Skip to main content

Sharks don’t take things personally, Mr Brody.

Jaws 2
(1978)

(SPOILERS) Being a luddite in my formative years (doubtless continuing to this day), I didn’t readily discern the qualitative difference between Jaws and Jaws 2 until much later. Indeed, in some respects, I think I found Jaws 2 more impressive. Well, the manner of dispatching the shark anyway. That was, of course, nonsense (although, the dispatching of the shark is pretty good and is even set up with a Chekov’s Undersea Power Cable in the first act), but Jaws 2 isn’t a bad sequel, certainly in an age before such enterprises were awarded due respect and weren’t just cheap cash-ins.


During the ‘70s, there were cheap cash-ins, increasingly cheap cash-ins even, that miraculously ended up being of some merit and with some thought behind them (the Planet of the Apes saga), but they were notable exceptions to the rule. That there was a The Godfather Part II, hailed as an instant classic, was bottom-line evidence of the exception that proved the rule until The Empire Strikes Back changed the way sequels were perceived. Most common were sequels in the vein of Dirty Harry’s, where all the style, attitude and character work that made the original so potent were diluted into a weak sauce of anonymous directors, mediocre screenplays and budgets spent largely on coiffuring their star rather than the material.


On the one hand, Jaws 2 wasn’t a cheap sequel – estimates have its price tag at $30m, shockingly not far off the upper end figure for Empire – but on the other, it came with a broke-backed attitude to the talent. There was continuity, naturally – Roy Scheider returned as Martin Brody, as did Lorraine Gary as his missus and Murray Hamilton as the Mayor of Amity. John Williams encored on soundtrack duties, and Spielberg reportedly even considered a revisit during a brief weekend of contemplation when the production was in its most dire straits (original director John D Hancock was dismissed after a month of filming, original screenwriter Carl Gottlieb was brought back to do a rewrite, all of which fuelled the spiralling costs).


Alas, the man they eventually picked was Jeannot Szwarc, competent when he wasn’t working with the Salkinds (Supergirl and Santa Claus: The Movie are both much less than that), but you’d be forgiven for thinking Universal were cutting back in the one area they especially needed someone inventive (after all, that was exactly what saved the first one). Hancock had been won the sequel thanks to Let’s Scare Jessica to Death, as Kim Newman notes in Nightmare Movies, “on the strength of his scary swimming scenes” in that picture but “he was fired when he tried to duplicate the ambiguous lyricism of Jessica rather than follow Steven Spielberg’s rollercoaster formula”.


As such, it’s the grim conviction of Scheider’s performance that provides the movie’s slender emotional grounding. Brody’s at his best during a sterling scene midway through where, convinced a shark is back and on the prowl, much to everyone else’s predictable indifference, he mistakes a school of blue fish for a toothed menace and begins firing his gun. Pegged as The Brody Who Cried Shark, he gets the heave-ho (“I’ve never been fired before”).


At which point he rather dwindles from view until the final reel, until he shows up to save the day and makes a bit of a pig’s ear of it. Much of the intervening period is taken up with teen antics, making it, as a number of recent reappraisals have noted, something of a proto-slasher flick (although the shark isn’t merely taken with nubile teens). Like many of that sub-genre, the unmemorably misspent youth are also largely unmemorable potential shark fodder.  Keith Gordon, in his first movie, and beginning a string of strong performances that would include work with De Palma and Carpenter, is the only one with any presence. We don’t much care about Brody’s imperilled offspring (the older of whom in no way looks like he’ll turn into Dennis Quaid in a few brief years), and the girl who gets chomped saving younger son Sean might have been more affecting if she’d been given a line or two in the ninety minutes prior to her demise.


Still, there are some notable deaths, if more for ridiculous than dramatic reasons. When a mother manages to burn herself to death through in an attempt to ward off a shark by pouring fuel all over herself and setting off a flare gun, you half expect Nordberg to surface in the boat next to her. The shark is left scarred from the encounter, lending him an appropriately gnarly quality. Later, when he’s menacing the gang of feckless teenagers out near Cable Junction, he only goes and takes on a coast guard helicopter intent on rescuing them. And only comes off best from the encounter. Awesome!


