40 Years Of Jaws 2

"I don’t intend to go through that hell again!"

Jaws and Jaws 2, when I was little both films marched into one with their (largely) the same cast and locations - I was the same with the Pink Panther films and James Bond - so it was always a thrill to see if I was going to get Ben Gardner’s head bobbing or chargrilled speedboat lady jumping out of the surf.

Jaws 2 isn’t Jaws, I get it, but it deserves more love than it gets - although there seems to be a fair bit of it from The Daily Jaws followers. As sequels go it can’t really be categorised as a case of diminishing returns and whilst not mentioned in the same breath as Aliens and The Godfather Part 2 in fine sequel conversations it’s certainly better than the muddled The Exorcist 2, the teenage-themed Damian: Omen II, Halloween 2 and Plain dull Poltergeist 2. The originals of which were standout in their genres.

It still has a lot of great things to offer and to be honest I’m just happy to inhabit that Jaws universe again. In fact Jaws 2 was the highest grossing sequel until Rocky II smacked it aside. The Jaws sequel was also regarded as the first sequel to use a number two (oh, do grow up) rather than Roman numerals.

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We might be missing Spielberg, Quint (for obvious reasons) and Hooper - save for a literally one sided phoned in cameo - but we do get the brilliant Roy Scheider (even more brilliant considering that he didn’t want to be there - it never shows – more on that later) and of course the shark is back, in the shape of Production Designer Joe Alves and gliding around to a fantastic score by John Williams. Screenwriter Carl Gottlieb is also drafted back in for rewrites after yet another troubled production.

Who says lightning never strikes twice - well, the people of Amity Island. That is essentially the premise of Jaws 2, that a Great White shark is back again and the whole town doesn’t believe it’s hero Police Chief that there is without concrete evidence. Amity, still clearly clamouring after those summer dollars.

There’s something comforting about the old Universal MCA logo, although you always expect to hear those whale noises that were used to such great effect in the first Jaws. As before we start under the water, with a gorgeous harp on a delightfully rich John Williams score that really develops the shark and other related themes. Composed in the same year as his Superman score, it’s sublime and progresses the musical motifs of the first film. It’s perhaps even stronger than the Jaws score; it’s certainly an underappreciated classic in its own right.

The title card displays and then we get our triangle off leads, I say leads, Lorraine Gary and Murray Hamilton must have had great agents to get them so prominent a placing, especially as they have predacious little screen time and not an awful lot to do.

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Also returning in the opening sequence, albeit at the bottom of the sea, is the wreck of the Orca discovered by two divers. We even get its musical motif from the last film for those not sure what all this means.

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It’s great to see that touchstone from the first film and acknowledge the same universe, they are littered throughout. The Orca sign is terrible though and looks absolutely nothing like the one from the back of the boat in the first film.

Cue rapid attack of the divers, like most sequels upping the ante on the body count already and then we cut to a police pick up driving onto the ferry where the “you yell barracuda” conversation took places. Again, it’s echoing the original, almost like revisiting an old friend. Pleasingly there are such ‘Easter eggs’ littered throughout the film, including a great yellow barrel planter outside the Brody residence.

Back to the car ferry, it’s here in the credits we get to see that it’s edited by Neil Travis, who had big boots to fill taking over duties from Verna Fields. Travis may not have won an Oscar for Jaws 2 but he did triumph over 20 years later with Dances With Wolves.

Inside that police pick up, an improved model than the car he drives in Jaws, is Chief Brody. He’s in a rush, another victim? Have the divers washed up like Chrissie?

Until I saw this scene on DVD it was always horribly stretched in pan and scan, and I saw it lots growing up, but it almost surprises me every time to see it in its correct aspect ratio.

It turns out Brody is late for the opening of a new hotel complex; Amity is clearly trying to move on from the shark incident. When I was little I was convinced that shark was somehow going into smash its way into that pool - much like I did every week learning to swim - and gobble up Miss Amity, Tina Wilcox, as the balloons fell.

Mayor Vaughn’s back, his taste in suits are no better but they lack that comic fizz from the last picture and as for that money tree from Len Peterson he is talking about, I’m suspecting it even looked naff in 1978.

At this opening we also meet our tick box cavalcade of teen stars. Hovering round the punch bowl are the cool one, geek one, tom boy and blonde. It’s almost like Carrie meets Jaws and almost become a proto Halloween - released the same year - the shark stalking and slashing them with its knives of teeth. Keith Gordon, who would go onto star in Christine, stands out and could almost have been a young Matt Hooper.

