Starring: Roy Scheider, Lorraine Gary, Murray Hamilton, Joseph Mascolo
Written by: Carl Gottlieb, Howard Sackler
DIR: Jeannot Szwarc
Blurb: The horror is far from over! Four years after the great white shark terrorized the small resort of Amity, unsuspecting vacationers begin disappearing in an too familiar fashion. Only one man knows the truth.
Then some blah-blah about the producer meant to impress you.
My Blurb: JAWS was easily one of the movies that Kindertrauma-ed me, along with the entire populace it seems, right out of the water. Seriously, there were people who couldn't go in swimming pools after they'd seen that movie. I was already leery of the ocean anyway, because I don't like the feeling of water pulling at me... it's a phobia. But, after seeing JAWS, I couldn't go in deeper than my thighs into the lake my grandparents had a trailer on, and I spent the entire time in the water arguing with myself that sharks are not in lakes... and not quite making myself believe that.
So, when JAWS2 was announced I was completely stoked to be terrified - to once again be afraid to approach any large body of water - again.
Then I saw it and, meh, not so much. Which is going to be a theme of this review, I'm sorry to say... "Meh". How did this go so wrong? Let's dive in (HEH! Did you catch what I did there, 'cause... ocean, diving and... WOW, I never win with you people, do I?).
Oh, but I still don't like being in the ocean... or any water that drags at my body... or that I can't see the bottom of. This movie is one of my guilty pleasures, as it isn't good enough to justify the number of times I'll rewatch it. This review has SPOILERS.
Scene 01: We start a few feet under the water, looking up at the surface. As the titles roll out, we're joined by two scuba divers.
Commentary: Now, notice the first thing here: The title splash for the movie very clearly indicates "Jaws 2" ... note the space. Now, take a look at the DVD cover: "JAWS2" ... no space. Why? I know, I know, it isn't that big a deal... but it's a peeve-thingie; How difficult was it to take a glance at the beginning of the movie, see that there is a space between JAWS and 2, and adjust the cover to match?!
No, this doesn't affect scoring -- it just flippin' bugged me... bugs me....
But, let's leave that behind and continue with our divers. They've descended to the ocean bottom, where they are following a rope across the sea floor (and we get more credits out of our way).
Scene 02: Rope following. This leads our pair of divers to the wreck of a fishing trawler sitting on the bottom.
Commentary: We have a nice touch here on the soundtrack, as we get a reprise of the 'heading out on the Orca' tune from JAWS. There are several nice touches in this movie reflecting back on the first adventure in small ways. Usually with the soundtrack, but also a few visual cues - many of which I'll probably miss. I also want to just touch on the cinematography of the underwater shooting, because it is some pretty work in this opening and there is some nice work later in this regard.
But. We do already have our first continuity issue because of this callback. This boat doesn't look like the Orca. For one thing, I don't recall the Orca having so much bright yellow all over it. For another, though they tried to simulate the damage to the back of the boat caused by JAWS during the extended climax, it didn't work. This "damage" looks like what it is... prop work to simulate damage. It's easily overlooked, I guess, but it would have been less noticeable if they didn't draw our eye to it so closely by using bright yellow trim and stripes all over the boat's surface.
Our divers explore the wreckage a bit, and we get a view of the nameplate, so that we'll understand that this is the Orca, because otherwise you may not have known that. Not that it is particularly important, except to suggest this site has special significance to A SHARK.
Commentary: And, unfortunately, SOMEBODY decided to take this idea (Great Whites can want vengeance) and run with it in JAWS: The Revenge. Since that movie is so wrapped up in stupid, I refuse to buy it to review. I flirted with the idea of checking the InterWebz for free watching for JAWS III & IV for reviewing purposes, but became so disheartened by the prospect, I didn't pursue it. I will reference this Jabootu series of reviews on the steep decline of the JAWS series (links to his four reviews are three-quarters of the way down in the convenient link box).
Scene 03: Our divers are having fun... one posing, the other snapping pics. We get a POV-shot of the flash going off in the distance and a reprise of the shark's theme.
