Saturday, June 8, 2013

JAWS 2: THE SEQUEL WITH BITE


"Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water.."

If for nothing else, Jaws 2 should be considered a landmark film just for the that classic tagline, which when it began appearing on blood-red teaser posters in early 1978 had cinema patrons excited at the prospect of once again being confronted and terrified by one of our most primal - and very real - fears. The Great White Shark.
 
Thankfully, Jaws 2 turned out to be a fair bit more than just a clever tagline. Living up to the original Jaws (1975) was always going to be nigh-impossible, and in truth Jaws 2 does not come close to matching the tension, action and character dynamics of Steven Spielberg’s undeniably landmark production, a film which changed the way films were marketed and established the enduring Summer Blockbuster template.

When Spielberg announced he had no intention of helming a sequel, director Jeannott Szwarc came into the film with little preparation after original director John D. Hancock was booted off (Hancock, who helmed the cult 1971 shocker Let’s Scare Jessica to Death, was apparently unable to handle the action sequences to the satisfaction of Universal Studios). What Szwarc ultimately delivered was, I have always felt, a mostly satisfying and at times rousing action-adventure-terror yarn that embraces a lot of low-budget exploitation elements yet still has a big enough budget and studio sheen to give it an epic ‘blockbuster’ feel. And the return of actors Roy Scheider, Lorraine Gray and Murray Hamilton, along with composer John Williams and co-screenwriter Carl Gottleib, help provide the film with both a layer of class and a sense of continuity.
 
In Jaws 2, Szwarc, Gottleib and his co-writer Howard Sackler combine the horror genre with the teen melodrama, creating an archetypal slasher film of a kind that would dominate the horror film in the early-eighties via the likes of Friday the 13th and it’s many sequels and copycats. And of course, another prototypical slasher film, John Carpenter’s Halloween, was released later in the same year as Jaws 2. The only real difference is that in Jaws 2, the stalker doesn’t wear a hockey mask or wield a knifed glove, just razor-sharp teeth, vice-like jaw muscles, and an innate, primal drive to hunt and kill.

Co-starring as the Amity Island teens, a daggy but mostly likeable lot of typical WASPy Americans who end up alone on the ocean facing off against Bruce the shark, are Ann Dusenberry, Keith (Christine) Gordon, Donna (Angel) Wilcox and other young faces that may have been familiar on the odd television show or commercial at the time. Scheider, reprising his role as ocean-fearing sheriff Martin Brody, is once again terrific to watch, injecting a real sense of energy, apprehension, paranoia and humour into the role, not to mention the chemistry he creates on-screen with co-star Gray (playing his wife, Ellen).
 
Although it lived in the shadows of a more illustrious predecessor, and received a mixed critical response, Jaws 2 was still an immense box-office success in its own right, becoming the third highest grossing film (worldwide) of 1978. Unfortunately, the significantly lesser quality of the following (and until this point, final) two sequels in the Jaws saga, Jaws 3D (1983) and Jaws: The Revenge (1987) has helped to perhaps tarnish the reputation of Jaws 2 to a certain extent. But it’s an unfair stigma as the film is much closer in overall quality to the original film than either of the subsequent entries, delivering some great set-pieces and one genuinely terrific shock (involving Brody wading out into the surf to investigate a piece of driftwood). Jaws 2 was also more heavily merchandised than Jaws, spawning a series of Topps bubble gum cards, Marvel Comics adaptation, film tie-in novelization, soundtrack LP and the making-of paperback The Jaws 2 Log.

I first saw Jaws 2 as a kid at a packed Forum in Melbourne on it’s weekend of release. I have watched it many times on television, video and DVD since, and am looking forward to experiencing it on the big screen once again when Cinemaniacs present it at Cinema Nova in Carlton on Sunday, 16 June 2013 at 6.30pm as part of their Scream and Scream Again season of modern horror sequels. As with their recent Amityville II: The Possession screening, a video introduction featuring interviews with some of the cast and crew will be preceding the film. Contact Cinemaniacs via their Facebook page for ticketing and further information:

Review by John Harrison/Copyright 2013