“I’m telling you – and I’m telling everybody at this table – that that’s a shark! And I know what a shark looks like, because I’ve seen one up close!”
Director: Jeannot Szwarc
Starring: Roy Scheider, Lorraine Gary, Murray Hamilton, Joseph Mascolo, Jeffrey Kramer, Collin Wilcox Paxton, Mark Gruner, Marc Gilpin, Ann Dusenberry, Gigi Vorgan, Donna Wilkes, Gary Dubin, David Elliott, Gary Springer, Keith Gordon
Screenplay: Carl Gottlieb and Howard Sackler
Synopsis: Two divers find the wreck of the Orca. As they pose in front of the boat, photographing each other, something glides through the water towards them… Police Chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) arrives late at a function for the Amity Shores development, with which his wife, Ellen (Lorraine Gary), is involved. Mayor Larry Vaughn (Murray Hamilton) introduces developer Len Peterson (Joseph Mascolo) to the guests, then invites Miss Amity, Tina Wilcox (Ann Dusenberry), to cut the ribbon on the project. The next morning, Brody receives a report of an unmanned boat, and sends his deputy, Hendricks (Jeffrey Kramer), out to investigate. Later, Hendricks shows Brody a camera found beneath the deserted boat. Out on the water, a fin breaks the surface behind a waterskier. Suddenly, the girl is dragged beneath the waves. The driver of the boat, the girl’s mother, sees only that her daughter has fallen off, and circles around to find her. There is no sign of the girl beyond her floating ski. At that moment, the woman’s boat is rammed by a gigantic shark. Screaming in terror, the woman tries to drive the animal away, first by throwing a fuel-drum at it, then by firing a flare gun. The flare ignites some spilled fuel, and the woman, the shark and the boat go up in flames. The boat then explodes… While he questions the witnesses, Brody has his subordinates drag the water in the vicinity of the accident, but they only succeed in snagging an electrical cable. The teenaged Mike Brody (Mark Gruner) and his friends sail out to a lighthouse, which stands on an isolated sandy point. As Tina and her boyfriend, Ed (Gary Dubin), run through the dunes, they are horrified to stumble over the mutilated remains of a killer whale. Dr Elkins (Collin Wilcox Paxton) is called in to examine the animal. Brody points out the large bite mark on the whale, but Elkins refuses to concede that a great white killed it—or that a shark killed it at all. The worried Brody embarrasses Mike by ordering him off the water in front of his friends. Brody then tracks down Mayor Vaughn at the town hall, and tells him of his fear that another great white shark is in the waters off Amity, but Vaughn refuses to listen. Brody drives along the shoreline, and stops when he sees some floating debris. Overcoming his fear of the water, he wades in to grab the debris—only to recoil in horror as a badly burned body also lurches towards him… That night, Brody prepares a batch of cyanide-tipped bullets. He also tries to put through a call to shark expert Matt Hooper, but learns that he is incommunicado in the Antarctic. The next day, Vaughn, Peterson and Ellen take some potential investors in Amity Shores to the beach, where they are dismayed to find Brody in the shark tower. Even as the three try to convince their clients that there is nothing out of the ordinary in the police chief’s presence, Brody sees a dark shape in the water offshore and rings the alarm bell. Then, shouting for the panicked beach-goers to get out of the water, he runs towards the water, pulls his gun and fires…
Comments: Jaws changed everything; and so – in its own way – did Jaws 2.
Of course this was not remotely the first-ever sequel, or even the first cash-in sequel: Universal, fittingly enough, had pretty much invented both back in the 1930s; but something new and unwelcome was in the air here, something evident in the very baldness of the chosen title.
What Jaws 2 would seem to represent is the first obligatory sequel: a distinction perhaps best illustrated by the fact that almost no-one associated with Jaws wanted anything to do with the making of it.
There is an hilarious tendency out there for critics – or apologists – to damn Jaws 2 with the faintest of praise, by calling it, “By far the best of the Jaws sequels.” Best, in this case, is an extremely relative term: few great films have spawned sequels as awful as Jaws; and few franchises have hurtled from the penthouse to the basement as quickly as this one did.
The thing is, though— I’ve pretty much come to terms with Jaws 3-D and Jaws: The Revenge (the latter’s desecration of the memory of Martin Brody excepted). I’m able, these days, to enjoy them simply as bad movies, embracing their few good moments and their many, many, many blunders.
It’s Jaws 2 – objectively, as the critics have said, a much better film – that really makes me mad; and the more I think about it, the madder I get. (I should probably apologise in advance for the And another thing— tone of this overlong piece…)
The issues associated with the production of Jaws and its ever-escalating budget are the stuff of Hollywood legend these days. Less recognised is the fact that Jaws 2 cost $30 million—approximately $120 million in today’s terms—more than three times the final cost of Jaws—and almost none of it is up there on the screen.
Instead of a big-budgeted studio production, Jaws 2 looks and feels like a made-for-TV knock-off of Jaws. Its mise-en-scène is bland and unimaginative, and it makes little effort either to create its own identity or to expand on the narrative of the original—instead reproducing moments, and bringing back minor characters, to no apparent purpose except to make the viewer go, “Oh, look, it’s so-and-so!”