Since our divers can't hear the soundtrack, they're taken by surprise when another huge shark comes out of the deep blue and attacks them. The camera falls to the sea floor, still snapping off a few pics.
Scene 04: We get a shot of the now abandoned cruiser the divers sailed in on sitting unattended.
Commentary: It's unnecessary. Hendricks is going to tell us later that they're towing the boat in. We don't need this establishing shot of it. I mean, we didn't really think that they swam out here from the beach.
Scene 05: On Amity Island, the police SUV rushes (with no sirens and lights off) to the Island Ferry to take across the channel. We see Brody impatiently egging the ferry to hurry it up.
Obvs, we're supposed to think that this is about the missing divers and he's racing to the scene. Since I just made that statement, just as obvs, it is a fake-out.
Scene 06: We follow Chief Brody's progress across the other side of the island. Twilight is settling into night. In the approaching distance we can hear the sound of band music playing. Brody arrives, fiddling with his shirt and tie as he rushes in. We sweep over a crowd in some sort of reception and the Chief makes it to his seat.
Scene 07: As Brody takes his seat, we see he's joining his wife, Ellen. She's a bit annoyed that he's running late, but tells him to just act like he's been there all along as she fakiest-fake smiles at the crowd. Apparently, this reception is for something that Ellen has gotten involved in during the four years since we last saw the Brody's. The Chief asks her how he's supposed to act like he's been there all along:
"Look bored," she tells him through her fake-smile.
Commentary: Let me just put in a word about the characters here, because one of the drawbacks for this sequel is going to be the amount of time that gets shifted over to our "teenager" characters. It's ultimately annoying. But, the one thing that has carried over is the warm, witty relationship between the Brody spouses, so I want to give a kudo to that kept characterization, which I love about the original, and which we won't get enough of because of our focus on our teen!drama crap.
Scene 08: The band wraps up and we find out that we're here to commemorate the new opening of a condominium. There are a few things that this scene is setting up so just let me highlight them and move on: we get our first view of new!Sean, we see town homecoming queen Tina - who will be terrorized by shark later, Len Peterson is being introduced who is a developer and Ellen's boss. He'll be the closest we can come to the designated human villain (except he isn't, because he's actually pretty much right when he turns on Chief Brody - but we'll see to that when it's time). Oh, Larry Vaughn is still Mayor McShark!what-Shark? (But again, when he turns against Brody, he's actually pretty much in the right.)
Commentary: I want to mention the kids' ages here. The JAWS 2 sequel came 3-4 years after the original JAWS. Sean and later Mike seems to have had a growth spurt, because they look more like they've aged 6 years or so. It's not really aggregious, I guess, except that it is really a symptom of one of the drawbacks to this film: The producers apparently thought that the 'hot new thing' was teens dying and they wanted to make sure that their shark-horror therefore followed as closely to the teen!slasher formula as could be managed with an animal-attack flick.
The problem is a matter of expectations, I think. Going into JAWS 2, you expect the focus to be on Chief Brody again. This doesn't happen. Yes, Roy gets plenty of scenes, but the focus isn't on Brody or his family (not even his kids, really), it instead is on the vapid teens that are each given about 1 to 1 1/2 characteristics so that they'll be able to have a few lines before they get menaced. These are the characters you'd expect in a JAWS KNOCKOFF -- not in a JAWS SEQUEL that includes some of the key creative staff from the first film.
But, we don't actually have a 'final girl' in this group through whose viewpoint we focus. Now, you'd think after Mike Brody is introduced, that he'd be our POV-character, since his father isn't to be. But, no. He kinda drifts in and out of the story just as much as the Chief does.
It's like Brody is our primary character, but he's not actually our viewpoint character because too much time is spent with the teenagers doing things out on the water that have nothing to do with him and to which he doesn't directly relate extensively. Since his character isn't our focus, I began looking for who is (and like I said, I thought it would be Mike, but then Sean became a contender). But when things are on the teens, we seem to cycle through any, all or none of them being our focus character. Tina and Eddie takes up a lot of time, but they're not even there for the final shark attack. Mike drifts in and out of the story, even though it is his friends at risk. Sean is directly menaced, but he's too young to be an active protaganist in the story -- he's a side character to be endangered. Chief Brody fights the shark again (spoiler!), but the movie spends extensive time away from him. It's... it's like Brody is our part-time POV character, and the other part-timer is the teen group, as a group.
