Series Retrospective: JAWS

Dum-dum-dum-dum ! We take a look at Jaws and its three sequels in the first of a new series of articles taking a look at different film franchises.

Steven Spielberg€™s masterpiece, the Jaws series of films is a spectacular example of how a series can go from an absolute classic to a film considered one of the worst of all time. Part of a new series of retrospective articles looking back at each and every entry in a series of films, we look at Jaws and its three much maligned but somewhat interesting sequels - all of which have gone on to find their own cult fanbase. This article may be too intense for younger children.......

Jaws (1975)

Dir. Steven Spielberg

rating: 5.0

It never fails to surprise me when people refer to Jaws disapprovingly as nothing more than a silly shark movie which gave birth to the unintelligent summer blockbuster. Anyone with half a brain knows that while the film€™s mammoth success was definitely instrumental in the rise of event movies - from Star Wars to Jurassic Park - it€™s also an intelligent and extremely well crafted thriller. There's far more to Jaws than just cheap shocks, featuring believable and relatable characters whom we can care about and associate with, and a plot which remains timelessly thrilling in its simplicity. Just how many summer blockbusters can you say that about today? While it€™s a simple story about a picturesque beach community which is terrorized by a huge man-eating shark, the film managed to not only terrify a whole generation to stay out of the water but stand the test of time in becoming a sheer classic. 36 years later and Jaws has lost none of its power to scare - becoming forever etched into public consciousness and playing on a primal fear which we all have when swimming in open-water. Jaws is also one of those rare films where every individual aspect seems to combine effortlessly to create a masterpiece. There€™s the iconic John Williams music - made all the more ominous and powerful in its sheer simplicity. Everyone remembers the dum-dum-dum-dum shark theme, but what secures the Oscar winning score as some of his finest work are the rousing and adventurous themes during the final third of the film aboard the Orca. Then there€™s the direction from a young and fearless Steven Spielberg. Despite having only directed one feature film - 1974€™s The Sugarland Express - the young director manages to even outdo Hitchcock in terms of sheer suspense and implied terror. Seeing as Spielberg has been responsible for many other classic films, it€™s a testament to the enduring quality of Jaws that it€™s still one of his absolute best. Just as important to the films success is it€˜s casting, with Roy Scheider brilliantly personifying the everyman as the sea fearing Chief Brody. Richard Dreyfuss is excellent as shark expert Matt Hooper, and Robert Shaw€™s crusty fisherman Quint has been oft-parodied but remains a stunning performance - especially during the haunting and chilling U.S.S Indianapolis speech. And let€™s get this out of the way now, the much maligned mechanical shark named Bruce (after Spielberg€™s lawyer) has been labelled as rubbery, unconvincing and even called €˜The Great White Turd€™ by Spielberg himself. While it was a smart move to keep Bruce hidden as much as possible - be it due to failure or a directorial decision - the animatronic shark was, and still is, a remarkable achievement for 1975. Bruce might not have worked most of the time, nor did he particularly resemble a real-life Great White Shark, but god-damn it, they pulled off an admirable feat. By the time it lurches towards a chumming Roy Scheider, we€™re already terrified enough that nothing could ruin the suspense. Even during the moments where the shark is quite clearly fake, I certainly wouldn€™t want to be in the water with it, that€™s for sure. The question of a single favourite film is a difficult one for many to answer, yet I never have any doubt in my mind that the one film I€™ll continue to enjoy and go back to for the rest of my life is Jaws. It became the first film to have a significant impact on me at a young age, encouraging my obsession and fascination with cinema and my love and respect for the film continues to this day. Jaws is the perfect movie experience.

Jaws 2 (1978)

