Reviews

Jeannot Szwarc

USA, 1978

Credits

Review by Jason Woloski

Posted on 07 October 2007

Source Universal DVD

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Reviews Jaws

Categories 31 Days of Horror

Jaws 2 is a reunion with two out of three classmates missing, and so it’s not really a reunion at all. Quint’s dead, Hooper’s off to catch the Goodbye Girl, and Brody is now alone. It makes for an unlikely horror sequel: the survivors mourn, the killer never returns, and a horror franchise becomes a quiet drama. Is it to be? Of course not. And so rather than get a movie about the loneliness of a police chief who has only his boring family, his boring self, and the boring town of Amity to fill up his life, the shark returns on cue, and we once again realize that Roy Scheider was never much of a star anyways, and was certainly not meant to fill the shoes of three.

I’m not sure if every generation has one, but Scheider is to the 1970s what Jeff Goldblum is to the 1990s. Three blockbusters – two Jurassic Park films and Independence Day – couldn’t make Goldblum an A-lister, and it quickly became obvious Goldblum was the new Scheider: audiences don’t want to see these guys die in life threatening situations, but in movies about non-life threatening situations, we aren’t sure if we want to see them at all.

At any rate, Scheider’s back in Jaws 2 as a leathered beanstock with skin like a stretched drum. Lorraine Gary’s back as well, and it’s hard not to wonder: is this the most tanned white family ever? If there were a Jaws 12, they’d be battling melanoma, not sharks. Two movies in, it has become clear that all of Amity is too tanned – is the most tanned white town ever? – and what with Amity’s obsession with trapping tourists, maybe the real sharks are the humans, a town of great whites fighting one Great White.

Meanwhile, the shark is developing intelligence and is becoming more human-like in its logic. The smarter the sharks got the dumber this series got, but Jaws 2 hangs on to whatever balance was lost by Jaws 3-D. Case in point: when Brody looks over the phenomenal image of a chewed up killer whale and suggests that the new shark might be seeking revenge for its fallen comrade from the first film, he’s the dumb one.

Quint’s Hiroshima guilt is sorely missing from Jaws 2. Quint’s guilt is now the general guilt of enjoying the ocean at all. Parasailing, boating, water skiing, no matter, the shark will get you. The asexual beaches and lazy frolicking of Spielberg’s first film are replaced by proactive water enthusiasts, and the whole time we smile, wondering who the shark will get first. Are we not attracted to shark attacks the same way we are attracted to hearing about plane crashes? They’re both subtle punishments for getting uppity and trying to leave the land behind, for man trying to enjoy things he wasn’t meant to enjoy in the first place.

There’s a lengthy shot of three women’s rears in bikinis, and it reminds us that this Jeannot Szwarc director really is French, and that he’s willing to try anything to make this sequel entertaining, no matter how ludicrous. The rears shot would never make it past Spielber’s self-censoring prude’s board, and now it’s us who feels guilty, having been well trained by Spielberg to see the Jaws franchise as largely unexploitative. Chrissie was naked to open the first film, sure, and she was summarily punished for it.

Szwarc’s boldness is honorable, really. The nightmares he must have had functioning in the shadow legacy of Sir Boy Genius Steven and with moviegoers’ mass love for the first film breathing down his neck. At one point there’s a phone call Brody receives, and for a moment he’s silent, and for just a split second I thought, “Is it the shark calling him?” Of course that’s silly, but it tells you of the head space Szwarc had me in.

Szwarc is perfect for the job because he came from directing television. He is practical enough to get the job done, and doesn’t have a problem with trading mythos and subtly in for in for the audience’s obvious taste for blood. Most importantly, he didn’t freeze up and make a complete dud upon realizing you can’t out-Spielberg Spielberg. Szwarc even sticks the camera in places Spielberg didn’t think of, including on top of the shark, and he makes maximum use of a mechanical shark that is way more functional than it was in the first film. That said, if the shark in Jaws worked as well as the shark in Jaws 2, Spielberg may have made a film closer to Jaws 2, but he never would have made a classic.

