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Monday, January 9, 2017

The Celluloid Zeroes Present Franchise Kill: Jaws 2 (1978)



The Celluloid Zeroes are teaming up in January 2017 to take a look at the massively successful blockbuster Jaws, the diminishing returns of its sequels, and some choice ripoffs from around the world. It's time for a Franchise Kill.


Written by Carl Gottlieb and Howard Sackler, based upon characters created by Peter Benchley
Directed by Jeannot Szwarc

Roy Scheider:  Chief Brody
Lorraine Gary:  Ellen Brody
Murray Hamilton:  Mayor Vaughn
Jeffrey Kramer:  Deputy Hendricks
Joseph Mascolo:  Peterson

You can hardly blame Universal for wanting to make another giant killer shark movie, when the first Jaws film broke box office records and became a global smash hit. I mean, movie studios are businesses, and American big studio films are commerce first and art by accident. So after scaring the bejeezus out of a generation of moviegoers and beach-avoiders, it was perfectly natural for the studio to go back to that well. Which, of course, they did again after this film. And again a few years after that. The returns, they were diminishing. But I'll let my colleagues in the Celluloid zeroes tell you about those other movies. My job is to look at the immediate attempt to catch a second bolt of lightning in another bottle.

This is, among other things, the first movie sequel from a Hollywood studio to just stick a 2 on the end of the title from the first film and call it a day (the UK gave us Quatermass 2, but that's the name of a rocket that's launched in that movie, and it was released as Enemy from Space in the States because nobody here knew what a Quatermass was). And it's probably worth talking about sequels and franchises and movie studio economics for a little bit here, because Jaws changed the way that Hollywood did business for decades, and in 2017 we're looking at half a dozen or so franchises that are planning the next decade's worth of releases for the Marvel Studios, Star Wars, DC Extended Universe, Harry Potter, X-Men, James Bond, Star Trek and Godzilla franchises. Hell, just the fact that I'm calling them "franchises" is significant. A movie is supposed to be a work of art, but when you hear "franchise" you probably think of fast food restaurants more than cinema. Or at least you would have thought that way around about 1978, when this movie was released. Now, of course, a series of movies featuring the same characters and produced under the same studio umbrella is one of the main meanings of the term. All apologies to Howard Johnson's, but we just don't think of you that way any more.

Disney, the globally dominant entertainment empire, bought the intellectual property rights to the Star Wars series for billions of dollars and to a substantial subsection of the Marvel Comics universe for billions more. They didn't do this because they were big fans of either thing. Rather, they were making an investment with an expectation of a future return on that investment. If Terry Pratchett was better known in the States they'd be working on a Discworld movie series right now and offering Dominic West a big bag of money to play Inspector Vimes. They're planning things out so that there will be two Marvel movies and a Star Wars film every year for the next decade (or until the fad burns itself out). All of that effort to chase the nerd dollar and to dominate the American box office comes from the seismic effect that the first Jaws film had on the pop cultural landscape. Time used to be that movie studios would make prestige pictures primarily and do the occasional B movie, horror flick or science fiction film as a secondary function. Now, as several observers have noticed, there are B movie genres being given A list talent in front of and behind the camera, and hundreds of millions of dollars get spent to realize the visions that Smilin' Stan and Jolly Jack came up with half a century ago on newsprint.

It's because nobody thought that Jaws was going to be a hit. Heck, Steven Spielberg thought his movie career was over because the film went so far over budget and schedule. But if there's one thing Hollywood likes, it's a person that will make them an absolute shit ton of money consistently. And so Spielberg gets to do essentially whatever he wants until he stops directing films (with the occasional underperformer like 1941 or Hook cheerfully ignored by studios because he's also made profitable masterpieces like Raiders of the Lost Ark and Saving Private Ryan over the last three and a half decades. He begged off directing Jaws 2 because Close Encounters of the Third Kind was running over budget and schedule as well, and he probably also didn't want to make another movie involving large bodies of water for the rest of his entire life plus fifteen years. But when money talks, someone is going to step up and make that second movie (and build up a favor bank with the movie studio that would like some of that sweet sequel cash).