Dir. Jeanott Scwarc

rating: 3.0

After the worldwide box-office success of Jaws, a sequel was always inevitable. Producers Richard Zanuck and David Brown, were initially hesitant, failing to see how the success of Jaws could be recaptured. These sentiments were echoed by Spielberg, who had began pre-production work on Close Encounters Of The Third Kind but was also adamant that he had already directed the definitive shark movie. But with Universal quickly pushing the sequel forward, with or without the backing of its original creators, Zanuck and Brown decided to take on the impossible task of recreating the success of Jaws. Several original cast members including Amity mayor Murray Hamilton and Brody€™s wife Ellen played by Lorraine Gary were quick to rejoin the cast. Despite a strong hesitation to refuse participation in a sequel to Jaws, Roy Scheider found himself contractually obliged due to an ongoing contract with Universal - after pulling out of a role in The Deer Hunter. This forced participation led to significant tension on the set - which was only part of a difficult production that rivaled that of the first film. The original director John Hancock was fired, despite having filmed significant sequences - following concerns over his dark and violent vision for the film. His replacement, Jeanott Scwarc was brought in as a last minute replacement, with experience in mainly TV rather than feature film. But while Scwarc did an admirable job of handling such a difficult project, he found himself clashing repeatedly with Scheider - who remained unhappy throughout the entirety of the shoot. With such a difficult and troubled production. It€™s almost a miracle that Jaws 2 actually manages to be a fairly entertaining sequel. It just about passes as an entertaining, if forgettable, silly shark movie. Yet Jaws 2 is inferior to Jaws in almost every way imaginable. Spielberg€™s classic was a suspenseful masterpiece with an emphasis on character - in particular the trio of Scheider, Dreyfuss and Shaw. Jaws 2 quickly suffers in comparison, as it has no interesting characters of its own outside of a returning Chief Brody. Even worse, many of them are annoying - such as a girl named Jackie who spends the entire film screaming. It€™s pretty much like a bad slasher movie, with ol€™Brucie focusing his attacks solely on a group of young teenagers, including Brodies two sons Mike and Sean. They even go so far as to try and give the shark a more sinister and villainous appearance by scarring half its face early on in the movie. This simply doesn€™t work and makes the already fake looking shark provoke giggles - looking like he€™s on his way to an underwater fancy dress as a half-assed Freddy Krueger. Speaking of the shark, it€™s both a wise decision and a stupid one to show him as much as possible in this sequel. Yes, it would be stupid to try and recreate Spielberg€™s ability to create tension and fear by keeping the monster hidden, but that doesn€™t mean that showing it as often as possible is a good idea. By shoving Bruce into the open frequently, Jaws 2 ends up showcasing the many limitations of the mechanical shark. Best of all is a goofy moment when the shark brushes past the edge of a boat - mouth agape - and crushes in on itself. You almost expect one of the characters to turn to the others and shout €œHey€. That€™s a mechanical shark !!!€- leading to a shocking twist ending which might have made Jaws 2 more memorable than it actually is. Amity police chief uncovers sinister plot to kill teenagers with robotic shark - tell me that wouldn€™t have been a great movie. But for all the problems with Jaws 2, it€™s not a terrible sequel. It suffers from dull characters and pedestrian direction, but for the most part it€™s entertaining enough. John Williams contributes a score which builds on the themes from the original into something new and expansive which avoids repetition and Roy Scheider is again excellent again as more unhinged Brody - even though he didn€™t enjoy working on the film. Jaws 2 also features some excellent set-pieces, such as the sharks pursuit of a speeding water skier or the brilliantly corny shark vs. helicopter sequence. For these reasons, Jaws 2 is worth watching but falls way short of reaching the suspenseful quality of the original and suffers mightily in comparison. It also gave us the infamous "Just when you though it was safe" tagline, which continues to be parodied and referenced to this day.

Jaws 3-D (1983)

Dir. Joe Alves

rating: 0.5.0

Oh crap, I guess it€™s time to move onto Jaws 3-D. After pushing their luck with Jaws 2, producers Zanuck and Brown conceded that Jaws had little mileage for further sequels. With this in mind they pitched the concept of mocking the very idea of turning Jaws into a franchise, by morphing a third sequel into a spoof comedy in the vein of Airplane! under the successful National Lampoon moniker. The script titled Jaws 3 - People 0 - was a satire of both the Jaws series and Hollywood itself written by 80s comedy veteran John Hughes. To give you an idea of what the script was like, it began with a cameo from Jaws writer Peter Benchley being eaten by a shark in his own swimming pool. It sounded awesome and even Gremlins director Joe Dante had signed up to direct the project. Sadly, the comedy was swiftly cancelled by Universal who decided to lean towards the production of a more traditional sequel. There€™s a number of rumours surrounding why the project was canned, but most interesting is the one of a disgruntled Spielberg demanded work on the film be prevented, due to fears that it would make fun of his own Jaws movie. I€™d like to think that this isn€™t true, as it would make Spielberg responsible for the hideous mess that Jaws 3 went on to become. Yet in many ways, it€™s almost like Jaws 3 never stopped being a comedy - transforming into a nonsensical script involving a mother shark trying to avenge the death of her offspring in a Florida Sea-World amusement park. An obvious attempt to break away from the trappings of Amity Island, Jaws 3-D€™s amusing concept fails to reach its already slim potential. I€™ve always felt that Jaws 3-D is the worst film in the series by a significant long shot. Yeah, I know I€™m in the minority - Jaws The Revenge is often cited as the worst, but at least being set in the Bahamas made it a visually appealing mess. Jaws 3-D is just a mess, plain and simple. At no single point during the movie do you care about anything that€™s happening and the whole thing feels like a cheap disaster movie, with flat murky visuals and boring characters. Oh and it€™s the worst kind of mess, a cheesy 80s one - bringing together all the worst aspects of the tackiest films of the decade. It€™s all here - from garish opening credits, to the casting of Dennis Quaid and Louis Gossett Jr - lending his Oscar winning chops to a film about a three dimensional fish. Jaws 3-D also features some of the worst special effects ever seen in such a major studio picture. I€™m not kidding either - the effects in Jaws 3-D are laughably terrible from start to finish. Bruce himself looks even rubberier than usual, complete with a snarl. At this point he€™s a fraction away from having a monocle and cackling like an evil genius. Bruce actually comes across fairly well though, thanks to the atrocious 3-D effects. If you need any proof of 3-D being an unnecessary fad, Jaws 3-D is a great example and goes to show why the gimmick came, and then swiftly went in the 1980€™s. It€™s full of irritating moments where things are stuck out into the camera, ranging from a fake plastic eel to a gory severed human arm. Some of these shots aren€™t even finished, such as when a submarine can be seen flickering due to the crummy green screen. Watching this on TV or DVD is like an odd surrealistic nightmare, with the 3-D effect lost and rendering several lengthy effects shots pointless - needlessly lingering on screen for what seems like an eternity. This is established early on with an arduous 28 second lingering shot of a decapitated fish head€.Terrifying stuff ! The very end of the film features what I€™m quite convinced is the worst final shot ever seen in a film. As our heroes celebrate having not been eaten, two dolphins are shoddily superimposed jumping into the shot - it looks ridiculous. Seriously, this moment is beyond awful but strangely captivating. Every single film that€™s made should end with two dolphins suddenly twisting into frame thanks to bad green screen effects. I can€™t say what seeing Jaws 3-D on the big screen was like back in 1983, but as it stands today it€™s a total farce. Boring characters, crummy effects and a beyond cheesy 80s vibe make Jaws 3-D the worst film in the series. A mighty fine achievement considering how god-awful the next entry would be.

