(1978) Directed by Jeannot Szwarc; Written by: Carl Gottlieb and Howard Sackler; Starring: Roy Scheider, Lorraine Gary, Murray Hamilton and Jeffrey Kramer; Available on DVD.
“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. That is never going to happen again.” – Jeannot Swarc
A huge thanks goes out to Kristina of Speakeasy and Ruth of Silver Screenings, for hosting the Beach Party Blogathon, a five-day celebration of surf, sand and summer at the movies. I’m honored to be invited to the party. Don’t worry; I brought a cooler full of assorted beverages, and extra sunblock in case anyone forgot. While we’re on the subject of memory loss, I re-visited the mostly forgettable follow-up to Steven Spielberg’s 1975’s mega-blockbuster, Jaws, appropriately titled, Jaws 2 (Warning: multiple nautical puns abound).
Producers David Brown and Richard Zanuck considered several different directors for Jaws 2, including Spielberg. Ultimately, John Hancock (Bang the Drum Slowly) was selected, but left the project early on, due to creative differences. Jeannot Szwarc, a veteran director of many television projects (including several Night Gallery episodes) and the William Castle flick Bug, stepped in to helm the film. Shooting took place in Martha’s Vineyard, Florida and Catalina Island in California.
It’s undeniably fun to see many of the actors from the first movie reprise their characters, especially Roy Scheider as the unshakable Police Chief Brody. Lorraine Gary returns in the thankless role of Brody’s wife, Ellen. Unfortunately, she doesn’t really have much to do this time, except stand by her husband for support. Once again, Murray Hamilton appears as Mayor Vaughn (why he wasn’t voted out by now, is anyone’s guess), still arguing to keep the beach open when Brody suspects another great white shark is patrolling the waters around Amity. Jeffrey Kramer also continues his role as Deputy Hendricks. While it’s a kick to see these supporting characters return, it’s a shame the script does little to expand on the original roles. As a result, the new scenes almost feel like outtakes from the 1975 film.
Scheider does a laudable job as Brody, although Szwarc confessed Scheider wasn’t initially enthusiastic about revisiting the role. Regardless of his behind-the-scenes apprehensions, Scheider settles back into the character well, and seeing Chief Brody again is like spending time with an old friend. He still carries his big city, world-weary cynicism around like a second sidearm, and despite the fact that he lives on an island, he’s still harboring (Get it? “Harboring?” Yeah, this review is rough.) a fear of the water. This time around, he’s the boy who cried shark, when he suspects Amity has another big problem on its hands. In one scene, he flips out when he thinks he spots the dreaded Carcharodon carcharias, and creates a panic on the beach. Naturally Mayor Vaughn and the town council don’t take too kindly to the false alarm. Of course, we (and Brody) know the real creature still lurks somewhere.
As much as Brody is welcome in Jaws 2, there’s a conspicuous absence of the two characters that made the original film a classic, Quint and Hooper. Brody is the perfect foil for these larger than life individuals, an everyman the audience can relate to. If Brody was Jaws’ heart, then Quint was its soul, embodying a profound respect for the unforgiving nature of sharks. Hooper helped imbue the film with a sense of wonder, tempered by a sense of humor. Without this dynamic between the three men, or other colorful characters to play off of Brody, Jaws 2 seems a hollow, perfunctory exercise.
Arguably, the greatest concern with Jaws 2 is the treatment of its main attraction. In the former film, the shark took on mythical proportions, becoming an almost unstoppable, barely seen force of nature. The tone is established with the brilliant, visceral opening when a lone swimmer is attacked by an unseen menace, rising from the inky depths of the ocean. What ensues is a tense battle between man and nature. No single scene in Jaws 2 can compare to the poetry of Jaws’ little moments, which build the mystique of the ocean predator: Brody flipping through pages of grisly depictions of shark attacks, a shot of the Orca framed by shark jaws, or Quint’s show-stopping monologue about the U.S.S. Indianapolis victims. All of these scenes add up, elevating Jaws above your run-of-the-mill creature feature. The filmmakers dispense with the original’s “less is more” approach, favoring “more is more.” By attempting to top the original attacks with increasingly implausible situations (the aquatic beast tackles a water skier, and later takes down a rescue helicopter), the shark becomes just another monster. It all leads up to a ho-hum confrontation between the antagonist and a bunch of goofy adolescents on sailboats (including Brody’s two sons).
Depending on what side of the shark cage you’re on, Jaws 2 was either one of the most anticipated, or unnecessary sequels of all time. By not rocking the boat, so to speak, the filmmakers delivered a competent, if unremarkable second chapter. In the film’s defense, probably no follow-up could have lived up to the unreasonably high expectations set by Jaws. Maybe that’s why the follow-up seems more like a feature-length dénouement than a brand new installment of a franchise. Szwarc, to his credit, did a workmanlike job with the hand he was dealt, and moves things at a good pace. John Williams’ score doesn’t sound as if he was simply going through the motions, but instead builds upon his previous work, incorporating the ubiquitous “Jaws” theme, and expanded the overall scope. Another high point is Scheider’s nuanced performance as Brody, slipping into the role again like a comfortable pair of slippers, which almost, but not quite, saves the movie. However, if you lower your expectations a notch, Jaws 2 is reasonably entertaining. It’s certainly worth a look for completists and Brodyphiles (Is that even a thing?), but casual fans might be better served watching another 1978 film that beat the Jaws sequel at its own game for less than a 20th of the budget, the Roger Corman-produced/Joe Dante-directed Piranha. Or better still, this could be the perfect time to re-watch the 1975 original.