And Jaws isn't the only movie to stick a number on the end of its title and get people back in movie theaters, of course. Rocky and Halloween were both out-of-nowhere smash hits that hit movie screens in the second half of the Seventies and both of those got sequels with numbers after 'em and eventual franchises that would cough up another flick every few years. For that matter, they're still making movies with the Rocky Balboa character--in a nod to time passing (unlike, say, the James Bond series where they just stick another person in the tuxedo), Rocky is older and weaker and not boxing any more. But he can train someone to do that and to pass the torch to the next generation of pugilists. Other movies around this time made buckets of money, and (especially in the horror genre) producers decided to keep going back to the well and separate more dollars from more wallets for as long as fan tolerance would hold out. Which is, again, nothing new (Son of Kong came out a year after King Kong; Godzilla has been in more movies than James Bond). But with the end-of-the-Seventies emphasis on sequels and franchises comes the tendency to stamp these things out on an assembly line. There is a very definite Marvel house style for their movies (it's why Edgar Wright wound up not making Ant-Man). If it's the third act of a Marvel movie--especially a team one rather than a film about individual characters--it's time for lots of things to bombard a city with energy blasts or with their own bodies. That's just how they tell their stories, and directors who don't want to do that are well advised to not take a job working for 'em, because it's only going to lead to heartache down the line.

And, of course, movie studios that want to squeeze every last drop of money out of a franchise have started splitting single books into two movies (the final Twilight, Harry Potter and Hunger Games series adaptations), three films (The Hobbit) or five (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them). It's enough to make even the greediest horror franchise producer flinch, and it's also probably inevitable that in twenty or thirty years we'll get a franchise reboot including The Lord of the Rings:  The One Tower.

So. I was going to be talking about a particular killer shark movie in this review, and I should probably do that now. But before I do, I should mention that another poster for the movie put the returning cast members' name in huge letters at the bottom, which has to be the only time Murray Hamilton got to see his moniker in gigantic letters on a movie poster.

An underwater sequence with the Mexican non-union equivalent of John Williams' iconic Jaws score crossed with nautical adventure type music plays out over the opening credits. Two SCUBA divers are swimming through a shoal of fish as the title shows up in big blood red letters. A whole bunch of names of people who did not return from the first movie show up (their characters being too dead to return, or because the actors were unavailable due to other commitments). We're lucky to have Roy Scheider in this one; he only agreed to be in the movie in order to be let out of a contract with Universal Studios after quitting the production of The Deer Hunter, which went on to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards. One might say that shows poor judgment on Scheider's part until one remembers the next movie to be directed by The Deer Hunter's auteur was the legendary fiasco Heaven's Gate. My guess is that Scheider didn't have any patience with Michael Cimino, which made him a trailblazer until everyone else in the pop culture world caught up with him in 1980.

Those underwater divers find the wreck of the Orca from the previous movie and they take a few snapshots of the boat half for posterity. Their camera flash attracts the actual Jaws score as well as a shark that attacks them, with their camera capturing their attacker (a plot point also used in my favorite Jaws ripoff, Alligator--which came out two years after this movie). As an economically viable cloud of fake blood billows in the water from one of the skin divers, but not the other, we go to the Amity Island ferry where Chief Brody is waiting to drive his police vehicle onto some nice honest roads instead of looking at the expanse of water all around him--remember, he was phobic about the ocean in the first movie and I can't imagine the struggle against the shark would cure that. Me, I'd move to Denver. Chief Brody arrives at a shindig where he buttons his shirt cuffs and ties his necktie while taking his seat as a local bigwig and his wife asks where he's been. ("Late!".) It's one of those civic events to celebrate the opening of a local business--a brand new resort hotel, in this case--while also serving as some kind of party for a scholarship fund. Maybe they're just economically boring two sets of guests at the same speech.

Mayor Vaughn is giving a speech while dressed in one of those jackets that serves to remind people that in the late Seventies, grownups sold other grownups on the idea of wearing a striped tie as wide as a paperback book cover with a plaid suit jacket. Actually, as I write this, I've got more than a dozen horrible jackets and twice that many hideous ties to hand out at B Fest before my fellow attendees go to a tiki bar to drink rum drinks and irritate the other bar patrons by playing doo-wop and Motorhead on the jukebox. So seeing Vaughn dressed like this is a life goal. Miss Amity, a local teenage beauty queen, will undertake the actual, literal ribbon-cutting here while a "money tree" with $1500 of real American currency attached to it is part of that scholarship effort. It's donated by a Mr. Peterson, who I presume is the local developer (and therefore the mover and shaker who got that hotel built). The speech ends, the Amity High School Band beats "Girl From Ipanema" into submission, and refreshments are to be served to all the locals who came out for the event. Mayor Vaughn introduces his son, Larry Jr., to Peterson and the veteran monster movie watcher starts to tally up all the possible Expendable Meat characters that are being paraded before the camera. Those two divers from the beginning of the film were the Threat-Establishing Casualties and we didn't learn anything about them other than they owned a camera and went diving in the ocean. In order to care about the next inevitable victims, we're gonna learn a couple of names and possibly even get a glimpse of their personalities before they're eaten.

