ rating—this being the days before the ‘PG-13’—they opted for more deaths but generally cleaner ones. There were other ramifications as well. More on that later.
Oh, and I should mention an obvious plot point, which is that the divers’ underwater camera goes off just as the shark is rushing at them.
Cut to the peaceful environs of Amity. We see Brody’s police department issue 4x4 drive onto a ferry to make a brief crossing over to another part of the island. In a nice nod to the prior film, Brody rides the passage across while sitting in his vehicle. Ellen had at one point mentioned this habit, the result of Brody’s dislike for the water. (We’ll ignore the fact that he seemed cured of his phobia at the end of Jaws. Perhaps he suffered a relapse.)
Back on land, Brody drives with obvious alacrity. I think the idea is to imply that he’s perhaps heading for the victims’ washed-up remains, as in the first film when he drove out to examine what was left of Chrissie’s body. If so, I admire the attempt to play off our memories of the first film. On the other hand, the intent behind the scene is vague enough that I’m only guessing here.
Assuming that to be the case, though, the purportedly humorous payoff occurs when Brody instead arrives outside a Holiday Inn. Emerging from his vehicle, he approaches a ceremony while tugging on a sport jacket. It turns out that the occasion is marking the hotel’s grand opening. It’s a big deal, with an elaborate buffet prepared, the town’s high school band playing Petula Clark’s "Downtown" (I assume this is meant to be satire), cascading balloons, and a ribbon cutting conducted by pretty young Tina Wilcox, the current Miss Amity.
Mayor Vaughn is there, needless to say, giving a typically boosterish speech. However, Ellen Brody also apparently has a stake in the deal, although the exact nature of her involvement remains vague. For instance, I’m not sure if she’s representing the hotel’s interests, the town’s, or some third party’s. The event is also a benefit for a scholarship program, so she might be handling that end. (We eventually learn that she works for Peterson, but her actual duties remain vague.)
For Ellen to have become involved in a business venture is certainly not out of bounds. While she basically seemed a stay-at-home mom in the first film, that was shortly after the family had moved to Amity. Whether she had a career of some sort back in New York was never addressed. So there’s no reason why she shouldn’t have started or become affiliated with a business of some sort between the two pictures.
Were this a better film, Ellen’s newfound career might just be a case of the filmmakers, including actress Gary, wanting to give her more to do in the sequel. Instead, the change serves such naked plot purposes that it becomes suspect and eventually annoying.
His wife’s job appears to have been established purely to provide a club to hold over Brody when he threatens to start yelling ‘shark’ again. After all, his going along with yet another cover-up seems more than a little unlikely. Yet while the situation provides an answer to this concern, I still find it a clumsy and obvious mechanism.
(Actually, I was proved wrong in the above supposition. In fact, Ellen’s job is never threatened. Instead, and much more problematically, her association with Peterson is meant to create the appearance of divided loyalty between her career and Brody. Given the evident strength of their marriage, however, this idea never seem remotely credible.)
Another problem is evident with Brody and Ellen’s first exchange. The film’s director, Jeannot Szwarc, had primarily done television work before this. This perhaps explains the fact that Scheider and Gary are act just a bit more broadly here than they did in the first movie. I’m not saying they’re constantly doing spit takes or anything, but they do indulge in facial contortions that at times would accurately be described as ‘mugging.’ Imagine a Jaws TV show with, say, John Ritter and Suzanne Pleshette assuming the roles and you’d be in the right ballpark.
Well, OK, it’s not quite that bad. Scheider and Gary are too good at their job to allow the characters to become outright cartoons. Still, it’s irritating to see them play the characters less effectively when by all rights their experience with the parts should lend the Brodys even greater shading. In any case, the naturalism the two displayed under Spielberg’s hand is definitely diminished.
The scene also introduces the character of Len Peterson, a (boo, hiss) capitalist. As such, of course, he’s portrayed as a weasely, obnoxious dickhead. Peterson will serve a number of functions, all of which struck me as feeble and unnecessary.
First, he’ll act as a personification of the Greed-with-a-capitol-G that will impede Brody’s efforts to deal with the shark. Apparently, this is to shift focus from Mayor Vaughn as Brody’s chief stumbling block, and thus minutely reduce the audience’s sensation of déjà vu when Brody again heroically butts his head against Unthinking and Uncaring Authority.
Second, Peterson’s working relationship with Ellen will add a truly pointless bit of domestic friction between Brody and Ellen. This is a bad screenwriter’s idea of ‘character conflict,’ allowing for some purportedly audience pleasing ‘resolution.’
His main purpose, though, is just to provide the sort of one-dimensional antagonist for Brody that the first film took such efforts to avoid. A running subplot is that everyone else thinks Brody’s fears of another shark are a traumatic response to the prior incident. Peterson, of course, will most crudely represent this view. So you can already see the bit coming where Ellen nobly sacrifices her career by telling Peterson to screw off and electing to Stand By Her Man.
In some ways, this is an effective scene. It really does capture the banality of civic events like these. (Still, if the worst one can say about good citizenship is that it’s banal, that’s not much of a criticism.) The eye for detail is spot on, and we could actually be watching documentary footage of one of thousands of such events that occur across the country every day.
On the other hand, the film again is paling compared to the first picture. Jaws features no scene this static or having so little utility in progressing the story or enhancing the movie’s texture. Also, it’s already starkly apparent that in this movie characters are ‘established,’ rather than introduced. By which I mean, they won’t be much developed as things proceed. In Jaws each scene in which a character appeared lent them greater depth; here they pretty much remain props. Jaws was about people reacting to a shark, Jaws 2 is about a shark eating people.
This is quickly confirmed when all the film suddenly shifts its attention from the adults to a bunch of teenaged kids. These include Brody’s son Mike, who along with the younger Sean seems to have aged five or six years in the three years between the two films. This is probably the point at which fans of the first film are going to start really getting a bad feeling. Just the fact that there’s such a gaggle of these kids indicates that the first film’s rich characterization will not be replicated here.
Although made in what might be called the proto-Slasher era—genre progenitor Halloween was released in ’78 as well—Jaws 2 quickly displays all the earmarks of what Roger Ebert quickly designated the ‘dead teenager’ movie. This is hardly an original insight, and has been expounded on many times before, but then it’s so obvious it would have to be. Basically you have a whole bunch of barely delineated teens, some hot and popular, some nerds, who systematically fall prey to a mysteriously appearing killer.
Getting back to my earlier contention that the characters in this movie are ‘established’ rather than introduced and developed, let me quote producer Richard Zanuck in the Making Of documentary: "We fleshed out the kids, to try to give each one of them a characteristic that people will recognize." (Emphasis mine.) Amazingly, all these years later he still doesn’t realize how damning a statement that is. Such thinking also indicates that Zanuck and his partner David Brown probably contributed little to the first movie’s brilliance.
Even Brody fits into the Slasher Formula. Although the focus in these films centered on the array of teen victims, there was usually one adult who attempted to stop the killer. Dr. Loomis in Halloween was the prototype of this character. However, Canadian finance laws kept the trope going.
Many slasher movies during this period hailed from Canada. In order to promote filmmaking in the country, the Canadian government granted production funds and tax breaks to any film made there that featured a certain percentage of Canadian talent. This proved a boon for Canadian-born thespians, and producers did what they could to attract some who were also ‘names.’ Thus we saw Leslie Nielsen in Prom Night, Glenn Ford in Happy Birthday to Me and William Shatner in Visiting Hours. Non-Canadian veteran actors cashed in as well, with Academy Award winner Ben Johnson appearing in Terror Train and Hal Halbrook in Girls Nite Out.
If one were somehow unaware of the first Jaws, he might easily believe Jaws 2 to be yet another Halloween knock-off, with a slightly more imaginative killer. From this standpoint, Brody functions almost exactly as Dr. Loomis did in Carpenter’s film. Both are uniquely aware of the deadly danger facing a small community, and have a personal history with the killer. Both vainly attempt to convince other authorities to intercede, and find themselves considered obsessed to the point of derangement. Both finally step in directly to confront the menace and save whatever pool of potential victims remains.
In furtherance of this, the shark’s existence isn’t conclusively established until nearly 75% of the movie has passed. This keeps Brody effectively on the sidelines until the film’s final quarter, aside from an occasional rant to the town elders about there being another shark out there. As in the slasher genre, Brody will be allowed to directly take action only after an isolated pack of teens find themselves at the killer’s mercy and are being picked off one by one.
