Sunday, July 6, 2014

Jaws 2

Summer is finally here and as I break out my warm-weather titles for some summertime viewing, Jaws is usually the title I’m watching first and foremost.  But as the end credits roll soon after the hero (spoiler alert) blows up the dreaded shark by firing a bullet into the scuba air tank it has in its mouth, I feel that I want more and decide to pop in the sequel to 1975’s blockbuster…1978’s Jaws 2.

Hoping to capture lightning in a bottle twice, and realizing that Steven Spielberg started a trend called the “Summer Blockbuster,” Universal Studios decided to green light a sequel to keep everyone afraid of swimming in the ocean.  With most of the cast from the original film still on board to be featured in a follow-up, everything seemed to be in place to repeat the success of the 1975 hit.  However, Spielberg—as well as Richard Dreyfuss—couldn’t be available for this film, due to them both working on Close Encounters of the Third Kind, so when viewing the movie, their absence certainly shows. 

With all that aside, the film is a worthy successor and is very engaging and captivating, entertaining the notion as to what would happen if another Great White Shark were to terrorize the same oceans of the same Amity Island four years after the first one.

The film opens with a couple of divers discovering the wreckage of the Orca, examining the boat and taking photos of their find.  Soon, a shark swims up and kills the men while their camera randomly flashes away a few times as it floats away.  The scene cuts to life on Amity Island and how Chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) and his wife, Ellen (Lorraine Gary), seem to be back to normal with everything that had happened
years previous.  But the divers’ boat is found abandoned, their camera found on the ocean floor, and when the film is developed, Chief Brody is certain he can see a shark in one of the photos.  When unexplained accidents start happening, resulting in the deaths of a few people—as well as a killer whale that washes up on shore—Chief Brody is certain Amity Island is about to have the same problem they’d had four years prior.

Although this film is thrilling and fun to watch, it still doesn’t hold a candle to Spielberg’s original film.  Character development and plot focus doesn’t appear to be as important in this film and that’s one thing Spielberg is praised for in nearly all his films.  For him, it was always about the characters first, giving them development that the audience will relate to and care for when bad things happen.  In this sequel, everyone is sort of thrown in the loop just to have them there and doing what they’re written to do.  Even the reveal of the shark seems a little much, pushed in the film a little too much, and that plays against the realism of the film. 

The first third of the film seems to revolve around Chief Brody and how his world is turned upside-down as he believes the island is going to have another shark problem.  What’s worse is that he not only has to argue his case with Mayor Vaughn (Murray Hamilton), but also with one of the lead councilmen and investor in a new resort being planned for the town, Len Peterson (Joseph Mascolo).  You can imagine what it’d do to a person to go through what he had in the first film to believe he’s going to go through it again, as well as having no one believing him…it’d drive a person nearly crazy. 

The second third of the film then takes turns with looking at both Brody and his son, Mike (Mark Gruner), and that’s where there’s not too much character development.  We get that Mike and his friends are all into sailing and that’s what they all do during the summer, but we don’t really get to know all of them.  It’d probably take too long anyway, but it would have been nice to get to know most of them.  Instead, we get a little bit of paper-thin categorization of some of them—the shy nerdy guy, the hot-headed jock type, the new girl who Mike happens to like—but those are the only ones we get to know and care about…somewhat.

The last third of the film—everything that builds to the climax as well as the climax itself—was great, showing everything falling into place as Brody’s opinion that a shark has returned to Amity Island is solidified and brought to alarming light.  Though I was a bit let down that Brody couldn’t throw that in Peterson’s face
when he’s proven to be right all along (I was hoping that he’d punch him in the face before heading out to save his sons and their friends), it was still a brilliant ending, similar to what we had seen in the first film’s ending, and I was very satisfied.

Besides a few minor critiques that I’d mentioned throughout, there are still a lot of positives during the course of the film.  Coming back to Amity Island, using most of the location areas in Martha’s Vineyard from the first film was nice.  We, as an audience, love that we’re back to an acquainted place with familiar people, caring about them and hoping they don’t fall prey to the new threat in the ocean.  If the film moved to a different location all together, as they did in the next sequel, Jaws 3, we’d lose that familiarity and be put off by the story.  So, coming back to the small town, as if we’ve returned to an accustomed vacation spot, feels great to see.

Roy Scheider, above all else, was what made this movie and saved it from being an uninteresting sequel.  Even though it’s been said that he didn’t want to return for the sequel, but signed on to square things with Universal Studios after he dropped out of another film, he still put on a hell of a performance and seemed like he had a lot of fun doing so. 

The film includes some great shark attack scenes and seems pretty real, making you cringe at times and getting your blood pumping as the scenes get tense.  All in all, the film sets the fear that had been instilled in us from the first film, showing us that anything can be lurking underneath us when we decide to swim, sail, or even waterski in the ocean.

One thing you don’t see (or hear) happening too much these days is John Williams scoring a movie sequel.  He created such an atmosphere in the original and does the same here in Jaws 2.  Although it seems to be the same music from the first film, it’s better than having a new composer try to rehash Williams’ score or make up an entirely new one.  Williams’ composition for this film is yet another saving grace for this film.
So…my final “bit” on Jaws 2?

A well-intentioned sequel that walks the line, riskily close to being the exact same film as part one.  It’s a lot of fun and is more of a visual take on the story of a shark terrorizing an island community with not much on human narrative (where Spielberg excels in his films).  The additional sequels had just seemed repetitive, since they’d made an additional two, so I wished they would’ve stopped here.
Thanks for reading and enjoy the movies!

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