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Jaws 2
Director: Jeannot Szwarc
Screenplay: Carl Gottlieb and Howard Sackler
Stars: Roy Scheider (Chief Martin Brody), Lorraine Gary (Ellen Brody), Murray Hamilton (Mayor Larry Vaughn), Joseph Mascolo (Peterson), Jeffrey Kramer (Hendricks), Mark Gruner (Mike), Marc Gilpin (Sean), Collin Wilcox Paxton (Dr. Elkins), Ann Dusenberry (Tina)
MPAA Rating:PG
Year of Release: 1978
Country: USA
Jaws 2 Poster

Unlike the other massive blockbusters of the 1970s--The Godfather (1972), Star Wars (1977), and Superman (1978)--Jaws (1975) did not lend itself particularly well to a sequel. After all, the story was about a shark that terrorized a small East Coast beach community. The shark was killed at the end, and the story was over. It had a kind of primal simplicity to it that kept audiences in its grip, but it didn't leave much room open at the end for a continuing saga. Thus, it is quite surprising that, three years later, the makers of Jaws 2 (many of whom were involved with the original) managed to essentially tread the same water, but still give the sequel enough of a twist to make it seem, if not fresh, then at least fun.

Steven Spielberg's original film is largely credited as being the first true Hollywood blockbuster, not only in the way it filled theaters with people of all ages willing to be scared senseless by a rampaging great white shark, but in how it illustrated the vast potential of the summer months for high-concept, mass-marketed movies. The original Jaws was plagued with endless production problems (what should have been a 55-day shoot turned into 159 days), but the young Spielberg triumphed by turning out a popcorn masterpiece that made millions. Because of that movie's enormous success, as coproducer David Brown put it, a sequel was "obligatory." But where to go?

Screenwriter Howard Sackler, who helped Robert Shaw pen his chilling monologue about the fate of the U.S.S. Indianapolis in the first film, eschewed several overly ambitious ideas (including one by Arthur C. Clark involving sunken secrets in the Indian Ocean) in favor of getting back to basics. Again, he set the story on the fictional Amity Island, the same East Coast community that had been terrorized by a great white shark three summers before. After the original director, John Hancock (Bang the Drum Slowly) was fired three weeks into production, Carol Gottlieb, who wrote the original's screenplay along with novelist Peter Benchley, did a thorough rewrite. French director Jeannot Szwarc was hired based largely on his work in television (the same criteria that had gotten Spielberg hired), and the production was again underway.

The resulting movie is hardly original, but in sticking closely to the primal basics that made the first movie work so well while also expanding outward with new visual tricks and a larger, mostly younger cast, Szwarc turned Jaws 2 into an entertaining and worthy follow-up.

Roy Scheider reprises his role as Police Chief Martin Brody, who is, once again, the only man who believes that there is killer shark in the waters just off Amity's placid beaches. This time he doesn't have the support of Matt Hooper, the scientist played by Richard Dreyfuss in the first film. Rather, he is completely on his own in being faced with the incredulous reactions of Amity's Mayor Larry Vaughn (again played by Murray Hamilton) when he tries to sound the alarm. Brody must also confront a new antagonist, a wealthy real-estate developer named Glenn Peterson (Joseph Mascolo), for whom his wife, Ellen (Lorraine Gary reprising her role), works. Jaws 2 continues the first film's scathing theme about the danger of big business run amok, with profits being put ahead of human lives. In this case, a brand-new Holiday Inn resort that has just been completed on Amity is in danger of losing money if people think the waters are dangerous, and Vaughn and Peterson will do anything they can to make sure that doesn't happen.

The movie opens, appropriately enough, underwater at the site where the Orca, the boat used in the first movie to kill the shark, has sunk. Two scuba divers are exploring it when another great white makes its presence known and promptly devours both of them, but not before one diver snaps an up-close photograph. Brody becomes suspicious later on when he suspects that a "boating accident" involving a mother and her water-skiing daughter was actually a shark attack. Brody is later fired from his position as police chief after causing a panic on the beach one day, and the truth of the situation doesn't become clear until the next day, when a group of local teenagers set out sailing in the ocean off Amity Island.

As the original film eventually turned into a parable of man versus nature with Brody, Hooper, and Quint setting off to battle the shark, Jaws 2 uses a similar ploy, except with a group of teenagers (who include Mike and Sean, Brody's sons) trapped on the ocean. What makes these scenes work is the fact that the movie takes its time in the opening scenes to give these teens unique and interesting characters so that, when they are in peril, we feel tension. The screenplay posits these teens as resourceful, intelligent people who react realistically to the situation in which they find themselves. Some panic, some get into fights, but they pull together in the end.