Unfortunately, the kids also fit the slasher movie mold. As Zanuck indicated, each is a type. There’s the Pretty Blonde Girl in the already introduced Tina. Her boyfriend is The Stud. The Pretty Brunette, who naturally isn’t as much of a drip as the Pretty Blonde Girl. The Odious Comic Relief Guy. The Nerd. The Nerd’s Cousin Who’s Also a Nerd But Doesn’t Know It (Keith Gordon, the only young actor here to have much of a career afterwards). And so on. Basically, you wouldn’t be surprised were they lumped together in the closing credits under the category of Shark Fodder.
Since I was never a fan of the bodycount sort of movie, you can imagine this doesn’t do a lot for me. Nor will it appeal to actual slasher movie buffs, for the obvious reason that this movie is rated PG. Tom Savini-esque gore effects are not on the menu. They do try to make the kids (later-teen sort of kids—I’m getting to the age where anyone in their mid-twenties and below is a kid) more ‘realistic’ by occasionally having one of them swear, but they don’t even do that believably.
Jaws was chock full of sharply pungent dialog, witty stuff that usually was functional in a larger sense as well. Jaws 2 has exchanges like this:
Next, however, we get one of the film’s nicer moments. (I told you I’d try to be balanced.) The camera moves away from the party and out toward the bay. From under the water we see the shape of the shark materializing as it rises from below. The camera follows along as its fin crests the water, and we see the quiet, unsuspecting town of Amity in the background. It’s like the shark is staking its claim. It’s a simple image, but iconographic in a way that very little of the film manages to be.
On the other hand, it signals that we’ll be seeing the shark a lot more in this one. I have mixed feelings on this issue. First, I belong to the Val Lewton school of horror movies. Lewton as a director believed that what you didn’t see was as scary as or scarier than what you did see. I think Jaws falls pretty solidly into that category. The shark spends much of the movie as an unseen presence, and it’s pretty damn effective.
On the other hand, I don’t think anyone was pretending that this film was going to match that one. Szwarc is at best a proficient director, and I assume he knew he wasn’t in Spielberg’s class. Therefore going in a different direction just makes sense. So making the film cruder, in a manner of speaking, by bumping up the body count, showing the shark a lot more, etc., was probably their best bet. (Actually, the best bet would have been to skip making the movie altogether. That, however, was probably too much to ask for.)
The price, however, is about what you’d expect. Familiarity breeds contempt. Jaws left us wanting to see more of the shark. Jaws 2 has us going for popcorn, safe in the knowledge that if we miss seeing it, it’ll be back onscreen in another five minutes or so. Also making the shark less impressive is that it’s not waging battle against savvy opponents like Quint and Hooper in the first film. Instead, it’s killing teens who probably would be prove just as vulnerable to a berserk squirrel.
Another reason they concentrate on the kids is to move the film away from the ‘tourist season’ thing. The film seems to be set in the month before the crowds start appearing. In any case, events here center more on the residents of Amity. This isn’t a bad idea, except for the ones they decide to focus on. The fisherman community, represented by Quint in the first film, is ignored entirely. Instead we get the sort of generic, whitebread teens that could be found in nearly any American locale.
The one thing about them that pertains to the island is that they all sail skiffs or the occasional catamaran. (In the Making Of documentary, the producers explain this was meant as an analog to those groups of teens who work on cars for drag racing and such.) Boy, it’s nice that even Michael, a cop’s son, can afford a boat. This is necessary, of course, because for this movie’s killer to stalk them they’ve got be on the water. So the idea that they sail together in groups, while clunky, is serviceable to that end. Anyway, this is all established with a long sequence at the boat dock. This is when we’re supposed to get to know the kids, but really, who wants to?
Still, I guess I should run them down:
Szwarc, it must be said, exhibits a genuine flair for the sailing sequences. These various scenes undoubtedly represent his best work in the movie. Which is good, because there’s a lot of this stuff. Which is bad, because while sailing boats skimming the water and frolicking teens are pretty to watch, sequences like this don’t advance the movie. They just eat up running time. Obviously the shark is only going to attack lone boats and isolated divers at this time. After all, if everyone knew there was a killer shark about, the kids wouldn’t head out to sea at end of the movie so they can be picked off.
That’s because whereas Jaws had highlights, Jaws 2 has set pieces. By this I mean, Jaws had a consistently compelling narrative that was spiked with the shark scenes. Jaws 2 feels like they thought up the ‘cool’ scenes first—The shark chases a water skier! The shark attacks a regatta! The shark eats a helicopter! (really)—and then wrote connecting material to space those scenes apart some.
About twenty minutes in, we get that first set piece. It’s the water skier one. Logistically, this is an impressive and ambitious sequence, although its continuity is sometimes lacking. Occasionally an insert shot filmed on a cloudy day will be cut into the generally quite sunny proceedings, that sort of thing. On the whole, though, it obviously took a lot of effort to shoot.
There’s actually two parts to this. We start by watching the water skier for a while. Then the shark fin breaks the water, initiating a fairly long and involved chase. There’s a lot of POV underwater shots for the shark, including a final one where the beast seems to be right under her speeding skis. (There’s a whole section in the Making Of documentary detailing the incredible effort that went into filming that one particular image.)
When the shark gets the still-oblivious water skier, though, she basically just falls over into the water and that’s it. (This is presumably because they had no way to physically get the full mechanical shark to match her speed and position. Now, we’d get a bad CGI shot.) There is a brief shot of her underwater and a bit of stage blood, but that’s it.
Following this, we move on to the second part of the scene, which climaxes with the ‘Uh, Oh’ moment I talked about before. Realizing that something’s happened to her friend, the other woman pulls the boat over. While she scans the water, the shark rams the craft from the other side. As noted before, they’re not stingy with the shark this time around, and we get a lot of good looks at it here. (The fiberglass nose that smashes through the hull is particularly suspect, however.)
As the shark raises itself up in an attempt to get at her, the panicking woman grabs a fuel container to club it with. Unfortunately, the lid pops off and she gets gas all over herself and the boat. Compounding her error, she picks that moment to haul out a Very pistol and fire upon her tormentor. The flare ignites the boat and the woman (easily the film’s most vicious demise), and the shark’s head gets pretty fried too. The wounded beast retreats, whereupon the boat explodes, erasing all evidence.
That was the moment I alluded too. It was clear the shark had been burned in the blaze, and my first thought was, "Oh, man, they’re going to scar the shark to try make it scarier!" I just couldn’t believe it. This had to be about most inane thing I’d ever come across.
Imagine a room, full of highly paid writers. Their assignment: Write a script for Jaws 2. "How do we top the first film?" someone asks. "What can you do to make a massive, man-eating shark even more viscerally frightening?" A defeated silence hangs over the room. Then, a lone, prescient voice offers, "What if it’s all scarred and stuff, you know, like the Phantom of the Opera?" And there was much rejoicing and the other writers carried him off on their shoulders and he was made King of the Writers and ruled wisely forever and ever.
Cripes. I mean, seriously, why stop there? How about an eye patch? Or a hook in place of one of his lateral fins? Hey, if you’re going to go the Phantom of the Opera route, why not have it wear a mask? And then at the end of the movie, it could be just about to devour this woman, and she’d knock the mask off, and see the scars and all scream and stuff! Or wait, what if they gave the shark a machete! No, a machine gun, or, or, a bazooka. Or hell, an atomic bomb! Then it could threaten to wipe out the entire town! Coooool!
Again, let’s be fair, though. If you can get past the really, really silly scarred shark thing, the sequence is pretty horrifying. Immolating yourself while trying to evade a monster shark does not come across as a death that would rank high on anybody’s list of preferred ways to go. As it stands, this is easily the scariest attack sequence in the movie.
An old woman with a home on the beach sees the simply gigantic fireball that results from the boat going up. (They must have been carrying a lot of spare fuel.) Brody is alerted and soon on the scene. Earlier, the deserted yacht of the divers who got et at the beginning of the movie was found anchored in the channel. Brody starts getting an uneasy feeling about things.
Our next Mysterious Occurrence—collect ‘em all—involves Hendricks. ("Hey, everybody!! It’s Hendricks! You the man, Hendricks!") He’s out on the police launch, dragging the water for the bodies of the aforementioned victims. Suddenly they hook something that begins to drag the launch through the water.
Of course, we think it’s the shark, but it’s a false scare. They’ve hooked the large underwater power cable that provides electricity to the island. Since it was well anchored, the winch pulled the boat backwards before the cable came free. Lest you miss the significance, this is a Plot Point.
Next up is a family scene with the Brodys. In lamentable contrast with similar sequences from Jaws, this one is dull and more than a little artificial. They establish that Michael and Brody are butting heads in a manner so extremely mild that it wouldn’t quite rate an episode of Father Knows Best. Still, it sets up a big ‘family rapprochement" at the end of the movie, after Brody saves Michael from the shark. (Oops, sorry.)
