The only Jaws sequel you’ll ever really need.
You can’t leave the bloody house these days for sequels, but ‘back in the day’, they were a rarity. Well, actually, they weren’t – what were all those Carry On and James Bond/Dirty Harry films? They were sequels. The thing is, they weren’t tagged as such. You know, they weren’t called Carry On 4 or James Bond 7. You also had The Godfather, Part II, but notice the ‘Part’: not a sequel, you understand, but a continuation. Big difference there. And I suppose the Roman numerals were a sign of respectability and classiness. This approach was mightily abused, as we would later see with Death Wish II, which is about as far from respectable and classy as you could possibly imagine. Jaws 2, the sequel to the most successful film ever (at the time) wore its ‘2’ with pride. Jaws was an absolutely massive success, so from a greedy point of view, Jaws 2 was an inevitability. It was also doomed to ridicule from the start. I mean, seriously? Another shark? The trailer tells us ‘how could there have only been one?’ Well, true, but what were the odds?
Now, let’s get one thing straight. This is not the equal of the original. Yet, and this is tantamount to sacrilege, when I was younger I found it difficult to tell Jaws and Jaws 2 apart, and even saw them on a kind of equal footing. That’s right, I thought Jaws 2 was one of the best films ever made. I guess it was the teenage element and the fact that it was a bunch of kids in danger that made me relate to it more. Needless to say, I do not rate it as highly these days, but it is a halfway-decent exploitation sequel. Like the best B-movies, it has a KILLER tag line, probably one of the greatest tag lines in cinema history. ‘Just When You Thought it was Safe to Go Back in the Water’. I mean, that’s just great, isn’t it? The commonly seen famous cinema poster with the shark illogically shooting out of the water behind a deliriously happy water-skier is great, even if Jaws looks a little more….well, boxy, even cardboard, I suppose? However, it’s the lesser known teaser poster that really works wonders. There’s a vivid, glorious sunset that turns the never-ending ocean blood red, and amongst the waves…. a fin. That’s all we need to see. Plus that tag line. Now that’s a teaser. Speaking of blood-red, Jaws 2 is also the least bloody of the four films, though it’s far more effective and scary than the next two instalments.
So, Jaws 2 begins underwater, just like the first one, and John Williams’ very fine score (not just rehashes of the first film’s motifs, but lots of new stuff too) adds greatly to the mood. Two divers check out the sunken Orca boat from the first film but get eaten in no time. Worries are already starting to set in – never mind that it’s a bloodless attack (the first film’s opener was too), but it’s just that it’s so lacking in suspense. It’s just, oh, here we go, another shark. We skip to the land, where Brody (hooray!) turns up late to some pageant/opening/whatever – his wife’s there (she won’t be doing much in this film), as are his two kids (who will get more screen time), and that rat-git Mayor’s still there, praising the house band for their ‘eloquent’ performance, even though I thought they were off-key. Then, we get these teenagers – a smart-mouthed one, the beauty queen, a couple of nerds, and I’m not fussed whether or not they get eaten or now. Are we supposed to feel this way? I mean, the first Jaws had someone like Ben Gardner, who we didn’t mind getting killed because he was a twat, but overall all of the victims were likeable characters who we didn’t want to see get killed. Jaws 2 is lurking dangerously towards proto-Friday the 13th territory where the teens are so boring you even suspect that Jaws itself might turn them down for tasting so dull.
Anyway, no one’s interested in these bits, so let’s move on to a cool dusk shot where we follow the sea and an underwater presence which turns out to be Jaws MKII, and it’s weird how the simple trick of showing a fin drifting through the water can always send shivers down me. A few scenes later, Jaws munches on a jet-skier in what is the first really good bit in the film. Before that, he almost gets a skydiver who keeps landing in the water only to get jerked up at the last second. These bits are squirm-inducingly tense, you know, the kind of tension that makes you laugh, because even though you’re dreading the shark attack, what else did you see this film for? The oceanic photography? So, even though skydiver makes it, jetskier doesn’t, and the lady driving the boat stops to investigate. Then we get a rapid point-of-view shot where Jaws essentially goes right for the lady’s bum, misses, but does manage to damage the boat badly. The driver resorts to a last-minute gesture of dousing Jaws in petrol, but because of all the bashing, she gets most of it on herself. She then tries to take out her attacker with a flare gun but only succeeds in blowing herself and the boat (but not Jaws, who gets away with some mere facial damage) to kingdom come. Cue an unintentionally hilarious bit where an elderly bystander talking to Brody says ‘One minute they were having a wonderful time and then…’ I always fill this lamentable silence with ‘KABOOM!!’, and wonder why Brody didn’t do the same. Bit tactless, I suppose.
Of course, any death in the water is going to send Brody crazy, so he’s instantly suspecting Jaws is out there somewhere, mocking him. He shares his fears of another shark to the Mayor, who is having none of it. Again. There’s a fantastic bit where Brody sees some wreckage floating near the shore and wanders in the water to get it, and he’s all alone, with nobody else at the beach. Now this bit is super-tense – the wreckage is not too far out, but just far enough, enough for a shark to swim up and take Brody away. So we get some great perspective shots as Brody gets closer and closer to this bit chunk of wood, most definitely from the blown-up boat, he turns it over and AAAAGGGHH! There’s the burned and charred corpse of the boat driver still attached to it, and more or less lands on poor Brody, who must have been turning the ocean amber at this point. I suppose this reveal doesn’t prove that any sharks are out there, but it’s a good sequence nonetheless. Later on, Brody’ll find some photos taken by the divers at the start of the film which sort of show Jaws in close-up but the cynical council committee are having none of it. Brody also fires his gun at what he thought was Jaws but merely turns out to be a cluster of little fishies. He does this in front of everybody and scares a lot of people as a result. So everyone thinks he’s losing it, and Brody gets fired as a result. Now, this first half of Jaws 2 is pretty damn good, and to be fair, the second half is too. It’s just that a bunch of teenagers are a lot less interesting than this actual character with whom we’ve been spending so much time.