JAWS: The Revenge (1987)

Dir. Joseph Sargent

rating: 1.0

Following the cornball disaster movie approach taken in Jaws 3-D, you at least have to give director Joseph Sargent credit that he wanted to make a Jaws film which was driven by character much like Spielberg€™s original. Sadly those characters are an unenthused Lorraine Gary returning as Brody's long suffering wife Ellen, Mario Van Peebles as a stereotypical rastapharian and most bizarrely Michael Caine as a airplane pilot named after a type of sandwich €“ Hoagie. It€™s clear from the start that Jaws The Revenge wants to be taken seriously as a faithful sequel to the original, but all credibility is lost in a film that expects us to believe that a Shark has a personal grudge against the Brody family and is willing to follow them around the world on a personal vendetta. Yup, this is the so called revenge of Jaws The Revenge and you€™d think that the Brody's would perhaps just be wise to stay away from the water entirely rather than moving to the Bahamas of all places. The film also moves along at a snails pace, with Bruce himself taking a back seat to the dull focus on Ellen Brody's grief and her resulting relationship with a bored Michael Caine - who openly admitted to making the movie to pay for a new house. Not once did anyone watching Jaws think that Ellen Brody should carry an entire movie €“ cause you know, she€™s not exactly a fascinating character. Funnily enough, as dire a film as this is with its barmy plot and dull script €“ it€™s not as tacky as Jaws 3-D and at least displays some evidence that its cast and crew wanted to try and make something that at least resembled a finished movie. Joseph Sargeant makes good use of his tropical setting, making the film nicer to look at than Joe Alves' blandly constructed and ugly second sequel. Also, while Jaws 3-D carries the distinction of having the worst special effects of the entire series, Jaws The Revenge tries its very best to outdo it. Bruce himself looks even rubberier than usual and seems devoid of any real movement - often nonchalantly gliding around like he€™s drunk. It doesn€™t help that throughout Jaws The Revenge, the mechanics controlling the shark can be glaringly seen in shot. Worst of all are the multiple endings to the film. When released in theatres, the original ending had test audiences baffled - with Ellen Brody impaling the shark on the tip of the boat and mortally wounding it. How did Universal rectify this rubbish ending ? By making the shark explode on impact€.. For no apparent reason. The effects used in this hastily reshot ending are truly some of the worst you€™ll ever see and it's unbelevable that they passed any sort of quality control. The shark looks like a child€™s toy made from wax and even the boat itself is clearly unfinished and looks like a poorly constructed model made from toothpicks and Pritt stick. So all in all, it€™s a perfect ending, to a far from perfect film - partly why Jaws The Revenge is notable for being one of the worst films ever made. Much like Jaws 3-D, it€™s become something of a cult classic, and while it€™s actually a bit of a bore, it€™s worth watching at least once to laugh at such idiocy as a roaring shark which stands on its tail and Michael Caine dancing to Calypso music. ____________ How do you rate Jaws and its three sequels ?Would you like to see another sequel or even a remake (yikes!) of Spielberg's classic ?Click here to download the script for the cancelled Jaws 3 - People 0
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Cult horror enthusiast and obsessive videogame fanatic. Stephen considers Jaws to be the single greatest film of all-time and is still pining over the demise of Sega's Dreamcast. As well regularly writing articles for WhatCulture, Stephen also contributes reviews and features to Ginx TV.