Yawn. This is exactly the sort of simplistic pabulum the first film so successfully avoided. I have five bucks that says we’ll see a tearful Michael cry "I love you, Dad," followed by a the sort of hug that would draw a canned "Awwwwwwww" noise were the movie shot before a live audience. (So much for my prognosticating skills, as this doesn’t occur. However, there is the inevitable "I’m sorry, Dad, you were right," moment.)
Cut to Tina and Eddie, laughing, frolicking, loving each other as well as life itself. Yada yada. For two such non-entities they sure have a lot of scenes. (They were also on the beach when the boat exploded in the distance.) Tina is proving sort of a jinx, as well. First the exploding boat, and now she runs over a hill and directly into the beached carcass of a grievously mutilated killer whale. Its missing chunks of hide and blubber indicate that it’s been attacked by…something.
If I thought the filmmakers had more of a sense of humor, I’d suspect they were taking a dig at Dino De Laurentiis’ Orca. This had come out the year before and proved one of the silliest of the Jaws knock-offs. In a hilariously lame attempt to show that Dino’s killer whale was ‘stronger’ than Spielberg’s shark, the movie opens with said whale effortlessly knocking off a great white shark. This remains one of the lamest bits of macho cinema posturing I’ve ever witnessed. I’d like to think the makers of Jaws 2 were giving it back by featuring a killer whale that’s been eaten by their shark, but I doubt it.
Brody arrives on the scene and instantly identifies the massive bites wounds as being inflicted by a great white. He’s brought in an expert of some sort or another. Is she an oceanographer? A marine biologist? A forensic scientist? We never learn for sure and never see the woman again. In any case, her designated function is to say that there’s not enough evidence to support Brody’s contention. Given the nature of the damage, this is pretty silly. Still, for the next hour the main plot will revolve around everyone in Amity thinking Brody’s gone shark simple.
In Jaws they established that sharks are attracted by the sort of vibrations that result when swimmers thrash around in the water. This time around the woman adds that they also respond to sound. "Sound like sonar, radar," she says, whatever that means. "They home in on unusual sounds, irregular sounds, almost any rhythmic low-frequency vibration." This has OBVIOUS EXPOSITION stamped all over it. Brody’s ignorance of this doesn’t make much sense either. The first film showed Brody researching sharks pretty thoroughly, and there are indications later in this movie that he kept in the habit.
Another aspect that won’t wash is the woman saying she won’t be able to determine whether the whale was killed by a shark or one of its own kind. "It’s impossible for me to tell when the body’s like this," she replies. The idea is that the carcass has deteriorated too badly, not to mention that scavengers have been at it.
However, consider the matter even a little and this contention comes apart like a cheap suit. First, the mock whale they built looks pretty fresh, certainly not like an animal killed days earlier. Second, killer whale teeth are absolutely nothing like those of a shark, a fact we’re reminded of when the camera focuses at one point on the whale’s partially denuded face. Third, the attack would have resulted in scraped bones, and the bite patterns so recorded would again establish what killed the beast.
Moving the film farther into the comic book realm, Brody again broaches the whole Shark’s Revenge idea. "Dolphins can communicate," he notes. "You don’t think if a shark was destroyed, that another shark could come and…" Frankly, if he goes on like this much, I don’t much blame people for thinking he’s crazy.
Nor is the woman, who you’d think they could have bothered to name, much impressed with his musings. "Sharks don’t take things personally, Mr. Brody," she replies with some asperity. (The joke would have been on her, then, if she’d seen Jaws: The Revenge. In fact, given that film’s quality, the joke would have been on her in several ways.)
Brody rushes over to tell Mayor Vaughn that they’ve got another shark on their hands. Vaughn, with a little more reason this time around, finds this difficult to believe. "We have a lot of deaths in these waters," he points out. (A fact I doubt is prominently featured in the travel brochures.) "Are they all shark victims?" Nor does Brody help his case with his agitated manner. "Maybe they are!" he responds, which does sound more than a little paranoid.
Moreover, Brody intentionally glosses over the fact that the expert he himself called in—an aside by Vaughn finally names her as ‘Elkins,’ although it’s a little late in the game—isn’t prepared to substantiate his theory. Since Vaughn had talked to her in the meantime, Brody’s subterfuge proves counterproductive. "What am I, an ass?" Vaughn irately responds, and he’s actually got a pretty good point. This scene is leading into one of my major problem areas with the film, but more on that later.
Cut to Brody, out patrolling some of the island’s more secluded beach areas in his truck. If I’m not mistaken, he’s driving along the same stretch where Chrissie Watkins was attacked and her remains washed ashore in the first film. If so, this is rather a nice, subtle touch. If only the film had more like it.
Brody sees some wood floating out in the surf. As any major wreckage from the water skier’s boat has yet to turn up, he pulls over to investigate. This leads into a nicely judged little sequence. A clearly nervous Brody spends a good amount of time looking about the shoreline, seeking some way of getting the debris in without having to enter the water. It’s another of the film’s rare moments of subtlety, since it plays off of Brody’s dislike of the water as established in Jaws. (Admittedly, he seemed to have conquered this phobia as of that film’s climax. Perhaps he suffered a relapse.)
Eventually, seeing no other way for it, Brody slips off his shoes and socks and enters the water. Here we get what I consider the film’s most unforgivable moment. As he hesitantly wades towards the bobbing object, we cut further out to what appears to be a POV shot observing him. This is accompanied by the shark musical cue. The effect of this, naturally, is to make us believe the shark is nearby and might attack Brody.
However, it instead appears the cue and POV shot are meant to distract us from the scene’s actual shock effect. In a very cheesy moment, when Brody tugs on the wood the incinerated corpse of the boat’s driver shoots up at him in a fashion reminiscent of the most shameless ‘50s 3-D movie. (Shades of things to come, I guess.) Spring-loaded Corpse!! Aiieeee!!!
I really, really disliked this bit. Falsely using the shark music in this way is an inexcusable breaking of all directorial rules. It’s lazy, as well as being manipulative in the worst possible connotation of the word. Such a moment is almost guaranteed to pull the viewer out of the experience of watching the film, resulting in his conscious awareness of watching a film. This is a pretty stupid thing to do.
On the other hand, let’s say that’s not what they were doing. (I suspect it was, though. If it weren’t, wouldn’t they have shown us the fin cleaving the water after Brody had turned his back, or something along those lines?)
The other possible explanation is even worse. Perhaps the shark actually was supposed to be out there, and had arranged the gruesome mechanism* by which the body was found as part of his campaign against the town. (Or, if we’re to get even more retarded, against Brody personally. This latter option would require the shark to ‘know’ that Brody himself killed the first shark, that he would be driving down his isolated stretch of beach, perhaps even that he didn’t like being in the water.)
[*Even if we assume the shark ferried the wreckage and the body here, how would it manage to have anchored the section of the boat’s hull so it wouldn’t float away again? That’s one resourceful fish. Even if it took over three years for it to arrive following the original shark’s distress call.]
In other words, the implication of the shark’s presence was valid, and meant to further the previously introduced notion that the beast is here to avenge the earlier shark’s demise. Following this idea, the body was meant to be found, perhaps specifically by Brody. Think of it as an analogue of the scene in Halloween in which Michael Myers has arranged a series of death tableaus for Laurie Strode to stumble across when she comes looking for her friends. In fact, this would even explain the coincidence of the woman’s remains being found in the same spot where Chrissie’s were.
If this is true, it means two things. One, this film is far, far stupider than it is normally given credit for. Second, that the much mocked writers of Jaws: The Revenge unfairly took heat for more effectively communicating the exact same plot concept this film perpetrated in a more half-assed and inept fashion: That the super-shark community of the world has a vendetta against Brody and his family.
Which doesn’t mean that Jaws: The Revenge isn’t a spectacularly moronic film. Nor does it excuse that film’s creators if it’s true (and it does seem to be) that they didn’t in fact think up the ‘revenge’ concept themselves, but instead lifted the idea from this movie. I mean, how is it possible that people handed tens of millions of dollars of somebody else’s money were allowed to run with such a ludicrous notion as their central plot device? The mind indeed boggles.
Still, you could see what they were thinking. "Hmm, I’ve been hired to write another ‘Jaws’ movie. And let’s see, the film has to center on Mrs. Brody. Let’s watch the older ones and…hey, there’s an idea right there that we could use to justify the actions of our movie’s shark! And it’s completely consistent with centering the film around the remaining members of the Brody clan! Plus, the hardcore fans of The Saga will be thrilled that we’re exploring previously introduced elements of the Mythology!! It’s brilliant!"