The end result is something that, both practically and conceptually, feels like a blurry photocopy of its predecessor: everything is just a little smeared, a little exaggerated, a little “off”. The best thing about this film, frankly, is its tagline (which is admittedly brilliant).
When the circumstances of the film’s production are examined, it is possible to see that such an outcome was almost inevitable. Few of those involved in the making of Jaws 2 were there for the right reasons, or wanted to be there at all. Great films have emerged from chaotic productions, as we know, with Jaws itself being one of the poster-children for such artistic serendipity; but given the resistance of almost everyone involved in the making of this sequel, there was little likelihood of anything other than mediocrity resulting.
Despite all that, it isn’t difficult to imagine the forces that compelled Jaws 2 into existence. As the stunning profits from Jaws came rolling in, Universal forgot everything that had come before: the out-of-control budget, the endless shoot, the re-writes, the disastrous special effects, the on-set tensions and fights—everything that had caused the studio higher-ups so much grief and stress while the first film was being made were suddenly mere minor details. The past was waved aside, and preparations for a sequel put in motion.
There was just one problem: the people who actually worked on Jaws hadn’t forgotten; and the majority of them didn’t want to go through it all again.
Slowly, in most cases grudgingly, a production was put together. David Brown and Richard D. Zanuck, accepting that Jaws 2 was going to happen with or without them, signed on. Steven Spielberg did not: riding high on his sudden superstardom, he certainly had plenty of other places to be; though his at-the-time excuse for opting out, that he didn’t want to direct a sequel – “A cheap carny trick,” as he put it then – is now funny and embarrassing in about equal measure.
Spielberg’s subsequent argument, that he had nothing left to say, was far more cogent. He also, and rightly, feared another nightmare shoot like the first one. As it finally turned out, by the time production began on Jaws 2 Spielberg was safely tied up making Close Encounters Of The Third Kind—and had taken a grateful Richard Dreyfuss with him.
Roy Scheider absolutely did not want to do the sequel, but he was in a major contractual dispute with Universal after quitting The Deer Hunter and finally capitulated—although not without a literal fight.
Scheider was paid four times what he got for making Jaws to do the sequel, but even that didn’t reconcile him to his situation. After trying and failing to get out of the film by “going crazy” at the Beverley Hills Hotel, he proceeded to make life on-set difficult for himself and everyone else; butting heads in particular with eventual director, Jeannot Swarcz. The relationship between the two soured to such an extent that David Brown stepped in, arranging a meeting so that the two could air their mutual grievances—but instead found himself breaking up a physical altercation.
Lorraine Gary, meanwhile, who was married to Universal CEO Sidney Sheinberg, probably had no choice about her participation—which also added to the pre-production woes, as we shall see…
Howard Sackler, who had been one of those to work on the screenplay of Jaws, was signed up to write the screenplay. In fact, most of Sackler’s work on the original had been rejected—except for his idea to incorporate the story of the Indianapolis. With this in mind, Sackler initially pitched to Universal the idea for a Jaws prequel: Sidney Sheinberg liked the idea in theory, but finally decided it was, “Too far from the mother ship.”
It was also Howard Sackler who made the unlikely recommendation of John D. Hancock to direct Jaws 2. Hancock was chiefly a stage director, though he had moved into film; and there was little in his résumé to suggest he might be the man to helm a killer shark film, except perhaps for the made-for-TV horror movie, Let’s Scare Jessica To Death. As it happened, David Brown was a fan of that film; and though Hancock was relatively inexperienced, he was no more so than Spielberg had been. Perhaps with an unacknowledged hope of lightning striking twice, the producers hired the neophyte director.
John D. Hancock’s first move as director of Jaws 2 was to repay his buddy, Howard Sackler, by pushing him aside and appointing his own wife, Dorothy Tristan, as his co-screenwriter. The two of them came up with a script that had a deliberately darker tone: taking Larry Vaughan’s fears for Amity and running with them, the two imagined the island resort suffering economic collapse in the wake of its disastrous summer, creating a depressed community of unrented beach cottages, bankrupt businesses, and unemployed residents. Into this situation steps a real-estate firm that raises everyone’s hopes with its plans to reinvigorate the island…only for political corruption and mob connections to be revealed. Meanwhile, several mysterious deaths occur offshore…
The Hancock-Tristan screenplay was greenlit and shooting began—and so did trouble. Not just on-set trouble, though with respect to fluctuating weather patterns and failing mechanical sharks (newly built for the production, but repeatedly breaking down just like their predecessors), the filming of Jaws 2 began to mimic the filming of Jaws with almost comical exactitude; but trouble both artistic and personal.
Having approved the script in theory, the powers-that-be found that they didn’t like the results in practice: too dark; too out of step with the first film, was the verdict. Meanwhile, the real residents of Martha’s Vineyard were reacting in much the same way: ironically, the fake depression of Amity was causing similar problems in reality, with the resort’s art-designed dilapidation driving away the tourists. Co-operation dwindled, and Universal Go Home! t-shirts began to appear around town.