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We then get a wonderfully murky scene that is cold and stark and all moody and mysterious as we witness the gliding shadow of the shark skulking around Amity like a dementor from a Harry Potter film. Sinister and effective stuff, it’s also the only serving scene by original Jaws 2 Director John D Hancock. You can’t help but wonder what his bleaker, dystopian version would have turned out like. Please Universal; on the next release can we see all his scenes or at least all of his rushes?

Jaws 2 also sees the return of Hendricks, it’s always great to him and he was a firm favourite from the first film, even making Chief!  He’s still Chief by the end of the film and although we saw him at sea briefly it would have been great to have seen him in the thick of the action and experience some mild peril. Lots of other familiar townsfolk turn up in the background from the first feature, with the odd line here – like Mrs Taft – or odd line there. Unlike Jaws though, where a line or glance seemed to say so much more, here it is more continuity. It is great to see them all again nonetheless and its great fun ‘Amity people spotting’.

Seeing as he got top three billing it was a real shame to not see more Murray Hamilton, although he did need to film his scenes early due to his wife being ill. He never really makes the impact that he does in the first – almost seeming as some of his lines and conflict were shared with Len Peterson, the property investor. I was never really sold on the Mayor not believing Brody again, especially after the scene in the hospital in the first film where he says his kids were on the beach as well.

It’s a real shame that when the vote of confidence is taken in private about Brody’s position as Chief we don’t get to see them voting. In the theatrical version it is behind closed doors but on the Blu-ray and DVD there is a great short deleted scene where we see everyone vote against Brody save for Mayor Vaughn. That would have been a far more fitting final scene for the colourful character (and jackets) of Larry Vaughn.

Here’s that delated scene.

Although Lorraine Gary’s Ellen is technically given ‘more’ to do – she’s busy plugging the real estate – it somehow feels less and doesn’t really add anything apart from the minor conflict of Peterson being her boss. There is still great sparkle between her and Scheider in shared scenes, particularly at the beginning and when Brody is fired, which is a really sweet scene and gives a rare insight into Martin Brody.

Like Hooper, we are in sharks, but if you are in sailing then you are also in luck, as there is loooooots of it. It is all quite exhilaratingly done though, even if at times it just seems like pretty filler and doesn’t progress the story like each scene did in Jaws.

Jaws was of course full of mystery and dread as we never saw the shark until the final reel, with that hand dealt in the first installment Jaws 2 Director Jeannot Szwarc thought that he may as well show the shark a lot earlier, after all it is what people came to see. Being bigger and badder he’d have to be more evil, so of course he was given a mighty scar from the water ski boat attack. Some find this a bit twee but I never really had a problem with it and yes, it does start to get a bit silly but it is all ridiculous fun and you can certainly sense the filmmakers trying to up the ante wherever they could.

Of the said water ski chase it is one of the signature moments of the film – poster girl no less - and is certainly a thrilling two for one deal with the skier and the boat driver falling prey to the shark, we don’t see much of the skier’s actual demise but the build up to it is palatable. We also get an extended death scene with the driver – who manages to pour petrol over herself before blowing herself and the boat up, scarring Bruce II, to great effect. It’s a brilliant explosion that alerts (what looks like) Tweetie Pie’s owner to call Chief Brody, when she utters one of Jaws 2’s most iconic lines “One minute they were having a wonderful time”, cue looking off into the middle distance.

That results in another great scene where Chief Brody is driving across the beach, an area that looks spookily similar to where Chrissie was discovered. He spots a piece of flotsam and – after taking his shoes and socks off – wades into the water. No doubt he is remembering those words from the first film, where he asks Hooper if it is right that most shark attacks happen in three feet of water. Add to that the Jaws theme and we are left to wonder if the shark is out there waiting to pounce – in Jaws we were never cheated by the Jaws theme, when we it was heard it signified shark, in Jaws 2 the audience is toyed with.

It may not be the shark but Brody gets the shock of this life when the charred remains of the speedboat driver jump up out of the surf, it’s a great, effective moment and is clearly this film’s ‘version’ of Ben Gardner’s head. It doesn’t work as well and isn’t as effective but it’s still one of the standout moments in the film and Scheider’s reaction is priceless.