[Author’s Note: The above is not meant to indicate that the author believes there to be an actual fandom built around the Jaws ‘saga.’ There are, of course, rabid fans of the first film. Then there are people so desperate for entertainment as to have seen one or more of the sequels. Instead, the cited paragraph is meant to hypothesize the manner in which the kind of mind that could issue forth the screenplay for Jaws: The Revenge might operate.]
For some reason, finding the body of a woman who quite evidently died in a fire further convinces Brody that another killer shark is about. That’s how it comes across, anyway, as we cut to him doctoring sets of bullets already placed in speedloaders.
(A revolver is loaded by feeding cartridges into individual slots in its cylinder. This makes them slower to load than semi-automatic pistols, into which you insert an entire magazine of cartridges in a second or two. Speedloaders are a somewhat clunky means of achieving a similar result. Six bullets are held in place by the speedloader, which holds them in a pattern matching their alignment in the cylinder. You tip the bullets in, press a release catch, and the six shells drop in as one. Then all you have to do is close the cylinder and the gun’s ready to fire.)
What he does, and this is portrayed in some detail, is use a syringe to place a drop of sodium cyanide in the cavity of some hollow-point cartridges for his revolver. Then he drips melted wax over the cyanide, which quickly hardens and seals in the poison.
I have my doubts about this idea. First, I know Hooper planned to poison the shark in the first movie. Surely, though, he was planning inject the shark with more poison than the tiny droplets seen here. Second, to hit something with a revolver, especially an object in the water, which would act to brake the bullet’s momentum even as it caused it to skew off course, would require the shots to be fired at extremely close range. Not to mention that having an irregular-shaped blob on the bullet’s nose would radically affect how aerodynamic it was.
Third, and most problematic, is the idea of sealing the poison in with wax. When a bullet is fired, tremendous heat is generated by the exploding gases that propel the slug upon its way. Meaning the wax should melt off in flight and probably release the cyanide before the bullet struck its target. Moreover, I wouldn’t want to be firing that particular gun after the first couple of shots. Surely melted wax would quickly gum up the barrel, possibly causing the weapon to explode the next time the trigger was pulled. (Jabootu Minister Carl Fink further points out that sodium cyanide is a crystalline solid, not a liquid as portrayed here.)
In the end, you’d think a dart gun would be the ticket. It might be hard to get one on a moment’s notice, but we’ll soon see that Brody’s already been at least casually planning for another shark situation. Given this, he should have thought this idea out beforehand. I know the shark would have a thick hide, but don’t they have ones they use on rhinos or elephants or something?
During these preparations, Hendricks comes in. Brody wraps the bullets and fixings in a towel and attempts to distract his deputy’s attention from the bundle. For some reason, though, Hendricks seems to find the object extremely suspicious. The scene, I guess, is meant to further the general idea that everyone around Brody is beginning to question his mental stability. Anyhoo, this exercise in Hitchcockian suspense ends when Brody scoops up the towel and takes it with him.
Tying up one loose thread, and you do appreciate the effort, Brody returns home to receive a message about how Matt Hooper is incommunicado in the Antarctic Ocean. Ellen, of course, wonders why her husband’s suddenly trying to reach him. She follows him and sounds him out, but he continues to keep his suspicions from her.
Meanwhile, Brody has another run in with Michael, who he orders to stay off the water without explaining why. Michael is increasingly resentful of this interference. (On the other hand, Brody also wants him to get a job, and Michael would rather loaf with his friends. That didn’t exactly fill me with sympathy for the kid.)
There are areas in which the film’s inferiority to its predecessor is beyond the control of its makers. The absence of Hooper and Quint is one. The setting of Amity is another, since the powers that be probably demanded the continuity with the first film. The unlikeliness of another giant killer shark stalking the same community is a third, since that’s inherent to the concept.
However, there are more areas in which the film’s deficiencies are entirely of their own making. This scene highlights one. It doesn’t take money, or even an inordinate amount of talent, to write a script in such a way that you don’t end up with redundant scenes. Jaws was a masterpiece of pacing, one of the leanest two hour-plus movies you will ever run across. I can’t recall a single scene in the movie that didn’t advance the movie in some respect or other.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of Jaws 2. Although somewhat shorter than Jaws, it doesn’t have the action or wit necessary to support even that length. The result is what you often end up with in films of this quality: A thumb-twirling midsection spanning the early parts, which introduce the plot and characters and such, and the final section in which everything is resolved.
Here we are, a mere 40 minutes into a movie lasting very nearly two hours. So we’ve really only about a third of the way in. Yet already we’re getting scenes that cover ground we’ve already established. So for once and for all, let’s stipulate:
Let’s check the last several scenes and see which ground they cover.
We cut to the public beach and watch a (too) long, (too) wacky montage of frolicking vacationers. This establishes that the early part of the summer tourist season has begun. Brody, meanwhile, is up in a shark-spotting tower. This is another nice nod to the first movie. When he was flipping through books on sharks, we saw a picture that featured a tower just like this one.
Peterson, Vaughn and Ellen arrive, escorting a group of potential condominium buyers around the area. (You’d think these would sell themselves, all things considered.) In another nice little touch, Vaughn at times is seen wearing much nattier suits. When he interacts with the locals, he dons his bad togs, including the infamous anchor-patterned sports jacket, as if to say, "I’m just one of you." However, when meeting with money-spending off-islanders, he makes sure he doesn’t look like a bumpkin. You know, I really wish this series had done better by Vaughn.
Vaughn is more than a little annoyed when he sees Brody up in the tower*. He quietly consults with Peterson, who gets equally irate. Now, I found this scene just a little comical. I mean, Brody’s in a tall stand overlooking the ocean. What exactly would make anyone (at least those not conversant with his personal history) think it was designed to look for sharks is beyond me. Aren’t there any number of dangers in the ocean? Drowning swimmers. Incoming storms. Drunken boaters, water skiers, parasailers, whatever.
[*Since the Mayor doesn’t like seeing Brody in the shark tower, you might wonder why it’s there in the first place. This is a valid question, but I made up an answer I like so much I let it go. Remember the $3,000 bounty offered by Mrs. Kintner for the death of the shark in Jaws? Well, Brody killed it. However, given his earlier run in with Mrs. Kintner, it’s hard to see him keeping his half of the money. (The remainder would rightfully belong to Hooper, of course. He might have passed on it, however, as he’s independently wealthy.) My assumption is that Brody instead offered to use the money to fund the construction of the tower. Given his then-current hero status, he presumably would have been able to get it authorized.]
Apparently the filmmakers also realized that the tower looks fairly generic. So they made sure, in a typically clunky fashion, that we ‘got’ that Brody’s heroics were again threatening Venal Commercial Interests. To wit: Vaughn, trying to cool Peterson downs, says, "Well, maybe nobody noticed [him up there]." Whereupon, right on cue, a prospective customer and her precocious young daughter happen by. "What’s that man doing way up there?" Mom asks. (Again, I maintain this to be a strange question.) Before they can make up some excuse, the daughter answers. "It’s a shark tower," she confidently replies. "I saw one in Florida." Uh, oh!!
Meanwhile, the watchful Brody observes the outline of a large shape moving under the water. He doesn’t react immediately, but instead uses his binoculars to get a better look; despite his efforts, the object remains vaguely defined. When it seems to be moving near the swimmers, however, he hurriedly rings the tower’s alarm bell and yells for everyone to get out of the water.
Brody clambers down the structure’s ladder, drawing his revolver as he runs toward the water. His screaming and gun-waving add to the general panic. Reaching the shore—with one bather still conspicuously in his field of fire—he empties his gun at the dark outline. When his rounds are spent, he fumblingly ejects the empty shell casings so as to reload. By this time, however, one of the lifeguards has identified the shape as a school of bluefish.
I know it’s weird to actually get pissed off at movie, but sometimes I do. This is one such occasion. The chastened Brody turns from the water, gun still in hand, and everyone stares at him like he’s crazy. This includes Ellen, Michael and Sean, all conveniently on hand. In the end, they all turn their backs on him (literally and metaphorically, wow!), except for Sean, who stays to help him retrieve his cartridge casings.
What angers me is that we in the audience are supposed to be taking Brody’s side and feeling sorry for him. Well, screw that. Everyone else is fully justified in thinking he’s gone bonkers. In real life, Brody might not only have accidentally shot somebody (and imagine when the whole poisoned bullets thing came out), but quite likely some swimmers would have been trampled and perhaps even drowned in the panicked stampede from the water. Somebody could have even suffered a heart attack.