Around this time, John D. Hancock and Dorothy Tristan were invited to dinner by Sidney Sheinberg—who spent the entire evening pushing for the character of Ellen Brody to be a greater presence in the film, including being involved in its climactic scenes. Embarrassed and uncomfortable, the dinner guests temporised; and the next day, Hancock told Richard D. Zanuck all about it—unwittingly lighting a fuse. During the production of Jaws, Zanuck and Sheinberg had butted heads over whose wife got to play Ellen Brody – Zanuck was then married to Linda Harrison – and Sheinberg had won. Hearing of the CEO’s latest manoeuvring, Zanuck went berserk—with the director and screenwriter caught between the two warring executives.
Loyal to Zanuck, Hancock turned in a new draft of the screenplay as ordered, but without altering the size of Lorraine Gary’s role. It was the beginning of the end. With the by-now familiar production woes in full force, the residents of Martha’s Vineyard in revolt, and an angry studio head on the rampage, the inevitable result was the departure of Hancock and Tristan from the production.
(Sheinberg of course eventually got his wish with regards to an Ellen Brody-focused Jaws film, which just goes to prove you should be careful what you pray for.)
Now well behind schedule and over-budget in the traditional Jaws manner, Jaws 2 shut down while these implosions were sorted out. The first idea was, of course, to appeal once more to Steven Spielberg—but after wavering for a weekend, and even hammering out some new script ideas, he rejected the film a second time.
With the situation becoming desperate, the screenwriting duties were handed over to Carl Gottlieb, who scrapped nearly all of the Hancock-Tristan script and dashed off something more in keeping with Universal’s increasing demands for something “lighter” in tone and “more summery” in look (the latter causing its own difficulties, as the production rolled into autumn).
This abrupt change of gears had unanticipated consequences in quite another direction. Along with introducing the concept of the “summer blockbuster”, Jaws was responsible for a new branch of film-marketing, with behind-the-scenes and making-of merchandise becoming a highly profitable new form of venture. Jaws itself was of course based on a novel – sort of – but while pre-planning the marketing of the sequel, Universal gave the go-ahead for a novelisation of the Jaws 2 screenplay—which is based on the rejected script, not on Carl Gottlieb’s re-write.
Reading it (and yes, of course I own it) is a bizarre experience. You can appreciate what Hancock and Tristan were trying to do, but you have to agree with the Universal executives that it just wasn’t right for a Jaws sequel—not because of its “darker, edgier” aspects – nor indeed its lack of Ellen Brody – but because there isn’t nearly enough shark in it.
(To clarify, there is more shark in the novel than in the screenplay; even some attempts to put us in the animal’s head and win it a measure of understanding, if not sympathy; but those additions come courtesy of author Hank Searls. No-one in Amity is aware that there’s a shark until late in the story.)
This is not to say, though, that Carl Gottlieb got it right either; but we’ll return to that point at a later time…
Meanwhile, with speed now of the essence and artistry a distant secondary concern, Universal tapped Jeannot Szwarc for the director’s job. Szwarc was a competent director with a reasonable résumé – most recently he had directed William Castle’s final film, Bug – but increasingly he was working in television, under constant restraints of time and budget—which perversely contributed to his hiring. This, considered Sidney Sheinberg, was the man to get Jaws 2 back on track and in the can.
Szwarc did his best—but this was a Jaws film after all, with the weather, the water and the mechanical sharks making a mockery of the shooting schedule; while the director’s escalating personal feud with Roy Scheider also took its toll.
Ultimately, and partly because of a gruelling seven-days-a-week effort from cast and crew over the last month, principal photography on Jaws 2 wrapped just before Christmas of 1977, with the film released on 16th June 1978.
One person who did return voluntarily to Jaws 2 was John Williams—who, because of the rolling delays in production, ending up having to start writing his score without seeing the footage. Williams naturally reprises his celebrated orchestration for the first film here, but also strives to distinguish his two bodies of work—beginning this in the very first frames, with a deceptively light, harp-based piece overscoring the opening credits, in place of the openly ominous chords of the original, with just a few deeper notes to lend a touch of warning. However—the familiar theme kicks in soon enough…
Jaws 2 begins in the waters off Amity Island, with two divers coming across the wreck of the Orca. Their pantomimed celebrations suggest that they were intentionally hunting for the remains of the boat. One of the two poses in front of the wreck, while the other moves back to take his photograph with an underwater flash-camera.
At this point, our perspective shifts, pulling back. Something flashes through the water towards the boat—and the divers. At the last instant, the photographer swings around—the camera going off even as it falls from his hands…
And this is where I start complaining about Jaws 2. (Three minutes in: this is going to be a bumpy ride…)
While I have criticised the Hancock-Tristan screenplay for “not enough shark”, that is not to say that I’m a fan of how the shark is used in the completed film. This may sound like a case of, “There’s no pleasing some people,” but ultimately Jaws 2 has too much shark—though the issue is not that per se so much as the attitude behind it.
