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

You're not only wrong. You're wrong at the top of your voice.

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)
I’ve seen comments suggesting that John Sturges’ thriller hasn’t aged well, which I find rather mystifying. Sure, some of the characterisations border on the cardboard, but the director imbues the story with a taut, economical backbone. 

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

You must find the keys for me!

Doctor Who The Keys of Marinus
Most of the criticisms levelled at The Keys of Marinus over the past 50 years have been fair play, and yet it’s a story I return to as one of the more effortlessly watchable of the Hartnell era. Consequently, the one complaint I can’t really countenance is that it’s boring. While many a foray during this fledgling period drags its heels, even ones of undeniable quality in other areas, Marinus’ shifting soils and weekly adventures-in-miniature sustain interest, however inelegant the actual construction of those narratives may be. The quest premise also makes it a winner; it’s a format I have little resistance to, even when manifested, as here, in an often overtly budget-stricken manner.

Doctor Who has dabbled with the search structure elsewhere, most notably across The Key to Time season, and ultimately Marinus’ mission is even more of a MacGuffin than in that sextology, a means to string together what would otherwise be vignettes to little overall coherence…

Have you betrayed us? Have you betrayed me?!

Blake's 7 4.13: Blake

The best you can hope for the end of a series is that it leaves you wanting more. Blake certainly does that, so much so that I lapped up Tony Attwood’s Afterlife when it came out. I recall his speculation over who survived and who didn’t in his Programme Guide (curious that he thought Tarrant was unlikely to make it and then had him turn up in his continuation). Blakefollows the template of previous season finales, piling incident upon incident until it reaches a crescendo.

There are times when I miss the darkness. It is hard to live always in the light.

Blake's 7 4.12: Warlord

The penultimate episode, and Chris Boucher seems to have suddenly remembered that the original premise for the series was a crew of rebels fighting against a totalitarian regime. The detour from this, or at least the haphazard servicing of it, during seasons Three and Four has brought many of my favourite moments in the series. So it comes as a bit of a jolt to suddenly find Avon making Blake-like advances towards the leaders of planets to unite in opposition against the Federation. 

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

So you made contact with the French operative?

Atomic Blonde (2017)
(SPOILERS) Well, I can certainly see why Focus Features opted to change the title from The Coldest City (the name of the graphic novel from which this is adapted). The Coldest City evokes a nourish, dour, subdued tone, a movie of slow-burn intrigue in the vein of John Le Carré. Atomic Blonde, to paraphrase its introductory text, is not that movie. As such, there’s something of a mismatch here, of the kind of Cold War tale it has its roots in and the furious, pop-soaked action spectacle director David Leitch is intent on turning it into. In the main, his choices succeed, but the result isn’t quite the clean getaway of his earlier (co-directed) John Wick.

Haven’t you ever heard of the healing power of laughter?

Batman (1989)
(SPOILERS) There’s Jaws, there’s Star Wars, and then there’s Batman in terms of defining the modern blockbuster. Jaws’ success was so profound, it changed the way movies were made and marketed. Batman’s marketing was so profound, it changed the way tentpoles would be perceived: as cash cows. Disney tried to reproduce the effect the following year with Dick Tracy, to markedly less enthusiastic response. None of this places Batman in the company of Jaws as a classic movie sold well, far from it. It just so happened to hit the spot. As Tim Burton put it, it was “more of a cultural phenomenon than a great movie”. It’s difficult to disagree with his verdict that the finished product (for that is what it is) is “mainly boring”.

Now, of course, the Burton bat has been usurped by the Nolan incarnation (and soon the Snyder). They have some things in common. Both take the character seriously and favour a sombre tone, which was much more of shock to the system when Burton did it (even…

I take Quaaludes 10-15 times a day for my "back pain", Adderall to stay focused, Xanax to take the edge off, part to mellow me out, cocaine to wake me back up again, and morphine... Well, because it's awesome.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Along with Pain & Gain and The Great Gatsby, The Wolf of Wall Street might be viewed as the completion of a loose 2013 trilogy on the subject of success and excess; the American Dream gone awry. It’s the superior picture to its fellows, by turns enthralling, absurd, outrageous and hilarious. This is the fieriest, most deliriously vibrant picture from the director since the millennium turned. Nevertheless, stood in the company of Goodfellas, the Martin Scorsese film from which The Wolf of Wall Street consciously takes many of its cues, it is found wanting.

I was vaguely familiar with the title, not because I knew much about Jordan Belfort but because the script had been in development for such a long time (Ridley Scott was attached at one time). So part of the pleasure of the film is discovering how widely the story diverges from the Wall Street template. “The Wolf of Wall Street” suggests one who towers over the city like a behemoth, rather than a guy …