Jaws 2 was notably released during the same summer as Joe Dante’s Piranha, particularly so as Universal considered taking out an injunction against the latter on the grounds of being a blatant rip-off. As it was, however, the studio had the drop on New World by nearly two months, and there was a powerful advocate in Dante’s corner; none other than Spielberg, who liked the picture and would eventually secure the fledgling director gigs during the ‘80s. Universal needn’t have worried, as their prize exhibit made $300m at the US box office. Nothing to be sneezed at and only put in perspective by its predecessor’s almost $1.2bn (both figures are inflation-adjusted).


While they may not have produced a great movie, the studio did a first-class job selling it, with a poster that tops the original (the shark behind the water skier) and one of the all-time great taglines (Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water…) For a spell, it was the all-time top grossing sequel, but an era was on the horizon when sequels would become the lifeblood of studios, rather than simply a means of churning out makeshift, disposable knockoffs; Rocky II would supplant Jaws 2 the following year, and Empire the year after that. As for Universal, they continued their milking-it approach to the franchise, albeit it took them a rather belated five years and a then-resurgent horror device, 3D, to coax bashfully out of the shallow end.






Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Why would I turn into a filing cabinet?

Captain Marvel (2019)
(SPOILERS) All superhero movies are formulaic to a greater or lesser degree. Mostly greater. The key to an actually great one – or just a pretty good one – is making that a virtue, rather than something you’re conscious of limiting the whole exercise. The irony of the last two stand-alone MCU pictures is that, while attempting to bring somewhat down-the-line progressive cachet to the series, they’ve delivered rather pedestrian results. Of course, that didn’t dim Black Panther’s cultural cachet (and what do I know, swathes of people also profess to loving it), and Captain Marvel has hit half a billion in its first few days – it seems that, unless you’re poor unloved Ant-Man, an easy $1bn is the new $700m for the MCU – but neither’s protagonist really made that all-important iconic impact.

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Can you float through the air when you smell a delicious pie?

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
(SPOILERS) Ironically, given the source material, think I probably fell into the category of many who weren't overly disposed to give this big screen Spider-Man a go on the grounds that it was an animation. After all, if it wasn’t "good enough" for live-action, why should I give it my time? Not even Phil Lord and Christopher Miller's pedigree wholly persuaded me; they'd had their stumble of late, although admittedly in that live-action arena. As such, it was only the near-unanimous critics' approval that swayed me, suggesting I'd have been missing out. They – not always the most reliable arbiters of such populist fare, which made the vote of confidence all the more notable – were right. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is not only a first-rate Spider-Man movie, it's a fresh, playful and (perhaps) surprisingly heartfelt origins story.

Sorry I’m late. I was taking a crap.

The Sting (1973)
(SPOILERS) In any given list of the best things – not just movies – ever, Mark Kermode would include The Exorcist, so it wasn’t a surprise when William Friedkin’s film made an appearance in his Nine films that should have won Best Picture at the Oscars list last month. Of the nominees that year, I suspect he’s correct in his assessment (I don’t think I’ve seen A Touch of Class, so it would be unfair of me to dismiss it outright; if we’re simply talking best film of that year, though, The Exorcist isn’t even 1973’s best horror, that would be Don’t Look Now). He’s certainly not wrong that The Exorcistremains a superior work” to The Sting; the latter’s one of those films, like The Return of the King and The Departed, where the Academy rewarded the cast and crew too late. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is the masterpiece from George Roy Hill, Paul Newman and Robert Redford, not this flaccid trifle.

I don’t think you will see President Pierce again.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
(SPOILERS) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and other tall tales of the American frontier is the title of "the book" from which the Coen brothers' latest derives, and so announces itself as fiction up front as heavily as Fargo purported to be based on a true story. In the world of the portmanteau western – has there even been one before? – theme and content aren't really all that distinct from the more familiar horror collection, and as such, these six tales rely on sudden twists or reveals, most of them revolving around death. And inevitably with the anthology, some tall tales are stronger than other tall tales, the former dutifully taking up the slack.

What lit the fire that set off our Mr Reaper?