To be fair, Jeannot Szwarc was on a hiding to nothing here. After Steven Speilberg’s careful lead-in to the revelation of his monster, its brief but jolting appearances building up to that moment, and his shark-heavy climax, where was there for Szwarc to go? He must have known, too, that he was never going to compete with the first film in terms of its story and characters. It isn’t unreasonable that he would respond to this impasse with quantity in the place of quality—a typical unnecessary-sequel manoeuvre, in fact.
Beyond this, though, are a couple of things I take issue with. The first, not surprisingly but still disappointingly, is the shift in the depiction of the shark. I made the point in my review of Jaws that for much of the film, the shark behaves like a real shark—emerging to feed, rather than to Kill All Humans; and by the time that changes, even I’ve stopped caring.
Here, however, the shark is behaving like your familiar movie monster: it’s just here to kill, and it gets down to business as rapidly as possible—attacking one diver and then the other without pausing. We don’t see it doing so, explicitly; but we have by this time been granted a glimpse of the animal—mostly its teeth…
Jaws 2 does largely dismiss John D. Hancock and Dorothy Tristan’s vision of Amity, but it keeps the real-estate angle—with the island celebrating the building of a new Holiday Inn and condominium complex, “Amity Shores”. The ribbon-cutting ceremony has a particular importance for Ellen Brody, who is now the personal assistant of the development’s builder, Len Peterson. She is, therefore, less than thrilled by her husband’s no-show.
We follow Martin Brody as he drives impatiently off the ferry and cross-country to the new development—which, unless my eyes deceive me, sits pretty much where Chrissie Watkins’ remains were found.
As the Amity High School Band play a few obvious choices, and Larry Vaughan – Amity’s answer to Diamond Joe Quimby – makes a platitude-filled speech, Martin sprints around the indoor swimming-pool that forms the centrepiece to the party, donning jacket and tie on the way, and drops into the empty chair beside Ellen. Big fake smile plastered on her face, she gives him a dig or two, then asks that he try to act like he’s been there all along: “Look bored.”
The ribbon-cutting itself is performed by “Miss Amity”, Tina Wilcox—played by Ann Dusenberry who, in her cream-white one-piece, manages to look small-town-girl-next-door sweet and improbably hot at the same time. This moment ushers in the most dismaying aspect of this film. There is an immediate follow-up to this keynote when Larry Vaughan forces an introduction of his son – inevitably, “Larry Jr” – on Len Peterson, drawing him away from his group of friends to do so.
Cinema targeting a teen audience may have been one of the consequences of the accidental invention of “the summer blockbuster”, but that doesn’t really explain the decision to build the sequel to Jaws around a group of teens—or to put it another way, to replace Matt Hooper and Quint with the cast of Friday The 13th.
One of its many pleasures is that Jaws is an entirely adult film—in its conception, its cast, its characters; there’s no pandering in it to perceived audience groups, no “identification figures”, Martin Brody’s appealingly flawed heroism aside. Yet Jaws 2 dispenses with all of that, setting alongside a plot dealing with Brody’s struggles – and giving them equal weight – endless scenes of teenagers messing about in boats.
I reference Friday The 13th advisedly: though it pre-dates all of them, it is impossible not to associate Jaws 2 with the wave of slasher movies that emerged during the early eighties—not least because (i) it is soon clear that this group of teens are going to be the shark’s main target, and (ii) because despite occupying the centre of a major studio production, and emanating from the pen of a screenwriter who we know was capable of brilliance, these particular teenagers are every bit as uninteresting and indistinguishable as their low-budget horror-movie equivalents.
There is, however, one big difference: at least when you’re watching a slasher movie, you can be confident that most of the annoying teenagers are going to die horribly; it is not the least of the sins of Jaws 2 that not nearly enough of them do. (If the shark had eaten Donna Wilkes’ Jackie, I’d’ve pinned a medal on it.)
Around the party’s punch-bowl, a girl called Brooke is trying to set Mike Brody up on a blind date with her visiting cousin; a third, as-yet-unidentified kid, obviously the group’s “funny one”, butts in; while nearby, two bespectacled males of the outsider variety (one of them played by Keith Gordon, a rare recognisable face, so we can identify him as “Doug”), commiserate with one another over their inability to secure a dance. At this point, Tina’s boyfriend is identified for us as “Ed”.
(And yes, it is absolutely necessary to keep notes like this.)
Meanwhile, collecting the sleeping Sean, the adult Brodys cut and run with the declared intention of “fooling around”.
And meanwhile meanwhile, just offshore—a fin slices through the water…
(This is one of the very few bits of John D. Hancock-shot footage in the completed film, so, enjoy!)
The next morning, Brody is down on the docks talking to Deputy Hendricks, who is overseeing the cleaning of the police launch, when he receives a report of an abandoned boat, “In the main channel, off the point.” Still dodging the water, Brody sends Hendricks out to look into it.