Of course, the shark is the real star here, and Szwarc eschews Spielberg's technique of keeping it under wraps for the movie's first hour. Szwarc and cinematographer Michael Butler do everything they can to make the shark attacks feel new and terrifying, and they succeed quite well. Szwarc has a strong sense of visual style and pacing that keep the movie's momentum flowing; he creates a palpable sense of isolation with the kids floating in the middle of ocean on a jumbled mass of broken and half-sunk sailboats and catamarans, always vulnerable to an attack. Of course, Jaws 2 is trying to up the ante at all times, so we get scenes of pure absurdity, such as when the shark attacks a helicopter and manages to drag it down under the water, even with the blades spinning.

Jaws 2, of course, will never be labeled a masterpiece as Jaws is. It had the dubious distinction of reinventing a story that had already been told in nearly flawless fashion. There weren't too many new directions the narrative could be taken, yet the filmmakers did everything they could to breathe new life into the material without forgetting what had made that material work in the first place.

Jaws 2 DVD

Aspect Ratio2.35:1
Audio Dolby 2.0 Monaural
LanguagesEnglish, French
SubtitlesEnglish, Spanish
Supplements The Making of Jaws 2: 45-minute documentary
"Jaws 2: A Portrait by Actor Keith Gordon"
"John Williams: The Music of Jaws 2"
The "French" Joke
Three deleted scenes
Production photographs and poster gallery
Storyboards for three sequences
Two theatrical trailers
Shark facts
Production notes
Cast and filmmaker filmographies
DistributorUniversal Pictures

Presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio in a new anamorphic transfer, the image quality of Jaws 2 is generally very good. Colors are strong and well-saturated, and shadow detail is high, which is especially crucial in the sometimes murky underwater photography. Sometimes detail level is a little too high, as in one shot that shows the shark opening its mouth wide to reveal many of the pneumatic gears inside (this was much harder to spot on fuzzy VHS). There are a few striking scenes that come across very well, including a vibrant sunset. There are some signs of wear and tear on the print, including a few instances of dirt and the occasional vertical line, but nothing that is overly distracting.

When Universal released the original Jaws on DVD last year in a new Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, reactions ranged from exhilaration about the new life breathed into the soundtrack to outright denunciation that original monaural soundtrack, which had won an Oscar for Best Sound, had been altered in any way. For the release of the sequel, Universal has apparently decided to play the safe route and release it only in its original Dolby 2.0 monaural. The mono soundtrack maintains relatively good fidelity, but it's easy to see why they did a 5.1 remix on the Jaws DVD. John Williams' ominous score simply lacks the punch that is given with a multiple-channel mix. The overall soundtrack still sounds good, but restricted to the front soundstage with no sense of expansiveness, it loses some of its potential kick.

Although not released under the Universal "Collector's Edition" banner, the Jaws 2 DVD comes with a nice set of supplements, starting with Laurent Bouzereau's 45-minute documentary The Making of Jaws 2. Featuring interviews with director Jeannot Szwarc, producers Richard D. Zanuck and David Brown, screenwriter Carl Gottlieb, and production designer Joe Alves, this documentary does a nice job of covering the movie's troubled production, which included a change of directors after three weeks of shooting, massive script rewrites, an unhappy lead actor, sinking mechanical sharks, and the filming of scenes that were supposed to take place in the summer during the dead of winter. While not nearly as troublesome as first movie, the production history of Jaws 2 offers plenty of interesting stories (you think they would learned some of these lessons the first time around...).

The documentary has three shorter companion pieces. The first, "Jaws 2: A Portrait by Actor Keith Gordon," is a seven-and-a-half minute interview with Keith Gordon, who played one of the teenagers in the movie and has since become a successful independent director. The second piece, "John Williams: The Music of Jaws 2," focuses on the infamous musical score and how Williams went about expanding and reworking it without losing the score's haunting essence. Finally, there is brief bit called "The French Joke" that involves director Szwarc talking about a slight problem the producers ran into when translating the movie's title into French.

Other goodies include storyboards for three sequences, which are interesting to compare to the final product because, in the case of the water-ski attack scene, the storyboards are completely different from what wound up in the movie. Also included are four deleted scenes, all of which had been edited back into the movie when it was shown on network TV. Most of the scenes further flesh out character relationships, although the last one depicts the pilot being attacked underwater after the shark flips his helicopter (the scene is very well done, although it is too reminiscent of the scene in Jaws when the shark attacks Richard Dreyfuss' character in the "shark-proof" cage).

A better-than-usual gallery of production photos includes about 80 behind-the-scenes shots (many of which appear in the documentary), as well a few dozen posters and lobby cards. Two original theatrical trailers with very bad image quality are included in full-frame. Lastly, the disc is rounded out by a good set of production notes, cast and filmmaker information, and shark facts.

Overall Rating: (3)

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