Jaws 2

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), MarkGruner (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 notlend itself particularly well to a sequel. After all, the story was about a shark that terrorized asmall 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 muchroom 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 toessentially tread the same water, but still give the sequel enough of a twist to make it seem, ifnot fresh, then at least fun.

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

Screenwriter Howard Sackler, who helped Robert Shaw pen his chilling monologue aboutthe 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 ofgetting back to basics. Again, he set the story on the fictional Amity Island, the same EastCoast community that had been terrorized by a great white shark three summers before. Afterthe original director, John Hancock (Bang the Drum Slowly) was fired threeweeks into production, Carol Gottlieb, who wrote the original's screenplay along withnovelist Peter Benchley, did a thorough rewrite. French director Jeannot Szwarc was hiredbased 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 madethe first movie work so well while also expanding outward with new visual tricks and alarger, mostly younger cast, Szwarc turned Jaws 2 into an entertaining and worthyfollow-up.

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

The movie opens, appropriately enough, underwater at the site where the Orca, the boat usedin the first movie to kill the shark, has sunk. Two scuba divers are exploring it when anothergreat white makes its presence known and promptly devours both of them, but not beforeone diver snaps an up-close photograph. Brody becomes suspicious later on when hesuspects that a "boating accident" involving a mother and her water-skiing daughter wasactually a shark attack. Brody is later fired from his position as police chief after causing apanic on the beach one day, and the truth of the situation doesn't become clear until the nextday, 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 theocean. What makes these scenes work is the fact that the movie takes its time in the openingscenes 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 reactrealistically 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 ofkeeping it under wraps for the movie's first hour. Szwarc and cinematographer MichaelButler do everything they can to make the shark attacks feel new and terrifying, and theysucceed quite well. Szwarc has a strong sense of visual style and pacing that keep themovie's momentum flowing; he creates a palpable sense of isolation with the kids floating inthe 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 alltimes, so we get scenes of pure absurdity, such as when the shark attacks a helicopter andmanages 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 hadthe dubious distinction of reinventing a story that had already been told in nearly flawlessfashion. There weren't too many new directions the narrative could be taken, yet thefilmmakers did everything they could to breathe new life into the material without forgettingwhat had made that material work in the first place.

Jaws 2DVD

AudioDolby 2.0 Monaural
SupplementsThe 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

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

When Universal released the original Jaws onDVD last year in a new Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, reactions ranged from exhilaration about thenew life breathed into the soundtrack to outright denunciation that original monauralsoundtrack, which had won an Oscar for Best Sound, had been altered in any way. For therelease of the sequel, Universal has apparently decided to play the safe route and release itonly in its original Dolby 2.0 monaural. The mono soundtrack maintains relatively goodfidelity, but it's easy to see why they did a 5.1 remix on the Jaws DVD. JohnWilliams' 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 senseof expansiveness, it loses some of its potential kick.

Although not released under the Universal "Collector'sEdition" banner, the Jaws 2 DVD comes with a nice set of supplements, startingwith Laurent Bouzereau's 45-minute documentary The Making of Jaws 2.Featuring interviews with director Jeannot Szwarc, producers Richard D. Zanuck and DavidBrown, screenwriter Carl Gottlieb, and production designer Joe Alves, this documentarydoes a nice job of covering the movie's troubled production, which included a change ofdirectors 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 thesummer during the dead of winter. While not nearly as troublesome as first movie, theproduction history of Jaws 2 offers plenty of interesting stories (you think theywould learned some of these lessons the first time around...).

The documentary has three shorter companion pieces. The first, "Jaws 2: APortrait 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 independentdirector. The second piece, "John Williams: The Music of Jaws 2," focuses on theinfamous musical score and how Williams went about expanding and reworking it withoutlosing the score's haunting essence. Finally, there is brief bit called "The French Joke" thatinvolves director Szwarc talking about a slight problem the producers ran into whentranslating the movie's title into French.

Other goodies include storyboards for three sequences, which are interesting to compare tothe final product because, in the case of the water-ski attack scene, the storyboards arecompletely different from what wound up in the movie. Also included are four deletedscenes, 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 thepilot being attacked underwater after the shark flips his helicopter (the scene is very welldone, although it is too reminiscent of the scene in Jaws when the shark attacksRichard 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.

©2001 James Kendrick

Overall Rating: (3)

James Kendrick

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