This is our first clear intimation of the extent to which Jaws 2 just pushes the reset button: evidently his experiences have had no lasting effect on Martin Brody’s water phobia; and he behaves here exactly as he did at the outset of the original.
Then – sigh – we cut back to the teenagers, preparing to go out in their boats.
I will say one thing for Jaws 2: we get a sense here, as she champions Sean against Mike (“Boo! – big brothers…”), that Tina Wilcox is a genuinely nice person as well as being ridiculously attractive, which makes what happens to her hard to take. (See how that works, film-makers?)
The “funny one” is here introduced as “Andy”; there’s another girl, possibly Andy’s girlfriend; while Brooke’s cousin, Jackie, also shows up.
The drop-jaw, goggle-eye reaction of the boys to Jackie (Larry Jr excepted: David Elliott”s line was ad-libbed, apparently) seems somewhat improbable, I must say: she’s attractive enough, but no Tina Wilcox. But perhaps the boys consider Tina off-limits, or anyway, out of their league.
The kids then go out sailing in their small, personal craft: evidently the Amity equivalent of cruising in their cars, “With no particular place to go”, like the song says.
These scenes of the kids in their boats not only take up a tiresome amount of the running time of Jaws 2, they raise a possibility so dismaying, I hardly dare voice it.
Still—if you watch enough killer animal films, and watch them as I tend to do, in chronological order, it becomes very difficult not to feel that the final shooting-script of Jaws 2 wasn’t influenced by – ulp! – Tentacles, which likewise spends much more time than it ought to on kids in boats.
While I would be extremely loath to think that Carl Gottlieb was consciously copying Tentacles, as the first water-borne Jaws rip-off, that film may have been in the back of his mind more than anyone realised at the time.
Out on the water, the kids have – somehow – moved on to parasailing from a larger boat, with Mike being tossed around in a sling, and occasionally dunked—rather like bait on a fishing-line… Sure enough, we are teased with the shark here, but Mike is snatched up out of the water before anything can happen.
Elsewhere around the Amity shore, two women are out water-skiiing—one on the water, one driving the boat. The sound of the engine catches the attention of others in the vicinity: an elderly woman, whose house fronts this particular shore, looks up from her book; while Tina takes a break from snogging with Ed in the nearby dunes to briefly check out the action.
As the boat and skier cut through the water, a fin suddenly appears…and abruptly, with only a short cry of shock, the skier disappears.
(This scene, like much of Jaws: The Revenge – albeit not to the same extent – raises the question of how fast a great white can swim.)
Glancing back, the woman at the wheel sees that her companion isn’t there, but of course thinks no more than that she’s taken a spill. She turns the boat, searching for her friend. She finds the ski, ominously broken, but nothing more.
As the woman stares at the ski, her boat is struck and pierced by the shark. And whatever realistic shark behaviour we may have had in these films up to this point, this is where we part company with it forever.
The shark here makes a deliberate effort to tip the boat over; while the terrified woman, desperate for a weapon, snatches up a canister of gasoline and tries hitting the shark with it, but only succeeds in spilling its contents all over the boat, herself, and the shark. She then snatches up a flare-pistol and, well…
You know what I was saying about the connection of Jaws 2 to the slasher movies of the eighties? Yeah: try watching this and not thinking about Freddy Krueger, as the shark comes away from this encounter covered in burn-scars obviously intended to make it look scarier.
To paraphrase myself with respect to Grizzly— What, a twenty-foot-plus-long great white shark isn’t scary enough!?
Anyway— The woman also succeeds in blowing up the boat and herself; which is all those watching from shore see, of course.
The elderly woman reports the tragedy, and once again we find Hendricks doing the water-work while Brody supervises from shore. The former has recovered debris but no bodies. By this time, Tina and Ed have joined the old woman; but none of the witnesses have anything helpful to contribute. As for Brody, this second apparent water-related tragedy is dredging up some unwanted memories. He compels Hendricks and his equally bored boat-hand, Red, to go on looking for evidence despite their lengthy failure.
Finally, the two think they have found something, but all they’ve done is snag the heavy, insulated electrical cable that lies between Amity and the generator housed on a small rocky island known as Cable Junction. They then call it quits.
The next day, after some uncomfortably forced “Brodys at home” stuff, of which the take-home message is that Martin wants the now-17-year-old Mike to get a job, we cut back to the kids, who are spending the day out on a remote point marked by a lighthouse. Tina and Ed – apparently again having tired of snogging – are playing chasing games through the dunes when they are brought up short by the sight of a beached orca, dead and damaged.
Some of us might be inclined to note that whatever killed the orca seems to have done so just for kicks: the carcase displays two savage bite marks, yes, but no attempt has been made to eat it.
Martin summons to the scene a Dr Elkins, who refuses to confirm what we immediately call his worst fears—although we must stop and ask ourselves exactly what else could have inflicted bite-marks with that radius?
Mind you—we note that this so-called “expert” does not know what a bite radius is.
Martin’s other worst fear we do not blame Dr Elkins for dismissing. Hesitantly, almost embarrassed – and rightly so – he puts forward the theory that if one shark were killed by certain people, in a certain area, then could another shark—??