Jaws 2 has a similar two movies in one structure thing going on to the original. The first is mostly on the land and beach, with the odd victim munched up, while the second half is mostly out at sea. The first film’s latter half boasted a mostly thrilling pursuit of the shark, and we had three fantastic characters to enjoy. Unfortunately, we have no Robert Shaw or Richard Dreyfuss this time. The former is perfectly understandable, given how he was eaten in the first film, but nevertheless, he’s missed, and no new characters are nearly as memorable as his or Dreyfuss’s. Of course, the whole three-men-on-a-mission plot is not what Jaws 2 is going for, but what we’ve got instead are a multitude of teenagers who have taken the yachts out for ride and are mostly anonymous and not very memorable. They’re not annoying (except for one very loud exception) as such, but it’s difficult to keep tabs on these kids when you can’t even remember their names. Strangely (and disappointingly), there isn’t nearly as many teenage casualties as you’d think. Now, I’m not asking for Friday the 13th levels of killage, but a few more than two teens in the second half would have been nice. Or nasty, given how brutally effective these are. Seriously, the film goes for it during these two sequences- the first is a brilliantly suspenseful moment where lovebirds Tina and Eddie, who have drifted away from the rest of the gang, are attacked by the shark. Poor Eddie doesn’t make it. We have a suspense bit not dissimilar to the ‘Swim, Charlie!’ bit from the first film where one fisherman desperately calls for his friend to not look back, just swim to safety, fast. The first film’s bit ended happily, and even on a joke, but not this time. There’s a moment where Jaws has Eddie in his grasp and drags him full-pelt towards the boat, which he smacks into sharply. Eddie tries to get up into the boat but Jaws pulls him down once and for all, taking a chunk of boat’s edge along with him. The actor who plays Tina, Ann Dusenberry, is so clearly a better performer than any of her teenage co-stars, because you can tell she’s really super-scared. She’s wishing Jaws to go away, trembling and looking scared out of her wits. She also has a good bit later on where she screams out ‘SHARK!’ through a mouthful of shivers and shakes that’s very effective. Too many of the other teens are just clumsy so-and-sos. Seriously, try a drinking game where you have to do one every time a teen falls off their yacht and into the sea – it happens about a thousand times during a mere one hour’s worth of film.
The other death is that of Marge, one of the least annoying teens who does the honourable thing in jumping into the water to save the little Brody kid but ends up getting devoured herself as a result. Now this scene is a shocker, mainly because it’s so brutal – Marge more or less gets swallowed whole, just like that – this, together with the fact that the little Brody boy is witnessing the whole thing dead-on, and John Williams’ monstrously evil score, plus Little Miss Screamer (I can’t remember her name, but she breaks decibels throughout the film’s last half) in full effect, and the result is quite distressing. Well, it was for me, especially if you rewind a few seconds to a certain shot. Now, if you don’t have the film to hand, try to think back and you may remember a shot from above with Jaws heading for Marge, and it’s quite plainly clear that the bastard has a massive open-mouthed grin on his face. This fucker isn’t just eating to survive, he’s doing it for FUN. It was this bit that freaked me out the most. Now, sharks don’t smile. In Jaws 2, we are clearly dealing with a not exactly realistic model, plus the waves above his face are kind of distorting what we see, so even if the filmmakers didn’t create a grinning shark, that’s what we are seeing, and it’s this shot that made Jaws MKII ten thousand times more sinister and sadistic than his older brother in the first film.
Oh yeah, some hilariously bearded helicopter pilot gets eaten, but his death is not quite so horrifying. You just spend most of his death wondering if Jaws is going to choke to death on his beard. We get to see a little more of the pilot’s death on the deleted scenes on the DVD, which I would have liked to have seen re-integrated into the film, proper, because I’m sick like that, you know?
So, the film’s second half is in top gear, and we’re ready for more death, but oh no, Brody arrives on the scene and thanks to some neat foreshadowing earlier on in the film, he gets an electric cable (which his deputy accidentally yanked out of the sea near the start) and whacks it to death with an oar, which he knows will attract Jaws because he can’t get enough of rhythmic beats that pulsate through the ocean. I’d have chucked on some Public Enemy on a shower radio and threw that in the drink myself, but each to their own. So Jaws shows up, Little Miss Screamer screams and screams again (some people really hate this performance, but I’d probably be the same, albeit more high-pitched on the vocal front) and he heads right for the cable, munches it, and gets electrocuted to death. The teens are over the moon, and it’s easy to say ‘why are they so happy when one of their friends has just been swallowed whole?’ ( I guess they don’t know about Eddie yet), but I guess I would be laughing like a nutter if the monster that just tried to kill me had been toasted.
You know, I like Jaws 2. It’s a cash-in, but it’s no disgrace. It’s genuinely tense in places. It’s three hundred times better than the next two films, though that isn’t saying too much, I suppose. Incidentally, the French title for Jaws was La Dents de la Mer, which meant that Jaws 2 read as La Dents de la mer Deux. Now, if you say the last two words quickly enough, they sound like ‘merde’, which is a naughty word in French. The English equivalent would read something along the lines of Jawshit.