And, in trying to explain why the film's characters are going to be unsatisfying, I realized it's because the movie is much more of an ensemble setup where any particular character would be our focus character as their storyline develops and comes to a head, and then receed as another character's storyline comes to the fore and they become our focus. This actually seems relevant because the director was in fact a television director. But... none of our teens have a storyline to explore.
I apologize for rambling through this - I don't have the film studies vocabulary I need in this instance - but the bottom line is that we have characters who take up screen time, but we don't have a central, POV character. If this were a book (it is, but I haven't read it) we'd have an omniscient narrator to tie everything together from scene to scene, but because this is a film, we don't. We needed a central teen character to act as our POV-character for the ocean scenes... like a final girl, but instead, everything is diffused over the group and none of them have an interesting story or do anything to actively oppose our central menace to justify our investment of time in following them.
Once Tina cuts the ribbon for the event, we spend more time at the reception party... blah, blah, blah. We meet a few more "teens", including Larry's son. Yadda-yadda.
Scene 09: As the reception drags on... dragging on..., Len Peterson puts his arm around Ellen in a too-intimate way and asks her to make sure everyone has a drink. Chief Brody gets a look on his face (at us, his mugging is leaning on the 4th wall) like "can you believe this ass?". As Ellen goes off, sharing an amused grin with Martin, Len tells the Chief how wonderful she is.
Commentary: This scene bugs me, too. It doesn't actually serve a narrative purpose. There is a hint here between Brody and Peterson that they may turn into rivals for Ellen's affections at some point, or that Len will make a move and be shot down by Ellen as some form of subplot. This doesn't happen. The Brody marriage is never in any stress and Len never pursues anything inappropriate and the closest we come to Martin and Len squaring off is over the shark, in which he's in right and Chief Brody is entirely wrong (well, he's right about the shark -- but it isn't wrong that no one believes him because he becomes a loon before that).
He's basically being set up as the antagonist, except he has nothing to do because we're going to be too busy with the actual shark to spend any more time on this aborted subplot suggestion.
Scene 10: Over at the concessions table, we meet Mike Brody... and... uh, Springy-Kinky Hair. She appears to be trying to set Mike and her visiting cousin up. That will be her entire character trait. I'm sure we care... but wait, we shouldn't because this subplot goes nowhere, either.
We then meet Mike's Friend Who Is A Joker. He jokes.
Commentary: Actually, I will like this actor's interaction with the kid who plays Sean much later. But right now... he's Mike's best friend, who is bland. Which is better than odious, I guess, so there is that.
Scene 11: Now would be a swell time to have a shark scene. Denied.
We next join Mopey-Glasses who is... well, I'm gonna have you guess on that one. He's joined by his best friend, Doug and they discuss how neither of them has a dance partner and blah-blah.
Commentary: And, the only reason Doug gets a name is because his actor was in "Dressed to Kill", where he was more memorable and because he's my insta-flirt object for this movie. The actor is Keith Gordon ... my insta-interest in him dies at the very end, where he's busy screaming ecstactically and I want to stuff a dirty sock down his throat.
I have trouble seeing Keith Gordon as not being able to find anyone to dance with, but again, he's my insta-crush object, so....
Scene 12: Elsewhere at this party, Martin and Ellen are dancing together. He suggests they go and fool around, she agrees with a huge grin. It's cute as the dickins.
Scene 13: As the music plays on and the Brody couple - with a sleeping Sean in Martin's arms, awwwwww - head home, out in the bay off of Amity Island, the weather is completely different from where the reception party is being held.
We get a few establishing shots, including of The Lighthouse, which we'll be seeing much more of. Focusing attention on one of the small craft moored in the bay, it is jostled gently.
We then see the giant Great White cruising just off shore with the JAWS stalking music. The fin breaks through the water briefly with the town of Amity lying peacefully in the background. It then receeds into the depths....