Speaking of first films, movie viewers are closest to tourists during sequels: both quench a desire for sameness, packaged as something different. In returning to a place for a second time, which is what a movie sequel essentially is, we want that first experience to stay frozen in time, but we want to feel bold for trying something new. The big cities of the world give us this feeling. They turn over often enough that there’s always something new to do, but always something familiar to do as well.

Jaws 2 isn’t a big city. It keeps the tourists happy, but Szwarc’s sequel feels that if there wasn’t an overwhelming abundance of love for Spielberg’s film, and audiences didn’t know what to do with all of their love, this sequel would not work. Viewers kept that fake shark afloat with their disbelief in the first film, and it’s this same sheer need for more that fills in the gaps, ultimately making Jaws 2 better than it should be.

There is a particularly great sequence in the middle of Jaws 2 of Brody going crazy, which I have to talk about. It starts with him standing atop a shark tower, as Amity’s politicians watch Brody and start getting ornery. We see the mayor on the beach, played by the great Murray Hamilton in a rotation of brilliantly stupid looking blazers, and we think, How is he still around? How did he possibly keep his job? Cut back to Brody, who’s now firing his handgun into the water, screaming for people to get out of the water. It’s a rehash of Brody’s beach panic in part one, but this time he’s armed. Realizing there is no shark, Brody staggers around, wet and dazed with his shirt open, getting scolded for scaring the tourists, always the bloody tourists, but not really paying attention. Even though we know the shark is somewhere out there, and we’ve seen it kill, it is hard to not think that at some level Brody has been sabotaging the tourist trade all along. That his hatred of the water, and his and especially his wife’s resentment for not being islanders makes Brody want to fuck the town’s tourist trade up for good. Firing a gun on an open beach could certainly do it, as could an ongoing grudge match with one of nature’s original serial killers.

Only someone who isn’t thinking straight fires a gun at the ocean. Once you’ve done it, you realize how powerful the ocean is and how powerful you aren’t. You’ve lost. Firing a gun at the ocean is also crazy. But to fight a shark you have to be crazy, and so Brody is once again where he needs to be to get the job done. Brody was the coward of the three men in the first film, but in Jaws 2 he has to channel both his inner Hooper and his inner Quint. The inner Hooper comes out while comparing notes with a scientist in front of that lovely, gnarled killer whale I can’t get enough of. Brody’s inner Quint appears later, in a scene with sodium cyanide and bullets. Sealing the tips of poisoned bullets with candle wax, Brody sits in his dark office still open-shirted from earlier in the day, and it may be the best scene in the film. Sane people dry off and cover up, but Brody is still wet. When he shows up at home still wet and his shirt still open – how is he still wet? – you know he’s ready for a rematch with nature.

Brody’s specific motive for battling the shark in a big showdown finale in Jaws 2 is to save a group of kids trapped at sea, especially his two sons, and yet something is missing. A part of it may be this: I always thought the first movie was secretly about a bored husband having the most legitimate excuse in the world to pack up and bond with the boys. It was a male fantasy of being righteous in wanting to get away and alone with the guys, and having an excuse no one could argue with. “But honey, if I don’t do this, our children and the entire town will get eaten.” Under the ruse of being a caring family man, Brody got to tell his family to piss off. In the sequel, however, killing the shark directly proves how good a father Brody is, and the whole thing reeks of lame. Brody needs more than chum in Jaws 2, he needs his chums, and seeing him fight a shark alone in a dinghy is sad and kind of silly, because Quint and Hooper obviously wouldn’t fit in that dinghy, and because we are reminded of how Jaws 2 is less than its predecessor in so many ways.

The fear of tourists staying away from Amity is Hollywood’s fear of every summer blockbuster failing. The people of Amity are the movie execs, we’re the tourists, and the shark is the attraction. The execs kept pushing us with each sequel, asking if what kept tourists away in the film would keep us coming to the movie theater. In the end, they pushed us too far. The shark that looked like it was filled with straw in the first film was given the Scarecrow’s brain by the fourth, and while Jaws 2 is good, it’s also a marker on a series that was clearly sliding into the sea.

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