I know movies never expect us to think about things like this, but imagine where this would leave the township of Amity. I assume they face lawsuits from many accidental deaths that occur in their waters, even those for which the town bears little obvious responsibility. Here, however, the town’s very Chief of Police recklessly instigated an event could easily have resulted in numerous injuries or even fatalities.
It’s clear, however, that the film doesn’t expect or want us to consider any of this. No, we’re meant to be fully on Brody’s side. After all, Peterson and Vaughn are jerks, so they can’t be right in any case. Right? And if even Ellen turns away from him, well, that just proves that she is allowing this whole ‘job’ business to blind her to her real responsibilities. Which includes standing by her man no matter how loony or dangerous he becomes.
Instead, Ellen’s ‘betrayal’ is made all the more evident—can’t let those morons in the audience miss the plot’s subtleties—when she allows herself to be shuffled off by (boooo!) Peterson. Actually, I can’t see her doing this. Even under the circumstances, she should be staying behind to try to get her husband to see reason. And were she too angry at him to do so, which would be a valid reaction but not a ‘movie’ one, she would at least see to Michael and especially young Sean before she left.
This all represents one of the most obnoxious attempts at audience manipulation I can recall. Why are we expected to take Brody’s side? Well, c’mon, we’ve seen the shark. We’ve seen it kill numerous persons, and thus we know that Brody’s fears are justified. And even if we hadn’t seen the shark yet, well, we’re watching a movie called Jaws 2. And there’s that big shark on the poster. So obviously he’s right and everyone else is wrong, and especially the jerk guys are just bigger jerks than ever.
On a side note, Brody’s poisoned bullet idea seems funnier/dumber than ever. Even for a trained marksman, hitting a presumably moving object in the water from shore seems unlikely. Moreover, he doesn’t even wait until his target has breached the surface. Pistol cartridges aren’t designed to carry all that far, and once they hit the water their momentum would dissipate even more quickly. The bullet’s trajectory would also be immediately and severely affected. This would be true even if the wax still held and the shells still boasted their cyanide loads, an idea I still find suspect.
Oh, and let’s return to the plot point list mentioned earlier. Michael is on the beach, it turns out, because of the tedious job Brody got him. Earlier he was looking angrily out to sea as his laughing chums cavort around in their boats. (Apparently he’s the only teen on the island who has a job.) In case you were keeping track, this means the scene wins the coveted Gold Plot Point Medal™, as it features from the list points 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5. Congratulations to the scriptwriters, who so richly deserve this coveted prize.
Cut to Brody’s darkened office, where he sits brooding. On his desk is a prize for being "AMITY MAN OF THE YEAR 1975." This features a small, bronzed shark jaw, the teeth gaping wide. (Yeah, after he’d seen Quint get chewed to death, I totally believe he’d keep this thing sitting around.) Ah, the pathos. Stupid townsfolk. Don’t they know we wouldn’t be watching them again if there weren’t another shark around?
Brody’s introspection is interrupted when he gets a call from the island’s photography shop. The underwater camera established during the first attack scene had earlier been retrieved, and he’s developed its film. Brody, reinvigorated, hustles over. Sure enough, the key picture shows what could be an extreme, partial close-up of a shark’s eye, but remains open to interpretation.
In a bit that made me laugh, Brody grabs this shot and runs off. Given that there were other pictures still waiting to be developed, I myself might have waited to see if a more conclusive shot existed.
Instead, he trots over to City Hall. There Vaughn, Peterson (?) and the town’s selectmen are having a meeting. Brody slaps the photo down triumphantly. Peterson angrily points out that the photo could be almost anything. Still, he’s a jerk, so obviously everything he says is invalid (even if objectively true). Lest we fail to understand this essential dynamic, Brody responds with a snort to Vaughn’s suggestion that he be reasonable. "With him?" Brody cries, referencing Peterson. Yeah, you don’t have to listen to jerks! They’re always wrong! About everything!
This is further reinforced when Peterson rather accurately notes that Brody’s actions on the beach earlier could get the town massively sued. Brody’s reply is smug. "You don’t have to worry about being sued or being ruined," he preens, "if this turns out to be what I think it is, because there won’t be anybody here!" Good point, Brody. That totally undercuts his point about you causing a dangerous and needless stampede and then discharging your weapon amidst a panicked crowd.
On the other hand, the scene provides the only memorable dialog in the movie, as an agitated Brody cries, "I know what a shark looks like. I’ve seen one up close. And you better do something about this one, because I don’t intend to go through that hell again!"
The upshot is that Brody ends up being fired. As I might not have gotten my view across by now, let me cut to the chase: He utterly deserves to be. From the outside, there’s no reason not to believe that Brody is suffering a post-traumatic breakdown triggered by his earlier experiences. (In the deleted scenes featured on the DVD, we see the vote on whether to fire Brody. Vaughn is the only one to vote against the motion. It’s a nice moment for the character, and given that the scene last under forty seconds, you wish they’d have kept it. It would have provided not only Vaughn with a nice send-off, but actor Hamilton as well. Sadly, he died shortly after the production wrapped.)
The fact that, even after potentially getting people killed, he still continues to scream and rant about there being a shark out there makes the town’s decision not only understandable, but practically mandatory. I guess they could have suspended him and ordered him to seek psychiatric help, but those options were presumably more rarely employed back then.
Still, the movie would have been stronger had it taken the suspension approach. Indeed, if you watch Hamilton’s acting as Vaughn here, he’s playing the scene more in sorrow—laced, perhaps, with a little bit of fear over the unstable Brody’s possible reaction—than in anger. If the suspension path had been followed, the movie’s human drama would have been much less cartoonish.
Instead, and this will prove perhaps the single most tiresome perennial aspect of the myriad Jaws knock-offs (if not, happily, its final two direct sequels), the filmmakers mistakenly believe that they have to give up a human ‘villain’ as well as the titular menace. Apparently you can’t fill up ninety minutes with some killer animal unless a Greedy Real Estate Developer or Mad Scientist or Insane Military Officer is on hand. Hence the introduction of Peterson, who frankly adds nothing of merit to the proceedings, especially given the one-note manner in which he’s written and played.
Jabootu Correspondent Kevin Campbell sent me an interesting note about a conversation he once had. The other fellow noted how few basic plots there are. His example was Jaws, and how it basically followed the mold of playwright Heinrik Isben’s Enemy of the People, with Brody taking over the protagonist’s role of a man attempting to force the town elders to confront a situation that could cause them financial harm.
In Ibsen’s work (there’s a film version with a heavily bearded Steve McQueen (!) that pops up on cable regularly, for those who are interested), a small European village has procured the funds to build a spa around the natural spring that constitutes their only asset. However, the local doctor determines that the waters contain dangerous levels of toxins. In the end, his efforts to head off a health disaster in the making earn him the play’s ironic title designation. Oh, and since it’s a play he gets killed for his efforts, too, since, you know, plays are great literature and tragic and stuff.
The main problem with the play, and with McQueen’s cherished film of it—he hoped it would gain him greater recognition as an Ac-tor—is that it’s exceedingly stilted and didactic. Its criticisms of unbridled capitalism (the only type playwrights recognize, it seems) and human nature prove to be less than compelling. This is not so much because the situation it portrays seems out of date, or even especially outlandish, as because of the heavy-handed manner in which it is presented. In particular, the hero is a bit too naïve and altruistic, the villains entirely too greedy and malign.
To the extent that Jaws aped (and if so, radically improved upon) Ibsen’s work, Jaws 2 does so much more avidly. Where the first film worked around the play’s flaws, the second incorporates them completely. In some it even expands upon them. For instance, Ibsen’s hero was able to scientifically demonstrate that the danger was real. So far Brody’s theory remains patently unsubstantiated.
When you get down to it, Jaws 2 would have been a more interesting movie—albeit no doubt a much less financially successful one—if Brody were in fact suffering a breakdown. Make the disappearances and deaths more mysterious, have the reactions of those around Brody more concerned and sympathetic, and you’d have the basis of a pretty interesting piece.
Cut to what appears to be the bar the kids hang out at, although most have been identified as being underage. To be fair, the teens do appear to be drinking pop, so I guess they just card the younger set. (Watch Michael’s soda glass disappear from shot and reappear a couple of seconds later.) As my prior remarks may have led you to believe, I was less than heartened to be confronted by a sequence built entirely around these clods.