Commentary: I like this shot, but it brings up two points that aren't in the movie's favor. The first is the amount of time we actually see the shark. Now, in the original JAWS, by completely happy chance, it was necessary to keep the beast largely off screen because of problems with the prop. This worked beautifully because our director was very gifted in ratcheting up the tension. In our current movie, the shark gets much, much more screentime.
What this does, is it ends up making the shark less of an unknown, unseen presence which could strike at any time and this makes it less scary than it could have been.
But the somewhat more damaging issue is the amount of time that we spend within a cramped frame. Even in shots like this one, where we have the fin surfacing and the town in the background, the fin is shoved to the low edge of the screen. Late we'll see a LOT of shots out on that wide expanse of ocean in which we're so focused up close on the characters' faces that everything ends up looking so small... like a TV screen. What this basically does is end up giving the film the feel of a TV movie rather than a cinematic experience. The framing of too many shots is too small, and this may or may not be made worse by the fact that this is in widescreen. It always leaves one with a feeling of slight claustrophobia... like you want to grab the edges of the screen and pull them out for the director. In the action scenes, you don't notice it so much... usually... but in quieter moments, you're asking yourself why this fantastic scenery is being ignored to shove the camera up close to things that aren't interesting to look at. There is also an issue with depth. The movie, as filmed, always looks flat... like something filmed for television, instead of the movie screen.
Scene 14: The next morning, we have an (unnecessary) establishing shot of Amity with the Chief's SUV in the upper screen driving down into town. This nearly immediately shifts to Brody walking on the seaside docks (see it was unnecessary).
He's there to meet up with Hendricks, who is fussing around with the police launch. The deputy is off duty, but he's in love with the boat and so is spending time on it.
A passing boat shouts out to the docks to let Brody know about the divers' boat in the channel. Hendricks offers to go out and take a look, and since Brody doesn't know how to operate it anyway (his avoidance of the water was well established in JAWS), he sends him out.
Scene 15: Elsewhere on the docks, our 'teens' are futzing with their own boats, readying to set sail for a day cruise. Mike nixes Sean going out. Springy-Kinky Hair stops by to tell Mike that he wants her to meet her cousin, who will be a featured player for no real reason. We'll be referring to her as "Screeching Mimi". Enjoy.
But first, we'll spend several seconds pointlessly watching our anonymous should-be-shark-fodder-but-aren't walking along the dock... it's all dull.
Finally, Screeching-Mimi arrives. She greets her cousin, Brooke - but we'll continue calling Brooke Springy-Kinky Hair because she's that important to anything that happens out on the ocean. Springy-Kinky Hair is so happy that Screeching-Mimi has arrived, because she wants badly to set her up with Mike.
Commentary: And, we have a TWOFER, here! Not only is absolutely nothing done with Springy-Kinky Hair and Screeching-Mimi being related (to the point where you can be forgiven for forgetting they even know each other particularly well), but the Mike/Screeching-Mimi hook-up goes absolutely nowhere, too. There are some brief scenes after disaster strikes that she at least remembers his name is 'Mike', but there is no subplot here. There is no subplot anywhere that isn't introduced, given a few lines, and then immediately forgotten. The script is nearly random when it comes to our characters interpersonal relationships and the movie suffers for this since we need something to be happening when the shark isn't an immediate presence and alas, the director in this case isn't able to maintain a constant level of underlying tension when the shark isn't actually onscreen to remind us that this is a killer-animal movie.
Mike's Friend Who Is A Joker is good naturedly jealous. Next.
Scene 16: In another boat of the gang's, Doug thinks that he notes Springy-Kinky Hair give an affectionate glance at Mopey-Glasses as she passes. He tells Mopey-Glasses that she's totally into him, but Mopey-Glasses doesn't have self-belief and lists all of the reasons why she'd never look at a guy like him. Doug finally agrees. Next.
Scene 17: In another boat of the gang's, Cap-Guy notices the arrival of Screeching-Mimi and excitedly points her out to Larry, Jr. Larry, Jr. complains she has small tits, because he's a bit of a jerk-ass, which will be his character trait. He gets a name because he's the mayor's son. He and Cap-Guy could be considered this film's heterosexual life partners. Next.