And if Sidney Sheinberg’s desire for an Ellen Body-focused Jaws film was an exercise in being careful what you pray for, it had nothing on Dr Elkins’ reply here, which would come back to haunt this franchise in ways as yet unimaginable:
Dr Elkins: “Sharks don’t take things personally, Mr Brody.”
(As things stand, the shark’s suggestive presence at the wreck of the Orca during the opening scene is the only hint of this potential motif.)
Brody’s immediate reaction this situation is to ground Mike, or at least to order him off the water. As his friends disperse, the embarrassed teenager gets Andy to tow his own boat back in, obediently going back with his father in the police launch—but with rebellion bubbling up inside him.
Okay. We’ve now reached the point at which Jaws 2 begins to make me genuinely angry—by devoting the next thirty minutes of its running-time to the humiliation of Martin Brody. How anyone could think that’s what this film’s audience wanted to see, I’m sure I do not know; but there it is.
I can feel the back of my neck burning as we speak, so I’m going to push through this as quickly as possible: we get Martin trying to talk shark with Larry Vaughan (who has the nerve to use the phrase “boating accident” twice) and getting rebuffed; Martin getting his water-phobia reinforced by discovering the burnt body of the missing boater (a slasher-movie-esque gotcha jump-scare); Martin making a fool – a dangerous fool – of himself at the beach, starting a panic and discharging his weapon; Martin trying unavailingly to convince the town council that the missing divers’ photographs show a shark; Martin getting fired for his efforts; and Martin getting drunk.
While this is all pretty excruciating, the last phase of it is unforgivable. In the first place, it’s one of those scenes I complained about earlier, a poorly reproduced reference to the original film: that scene is a bit of subtle brilliance, whereas this is uncomfortably overplayed. Furthermore, it consists not just of Martin getting loudly drunk, but deliberately embarrassing Hendricks.
What the hell!?
And something else occurred to me during this run-through of the film: its psychology is all wrong. We can believe that the selectmen might prefer to bury their heads in the sand, particularly with a critical investor on the hook; but I don’t believe that the townspeople would just shrug off their “summer of the shark”.
Yes, it’s true enough that here, swimmers and surfers tend to be back in the water as soon as the beaches are open after an attack; but there is a difference in the way that shark-aware cultures react to these incidents, compared with non-shark-aware cultures—and let’s face it, in the 70s pretty much everyone was non-shark-aware.
So this is how I think this section of Jaws 2 should have played out: I think it should be the still-spooked residents who are causing all the trouble – who have done a run around the council to erect and man the lookout tower – who are putting the real-estate deal at risk with their conduct, including sparking the occasional panic at the beach; and it should be Martin who is tasked with keeping them in line—making himself hugely unpopular with the townspeople in the process, even though he secretly sympathises and agrees with them. Then we get the disappearances – and Martin’s discovery of the horribly burnt body – then the diver with the bends (we’re getting to that), panicking over something in the water – and then the ambiguous photographs – which by this time aren’t ambiguous at all, not to Martin. Escalating dread meeting a refusal to listen could still result in an explosion and a sacking, but without the attendant cringe-factor—and absolutely without the scene with Hendricks.
But as it stands— When the dust settles, Martin is out of a job; and the script adds insult to injury by pushing him aside for a further thirty minutes, to focus on the teenagers.
Michael is supposed to be job-hunting, but his anger with his father leads him to sneak out early to spend the day sailing with his friends instead. Sean catches him, however, and threatens to squeal unless he gets to go too. An exasperated Mike capitulates.
At the docks, the kids divide themselves up between the available small craft and set out, soon passing a boat carrying a group of divers.
The focus then shifts, and we spend unnecessary time following the dive-group once underwater. One buddied-up pair divides, with one diver stopping to adjust his gear and sending the other ahead alone. The solitary diver tangles with a lobster, skims over rocks, pushes through seaweed—and has the narrowest possible escape from a lunging set of jaws.
(It is here that we get our first good look at the shark’s booga-booga burn-injuries, which come and go mysteriously for the rest of the film.)
Purely on instinct, the panicked diver heads straight for the surface—and when he is pulled from the water, he is incapacitated with a severe case of the bends, bleeding from his mouth and nose and unable to communicate. In dealing with the emergency and preparing for a hurried return to shore, the others do not see a fin cutting through the water nearby.
The camera follows the shark for some distance, sitting more or less at water-level—and then tilts up to show us the small flotilla in the distance…
Eventually we settle with Tina and Ed, who have let their friends get ahead of them while they tie up for a while to do what they do best…
…which also lends a slasher-movie vibe to what follows:
The shark dips below the small craft, striking it as it passes beneath. The shock tips Ed overboard, with the swirling waters carrying him some distance away. Neither kid has any idea what happened until Tina, having regained her balance, looks around in bewilderment—and sees a fin on the far side of the boat.