So let’s plow through things quickly. Michael’s friends mock him for being the only one of them stuck with having a job, again a situation that doesn’t seem to jibe with the community presented in the first film. Jackie then taunts the frustrated Michael into disobeying Brody’s order to stay off the water. Other than that it’s all ‘character’ stuff. Assuming this is meant to foster a deep audience satisfaction once they start getting et by the shark, it’s remarkably effective.
Oh, and the gang loudly makes plans to boat out to the isolated lighthouse and have a beer bash. I guess the owners aren’t technically required to report on young teens who are planning to go out on their boats and get loaded, but it’s hardly the height of social responsibility either.
Relief arrives when we cut over to a drunken Brody staggering out of his truck and into his house. In another nod to the first film, one of the barrels used during the shark hunt sits outside the front door, transformed into a planter. Again, this seemed out of character, given Quint’s demise during that same expedition.
Inside, Ellen is talking to Hendricks. He’s come to express his regrets for Brody’s firing, especially as he’s not sure he can fill his former boss’ shoes. Brody lets him know there’re no hard feelings, and he ends up comforting Hendricks more than the other way around. On the other hand, Brody also takes to the opportunity to consume more booze, to Ellen’s evident discomfort. This part of the scene goes on a little long, and one again wishes for the brevity of the initial film.
(Brody also hit the booze after being confronted by Mrs. Kintner in the first Jaws. One might theorize that the family originally left New York because the stress of being a cop there was causing Brody to drink heavily. This is never really gone into, but it fits the way Gary plays Ellen in these scenes.)
Hendricks eventually extricates himself, leaving Brody to face his wife. Although inferior to their scenes in the first film, it’s good to be back watching good actors playing actual characters. We learn, for instance, that the Brodys have lived on the island for four years. This roughly corresponds to the three years that had passed since the first movie was released. However, it leaves unexplained the abrupt age jump in the Brody boys, who seem about six years older than they were last time around.
Ellen’s part is fairly well written here, and helped far more by Gary’s acting. She has enough faith in her husband to at least accept that he might be right about the shark; at the least, she doesn’t debate him about it. Instead, she gently draws him out until he says everything he needs to say. In particular, she helps Brody deal with the fact that he’s been fired for the first time in his life. He’s never been told he wasn’t up to doing a job before, and he finds it humiliating.
Brody eventually goes to sleep…well, OK, he more like passes out. Then we cut to the next morning. As his parents sleep, Michael sneaks around getting ready for his illicit day on his boat. However, Sean is up too. He demands to go with, or he’ll wake their parents before Michael can make his exit. Michael reluctantly agrees.
What’s insufferable about this is that they’re obviously setting up young Sean to be a potential shark victim, but there’s no way this film has the nerve to actually let him get et. Instead, they’re playing off Alex Kintner’s death in the first movie and hoping the audience will fear Sean might encounter a similar fate. (Perhaps it’s a coincidence, but the current Sean even sports the same hairstyle as Alex.) As if. Using the endangerment of a child in this way is truly obnoxious.
I realize it’s counterintuitive to argue that a film that is actually willing to kill a kid might somehow seem less exploitative, but that’s sometimes true. It depends on whether the child’s demise seems organic or not. Kintner’s death isn’t about exploiting the fears of a child being killed, it’s about living in a world in which such things happen. Another such case is the little girl who not only dies in Night of the Living Dead, but comes back to butcher her disbelieving mother. I’d also nominate Pet Semetary for this list.
On the other hand, I found the death of a small boy in John Sayles’ Alligator, which was played for laughs, quite cruel. Another kiddie murder that had me gaping occurred in The Children, a film that in no way had earned the right to go knocking toddlers off. I’d also toss in Tentacles and Deadly Eyes.
Back to the movie, as we cut to the docks. I’m not kidding, the stuff with the teens is deadly. Can’t they just start killing them off, yet? (Sadly, the answer is ‘no.’) The group’s Nice Girl—if they actually bothered to say her name at any point, it escaped me—offers to take Sean off Michael’s hands, which allows him to take Jackie on board instead. Sadly, however, they still ship out with Andy, the OCR.
Meanwhile, Timmy the Lonely Bitter Nerd gets up the nerve to ask Brooke to go on his boat. To his amazement and ours, she agrees. Ah, the movies. Anyway, I hope you’re keeping track of all this, because this film is really about the people in it. Really. I swear.
Yet all good things must come to an end (Thank Jabootu!) and they’re soon under way. Michael and crew pass a scuba diving class. The fact that this was made in the ’70s becomes evident when Tom, the diving instructor, yells them off with "So long, turkeys!" Tom then leads his pupils fairly deep underwater, and we’re ‘treated’ to more Beauty o’ Nature stuff. Which isn’t bad in itself, but man, this movie drags at times. However, I did like the scene where one diver snatches up what is patently a rubber lobster and stows it in his bag. NO LOBSTERS WERE INJURED IN THE MAKING OF THIS FILM. (Well, except for all the ones presumably eaten by the cast and crew.)
In any case, the scene lasts long enough that we’re unsurprised when Tom eventually stumbles across *gasp* the shark. This is our first look at the Freddy Kruger Shark, and ooooh, it’s all scarred and stuff. Scaaary. Somehow none of the seven other divers sees the massive beast. Admittedly, Tom had strayed a bit from their position. This is in itself doesn’t make much sense, however, as he was the one leading them down there. Maybe he should have hung back to make sure none of them, you know, drowned or anything.
Anyway, the shark manages to miss Tom as it lunges at him. (This seems awfully convenient, but we’ll chalk it up to the shark’s dead, burned eye.) In his panic, Tom shoots up to the surface. Unfortunately, he’s damaged his scuba gear and the lack of oxygen gives him a case of the bends. He also shoots up past his comrades, which made them not seeing the shark even more unlikely. In any case, by the time he hits the surface he’s unconscious and leaking blood from his mouth. Wow, that means he can’t tell anyone there’s a shark down there!
The divers’ boat heads back to shore. Meanwhile, we see the shark swimming towards the distant teen’s boats. Yay! Er, I mean, oh, no!! I’m not sure why the shark didn’t attack all those handy scuba divers mere yards from its position, but there you go. Anyway, I’m just glad, uh, I mean, horrified, that it’s now going after all those lovable teens.
Back home, Brody has risen. Brody finds Michael’s room empty and smiles, thinking he’s at work. Downstairs, Ellen joins him over a cup of coffee. They briefly talk about the practical ramifications of the situation, the primary one being that Brody’s now out of work. (Wow, a movie family that worries about loss of income. What will they think of next?) When Ellen makes a half-serious allusion to quitting her job—some might find this a bit much, but given Peterson’s efforts to get her husband canned, it makes sense—Brody tells her they may need the money. It’s a nice moment, and indicates that Brody isn’t one to stay down for long.
What I found interesting, and believable, is that neither of them even mention leaving the island. When young Michael was almost killed by the shark in the first movie, Ellen was ready to pack up their bags and go. They were newly arrived in Amity, and her son almost died because they were dicking her husband around and not letting him do his job. Not to mention the fact they left the city to find a safer place to raise their children. Thus when Brody asked her to take Sean home, she asked in all seriousness, "In New York?" Here, however, in much more dire straits, and following a bigger slap from the surrounding community, neither talks about leaving. They’ve put down roots, their kids have made the island their home, and they’re not about to leave it, especially in disgrace.
Out in the water, Tina and, uhm, her Peter Brady boyfriend (sorry, keeping track of these names is a strain) anchor their craft for a little sparking. I found the notion of observing their conjugal activities less than exciting, and thus was cheered when the shark’s fin popped up in the background. About time that fish did something useful.
Freddy Shark rams the boat and Peter Brady Guy tumbles into the water. The boat itself, meanwhile, is towed by the beast for some distance. I have to give them credit for this. It’s an old movie convention that when folks fall from a boat, especially in movies featuring sharks and such in them, they invariably surface to find the craft is mysteriously distant from their current position. At least here we see why this would be so.
In a funny but believable moment, the terrified Tina screams from the boat for the foundering Eddie—oh, yeah, his name is Eddie—to help her. He can’t, though, and sadly Aquaman doesn’t appear to take advantage of this rare opportunity to be useful.
Eventually the shark swings around and goes after Eddie. Tina yells for him to swim to the boat (although she doesn’t do anything useful, like paddle it in his direction), but he’s way too distant. The shark grabs him and he skitters across the surface like Chrissie Watkins did in the first movie.
He ends up being slammed into the boat. He tries to hang on—as Tina sits there like a lump, rather than helping pull him in—but quickly disappears under the water. In a nice touch, Tina immediately forgets all about her dead boyfriend and begins pleading/praying instead for her own safety. It’s an extraordinary selfish moment, and an exceedingly credible one. Tina seems to have lived an extremely pampered life and probably never needed to do anything for herself, much less anyone else.