Ellen Brody turns out to work for Peterson, and is one of the people making the scholarship benefit / hotel opening a reality. And the event appears to be going off without a hitch, so she's quite good at her job (with both Peterson and her husband saying they don't know what they'd do without her). Although the comic relief high school doofus says the punch is awful, so there is at least a little bit of trouble in paradise. The eldest Brody son, Mike,  and a girl he knows from school are there at the punch bowl to hear that verdict and also put their names in the Bitten To Death By A Shark hat. A pair of besepectacled dweebs stand outside the dance floor not getting any time to develop boogie fever (and also putting themselves into the dead pool), and it's slow dance time at the start of this killer shark movie. After the party sequence we get some shots of the island at twilight and of the new shark cruising around (complete with the iconic dorsal fin popping out of the water with the island in the background, a shot that might have taken weeks to get right, since salt water and mechanical shark puppets don't get along any better in 1978 than they did for the first movie).

The next morning, the captain of a small fishing boat uses the technology of yelling to tell Chief Brody and Deputy Hendricks about a large pleasure-cruising boat in the main traffic channel without any lights on. Hendricks takes the comically undersized police boat out to see what the deal is. Meanwhile Mike Brody and several teens are planning to go out on the water in small craft, because that's the main leisure activity on Amity and the gigantic killer shark from last summer is deader than disco. The comic-relief doofus from the dance is revealed as Andy, while the chief dweeb from the party is called Tim by his compatriot Douglas. And while a vacationing girl from the Big City shows up to be noticed by all the townies, I learned that "She's got tits like a sparrow," is dialogue a PG rated movie could have in 1978. A ragged flotilla of teenager-operated pleasure craft go out into the water for a water balloon fight and some light orchestral comedy music.

Back at the police station, there's a local complaining about a ham radio operator's station washing out his TV reception. It's a mildly chaotic secene where other people are griping about small-time small town grievances between neighbors, and Deputy Hendricks returns from the abandoned cruiser with the equally abandoned dive camera. Brody seizes on that opportunity to get away from the complaining Amity residents. The pleasure boat had a price tag of a cool hundred grand, and the people who owned it lived out of town in Rhode Island. At this point Brody and everyone else presumes they'll be back at some point (and possibly getting the nautical equivalent of a parking ticket) because nobody other than the professor at the start of Shin Godzilla leaves an expensive boat out in the middle of the water like that.

Back on the water, there's someone hanging from a seat attached to a parasail, getting dunked in the water a couple times while the people handling the ropes figure out what they're doing. There's a confusingly edited sequence here where we see the teenager falling into the water from below, and then the POV shark-camera starts moving while the universally recognized Jaws theme plays. If we're seeing the shark's point of view from a distance, what's supposed to be looking at the kid landing in the water from a few feet away?  The POV camera doesn't make it to the kid on the parasail seat (he gets away a second or so before he would have lost a limb at best and died at worst), and nobody on the boat notices the shark fin popping up for a second as he rises into the air. The shark settles for a water skiing woman instead, who is being towed around a different part of the bay (presumably so the wind-powered craft don't get disrupted by the power boat and vice versa). The shot of the fin following along the woman on the waterski is pretty suspenseful and well-handled, but it only lasts for a few seconds, unfortunately. The POV camera comes into play for the attack, intercut with footage of Terry the skiier on the surface, and she gets dragged underwater and killed while her mom, running the boat, eventually notices that she's light by a passenger. Also, I take it back about learning something about the shark victims in this movie, because I can't tell you anything about Terry except that she was eaten by a great white shark.

