The effect of Spielberg’s shark movie cannot be overstated, not since Norman Bates ruined showers for millions of people has a film kept so many people out of the water, so the idea of a sequel to this mega-blockbuster seems natural by today’s standards, but sequels were not the norm at this point in history. Aside from the Planet of the Apes franchise, and the long dormant Universal Monster movies, not very many movies spawned sequels, but the success of Jaws and its sequel changed all that. When Jaws 2 came out and became the highest grossing sequels of all time the studio took a hard look at themselves and came to the conclusion, “Whoo-hoo, easy money!” Of course for every Godfather II you’re going to get many more like Exorcist II and Halloween II. But was Jaws 2 nothing but blatant cash grab? Does it deserve the scorn heaped on other sequels of its kind? Well let’s take a look.
That it took three years for this sequel to come out is probably the most surprising thing to most people, but if you look at the countless production problems you’d be a lot less surprised. Universal wanted Steven Spielberg to direct but his was response was, “Making a sequel to anything is just a cheap carny trick” and that he had made the “definitive shark movie” and saw no point in revisiting the subject. Now as true as those statements may be I’m betting the hell he went through making Jaws was another big factor in him refusing the job. Following this rejection was an insane 18 month pre-production period with draft after draft of scripts and treatments for the sequel, and then enters director John D. Hancock. With ideas of his own, and script work by his wife, Hancock was aiming for a darker movie than the studio wanted. The Mafia element that was in the original book he brought back, and his movie dealt with a dead and decaying Amity Island. This could have made for a very interesting movie but it was not the tone Universal wanted for what they hoped would be another summer blockbuster. Then after a month of tumultuous filming Hancock was fired.
Note: Refusing to create a larger part for Lorraine Gary, wife of then Universal President Sid Sheinberg, and then later firing another actress who was a girlfriend of another Universal executive, may also have had something to do with his dismissal.
Now enters Jeannot Szwarc, a television director who would later give us such “classics” as Supergirl and Santa Clause: The Movie. Taking over a struggling production is no easy task, and when your previous experience is mainly on episodic television that at least shows the man has balls of steel. By now every director in Hollywood would have heard of the nightmare shoot Spielberg had making the original, and so to take over this sequel, after another director had just beem fired, must have been a little daunting. And considering all these factors I’m surprised we got a product as good as it is. Jaws 2 was going to cost a lot more than the original and with the studio breathing down your neck to “cut costs but keep shooting” no matter what horrific problems arose, integrity of the story never seemed to be a pressing concern.
Let’s put aside the production issues and look at the final product. Though not as bad as the following two sequels Jaws 2 is still a major step down. Gone is the comradery between Sheriff Brody (Roy Scheider), Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), and Quint (Robert Shaw) that made the original such an endearing classic, and in its place is more shark and less character development. Jaws wasn’t just a “shark movie” it was an adventure tale with amazing characters, but in the sequel we essentially get a horror film in the “Dead Teenagers” category. Roy Scheider is back but under protest, he was basically forced at gunpoint to fulfill a contractual obligation, and aside from a few supporting characters from the original; the Mayor (Murray Hamilton), Brody’s deputy (Jeffrey Kramer), and Brody’s wife (Lorraine Gary), this is movie is about him and a bunch of dumb kids.
My biggest issue with the film is how it treated Sheriff Brody. This is a man who saved the community from a giant killer shark, and by the trophy we see on his desk he’s consider a local hero, but then this movie has him comes across like a paranoid loon. Divers go missing, a boat mysteriously explodes, and a killer whale washes ashore with a rather larger bite taken out of it, all this leads to Brody being sure that another shark has arrived. When the Mayor and the town council “pooh-pooh” his fears I’m kind of on their side, he has no evidence to substantiate his claims, and it all makes him look like a man desperately wanting to relive his glory days, despite his protestations that, “I don’t intend to go through that hell again!” The levels of his stupidity/insanity reach their height when he discusses the killer whale’s carcass with expert Dr. Ellkins (Collin Wilcox), he actually asks her, “I know that dolphins communicate. I mean they send signals. You don’t think that if a shark was destroyed, that another shark could come and…” Dr. Ellkins reassures Brody that, “Sharks don’t take things personally, Mister Brody.”
