JAWS 2 (REVIEW)
Dir. Jeannot Szwarc
Reviewer. Dan Cook
The dictionary definition of a sequel that just doesn’t need to exist, JAWS 2 is the completely unnecessary follow up to my favourite film of all time. Despite the prescence of major returning players, it is little more than a studio mandated cashgrab that solely exists to leech off the legacy and popularity of its far, far, FAR superior older brother. Certainly when compared to the glut of subpar monster movies that followed in the wake of Spielberg’s 1975 masterpiece, JAWS 2 is not a terrible film; there a number of thrilling sequences, the performances are good and director Jeannot Szwarc brings a distinctive ingenuity and sophistication to many of the movies’ more intense moments. However, as a sequel to one of the most revered and beloved movies ever made, JAWS 2 falls desperately short.
Set 3 years after the events of the first film, JAWS 2 sees Roy Scheider’s Chief Martin Brody once again on the hunt for another great white shark which has begun munching on the population of Amity Island. Things are made even more difficult for Brody when it becomes clear that the towns Mayor (Murray Hamilton) and the rest of Amity’s governing body believe his desperate pleas for help to be nothing more than paranoid delusions brought on by the traumas of the 1975 attacks which he faced bullet to tooth.
Not long after the record breaking release of JAWS, Universal Studios turned to producers Richard Zanuck and David Brown, demanding a sequel to their blockbuster hit. While previous helmsman Steven Spielberg was completely uninterested in the project (supposedly claiming quite rightly that he had “made the definitive shark movie”), Zanuck and Brown, under moral obligation to the original picture, agreed to return to the ocean to make the film. With Spielberg out of the directors chair, genre veteran Jeannot Szwarc was handed the celluloid reins and in the Summer of 1978, JAWS 2 was unleashed on the eager public. As expected the movie was a success, earning over $200m in ticket sales and even, albeit briefly, holding the accolade of the highest grossing sequel in cinema history.
However, while it did make impressive box office numbers, the reviews were decidedly mixed with some critics seeing it as a fun yet disposable monster movie while others wholly dismissed it as the desecration of a hallowed classic. Personally, I fall somewhere in the middle. On the plus side, it looks absolutely terrific, with Michael Butler’s sunny cinematography doing a fantastic job of disguising the fact that much of the movie was actually filmed in the Winter. There are some gorgeous shots scattered throughout JAWS 2 which are made that much more stunning when combined with John William’s minimalist and ethereal score.
Meanwhile director Szwarc, who was hired by producer Zanuck following the success of his 1975 cult hit BUG and his work on Rod Serling’s anthology horror TV show NIGHT GALLERY, proves to be a worthy successor to Spielberg - utilising a great deal of effective POV shots and multiple uses of inventive camera trickery to showcase the action in great detail. One particular sequence, which sees the cruel death of one of the sharks more sympathetic victims is a genuinely horrifying moment that rivals some of his predecessors best work on JAWS.
Performance wise, the film is very strong too. Despite only appearing in the movie to end his contract with Universal and despite having several bust ups with his director, Roy Scheider is once again terrific as the heroic Everyman Martin Brody while fellow returning stars Lorraine Gary and Murray Hamilton are also great as Ellen and the increasingly disgruntled Larry Vaughn. It’s also nice to see actor Jeff Kramer get more screen time as Brody’s put-upon deputy Hendricks who is granted significantly more dialogue and narrative purpose than he was in the original JAWS. As for the new cast, apart from a couple of suitably screamy performances, they’re fine but don’t really leave much of an impression - just a bunch of pretty annoying teen stereotypes who would seem more at home in an early 80’s slasher than in a JAWS movie. That is except for one unlucky woman whose calamitous and explosive demise may be the most unintentionally hilarious death scene ever put to film.
It may have some great moments but JAWS has one severe, nay fatal, problem. ‘Jaws’ was a movie that in the simplest of terms shouldn’t have existed. It was made under the most difficult of circumstances, elements of which included but were not limited to; a spiralling budget, endless production problems, fractious professional relationships and, most infamously, an animatronic shark that didn’t work 90% of the time. If that wasn’t enough, these issues were under constant surveillance by an increasingly impatient studio who, at the drop of a hat, could have pulled the plug and sent the cast and crew, including the rising Spielberg, into immediate unemployment. Yet the combined talents and passions of the men and women working both in front of and behind the camera of ‘Jaws’ combined to defy the massive odds stacked against it and the result is a genuinely magnificent work of art still cherished by fans like myself to this very day.
JAWS 2 on the other hand was made under far less demanding conditions and, crucially, with all of Universal’s money and resources behind it. Nothing was hard fought for in the making of JAWS 2 and while it was a difficult shoot, there were very few issues that couldn’t be solved with a few extra thousands dollars thrown at them - a stark contrast to the situation Spielberg regularly found himself throughout the production of JAWS when he was almost fired numerous times for his overspending. As a result of this financial freedom, absolutely nothing about ‘Jaws 2’ comes across risky or daring. Instead it just plays out like every other creature feature of the late 1970’s, a bog-standard Summer blockbuster thriller that may bring the jumps but lacks the drive, the urgency and the very real danger that went into the creation of its cinematic sibling.
The characters aren’t nearly as interesting, the story is predictable, the script isn’t particularly memorable and the whole thing just doesn’t possess the strange, alchemical, indefinable majesty that made ‘Jaws’ so very special. It may have some merit as a piece of mindless fun but when all is said and done, ‘Jaws 2’ is what happens when a movie is purely driven by profit rather than genuine artistry or passion. It’s a hollow husk of a film that may entertain and may even legitimately scare at times but, like it’s shark, only really serves to consume.