I can tell you about the same amount of information about Terry's mom, who manages to spill gasoline all over herself and the boat (and the shark, for a moment, when it attacks her stationary and non-motoring boat) before firing a flare gun at the shark that blows up the water craft and accidentally gives "boating accident" as a plausible reason for her and her daughter to be dead. But, as we in the audience know, it was no boating accident except in the most hair-splitting technical sense. Which means Deputy Hendricks is out with a standard issue grizzled old guy with a stocking cap looking at the boat wreckage while Chief Brody orders him to drag the floor of the bay until the bodies of the boater and water skiier are recovered (which is a fool's errand due to tidal currents and gravity pulling the bodies away from where they might be recovered even if they weren't in a shark's stomach at this very moment). Chief Brody interviews the shell-shocked bystanders who witnessed the boat explosion but not the shark attack and stares out at the water, wondering if there is in fact a second territorial shark feeding in the waters off of Amity Island (SPOILER:  He is of course right).
Meanwhile, on the police boat, the dredging hook connects with something so heavy and solid that it almost pulls the craft underwater as if two tigers were sitting on it. What gets pulled up is a buried underwater power line that has to be delicately untangled from the dredging hooks, lest 1) the power goes out to the entire island and 2) Both of the people on the boat get electrocuted.

The next morning, there's a little bit of domestic friction at the Brody breakfast table; Mike would rather sail around the island all summer than get a job, and discounting the shark in the water, who can blame him? His mom thinks summer vacations are more important than flipping burgers for minimum wage but his dad thinks that age seventeen is old enough to start earning some wages. But he relents, and the only thing he tells Mike is to be wary of how far out he's getting, especially if there's bad weather. Mike's boat doesn't have an engine, though, so it's unlikely to explode. At least there's that.

Over at the lighthouse, Tina the beauty queen is running off with someone's hat; he chases her over hill and dale until they find the corpse of an orca washed up on a dune. That's enough of a buzzkill for the kids, but Chief Brody shows up because there are apparent bite wounds on the whale. But he's no marine biologist (and Hooper's off having Science Adventures elsewhere because Richard Dreyfuss was busy filming Close Encounters of the Third Kind while this movie was in production). Brody thinks it's a killer shark that killed the orca, and even underplays his knowledge with the marine biologist as she measures the bite radius on the beached corpse ("I have had some experience with sharks," indeed). The biologist isn't willing to say whether or not the killer whale's been killed by a shark or not without a thorough examination and during her Science Exposition Talk she drops the tidbit that sharks are attracted to rhythmic sounds in the water. They go to whatever is making the unsual noise(s) and then bite the hell out of it. No idea if that's really true or not, but it does provide a scene where Brody thinks he knows everything about sharks and it turns out that he does not. But there's also plenty that the biologist says--all of it perfectly reasonable--that means the dead killer whale isn't necessarily the victim of a shark that's in the immediate waters off of Amity. She narrows it down to either another orca or a great white shark, but a body that's been drifting in the ocean for a day or two and then baking in the sun as an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet for every bug, bird and crab on the shore isn't one that can provide enough information for a complete forensic analysis.

Chief Brody asks the biologist if it's possible that a second great white could come to the area where another one had been killed, either for vengeance or because the hunting ground was open for them and the biologist says sharks don't take things personally (like I do for picking this movie as my Franchise Kill entry when I could have wound up watching Dick Miller in Piranha). The knot of eight or ten other Amity teenagers wander off without Mike Brody, with one of his friends promising to bring his boat back to the marina and tie it up. Mike's getting a ride back with his father, on the ground, away from the ocean.

Back in town, Chief Brody snags Mayor Vaughn to tell him about the suspected shark problem and gets shut down by the mayor, who (relatively sensibly) says there's no real proof of a shark off of Amity at this point. Yes, there's two missing divers and two missing waterskiers (and a boat that exploded), but there are lots of ways for a careless or unlucky boater or diver to die that don't involve a gigantic territorial great white shark. And that's a pretty fair hand for the movie to play at this point, because the viewer knows it's a POV camera and a shark that tallied up four victims so far, but from the evidence in front of Chief Brody, it's a pretty premature call.

Brody's irritable and edgy about getting told that there isn't definitely a shark out there yet and stomps off in a huff. It's a real defect in the script that we're supposed to apparently accept that Brody realizes he's in a killer-shark-movie sequel so of course there's another killer shark out there, while every other character is acting more or less like you'd expect. Also, I'm not entirely certain, but I think the body count in this movie already exceeded that of the original with eighty minutes left in the run time (it's Chrissie, Alex Kintner and Quint who die in the first movie, right?). If this movie had come out in 1979--and therefore after Halloween--I'm pretty sure the kill count would have exclusively been made up of  Amity High School student bodies. Instead we're likely to get a more mixed bag than that. And, unfortunately, we're likely to spend a lot more time with the kids because talk is cheap and action costs money.