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When it comes to death scenes in the sequel the filmmakers really pushed the boat out, and whilst bigger doesn’t always mean better it is still gloriously fun. Take the helicopter pilot ‘saving’ the teenage sailors, we are convinced that he is going to save them and are just as surprised as he is to see the shark rear up as he starts the engine (damn vibrations) and proceed to demolish the rescue helicopter and pilot, you can see his underwater demise in the deleted scenes on the DVD or Bluray. Fantastical but a fantastic scene that is pretty gobsmacking when you first see it. Bruce would of course go on to ‘eat’ a plane in Jaws the Revenge.

Marge’s death as she saves Sean is sudden and shocking, the shark ‘swallowing her whole’. It’s over just like that but for me the standout death has to be that of poor Eddie. It’s fantastically executed and has to be one of the best of the series. There is real tension in the scene, you really hopes he makes it, and his body slamming into ‘Tina’s Joy’ really sticks in the memory, ripping off the side of his boat as he vanishes beneath the waves for the final time. This shark film can still pack a powerful punch when it wants to, even if the deaths had been reduced from 11 (can you imagine, the waters of Amity would have been a constant crimson) to the five featured in the finished film.

Like Brody wading into the sea, Jaws 2 is waist high in expensive B-movie land and it knows it, I’m not saying that as a bad thing. Another scene that exemplifies this is the one between Brody and Dr Elkin – essentially a female Hooper, shame she didn’t have more screen time – when they discuss finding a dead killer whale with rather large bite marks.

There’s lots of great talk from Brody about bite radius and then some exposition from Dr Elkin about sharks being attracted to low frequency vibration, Brody was obviously taking notes for the electricity cable climax, although points are deducted for asking if sharks communicate with each other like dolphins, I presume Darwin tore him off a strip about this when he was making Seaquest DSV.

Dr Elkin tells him: “Shark’s don’t take things personally, Mr Brody.” Cue Dr Elkin eating her nice hat with a knife and fork by the time Jaws the Revenge comes around then.

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The year before, the terrible Orca the Killer Whale was released and in its opening scene it killed a Great White to show who was numero uno in the ocean, perhaps this was Universal’s payback?

Look, this isn’t high art but is a damn fun and (mostly) efficient shark thriller. It isn’t Jaws, but then what is? This is the closest we will ever get in terms of returning characters – big and small – returning behind the scenes personnel – music, production design, producing – location and timeframe. At its heart it’s got an ever engaging and measured performance by Roy Scheider.

God, how we and the Jaws franchise misses him. He’s the rock that holds it all together like glue. All the more amazing then that he wasn’t interested in doing a Jaws sequel, he’d left The Deer Hunter over ‘creative differences’ – he was playing the Christopher Walken role. With two pictures left in a three picture deal Universal offered him a get out clause, if he agreed to make Jaws 2 he’d be free of contract.

So, in the end Scheider shot at bluefish instead of shooting himself in the head, as happens to Walken playing Russian roulette. Walken would of course go onto win the best supporting actor Oscar the following, so perhaps Scheider shot himself in the foot after all. We got Chief Brody back though, which was a good job as Shaw’s Quint had died and Dreyfuss was busying filming Steven Spielberg’s next film, Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

He’s got so many standout moments in the film, from his impassioned “I’m not about to go through that hell again” at the town hall, the almost vulnerable drunk fired Chief when he’s talking to Ellen and Hendricks and I love his ‘Van Helsing’ moment when he’s dripping cyanide onto his bullets and sealing them with wax. It’s really well shot and has such a moody atmosphere. He almost seems like Dr Loomis from Halloween at this point.

That Cable Junction ending, put those legs away Roy, could never match the amazing ending of Jaws. Perhaps it’s the fact that Brody is in the world’s smallest dinghy, I don’t know.  They obviously had to have Brody utter something along the lines of “smile, you son of a bitch” but “open wide” and “say ah!” aren’t it – even chomp on this you son of a bitch would have been slightly more satisfying, think of him as a proto Bruce Willis with his yippee ki yay! When Bruce II bites though he sure does light up pretty spectacularly, the hum of electricity making him sound like one of the old Buster Crabbe Flash Gordon spaceships.

It’s hard to carry a film on your own, but that is what he does and he does it with great aplomb. And with Scheider’s great performance, some thrilling shark action and a host of familiar returning faces and locations, that is why Jaws 2 will always have a special place in my heart. It’s the closest we will ever get to capturing that original Jaws magic, embrace it.

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And remember, it still has the greatest tagline ever, just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water. All things considered then, especially for a sequel that could never be topped, not a bad record for this vicinity.

By Dean Newman 

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