Huh? Oh, Cap-Guy's character trait? He's a bit of a mother hen toward Larry, Jr. - trying to tamp down on Larry, Jr.'s jerk-qualities. Now, next.
Scene 18: Establishing shot of lots of sailing, because everyone lives on an island. Our Gang has fun throwing water balloons and such, blah-blah. Next.
Scene 19: Back at the station house, Brody is being inundated with locals complaints that are amusingly mundane next to the unknown menace waiting for them somewhere OUT THERE.
Commentary: These few scenes actually could've been used to revisit our townspeople after more deaths by shark occur. It could have been a compare/contrast thing between everyone having returned to their normal lives in the years after JAWS and then their horror at being re-trauma-tized when they lose more of their neighbors. They even have the perfect person to set this up through with Hendricks and the Motel Owner Lady, who is here with dialog in the Condominium Opening Gala and is a town council member. But... again... this isn't followed up on at all. By the time the shark is really active, we're with the teens and their boats and the only time we see any "Oh my God, this isn't happening" reaction, it's from Ellen when she finds out Mike is out there with it. In fact, Mike and Sean don't even bring up that they remember the last time they were menaced by a killer shark. This is entirely justified in Sean's case, due to his age at the time and the fact he wasn't in the water to be attacked, but it is entirely ridiculous with Mike -- he was actually an eyewitness to a death and was trapped in the water with the shark when it happened (the old sea guy who lost a leg in 'the pond').
The script has so many elements that are introduced as if they may come into play as things develop and then it's all just left there. Very Disappointing.
Brody gets a reprieve when Hendricks comes in carrying the divers' camera that was retrieved by some guy named Tom. We'll be calling him "Dive Instructor" for obvious reasons in a few moments.
Commentary: Also, I can't stand the way this is filmed, because Hendricks is forced to hold that huge-ass camera up in front of his chest the entire time in a "THIS WILL BE IMPORTANT" manner, including its own dedicated shot... oh, for God's sake... we could have followed that the photos later developed came from this camera without its existence being blugeoned into our forebrain.
Scene 20: Out on the waters off Amity, we join a group of day sailors as they parasail. Our parasailer is named Mike, and since he's only filmed in mid-distance, I think this is supposed to be cleverly trying to trick us into thinking that it is Mike Brody. If so, it failed utterly. If not, it's just clumsy since we already have a (should've been) major character named Mike.
Shots of Mike being dipped into the water is cut with shots from below, where we experience shark-view.
Commentary: Except, not. The shark-view is constantly starting from a point of stillness, and if you've ever had any interest in sharks at all at any time in your history, you'll know that Great Whites cannot breathe without swimming, as they depend on water being forced over their gills to provide oxygen. Now, there may be some sort of half-witted attempt to justify this by there being a current off Amity that is pushing water over the shark's gills allowing this to occur. But, because the point isn't actually articulated, it's more of an implied situation which may or may not be only be audience-wank to justify clumsy photography. Either way, it wasn't necessary to have any shots with a standing still camera at all -- editing would have been a bonus here to avoid the whole thing.
Also, a steady-cam would have been more appreciated than the bobbing camera when we're on the surface.
The shark proceeds to charge at the parasailer, but he's lifted in the nick of time and no one spots the fin as the frustrated beast targets looks for other prey.
Scene 21: Elsewhere, a woman is waterski-ing.
Scene 22: On a hillside nearby, we join Eddie and Tina doing what all of their scenes together do. He wants sex, she's coy and then gives in. We have no actual sex scenes because this is rated PG, instead of R.
Tina hears the boat and leaves Eddie to take a look. An old lady on the porch of her beach home also notes the good time going on.
She wants to go out and waterski, but Eddie is kinda lazy (this is half-trait... he's also sex obsessed, which would be his actual trait). Tina bitches that for him every thing is next week. (So, go on your own Tina; There has to be plenty of people that wouldn't mind taking you out on the bay -- you're not tied to numb-nuts, y'know.)