While driving on the beach, Brody spots something bobbing in the surf that proves to be part of the waterskiing boat from earlier. He's not willing to go into the water after it at first, even though there's no way a shark can attack him in six inches of surf. But the desire to see what's out there wins out over his hydrophobia and he goes for the chunk of the boat's hull while a stationary POV shot and the Jaws theme plays out (which, if that means the shark is watching Brody, would mean it is going to die because sharks can't stop swimming and breathe at the same time). The boat hull piece has a burnt corpse somehow tangled up on it, and there's a jump cut from Brody's discovery of that body and fully justified attack of the raging fantods to the police chief making a set of hollow-point bullets with cyanide payloads in them.

I am not certain what a few drops of cyanide would do to a shark that six bullet wounds weren't going to do as well, but apparently Brody's plan is to get close enough to the shark to shoot it six times and then hope the poison kicks in. Deputy Hendricks sees the totally-not-suspicious towel covered bundle of stuff on Brody's office desk (the poison bottle, bullets and assorted gear from the assembly of the hollow points) but before he can take a peek at it, his boss tells him to get the dive camera film developed as soon as possible (the drug store / photo lab on the island is already closed at that point). Brody's spent so long working on his toxic ammo that he rushes out of the office for dinner, which he is running late for, and says that when the long-distance call he's expecting comes in to the office, have the switchboard send it to his house.

Which reminds me that the movie takes place in 1978, because I'm willing to bet dive cameras use digital "film" at this point now and there really isn't any such thing as a long distance call any more when everyone's got a cell phone instead of a land line.

That long distance call turns out to be from (or at least on behalf of) Matt Hooper, who is spending months on a research vessel in the Antarctic and won't be able to make a radio-to-telephone call to the Brody residence for another nine or ten months. But at least the movie remembered that Hooper exists, and that Chief Brody would undoubtedly want to get in touch with him and find out if his fears of another killer shark are justified. This sequence is the start of the film's attempt to show that Chief Brody is acting paranoid and distant while the fear of another shark starts to prey on his mind, and at that Mike Brody now has a job and won't be allowed to go boating any more. Again, that's actually the right thing to do, but the film is making Chief Brody arrive at the right conclusion via bad reasoning.

The next day at the beach, there's a ton of establishing shots to show that we are indeed at the beach, as are lots of people of various age cohorts and skin tones ranging from mayonnaise to eggshell white. Brody's out on a watchtower keeping an eye on the entire ocean, and Mayor Vaughn, Peterson and Ellen Brody are showing the beach off to condo investors with an eye towards further real estate development on Amity. Mike Brody's summer job turns out to be painting and refurbishing one of the concession stands on the beach, at least today. Which would have to be the all-time biggest bummer of a summer job if you're on the beach for hours but not allowed to do anything fun.

Out on the ocean, a boat full of teenagers enjoying the day speeds off in search of adventure while Peterson and Vaughn unsuccessfully try to lay claim to the title of "Bullshit artist" by telling a grade-school-age kid that the shark tower is really for watching birds most of the time and that Chief Brody is just up there inspecting it. Brody sees a big dark shadow in the water and rings the Shark Bell, demanding everybody leave the ocean, but it's not quite the second act yet so it's just a school of bluefish and he is unceremoniously fired (and he should have been, because he's running across the beach with his gun out and fires at the shadow in the water even though not everyone has cleared his line of fire. The movie tries to make it look like the jerkoff developers are behind his dismissal, but he's due for a psychiatric hearing after that display at the very least. Credit where it's due, there is a quite nice shot of Brody alone in the foreground while the muttering crowd of beachgoers fills the background from edge to edge of the screen. It shows that he's isolated from the community both physically and psychologically. His younger son Sean comes by to help him pick up his brass shell casings, which he dropped on the beach after emptying his revolver at the vague shape in the water.

Before he can get canned, though, Brody gets a look at the photos from that dive camera. The man who runs the photo shop in town only got one picture developed before calling the chief over so that he (and the audience) can see the other pictures fade into existence and show off the killer great white shark. It's a pretty neat scene, but I don't know why they had to do it quite the way they did. Brody brings the shark photos over to the board of selectmen, who declare they don't see a shark in them. Brody's attempt to show everyone that they have a shark problem goes pretty poorly (Peterson says there's no talking to someone who already made up his mind) and Brody says he's got no plans to fight a second great white in the ocean, so the town better come up with a plan before there's a crisis this time (a reasonable plan that goes utterly against Roy Scheider's acting as the wide-eyed fast-talking edge-of-panic Brody ranting about the shark pictures).

