Thursday, February 02, 2006

You're talkin' about some damn shark's mutha!

There is an insurmountable implausibility at the heart of the Jaws sequels. One must accept that either the Brody family is plagued incessantly by sharks, or that each shark is a reincarnation of the original shark, back for vengeance. Spielberg's original film is a masterpiece, an iconic and technically perfect "Boo!" movie. But each successive sequel is like a copy of a copy, degrading in quality with each reiteration.

Jaws 2 (1978) - A repeat of the first film, minus the stellar final act aboard the Orca with Quint (dead), Hooper (according to the screenplay, on an Arctic expedition), and Brody (one of the few returning characters). The shark reappears when two scuba divers stir the undersea wreck of the Orca, as though they were unearthing some ancient burial ground (or the shark has just been hanging out around the boat, doing nothing much). After a waterskier is eaten, Brody tries to warn the mayor (again), but the mayor ignores his warnings (again). But after Brody's kids (having aged six or seven years each since the first film) are stranded with some other interchangable teens on the water, being picked off by the shark, he commandeers a police boat to rescue them (this time it's personal). Director Jeannot Szwarc gets the words but not the music, repeating scenes and even shots from the first film to lesser effect. The end result is a film motivated by nothing but box office - competent but sluggish.

Jaws 3-D (1983) - Capitalizing on the early-80's 3-D craze, director Joe Alves (production designer on the first Jaws) sets his film at Sea World, where the older Brody son (much older and more Dennis Quaid) works. Whereas the previous Jaws sequel abandoned the pacing and tension of the first film, this one abandons even simple concepts like continuity (the shark changes sizes as much as the original Kong) and characterization - Quaid and the other characters are merely human-like stand-ins waiting to be fish food. It's not even really entertaining on a schlocky level; there's a great deal of smarmy innuendo and a painful running joke about Quaid's inability to distinguish between a fish and a mammal. That Richard Matheson is credited as a co-writer of the screenplay is baffling; perhaps he wrote his draft while on an overnight drunk. Notable for the presence of then-recent Academy Award winner Louis Gosset Jr. as Sea World manager Calvin Bouchard, who sports a vaguely Cajun accent and appears to be in a different movie, rarely appearing in the same frame as the leads and spending most of his performance yelling into a microphone in an underdressed control room set (This time it's personal). I used to have some Jaws 3-D trading cards. They were in 3-D, and they were way sweeter than anything on display here.

Jaws the Revenge (1987) - Shit. From its grammatically awkward title to its incomprehensible climax, this film is so bad it's practically Dadaist. Brody is dead, and the younger Brody son, new chief of Amity, is killed off by the shark in the opening moments. Ellen Brody (Lorraine Gary, sole returning cast member), warns her older, marine biologist son (Lance Guest - they're like the Griswold kids at this point) not to go back in the water, blaming the shark (or sharks? many sharks, one shark?) for both deaths.

Son: Mom, dad died of a heart attack.
Mom: He died from fear!

Ellen returns with her son, his wife, and their demon spawn to the Bahamas, where she falls for Michael Caine (Michael Caine). As we all know, fear and love are the two most powerful emotions, and so she is able to briefly forget that she is haunted by a vengeful, godlike great white, who has followed the family to the Bahamas. In the last twenty minutes, two different characters are trapped in the shark's mouth only to be found alive later, and Ellen kills the fish once and for all (THIS! TIME! IT'S! PERSONAL!) by ramming into it with a ship (Neptune's Folly, the single most foppish boat name ever). The shark explodes for some reason, and the filmmakers actually re-use shots of the exploding shark from the first Jaws. Really, what a complete slap in the face to audiences and the art of film in general. Director Joseph Sargent shows such total contempt for movies that it's worth seeing as a definitive work of anti-art alone. What was once singular has now degraded by recognition.

When people say they hate sequels, overlooking films like The Godfather Part II and Aliens, they are thinking of sequels like the Jaws series, which begins as one of the purest declarations of love for cinema, descends into ennui, and by the end hates you and itself.

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