Scene 23: Out on the bay, waterski-ing. We see the shark fin come up and then chase behind the boat and skier. After a chase scene that appears to be a bit too long for the way it's filmed (just lots of shots of her ski from underwater and her skiing), she's finally hit and goes into the drink with a small, startled cry as the boat-woman doesn't at first realize what has happened.
Ski-Woman is pulled down to her doom with a bit of blood and some underwater screams of horror.
Commentary: And this is one of those times where the camera work is just too damned close. The entire sequence is meant to evoke the attack on Alex Kintner, of course. It's okay, but the viewpoint needed to be zoomed out a bit more here for it to really work. We don't get to see much of the attack because of the way this was shot and after spending so much time with no shark action, we needed this particular attack to be a big one for us, and it isn't. Also, we really did need more blood here to underscore the horror, because the attack itself is so fast.
This is because the actual 'showcase' attack sequence here is the woman in the boat. But, this attack is... more stupid, than horrifying. But, let's get to that extended attack sequence before I comment on it more.
On board the boat, the driver discovers that Ski Woman isn't behind her any longer. She turns the boat around and finds the ski floating on the surface with its back half snapped off. She calls for Terri, but the woman isn't anywhere to be found.
Scene 24: JAWS2 rams the wooden boat, punching a hole in it and attacks the woman to much screaming. The Giant Shark has a definite bee in its bonnet, because despite the frustration and the energy usage it is expending to reach an item of prey out of the water, it continues to trying to get into the boat. This causes Driver Woman to pick up the extra can of gasoline on board to douse the shark. Alas, she manages to soak herself far more.
In a panic, Driver Woman grabs the onboard flare gun and fires it. Now, since she's just gotten done soaking herself in boat fuel, I think we can guess how this goes for her.
She does manage to light half the sharks face on fire, but she doesn't notice because she's busy burning to death herself. At least until the whole boat blows up.
Commentary: The shot of the boat explosion framed from the Old Woman's porch was a very nice shot. It was excellently framed and was nearly beautiful, if you divorce it from context.
Old Woman rushes inside to call for help. Tina and Eddie run up the hill to see the burning boat on the water.
Commentary: Okay, so, I don't have that much of an issue with this scene actually. I mean, in the same circumstances any of us may have panicked. I'd like to think that I would have grabbed the flare gun first and shot JAWS2 down its presented gullet, but who's really to say.
But, this attack shouldn't have been the focal point of the scene, simply because it wasn't that horrifying, next to the potential of Terri's attack. I actually like both attacks, but I think I'd have seperated them. Have this woman attacked first out in the bay just boating by herself, and then have the shark - denied a second meal - find and attack Terri. I'd have shortened this woman's attack a bit, and shown more of Terri's attack, with her being pulled down toward the bottom with her underwater screaming and more blood. As terrible as this woman being burned alive is, before she's finally killed by the blast, being eaten alive in a shark movie seems to be the more logical attack to spend more time on.
My only real problem with this attack sequence, though, is its timing and its relations to the attacks that come after this. In a nutshell... the terrorizing of the 'teens' is relatively dull. There is a bit of energy with the Coast Guard coptor that we'll talk a bit about, but the teenagers' stalking is a lot of them just yelling at each other, which turns really irritating as it is repeated throughout the last third of the film.
Scene 25: Hendricks is then in the police launch, where boathand is hooking debris from the boat. Our Deputy reports he can't find anything and is ordered to drag the bottom for bodies.
Back at the beach, the witnesses didn't actually see any of the attack, so they can't say what went so wrong. Brody gets thoughtful.
Scene 26: Sometime later, Deputy Hendricks and Boathand have a scare as their dragging the bottom. The launch is suddenly dragged backward by a powerful force. When they bring up the hooks (Which seems really less than efficient... isn't it dragging on every rock down there?), they find they've snagged the underwater power cable that is delivering electricity from the mainland (plot point!). They decide to call it a day.
Scene 27: The next morning at the Brody household, there is tension in the air as Martin tells Mike he isn't spending the rest of the summer sailing around the island but is going to get a job... one which Brody has already lined up for him.