“Oh, Jesus,” she whispers…and then shrieks: “Oh God, Eddie, swim, swim fast—”
He does…but not fast enough…
There are only two really effective shark-scenes in Jaws 2, this being one of them; and the film does its best to ruin them both. In this case, it isn’t enough for Ed to be killed under Tina’s eyes: first, the shark has to tow Ed through the water and deliberately slam him into the side of the boat—before letting him go so that it can then grab him again.
Martin is driving Ellen to work, prior to clearing out his desk and turning in his police cruiser, when an ambulance on its way to the docks crosses their path. He follows instinctively, and arrives in time to see the stricken diver being treated by the paramedics.
“Something must have scared him,” comments one of the other divers. “He just panicked.”
Martin is already on high alert when Hendricks refers to all the other kids who are still out on the water—including Mike. By this time Martin has infected Ellen with his fears, and the two of them, with Hendricks at their heels, rush for the police launch. Hendricks tries unavailingly to point out that Brody no longer has the authority to use the boat, but ends up joining the Brodys instead: “They can’t fire both of us, right?” They set out in the direction of the lighthouse, which Hendricks declares the kids’ likely destination. Martin radios to the Harbo(u)r Patrol, asking for assistance.
The police launch pulls up to what looks like an abandoned boat—but onboard Martin finds Tina Wilcox curled up in the bow in a state of shock. As Martin and Ellen comfort her, Tina brings herself to utter a single word: “Shark…!”
Martin is just about to radio for help when he sees another boat in the distance and signals to those onboard. He leaves Hendricks and Ellen with Tina in her boat, and turns determinedly in the direction of the lighthouse in the launch.
As it happens, the kids have decided to bypass the lighthouse and its small sandy island, heading instead for Cable Junction. They’re currently dead in the water, however, waiting for Doug to fix a leak in one of his pontoons—
—only to end up dead in the water in a different sense…
At this point in Jaws 2, the film gives up any pretence at “hiding” the shark and instead – for better or worse – better and worse – sics it on its young cast.
This lengthy sequence is effective almost in spite of itself, with the shark and the panicking kids managing between them to wreck most of the small, fragile craft. The kids resort to lashing their boats together into a kind of floating fortress, jumping from one to another as various parts of the flotilla come under attack. The film succeeds in creating both suspense and some real emotional resonance when Sean Brody becomes isolated and stranded on an upturned boat, and is too paralysed with terror to help himself. (I particularly like the way Andy’s own terror manifests as anger: “Goddammit, Sean—!”)
But I say “in spite of itself” because there are also some truly infuriating touches here—though opinions will probably differ (particularly given later events in the franchise) on the way that the film dangles first Mike and then Sean in the shark’s path and then snatches them both to safety.
We do get a fatality here, however – one of the kids loses her life trying to protect Sean – and I cannot, cannot, forgive the fact that when she does so, we do not know her name.
Yeah, okay: her name is Denise; but I only know that because I’ve put myself to the trouble of finding out. The film makes no such effort. Nowhere are Jaws 2’s proto-slasher sensibilities more evident than in its casual dismissal of this unfortunate young woman.
But there is one other touch here that we really need to highlight.
We’ve all heard the horror stories about dealing with the mechanical sharks, and I’m sure this shoot, like its predecessor, was a nightmare; but that does not excuse the moment when the shark presses itself against the side of one of the boats. Let’s just say that the boat presses back: the entire shark distorts; it is squeezed narrow, with its mouth forming a sharp point and its teeth compressing and crossing over; and to top it all off, the camera is positioned so as not merely to capture every ridiculous detail of this, but to give the viewer a perfectly clear look at the shark’s hydraulics.
The carelessness of this – the indifference that allowed that shot into the final version of the film – really sums up Jaws 2 for me.
And then, having gone out of its way to offend and infuriate me, Jaws 2 has the audacity to try and curry favour with me—by bringing in the helicopter…
I hold hard to my opinion that Jaws 2 is ripping off Grizzly here. The only question is whether it was done cold-bloodedly or with a sense of humour; and while the later Jaws 3-D / L’Ultimo Squalo debacle hardly encourages belief in the latter, I still do prefer to think that there was someone at Universal with enough of a sense of proportion to acknowledge Bill Girdler’s chutzpah via what amounts to a cinematic tip of the fedora.
At any event, I am quite certain that the Obligatory Doomed HelicopterTM that has enlivened so many killer animal and disaster movies since can be traced back here. And for that, we should all be grateful.
(There is a helicopter in Tentacles, too, but as is so often the case with Italian rip-offs, it doesn’t feel like the film-makers understood why it was there.)
So. By this time, Tim and another kid whose name I didn’t catch (ETA: Paul, I think) have departed in the one undamaged boat, heading towards shore with the unconscious and bleeding Mike in their care. The other kids are subsequently spotted by the Harbour Patrol helicopter, with the pilot radioing in their position and direction.