On his way to turning his police vehicle in, Brody sees an ambulance, its siren wailing. Instinct takes over and he follows after it. At the docks he sees them readying Tom the diving instructor for transport. When he hears one of the witnesses opine that something in the water must have frightened Tom badly, Brody’s face assumes a Significant Aspect.
Hendricks, also on the scene, mentions that the kids are out on their boats heading towards the lighthouse. When Brody hears that Michael is out there too, he clambers aboard the police launch, despite not knowing how to drive it. Hendricks tries to order him out of the boat, since he’s not the Chief anymore. However, when Ellen climbs aboard also he gives in and takes over the piloting duties. On the way out, Brody calls the Harbor Patrol and requests that a chopper be sent to locate the kids. Since the plot doesn’t call for it yet, the ‘copter is currently busy.
On a side note, I found Brody’s ignorance of the lighthouse a little unlikely. I wouldn’t expect him to know its location, given his avoidance of the water. However, if after four years as Chief he didn’t know of the place the town’s teens go to get drunk and party, then he wasn’t going his job very well. It’s not like he was busy solving murders or anything.
With forty minutes of running time remaining, we still have some time to waste. (Heaven forefend that you edit the picture more tightly.) Therefore we get more footage of the kids messing around in their boats. For what it’s worth, this proves one of the film’s best-shot and best-edited sequences. Too bad it’s so completely extraneous to the plot.
Meanwhile, the police launch has seen Tina’s small boat. (Why didn’t the shark come back for her? Ya got me.) Coming aboard, Brody doesn’t find anything, until sobs issuing from the storage compartment reveal it to be Tina’s hiding place. She’s clearly in shock, and Ellen comes over to help comfort her. In a daze, the hysterical Tina begins yelling "Shark!" Brody and Ellen exchange a Significant Glance.
Another boat appears nearby, and Brody signals them over. In doubtless the film’s most obvious IITS moment, Brody sends both Ellen and Hendricks off to take Tina back to the island. Why the hell would he send Hendricks, especially since he’s the only one who really knows how to pilot the police launch? Or given that Brody has a fear of the water? Or that Brody doesn’t know where the lighthouse is? I’m not an experienced sailor, but asking a guy to point towards a location at sea seems less than optimal.
So, again, why would Brody send Hendricks off? Of course, it’s so that when the climax arrives he can confront the titular beastie mano a sharko. That this represents the last thing Brody would actually do must be subservient to where the filmmakers want the plot to go.
Cut back to the kids and some *groan* ‘comic’ ‘relief.’ Please, some relief from the comedy! Finally it’s time for some sustained Shark Action. The Shark knocks the Comic Relief Nerd into the water, but cruelly fails to eat him. Through some truly suspect editing, he’s allowed to reach Michael’s craft. Damn it. (Watch two second later to see how the guy’s clothes are miraculously perfectly dry.)
The shark then smacks around Michael’s catamaran, but it too survives. However, Michael strikes his head on a boom and is rendered unconscious. (If that stupid shark doesn’t start chowing down on these clowns soon, I might be ‘rendered unconscious’ myself.) Soon the other boats begin toppling over, smacking into each other and experiencing other mishaps, mostly caused by the panic of their inhabitants.
Apparently they decided to limit the number of deaths here, which I found an inopportune time for such squeamishness. The kids regroup onto various of the still extant boats. However, Michael is floating senseless—more than usually so, I mean—in the water. Jackie lets out a shout, as the shark’s fin indicates the beast is circling back. (So you’d think. All this kids in these fragile craft represent a veritable shark buffet, and it hasn’t managed to bag one of them yet.)
Now occurs the film’s most hilarious moment. The kids scramble to pull the inert—more than usually so, I mean—Michael to *cough* safety. He slips from their grasp, etc., as the shark swims ever nearer. Finally he’s hauled aboard just as the shark, its maw gaping wide, runs up alongside the boat.
In the ‘making of’ documentary found on the DVD, this shot is commented on at some length. They had trouble getting the timing on all the elements right. Sometimes Michael would get pulled into the boat too soon. Sometimes he wouldn’t make it inside at all and the mechanical shark would bump into him. That sort of thing.
Finally, everything came together perfectly. Michael is pulled to safety mere seconds before the shark would have gobbled him up. Moreover, as the shark ran alongside the boat, the pressure on its frame forced its jaws to gape open wide in a fantastically natural fashion. Given the amount of time the shot receives in the documentary, this apparently remains one of the filmmakers’ most fondly-remembered moments.
There’s just two slight flaws with the shot, however. First, the pressure on the shark’s outer body forces the shark to contort in a noticeably artificial manner. However, the killer bit is that, given the gaping mouth and the position of the camera, you can completely see the shark’s mechanical innards. I’m not kidding, you can even identify the hydraulic pump used to open the shark’s mouth. This is probably the single most embarrassing shot I’ve ever seen in a major studio film.
Two thoughts: First, couldn’t they have inserted a false front to cover the machinery, just for such a situation? Second, while I realize they didn’t have CGI back then, couldn’t they have hand animated this small number of frames? I mean, all they had to do was paint the inside of the shark’s mouth black. Surely they could have accomplished that much.
To be fair, DVD really exposes this failing. You get crystal clarity of the image, as well as rewind and fast forward capabilities. (And believe me, I employed them. Over and over again.) However, if the viewer lacked these advantages in the theater, well, imagine how big the mechanical innards must have appeared when they showed up on a twenty-foot tall screen. The mind boggles.
Anyway, having eaten exactly nobody, the shark departs from the area. The kids make to tie their various wounded crafts together. Meanwhile, Brody has arrived at the lighthouse—apparently Hendricks really knows how to point in the direction of stuff—but the kids are nowhere to be found. "I’m all alone out here," he nervously mutters. Yeah, that’s what happens when you send away everyone else that was on your boat.
Meanwhile, the Harbor Patrol chopper is flying over the small atoll that acts as the junction for the power cable seen previously. The chopper pilot he sees the kids, and lands on the water via his pontoons. He tosses the cheering teens a rope, and prepares to tow them back to Amity.
However, just as he prepares to lift off, the shark rises up (perhaps the film’s only truly effective shock moment, shot as it is from inside the cockpit) and bites into one of the pontoons. This tips the ‘copter over, and the main rotor disintegrates when it hits the water. Whirling shrapnel assaults the sails on the kids’ boats, and the ‘copter is pulled under.
This is often derided as the film’s goofiest sequence, and it is a bit over the top. However, it’s not really all that ridiculous. As the shark is the same size as the one in the first film, it would also weigh about tons. I believe an animal that size could tip a small ‘copter over enough to put the main rotor in the water, and after that the vehicle would pretty much be done for. (A more obvious problem is that the way the scene is edited, it appears the rotor dips in the shark’s direction. How it escapes being sliced up by the device remains a mystery.)
No, if I have a criticism about the sequence, it’s that it had already been done. Two years earlier, William Girdler’s Grizzly, perhaps the most rote of the myriad Jaws knock-offs, saw its titular bruin similarly rise up and swat a copter to the ground. Helicopters are also used to ill effect in Deep Blue Sea, Lake Placid and The Last Shark. I’m sure I’m forgetting other examples, as well. As with trains, ‘copters and monsters seldom mix well. Oh, and Michael Caine’s plane gets Bruced in Jaws: The Revenge.
This scene, as it happens, is one of the few I recollected from my earlier viewing all those years prior, although what I actually remembered was its aftermath. Underwater, the drowning helicopter pilot frantically attempts to escape from his craft…until he’s confronted by the shark waiting for him to do so. This rather extreme Catch-22 represented the only real bit of frisson I recalled the movie offering.
Imagine my surprise, then, when this scene failed to appear on the DVD I was watching. Later I found it among the deleted scenes. Apparently the sequence was excised during its theatrical run to help the film win the necessary PG rating. I’ll admit, I had ‘reedited’ the scene in my mind, and I found the real thing not quite as cool as I remembered. Even so, losing this attack was a particularly poor decision. I did, however, find humor in the fact that including the sequence in theatrical prints would have earned the film an ‘R’ rating, but that a few years later they were able to cut it back for a primetime network broadcast.
Back on the clock, the shark again hammers at the kids’ boats. Sean, among others, falls into the water. (Good thing he insisted they bring him along.) Good Girl…oh, from the various shouting I guess her name is Marge…jumps in after him. She manages to lift him to safety but is swallowed whole before she can climb from the waters herself. Man, I hope the Brodys can afford some heavy therapy bills.