All this “evidence” leads to Brody lacing his bullets with cyanide and shooting up a beach. When he is fired we are supposed to feel sad and outraged at how he’s being treated, but I’m only outraged at the screenwriters who are doing their best to ruin a beloved character. Brody isn’t the only one who suffers from “Bad scriptitus” as the shark doesn’t fare that well either. In the original Spielberg kept the shark off camera, making it a mysterious and deadly force (how much of this was due to the robot shark not working is a debate for another day), but here Jeannot Szwarc has decided to show the shark right off the bat, and as often as possible. His justifications for this is that Spielberg had already done the slow build and now that audiences know what the shark looks like there is no point in hiding it.
Szwarc has also amped up the shark’s abilities, because having it be just another Great White isn’t enough, no this thing has to be faster than a speedboat and can pull a helicopter underwater. Great White Sharks can swim up to speeds of 35mph, yet in this movie we see the shark’s fin cutting through water so fast it’s actually sending up a wide spray of water as it chases done the hapless water skier.
Note: This idea came from the filmmakers seeing the periscope of a nuclear sub chasing a speedboat. Apparently no one told them that sharks do not have nuclear power, well that is until the SyFy channel gets a hold of them.
And Szwarc also wanted his shark to be more distinct so he has one of the victims set its face on fire so as to give it a scarier look. Seriously, you need to make a Great White scarier? I find just a photograph of a Great White to be fucking terrifying, I don’t need him to look like an aquatic version of Jason Voorhees.
Aside from the drama of Sheriff Brody being fired over his obsession with the shark this movie spends equal time with the idiot teenagers of Amity Island. Mike (Mark Gruner) and Sean (Marc Gilpin) Brody love to go sailing with their friends, it’s nice to see that they’ve got over the traumatic events of the previous film, but unfortunately this new shark has heard that Brody blood is the best and its but them and their friends on the menu. The actors playing the kids in this movie are universally bad, and we can only cheer on the shark as he stalks these teen clichés. The terrible thing is that to maintain a PG rating the studio was limited as to how many people could be killed by the shark, so most of these twits survive, and for some reason Mike Brody is knocked unconscious and is taken to safety while his little brother and other friends wallow around waiting to be eaten.
Remember the ending of the original Jaws, the Orca is sinking, the shark is approaching, and Brody snarls out, “Smile you son of a bitch,” then he shoots the oxygen tank that was lodged in the sharks mouth, and kablooey no more shark. The ending of this movie has Brody holding an undersea power cable as the shark comes on its attack run, Brody growls, “Open wide OPEN WIDE! SAY AAH!” then the shark bites the cable and ludicrously bursts into flames. This was a terrible decision as it just looked like they were trying to copy Spielberg’s ending, but all I took away from this film is that sharks are incredibly flammable.
Jaws 2 is competently shot, and despite being forced to appear in the film Roy Scheider does decent work here, but when comparing it to Spielberg’s original it just doesn’t hold up. John Williams returns to score the film, and the iconic Jaws theme still sends shivers down one’s spine, but the majesty and mystery of the deep is somewhat absent in this movie.
Trying to catch lightning in a bottle twice is a dubious prospect at best, but when you are missing key ingredients that made the last one so great, well that has to make it next to impossible. I don’t blame director Jeannot Szwarc for delivering a mediocre product; he was an experienced television director being given an impossible job; the real villains here are the greedy studio execs who would force a sequel out even if they couldn’t come up with a decent story. Sadly the fact that this film made a ton of money opened us up for Jaws 3D and Jaws: The Revenge, and constant threats of them remaking the first one. All I have to say to that is…