As the kids celebrate their anticipated rescue, the chopper lands carefully on the surface of the water at a safe distance from the flotilla. Via a megaphone, the pilot explains his intention of towing the kids to Cable Junction, then calling the Coast Guard to take them in. The kids throw the pilot a line, he ties it to one of his pontoons, and then starts up his engine again—
—and though she didn’t know much about bite radiuses – radii? – Dr Elkins did remind us that sharks can be attracted by vibrations…
As the pilot tries to take off, the shark launches itself at the chopper. It seizes one of the pontoons, and a tug-of-war ensues—with the chopper finally flipping over completely – shedding debris that shreds the sails on the damaged boats, and very nearly the kids too – and finally settles gently on the water, upside-down…
(It was originally intended for the pilot to meet an explicitly gruesome fate, but in pursuit of a PG-rating this was finally left to our imaginations…and so I don’t feel so bad about laughing at this scene. The attacks that remain are distinctly bloodless, compared to those in Jaws.)
Invigorated by its takedown of the helicopter, the shark then turns its attention back to the flotilla—and it is as a result of this attack that Sean and the unfortunate Denise are separated from the others.
At long last we cut back to Martin Brody, all alone in the middle of nowhere, and unable to get the launch’s radio to work. Near the sandy island with the lighthouse, he crosses paths with the returning boat—and now learns from the recovered but guilt-ridden Mike that Sean is out with others.
Martin orders the three boys onto the island, and sets out for Cable Junction.
Heh. Everyone knows about these films’ mechanical shark problems; less well known is that “Cable Junction” was also constructed for the shooting of the climax of Jaws 2, and caused almost as many problems as did its fishy co-stars—once breaking its tethers and drifting off into the middle of nowhere, and with its slippery surfaces causing endless problems for the cast during the shooting of the film’s final scenes.
The flotilla was drifting towards the junction, but the wind is now pushing it to one side instead, so that the kids are in danger of missing it altogether. Then they snag on something, ending up stranded a tantalising distance from the potential refuge. Panic and terror take over at this point (hands up who has some sympathy with Larry Jr’s exasperation with Jackie?), so that with the mutual shouting and recrimination, the kids very nearly miss the sound of an approaching engine…
Martin is trying to dislodge the stuck flotilla and pull it alongside the launch when the shark reappears—lunging up between the boats. Martin, in his panic, mishandles the launch and sends it ramming into the rocky shore of the junction. He is unhurt, but the boat is damaged and stuck.
There is a rope onboard, and Martin ties it to the hooks of his winch, throwing the other end of it to the kids. The plan is to attach the hooks to the flotilla and winch it to the launch, but in dragging along the bottom, the hooks instead find the other end of that electrical cable that Hendricks and Red encountered after the water-skiing tragedy. In trying to free them, Martin only succeeds in dragging the cable towards the surface.
The shark here finishes off the sad remains of the flotilla, plunging through it and sending the kids scattering and falling. Several of them (including a girl who I only just now learned is called “Lucy”, and a boy whose name I never did catch) make it to shore; but only after Lucy has a close encounter that leaves her with a large patch of the skin on her side ripped away by the shark’s sandpaper-like hide.
Meanwhile, as Martin is steeling himself to take to the water in the launch’s inflatable raft, the still-running winch brings the electrical cable up onto the boat—and he gets another idea…
Jaws 2 was always going to struggle to find a climax that could challenge, let alone outdo, that of Jaws, so perhaps we shouldn’t be too critical. Still— The electrocution / explosion / fire that takes out the shark this time is just exaggerated enough to be absurd rather than satisfying; and then there’s this:
Martin Brody: “Say ‘ah’!”
But the ultimate sin of Jaws 2 is that it was a financial success—more than a success. The film took nearly $10 million over the first weekend of its release, more than $100 million domestically over the course of its run, and more than $200 million worldwide—becoming in the process the most financially successful sequel of all time. (It was, in other words, more profitable than The Godfather Part II!)
And so the die was cast. The Obligatory Sequel was a thing. And, after all, you can’t really blame the studios: if mediocrity can reap almost as much as greatness, why bother striving for the latter?
Nevertheless, history has since spoken on the subject of the first two Jaws films; and what it has said is that regular re-releases, and anniversary DVD reissues, and festivals of celebration, are not for the likes of Jaws 2.
Nor is there anything in Jaws 2 that prompts me to the endless footnotes of my Jaws piece (Huzzah! they cried); though there is just one last point that needs making: that while its sex is never determined – and while, as with the shark in Jaws, its size would suggest that it is female – right to the end the animal is referred to as “he”.
Consequently, viewers tend to call this shark “Bruce II”; though set against this is a suggestion that it is not only female, but pregnant – the mate of the first film’s shark, no less, though great whites absolutely do not bond – which stems from the screenplay novelisation discussed earlier, and a remnant of which is hinted at in Martin Brody’s fear that this second shark has come to Amity seeking revenge for the death of the first. In pop-cultural circles, it is not unusual to find a sort of tug-of-war going on between these two disparate concepts. The people who have only seen the film tend one way, while those who have read the book tend the other.
The explicit introduction of a female killer shark into the franchise, meanwhile, would have to wait for Jaws 3-D…
Yes, yes… Carcharodon carcharias inflammabilis.