October is Horror Movie month, where we let down our hair and celebrate all things macabre and scary! Not that we don’t during the rest of the year, but still… HORROR MOVIES! People who don’t like horror are encouraged to check back November 1st for less bloody and/or disturbing films. For everyone else, let’s put on our galoshes and WADE INTO THE MIRE!
Hello and welcome to Shark Week here at Late to the Theater! This week’s selections are inspired by a dear friend who used to refer to her special lady time as ‘Shark Week.’ We shared many a laugh over that clever nomenclature over the last year or so. Three weeks ago she underwent a hysterectomy and will never again experience a Shark Week, so this week’s entries are dedicated to her! Let’s put on our floaties, paddle out just a little too far, make a ruckus in the water and see what turns up!
The Jaws movies hold a special place in my heart for many reasons, but most of all because they are why I am so goddamned terrified of the ocean. When you’re 5 and wandering through the living room during your parents’ movie night, and you catch a glimpse of a man struggling in the surf with a piece of wood that turns out to have a DEAD BODY attached to it, it leaves an impression.
So let’s dive in! There will be spoilers, but let’s face it, it’s not like you don’t know what happens in those movies anyway. Big shark, people eaten, shark dies, roll credits.
Since Jaws is a cinematic masterpiece that created the entire concept of the summer blockbuster, contains some of the most powerful performances of all time, and was one of the most legendarily difficult shoots of all time*, there’s no point to me trying to paste my stickers on over the layers and layers already there. So let’s take a look at Jaws 2, which was literally being planned while the first Jaws was still playing in theaters, a rare thing in 1978.
Steven Spielberg and Richard Dreyfuss both managed to get out of making Jaws 2, as they were busy with Close Encounters of the Third Kind but also neither wanted to do it. Roy Scheider, who famously portrayed Chief Martin Brody, tried to get out too, and couldn’t. One story has him faking insanity in a hotel room to try and escape another protracted maritime shoot on a project he didn’t think was necessary. The studio then strong-armed him into doing it by allowing him to quit The Deer Stalker, and then backed a dumptruck full of money up to his house. It’s very difficult to be heard saying ‘No’ from under piles of benjamins. If anyone wants to prove me wrong, hit me up- I will take that challenge.
The resulting film was the product of another logistically problematic shoot (at one point the ‘Cable Island’ set broke loose and floated away, and another time the raft the kids are stranded on was surrounded by real hammerhead sharks); friction between the director and Scheider (they got in a fistfight); changing directors; and studio interference (straight up bullshit), all while burdened with the expectation that cinematic lightning strike twice. “Hey, we get that there’s only so much you can do plot-wise with a man fighting a giant fish, but we’d really like to hit oil again. No pressure but SERIOUSLY THERE’S PRESSURE.”
Jaws 2 picks about 3 years after the events of the original. Some divers are investigating the wreck of the Orca, which was destroyed in the first movie. That familiar music starts up and– they’re dead almost right away. There’s barely any buildup to either the shark’s appearance or their death, and the only notable occurrence is one diver’s camera going off. Apparently, the director decided that since the audience had already seen the shark in the first movie, there was no real need to keep him hidden.
Amity Island is experiencing an economic upswing thanks to skeevy real estate developer Len Peterson, who also happens to be Brody’s wife’s boss. Brody himself is supportive of her career, and has settled into his role as Chief of Police on an island, despite the most horrifying water-related thing imaginable happening to him. I feel like after the events of the first movie, Brody might have moved to the middle of Nebraska and spent the rest of his life yelling at his children every time they stepped too close to a deep puddle… But there was money to be made, and Scheider brought name recognition, so back into the water he went.
People start disappearing, a dead whale with giant bite marks washes up on the beach, and Brody tries to warn the town Selectmen, but they ignore him. There’s not even any good reason for them to, other than a tired retread of the first time this happened: we need the tourist dollars, you’ll scare away business, don’t start a panic if there’s no reason, blah blah. What’s amazing is how everyone seems to have forgotten about the time a 25-foot shark killed like five people and ate a few boats off their sunny little resort town’s coast. SOUNDS KIND OF MEMORABLE. You’d think there would have been some news coverage, but maybe the shitbag mayor covered it up.
The town’s refusal to accept reality winds Brody tighter and tighter. He ends up manning a shark tower on the beach, carrying a revolver full of cyanide-laced bullets. At the sight of a dark, amorphous shape in the water, he rings the bell, climbs down the ladder, and then runs down the beach waving his gun and screaming. Panic ensues, the water is evacuated, and when he reaches the water’s edge, he begins firing.
But he’s wrong – it was a school of fish. Disgusted, the townspeople turn away from him and he sinks down onto the beach in despair. His youngest son stays behind to help him pick up the spent shell casings. Brody makes one more attempt to convince the Selectmen they’re dealing with a shark: he recovers an image from the diver’s camera that shows what appears to be a close-up of a shark’s eye and mouth, but they don’t believe him. What’s worse, they vote him out as police chief.
This moment, of Brody trying to make people see his perspective, was what Jaws 2 should have been about. None of the Selectmen can see the shark in the photo because they’ve got no idea what a shark looks like up close. They weren’t on that boat, hanging to the mast with a gun and trying to aim into the monster’s open mouth. They have no idea what Brody went through. The movie squandered a real opportunity to explore the kind of shape a person is in after such an occurrence, and it touches on it in little moments like the moment on the beach, or when Brody commandeers the police craft to go out after his son, but it never really went farther than ‘monster movie with teenagers.’ The movie isn’t bad, but it’s just serviceable enough to have performed its intended task: get people back into theaters to see more of the same.
There’s a subplot with a bunch of teenagers that’s kind of interesting; the set up establishes the rigid social caste among the teenagers (hot girls go with hot guys, nerds hang out with other male nerds, etc), but then when the shark begins attacking and the kids are trapped on their raft, the social barriers come down and the kids work together to keep each other safe and alive. A teenage girl heroically tries to save Brody’s son and gets eaten, which was interesting because two other teenage girls go into hysterics.
Jaws 2 has its moments, but it had some big shoes to fill and there was no way it could have done so. What it does best is serve as an example of the template for the poorly thought out cash-grab we are so familiar with today. Sometimes lessons in what not to do are just as valuable.
So that was Jaws 2! Join us again on Thursday for… Honestly I have no idea! HA! I am going to try and find The Shallows from my local Redbox, but I might just find something else involving sharks on Netflix to watch. That’s isn’t Sharknado, because I have dignity. And hey… there’s always Jaws 3 and 4!
Have a great day!
*Although nothing tops Werner Herzog’s filming of Fitzcarraldo.