Well, enough of that main plot. It's time to go to a local bar and watch the Amity kids hang out.

The main thing I got from the bar scene was that the establishment lets teenagers in (what was the national legal drinking age in 1978?), and also that they've got one of the few hundred Death Race arcade games that were manufactured before angry moralists got the game taken out of production (why, yes, dear readers, people were always willing to complain about unsavory entertainment choices!). One of the kids I'm not going to bother to figure out the name of says he snagged a couple cases of beer from his father, and wants to go to the lighthouse the next day, hang out, and consume it. Me, personally, I'd be back at the bar playing Death Race, but I've always been an antisocial weirdo (thank Telstar the internet was eventually made available to civilian nerds). Everyone but Mike Brody makes plans to go to the lighthouse, but he's got the twin specters of the day job and a father who is the chief of police keeping him from going. But the glamorous new girl in town twists his arm for about three fifths of a second, and it looks like Mike's gonna be in the big group of Expendable Meat characters at the lighthouse party.

Chief Brody returns home to find that Ellen and Deputy Hendricks are commiserating about him getting fired. He hands the chief of police badge over to his former second-in-command and starts to work on getting thoroughly wasted. He does make sure, even in his current emotional state, to tell Hendricks that he knows it's not his subordinate's fault that he's getting kicked up a place on the org chart. The new chief leaves and the Brodys discuss what's going on with the chief's career path and why exactly he was let go (it looks to be the "firing a gun at the beach while yelling like a maniac" thing more than any other factor). Ellen gives her husband all the support--physical and emotional--that she can, and the next morning they sleep through Mike sneaking out to partake of alcoholic beverages and listen to the rock and roll.

His younger brother's more observant, though, and blackmails an invitation to the beach party by threatening to wake their parents up if he doesn't get to tag along. At the pier, Mike temporarily kicks his friend Andy off to invite the girls on his craft, the dweeby guy gets a girl to go along with him (which he wasn't expecting to happen, but it delighted to have happen) and there's perhaps just the tiniest bit too much of momentum-destroying footage of boats going around doing Boat Stuff. Then, just because things weren't going slowly enough, it's time for an underwater sequence where SCUBA divers swim around in the ocean. This kind of sequence in a monster movie serves the vital function of letting the audience get a popcorn refill while NOTHING AT ALL IS GOING TO HAPPEN. I'm stuck watching every frame of the film, though, and when a diver gets startled by the burn-scarred great white it comes out of nowhere and also doesn't use the John Williams shark music to let the audience know it's going to happen. Everyone's so intent on helping the diver get back to shore (I think he's suffering from the bends as he surfaces too quickly, maybe) they miss the dorsal fin in the water by the boat.

So, uh, they decided to make the shark scarier by putting wicked nasty burn scars on its face. It's emblematic of this film that they've tried to make the gigantic killer shark scarier for the sequel, and that the footage the have doesn't work towards that goal at all. And the shark appearance among the divers is confusingly handled--didn't anyone else see it? Why did everybody else go back to the boat when one person did? I didn't see anyone do a signal or anything, so if all the divers had a single buddy to mutually keep track of, they wouldn't have necessarily even noticed the shark-dodger fleeing.

Chief Brody gets into the police SUV to drive his wife to her job before turning it in and getting all his personal effects from his desk and entering civilian life. And meanwhile, there are two teenagers who have drifted off from the group (possibly the nautical equivalent of "running out of gas" while driving somewhere?), which means that one or both of them is going to get sharked. Turns out to be the boy, who turns out to be named Eddie (and his girlfriend is Tina); the shark bumps their boat, which knocks Eddie in the drink and he gets killed while his girlfriend screams for him to swim to the boat. When we're focusing on Tina and Eddie rather than the shark effects, it's actually quite an effective sequence but it's over in a minute and a half, and then we spend time with everyone back in town again. That includes Martin Brody seeing an ambulance going with its lights and sirens on and wondering what the deal is (even though he's no longer Chief Martin Brody). The ambulance turned out to be for that diver, who gave himiself an embolism by ascending too fast and holding his breath. Chief Hendricks drops a little knowledge on the Brodys when he lists all the kids who went out to the lighthouse and the parents race off to yell at their son (and protect him from the shark, but mostly they're gonna be yelling). Chief Hendricks starts out telling his former boss that he can't take the Amity Police boat out since he's no longer affiliated with the Amity Police and winds up telling him how to operate the controls (one assumes that's a job that Brody left to his subordinates since he's never liked being on or in the water). Hendricks sums up the city's options with "They can't fire both of us", which shows commendable team spirit.

