Sunday, July 20, 2014

In Defense of the Jaws Sequels


While the original Jaws (1975) is by far the greatest film to carry that name, I am a staunch defender of the many pleasures to be had in the three Jaws sequels, particularly Jaws 2 (1978) and the much-maligned Jaws: The Revenge (1987). Allow me to briefly explain why.

Tina Wilcox screams: "A . . . SHARK!!!" in Jaws 2.

Jaws 2 (1978)
Sure, Jaws 2 is basically a rehash of the first Jaws movie with a less stellar cast. There is a shark out there off Amity Island, Chief Brody knows it's there, and Mayor Vaughn and the townspeople don't believe him. And with Quint dead and Hooper not present, the amazing character dynamics that drive the last third of the original Jaws simply don't exist in the sequel.

But Jaws 2 makes up for this lack on two fronts:

(1) It substitutes in an ensemble cast of sailboating teenagers, and those teen actors are in fact quite good. In a way, we actually care more about the victims in this installment because we get to know them better than, say, Chrissy the night-swimmer or Alex Kintner from the first film. Tina Wilcox (Ann Dusenberry) is a particularly great and pivotal character in Jaws 2.

(2) The actual shark attacks in Jaws 2 are more grandiose and badass than in the first film. Knowing he cannot replicate Spielberg's slowly-built suspense and delayed reveal of the shark from the original, Jaws 2 director Jeannot Szwarc just says "Fuck it" and lets the viewer see the shark more or less right away.* The attack on the waterskier and her friend is flat-out awesome -- it concludes with a motorboat exploding in flames, one of the film's greatest moments. Even greater is the shark's incredible takedown of a Coast Guard helicopter (!) late in the film.

So Jaws 2 is a winner. The destruction of the Jaws 2 shark by electrocution is almost as badass as its being blown up in the original. The remainder of the supporting cast -- Murray Hamilton, Lorraine Gary, Jeffrey Kramer -- is top-notch as well and the film takes Chief Brody's storyline seriously despite the ludicrousness of the overall premise (i.e., that ANOTHER shark has come to Amity). After the original, Jaws 2 is my next most favorite Jaws film.

Dennis Quaid and Bess Armstrong anchor a solid cast in the somewhat boring Jaws 3-D.

Jaws 3-D (1983)
Despite its clever premise -- the Jaws shark runs amok in SeaWorld -- I think Jaws 3 is the weakest of the Jaws sequels, for two reasons: (1) the film is played a bit too seriously, with too few cool shark attacks and not enough campy humor to sustain a Chief Brody-less installment, and (2) it was made to be exhibited in 3D so many parts look stupid and shitty when watched today on home video.

This 3D shot of the shark looks really fake-o and dumb on DVD.

That said, what are the good points? The cast is good, especially Bess Armstrong, Lou Gossett Jr., and a terrific Simon MacCorkindale as a roguish undersea photographer and adventurer. The premise is good, if it is executed with little flair or panache. 

Probably the best scenes in Jaws 3 are the character development parts in which the Brody brothers and their girlfriends hang out at a bar or go frolicking in the sea. I also like the subplot wherein a SeaWorld worker goes missing (killed by the shark of course) and his brassy girlfriend shows up demanding answers. But there just isn't enough decent shark action to really carry this thing off -- it's essential viewing for Jaws completists only.

Michael Caine and Lorraine Gary are great in the so-bad-it's-good Jaws: The Revenge.

Jaws: The Revenge (1987)
After Jaws 2, the much-misunderstood Jaws:The Revenge is my next-most-favorite Jaws sequel. This film is rightfully criticized for being ridiculous and shoddily constructed -- this latter point surely applies to its ending, which intercuts newly shot footage with recycled images from the climax of the 1975 original. Yet I truly do not understand why more people do not champion this film as one of the great "so bad its good" delights of the cinema. For me, Jaws:The Revenge stands up with films like The Room in terms of the sheer quantity of unfettered pleasure it delivers via its campy badness.

The movie's premise is one of the most absurd premises ever committed to film. Having driven Chief Brody to a fatal offscreen heart attack, the Jaws shark is now systematically hunting down the surviving members of the Brody family, and it is up to the Chief's widow, Ellen (Lorraine Gary) to protect her children and granddaughter. After the death of her younger son Sean in Amity, Mrs. Brody travels to Florida to be with her older son Michael and his family, and -- of course -- the shark follows the family south!

The shark sez: "This time it's PERSONAL, muthafucka!"

Despite the craziness of this concept, and the film's cheap recycling of original Jaws images (the climactic shark explosion, Martin's interactions with young Michael at the kitchen table as Ellen looks on), I nevertheless maintain that Jaws: The Revenge is well-scripted and well-constructed from a purely structural point of view. Unlike many of today's blockbusters, the film makes sense given its premise. It is actually better scripted and acted than any of the Star Wars prequels or any Michael Bay Transformers movie.

Much of the pleasure of Jaws:The Revenge stems from (1) its unabashed, over-the-top commitment to its absurd concept, and (2) its cast. Regarding the latter, Lorraine Gary is great in the lead, and the always-entertaining Michael Caine gives a standout performance as Hoagie, the charming pilot / gambler / ne'er-do-well who develops a romantic interest in the widow Brody. His one-liners during the final shark battle are totally priceless. And speaking of one-liners, Mario van Peebles is another welcome comic addition to the supporting cast, serving as the somewhat dull Michael Brody's marine biologist sidekick.

In conclusion, don't be a hater: check out the Jaws sequels. There is a lot of fun to be had in these unpretentious, if somewhat uneven, cinematic works.

Michael Caine says: "Come fly with me in Jaws the Revenge!"

* Szwarc's actual words, taken from the making-of documentary on the Jaws 2 DVD, are: "I kept saying from the beginning: we must show the shark a lot. Because that image of the shark coming out of the water for the first time, it's already happened in the first one. That is never gonna happen again." 


  1. I remember watching Jaws 3-D on TV when I was probably eight years old. I'd never seen Jaws before so I thought it was the first movie, THE Jaws that adults always said made them afraid to go swimming back in the '70s. And then I saw that exact shot of the stupid-ass looking cutout shark and started laughing. I didn't know the movie was supposed to be in 3-D, either, so I just thought that old movies used to look that bad. I had watched a lot of MST3K by this point, so my impression of older movies was a bit skewed, I guess.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. One of my favorites of your reviews so far--or, at least, my favorite public service review since there are so many other movies I will probably seek out before I make it to any of the Jaws sequels. But your description of Jaws: The Revenge reminds of the 1977 Jaws-ripoff Orca, in which a killer whale seeks revenge against the people who killed its mate. It's probably been close to 25 years since I saw it, but I still have nightmares about the scene where Bo Derek has her legs eaten after falling through a hole in a pier.

    1. I've been meaning to re-watch ORCA, thanks for reminding me of it!

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Jaws 1 & 2 - Classics
    Jaws 3 - Borderline
    Jaws 4 - Not a chance!

    However, one could say the same for Alien and Terminator franchises. 1 & 2 and forget the rest.