Death Wish (2018)
(SPOILERS) I haven’t seen the original Death Wish, the odd clip aside, and I don’t especially plan to remedy that, owing to an aversion to Charles Bronson when he isn’t in Once Upon a Time in the West and an aversion to Michael Winner when he wasn’t making ‘60s comedies or Peter Ustinov Hercule Poirots. I also have an aversion to Eli Roth, though (this is the first of his oeuvre I’ve seen, again the odd clip aside, as I have a general distaste for his oeuvre), and mildly to Bruce when he’s on autopilot (most of the last twenty years), so really, I probably shouldn’t have checked this one out. It was duly slated as a fascistic, right-wing rallying cry, even though the same slaters consider such behaviour mostly okay if the protagonist is super-powered and wearing a mask when taking justice into his (or her) own hands, but the truth is this remake is a quite serviceable, occasionally amusing little revenger, one that even has sufficient courage in its skewed convictions …

You had to grab every single dollar you could get your hands on, didn't you?

Triple Frontier (2019)
(SPOILERS) Triple Frontier must have seemed like a no-brainer for Netflix, even by their standards of indiscriminately greenlighting projects whenever anyone who can’t get a job at a proper studio asks. It had, after all, been a hot property – nearly a decade ago now – with Kathryn Bigelow attached as director (she retains a producing credit) and subsequently JC Chandor, who has seen it through to completion. Netflix may not have attracted quite the same level of prospective stars – Johnny Depp, Tom Hanks, Will Smith, Tom Hardy and Channing Tatum were all involved at various points – but as ever, they haven’t stinted on the production. To what end, though? Well, Bigelow’s involvement is a reliable indicator; this is a movie about very male men doing very masculine things and suffering stoically for it.

Our "Bullshit!" team has unearthed spectacular new evidence, which suggests, that Jack the Ripper was, in fact, the Loch Ness Monster.

Amazon Women on the Moon (1987)
Cheeseburger Film Sandwich. Apparently, that’s what the French call Amazon Women on the Moon. Except that it probably sounds a little more elegant, since they’d be saying it in French (I hope so, anyway). Given the title, it should be no surprise that it is regarded as a sequel to Kentucky Fried Movie. Which, in some respects, it is. John Landis originally planned to direct the whole of Amazon Women himself, but brought in other directors due to scheduling issues. The finished film is as much of a mess as Kentucky Fried Movie, arrayed with more miss sketches than hit ones, although it’s decidedly less crude and haphazard than the earlier picture. Some have attempted to reclaim Amazon Women as a dazzling satire on TV’s takeover of our lives, but that’s stretching it. There is a fair bit of satire in there, but the filmmakers were just trying to be funny; there’s no polemic or express commentary. But even on such moderate terms, it only sporadically fulfils…

Trouble’s part of the circus. They said Barnum was in trouble when he lost Tom Thumb.

The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)
(SPOILERS) Anyone of a mind that it’s a recent development for the Oscars to cynically crown underserving recipients should take a good look at this Best Picture winner from the 25thAcademy Awards. In this case, it’s generally reckoned that the Academy felt it was about time to honour Hollywood behemoth Cecil B DeMille, by that point into his seventies and unlikely to be jostling for garlands much longer, before it was too late. Of course, he then only went and made a bona fide best picture contender, The Ten Commandments, and only then pegged it. Because no, The Greatest Show on Earth really isn’t very good.

Poor A. A. Milne. What a ghastly business.

Saving Mr. Banks (2013)
The absolutely true story of how P. L. Travers came to allow Walt Disney to adapt Mary Poppins, after 20 years’ persistent begging on the latter’s part. Except, of course, it isn’t true at all. Walt has worked his magic from beyond the grave over a fairly unremarkable tale of mutual disagreement. Which doesn’t really matter if the result is a decent movie that does something interesting or though-provoking by changing the facts… Which I’m not sure it does. But Saving Mr. Banks at least a half-decent movie, and one considerably buoyed by the performances of its lead actors.

Actually, Mr. Banks is buoyed by the performances of its entire cast. It’s the script that frequently lets the side down, laying it on thick when a lighter touch is needed, repeating its message to the point of nausea. And bloating it out not so neatly to the two-hour mark when the story could have been wrapped up quite nicely in a third less time. The title itself could perhaps be seen as rubbi…