I’ll give the movie this: Marge might have been a non-entity whose name I learned scant seconds before her death. Still and all, the movie elected to kill off the Good Girl rather than, oh, Jackie, a much more obvious candidate. After all, it was Jackie who talked Michael into disobeying his father. Moreover, she proves to be the group’s Useless Girl, the one who just sits around and screams all the time, and who requires the others to tend for her. Given the paucity of the killing here—I mean, damn, both Odious Comic Relief characters are still extant—this represents at least some small degree of originality. (Although the shark’s continual inability to sink the kids’ eminently fragile collection of boats remains decidedly more irksome.)
Back on shore, we see Peterson trying to apologize to Ellen. Oddly, the phrase, "You have to admit, your husband’s been acting like a nut," isn’t employed. In the end, this proves an opportunity for Ellen to Stand By Her Man by telling Peterson off. "I don’t give a damn what you’re thinking," she sharply replies. "All I know is a boy is dead and my son and husband are still out there." Uh, You Go, Girl. I guess. Something like that, anyway.
That truly lame plot thread tied into a neat little bow, we cut over to Brody. He’s lost, the radio isn’t working and there’s a storm approaching. (Really.) They don’t mention it, but he’s probably also contracted cholera.
Back to the kids. Sean is drifting atop the capsized boat Marge placed him on. He’s clinging to the exposed centerboard, which I suppose looks like a shark fin and thus possibly ‘means’ something, but frankly my head is starting to hurt so I’m not going to dwell upon it. In any case, he’s too scared to reach for the rope the older teens toss in his direction. Finally, an emotionally drained Andy starts to yell threats at him. This snaps Sean out of his funk and he grabs the line. I have to admit, I like Andy better, or more accurately, hate him less, when he isn’t trying to be funny.
Meanwhile, Brody has stumbled across Lonely Bitter Nerd Guy’s boat. (Except that now that Brooke went boating with him, so I suppose he's now just Nerd Guy.) As this was the only craft still fully operational after the initial attack, it was assigned to take the injured Michael and look for help. Michael’s fine now, but Brody is shocked to learn that Sean is with the rest of the kids.
Anyhoo, the remaining teens are approaching Junction Island. The bad news is that the tide is taking their disabled craft right past it. They are saved for the moment, however, when, er, something trailing from their ramshackle flotilla snags the previously-established underwater power line. Jackie takes the opportunity to freak out again, renewing my wish that she had gotten et rather than Marge.
After they quiet her down, they hear something. It proves to be Brody’s launch, which they spot on the horizon. The kids erupt in cheers. However, when Brody approaches the shark surfaces and drives him off. First the helicopter and now this. If the idea is that the shark is using the kids as bait to draw in more potential victims, then that’s pretty silly. If the idea is that the shark has set this trap solely to draw Brody out to it, then it’s outright demented. (Now if a killer whale had employed such a plan...)
Unfortunately, the inexperienced Brody ends up grounding the launch on the nearby island. He tosses another rope to the teens, and uses the launch’s winch to pull them closer. In the process, however, he manages to bring the snagged power cable back up to the surface. Meanwhile, the shark apparently decides not to take this situation, er, floating up. He launches another attack and yet again teens are thrown into the water. Sean and Jackie alone stay dry, and naturally the latter just sits there screaming her head off. I swear, I’d have paid ten bucks to see her die a horrible death. Instead, the shark proves so inept that all the teens who fell into the drink make it safely to the island.
One girl looks doomed, but somehow avoids the rushing shark’s maw. Instead, she suffers the shark’s rough hide lacerating her side as it scrapes past her. Anyone who knows anything about shark anatomy knows that would hurt severely, but really, couldn’t the beastie have managed to eat somebody? I mean, damn, fish, there’s Jackie just sitting there.
Brody prepares to use a small inflatable raft (!) to get over to Jackie and Sean. (Or maybe just Sean, please, please, please.) I thought this was pretty funny, given what Bruce I did to the Orca. However, its hereabouts that the power cable lifts into view. Remembering the earlier exposition about how sharks are attracted to sound, Brody begins beating the cable with the raft paddle. The shark swims to the surface, opens wide its mouth, bites into the cable and…Snap, Crackle & Pop. The shark bursts into flames and sizzles away.
For what it’s worth, despite the cable itself proving a somewhat-clumsily-introduced mechanism, electrocuting the shark provides a pretty nifty demise. After all, killing your monster in a cool fashion is half the fun. Almost all the various Bruce knock-offs ended up, like their role model, being blown to pieces. This is one of the few death method variations, and it’s a corker.
About the only complaint I have is in their robotic attempt to match Brody’s final zinger from Jaws. There he memorably shouted "Smile, you son of a bitch" as that film's Bruce approached. Here he yells to Bruce II, "Open wide! Say ‘ahhhh’!" Man, that’s just really, really lame. There’s also a continuity error. As practical effects were used to achieve the shark’s massive pyrotechnic end, naturally Brody’s raft disappears from shot during this brief sequence.
Anyway, with the shark dead there was much rejoicing. End picture.
Jaws 2: The Analysis
It’s already been pointed out to me that while I introduced the film as being merely lame, I then proceeded to lambaste it pretty thoroughly. So let me reiterate: Jaws 2 is no better and no worse than a generally mediocre film. It has numerous flaws, some minute, others sizeable, and the occasional good moment as well. On the four star system, I’d give a two star rating. More generous viewers, however, might give it two and half, if only for the picture’s professional sheen.
If I found the film particularly wanting, it’s because I was judging it against the original Jaws, a film I had finished dissecting only a few days earlier. Compared to the vast bulk of Jaws knock-offs—including the two further sequels yet to come—Jaws 2 is a veritable tour de force. Compared directly to its antecedent, however, it proves a far shoddier piece of work. In the end, ‘serviceable’ seems to sum the situation up nicely.
As with its progenitor, Jaws 2 suffered an extremely chaotic production period, one lasting nearly a year. The film began shooting under director John Hancock (no, not that one). After a couple of weeks or so, however, the studio proved dissatisfied with his work and canned him. The production was closed down while a replacement was sought.
Jeannot Szwarc, most of whose previous work had been in television—his only theatrical feature to that point was William Castle’s Bug—got the job. Despite having the successful Jaws 2 on his resume, however, Szwarc received little further film work. He followed with his only genuinely fondly-remembered film, the cult romantic time travel picture Somewhere in Time. However, Szwarc then fatally made the two turkeys that ruined his big screen career: Supergirl and Santa Claus: The Movie. Following the traditional downward route, he made a few more films in Europe, then returned to television work. His most recent work appears to have been in 2002, when he directed an episode of Boston Public.
During the hiatus, Carl Gottlieb, the first film’s co-writer (and author of the best-selling ‘making of’ book The Jaws Log) was brought in to rework the script. Why they wouldn’t have hired him in the first place seems mysterious to me, but there you go.
Other problems seemed more familiar. The mechanical shark(s) often malfunctioned. The weather constantly shifted, causing interminable delays. The budget naturally went up, although given the first film’s massive success, this proved somewhat less of a concern. In the end, Brown notes, the film made 40% percent of what the original did. I’m assuming he means of the first film’s worldwide gross, which was about $400 million. If so, then that $160 million would have represented a pretty healthy profit.
Part of the budget went to literally building the Junction Island. Real islands had bases that projected beneath the water and would have made filming the mechanical sharks, which moved around on underwater booms, impossible. So they took a barge and built an ersatz island around it. As the resultant structure floated above the water, it in no way impeded the Bruces.
Watching the DVD’s ‘making of’ documentary can be a bit chastening. It’s easy to mock a film’s shortcomings (unless you compulsively spend a week or so in the process), but making a movie is a horrendously complicated affair. That good ones are made seems provident; that great ones occasionally turn up, miraculous.
On the other hand, many of the participants’ observations remain a tad funny. The idea that the various teens were "fleshed out" in the rewrites, as director Szwarc puts it, has the bewildered viewer pausing to consider how poorly they must have been written in the first place. Nor does his comment, "I kept saying from the beginning, we must show the shark a lot," accrue him much credit. If anyone ever needed proof that quantity doesn’t beat quality, here it is.
I also am partial to Gottlieb’s crackpot observation that burning the shark’s face, "gives you a little sympathy for [it]." Uh, yeah. Meanwhile, my musings on the origins of this idea were confirmed when he noted, "And it gives the shark a more characteristically villainous expression." Yes, and isn’t that exactly what a massive, man-eating great white requires?
In the end, they got their movie in the can.
The result was the middle child of the Jaws series, the one never afforded
much attention, neither especially loved or particularly despised.
-Review by Ken Begg