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

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…

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…

I am so sick of Scotland!

Outlaw/King (2018)
(SPOILERS) Proof that it isn't enough just to want to make a historical epic, you have to have some level of vision for it as well. Say what you like about Mel's Braveheart – and it isn't a very good film – it's got sensibility in spades. He knew what he was setting out to achieve, and the audience duly responded. What does David Mackenzie want from Outlaw/King (it's shown with a forward slash on the titles, so I'm going with it)? Ostensibly, and unsurprisingly, to restore the stature of Robert the Bruce after it was rather tarnished by Braveheart, but he has singularly failed to do so. More than that, it isn’t an "idea", something you can recognise or get behind even if you don’t care about the guy. You’ll never forget Mel's Wallace, for better or worse, but the most singular aspect of Chris Pine's Bruce hasn’t been his rousing speeches or heroic valour. No, it's been his kingly winky.

It was one of the most desolate looking places in the world.

They Shall Not Grow Old (2018)
Peter Jackson's They Shall Not Grow Old, broadcast by the BBC on the centenary of Armistice Day, is "sold" on the attraction and curiosity value of restored, colourised and frame rate-enhanced footage. On that level, this World War I documentary, utilising a misquote from Laurence Binyon's poem for its title, is frequently an eye-opener, transforming the stuttering, blurry visuals that have hitherto informed subsequent generations' relationship with the War. However, that's only half the story; the other is the use of archive interviews with veterans to provide a narrative, exerting an effect often more impacting for what isn't said than for what is.

There's something wrong with the sky.

Hold the Dark (2018)
(SPOILERS) Hold the Dark, an adaptation of William Giraldi's 2014 novel, is big on atmosphere, as you'd expect from director Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin, Green Room) and actor-now-director (I Don’t Want to Live in This World Anymore) pal Macon Blair (furnishing the screenplay and appearing in one scene), but contrastingly low on satisfying resolutions. Being wilfully oblique can be a winner if you’re entirely sure what you're trying to achieve, but the effect here is rather that it’s "for the sake of it" than purposeful.

You look like an angry lizard!

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)
(SPOILERS) I can quite see a Queen fan begrudging this latest musical biopic for failing to adhere to the facts of their illustrious career – but then, what biopic does steer a straight and true course? – making it ironic that they're the main fuel for Bohemian Rhapsody's box office success. Most other criticisms – and they're legitimate, on the whole – fall away in the face of a hugely charismatic star turn from Rami Malek as the band's frontman. He's the difference between a standard-issue, episodic, join-the-dots narrative and one that occasionally touches greatness, and most importantly, carries emotional heft.

You kind of look like a slutty Ebola virus.

Crazy Rich Asians (2018)
(SPOILERS) The phenomenal success of Crazy Rich Asians – in the US at any rate, thus far – might lead one to think it's some kind of startling original, but the truth is, whatever its core demographic appeal, this adaptation of Kevin Kwan's novel taps into universally accepted romantic comedy DNA and readily recognisable tropes of family and class, regardless of cultural background. It emerges a smoothly professional product, ticking the expected boxes in those areas – the heroine's highs, lows, rejections, proposals, accompanied by whacky scene-stealing best friend – even if the writing is sometimes a little on the clunky side.

It seemed as if I had missed something.

Room 237 (2012)
Stanley Kubrick’s meticulous, obsessive approach towards filmmaking was renowned, so perhaps it should be no surprise to find comparable traits reflected in a section of his worshippers. Legends about the director have taken root (some of them with a factual basis, others bunkum), while the air of secrecy that enshrouded his life and work has duly fostered a range of conspiracy theories. A few of these are aired in Rodney Ascher’s documentary, which indulges five variably coherent advocates of five variably tenuous theories relating to just what The Shining is really all about. Beyond Jack Nicholson turning the crazy up to 11, that is. Ascher has hit on a fascinating subject, one that exposes our capacity to interpret any given information wildly differently according to our disposition. But his execution, which both underlines and undermines the theses of these devotees, leaves something to be desired.

Part of the problem is simply one of production values. The audio tra…

Believe me, Mr Bond, I could shoot you from Stuttgart und still create ze proper effect.

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
(SPOILERS) Some of the reactions to Spectre would have you believe it undoes all the “good” work cementing Daniel Craig’s incarnation of Bond in Skyfall. If you didn’t see that picture as the second coming of the franchise (I didn’t) your response to the latest may not be so harsh, despite its less successful choices (Blofeld among them). And it isn’t as if one step, forward two steps back are anything new in perceptions of the series (or indeed hugely divisive views on what even constitutes a decent Bond movie). After the raves greeting Goldeneye, Pierce Brosnan suffered a decidedly tepid response to his second outing, Tomorrow Never Dies, albeit it was less eviscerated than Craig’s sophomore Quantum of Solace. Tomorrow’s reputation disguises many strong points, although it has to be admitted that a Moore-era style finale and a floundering attempt to package in a halcyon villain aren’t among them.

The Bond series’ flirtations with contemporary relevance have a…

He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.

Darkest Hour (2017)
(SPOILERS) Watching Joe Wright’s return to the rarefied plane of prestige – and heritage to boot – filmmaking following the execrable folly of the panned Pan, I was struck by the difference an engaged director, one who cares about his characters, makes to material. Only last week, Ridley Scott’s serviceable All the Money in the World made for a pointed illustration of strong material in the hands of someone with no such investment, unless they’re androids. Wright’s dedication to a relatable Winston Churchill ensures that, for the first hour-plus, Darkest Hour is a first-rate affair, a piece of myth-making that barely puts a foot wrong. It has that much in common with Wright’s earlier Word War II tale, Atonement. But then, like Atonement, it comes unstuck.