Rather than assume that he's going to be able to fix the entire problem himself, Brody radios the harbor patrol and tells them to send their helicopter out to the day-sailing teenagers so they can get sent back to the port (and safety, and the Brody kids for their ration of yelling). And that means that instead of a shark attack, we get a few more minutes of High Seas Adventure on the various boats. I swear, every time this movie starts to build up some storytelling momentum it cuts to those goddamned kids sailing about and all the tension in the film just drains away. Meanwhile, the Brodys and Hendricks find the empty boat that Eddie and Tina were in a little while ago, and find Tina sobbing belowdecks and hiding. At some length, they manage to get some exposition from Tina about what happened and Martin Brody signals to a passing pleasure craft to pick up Tina, his wife and Hendricks (they're all on Tina's boat) and he motors off to save the teenagers and kill the second Amity great white. Also, this means that since he's been kicked off the force and handed in his badge and gun, he's officially a Cop On The Edge. I know I was disparaging the script earlier, but now I want to piss on a copy of it directly.

Back with the Teenage Kicks Flotilla, one of the dweebs manages to overinflate his pontoon boat, blow a patch out, and it starts sinking. He almost gets sharked before the boat can even finish sinking but gets hauled out of the briny deep into Andy's craft, which the shark capsizes as well. In the ensuing panic, plenty of the other craft get their rigging fouled or knocked over. Mike winds up getting knocked out and floating  while unconscious. He gets yanked into the chief dweeby guy's boat a second before the shark can bite him in another scene that actually works pretty well (other than the goofy-ass mechanical shark rubbing against the side of the boat). All the other craft are disabled one way or another and Mike's comic-relief goofy friend has the brainwave to throw lines to the various boats and tie them together as a more stable flotilla rather than have everyone stranded separately. Meanwhile, Brody drives his technically stolen police boat to the lighthouse, but none of the teenagers' boats have made it there yet. Radioing the harbor patrol chopper guy doesn't help either and he winds up heading off in essentially a random direction looking for the stranded kids (who realize that they need to get to Cable Junction, an island with some electrical equipment on it) because the next landmark after that is Ireland. They get spotted by the harbor chopper, but when it lands on the water (it's got floats instead of regular skids) we get a POV shot that probably means the shark is still loitering in the area. The kids get a tow to Cable Junction from the helicopter, but seconds into that process the shark attacks the helicopter (!) which sinks to the bottom of the ocean. While tied to the boats that everyone's on. Now they've got an anchor keeping them more or less immobilized, but the shark has already learned how to bump into the bottom of a boat's hull in order to get tasty snacks to fall into the ocean. Sean Brody gets knocked into the water in one attack along with a girl whose name I don't think we ever catch (she gets eaten while everyone else screams in panic).

There's a scene back in town where Ellen tells Peterson off for...something...I guess because he wanted to build condos? I don't know. It plays out like a punchline for a joke that never got set up. Maybe the director wanted to remind us that those characters were still in the movie. Back on the police boat, Brody can't get the radio to work and can't figure out where everyone is. Then it starts to rain. Back on the kids' boats, there's a lengthy scene in which everyone yells at the traumatized Sean Brody to catch a rope so he can get hauled from his lone upside-down boat to the other ones that are tied together. They're drifting towards Cable Junction, and probably will just bump into it or get near it or something. None of them can steer and there's a distinct shortage of volunteers to go into the water and try towing the boat towards the island.

Brody does the nautical equivalent of stumbling upon the boat with the dweeby guy, Mike and some namless preppy on it, who hip him to the scene about what's going on re:  sharks, Cable Junction and disabled boats containing his other son. Those kids are steering to the island as best as they can but it's not a precision task with no paddles and making noise in the water might attract the shark. Then the mast of the capsized boat sticks on the bottom of the ocean floor, stranding everyone about twenty feet from the island they were hoping to get to. We get Night of the Living Dead in eighty seconds as everyone screams at each other while they're stranded, but one of the kids hears the police boat approaching. They all yell and scream to get Brody's attention, which is probably like ringing a dinner bell for the monster.

Yup, the shark shows up as Brody gets ready to tow the makeshift boat raft thing to the island and in the confusion Martin manages to run aground (which is actually in character; he's never been nautically proficient). He throws a line to the kids so they can pull the dredging hooks over to their aggregate craft, whereupon Brody will use the dredging winch to haul them to the island. But, of course, it snags that goddamned power cable from earlier at the very moment that the burn-scarred shark bashes through the bottom of the raft. Everyone swims like crazy for Cable Junction, of course, but two people (including Sean Brody) are still on the damaged boats. And the winch hauls the power cable off the ocean floor again while Martin Brody is trying to get it disentangled from the dredging hooks.

Which means it's time to MacGyver up a shark killing solution--Brody gets on an inflatable raft and gets ready to get to the stranded boat when the shark attacks it again (giving the audience a much better look at the not very good shark puppet). He uses the exposition from the marine biologist in the first act and starts slapping the power cable with the life raft's oar, which makes a shark attracting noise (and lets audience members sing the chorus to "Have I the Right?" briefly). The shark doesn't go for it completely at first, but at least it leaves the stranded boat and the two remaining kids on it alone. Brody keeps smacking the cable as they see the shark again, luring it in to take a big bite of power cable and turning itself into instant tempura. And knocking out all the power to Amity Island, which means hundreds of gallons of ice cream will be melting in the sun, and nobody can play Death Race over at the bar any more.

Back on the mainland, one assumes that Brody gets his job back as chief and also gets to paint two shark sillhouettes on the driver's side door of the police cruiser.

Man, this movie defines the term "meh". It's not bad, it's not entertainingly terrible, and it occupies time until the end credits roll. There's really not anything else to say about it that I didn't already get to; it's just a movie that got made for absolutely no reason other than to ride the coattails of an unexpected hit. I guess Universal decided that if moviegoers were going to get ripoffs like Grizzly, The Car, The White Buffalo, Alligator, Crocodile, and others, that they might as well join in on the fun and rake in a little cash.

And, what do you know, this one made enough money for a sequel in 3-D and another one legendary for its awfulness. Gotta get through this one in order to make your way to the prime glory of the cheese that awaits.

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The other members of the Celluloid Zeroes have reviewed movies in the Jaws series (or some notable ripoffs, or another killer shark movie) to join in on the Franchise Kill.

Seeker of Schlock drew the long straw and got to watch a genuine masterpiece in Jaws.

Cinemasochist Apocalypse puts on the glasses and watches Jaws 3-D.

Micro-Brewed Reviews watches Michael Caine's shirt miraculously dry in Jaws:  The Revenge.

Web of the Big Damn Spider checks out The Sea Serpent (featuring Ray Milland!).

The Terrible Claw Reviews gets stranded in The Shallows.

5 comments:

  1. What really bugs me about the wider cultural effect Jaws had is that it started us down a road to where it's no longer okay to be a small film. Like, in the past, it was perfectly respectable for a movie to be small. Those movies were often bad, sure, and often bad for reasons related to having been made by the B-team, but there was nothing in and of itself shameful or worthy of derision just for being a movie that was neither massive in scope and spectacle, nor obvious award-show bait. You could just be a small, modestly budgeted movie about Ernest Borgnine landing a jet plane or something. But now, it seems like just being a movie without big name actors and a huge special effects budget in and of itself makes a movie count as MST3K-fodder.

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  2. Yeah, at this point it really seems every studio is rolling the dice and hoping for a billion dollar franchise. A few indie things like MANCHESTER BY THE SEA get made, but there's not really any little or medium movies in between CAPTAIN AMERICA 3 and MOPEY ORDINARY PEOPLE. Other than horror, where moderate budgets are a virtue and the fan base will turn out for anything.

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  3. "it almost pulls the craft underwater as if two tigers were sitting on it" made me bust up at my desk, you jerk.

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    1. We're a full service institute here at Checkpoint Telstar. Getting people to wonder what you're laughing at and knowing you will sound like a lunatic trying to explain it is just one of the many benefits to reading a review here.

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  4. Did you know that you can create short urls with AdFly and make $$$$$ for every click on your shortened links.

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