Jaws the Revenge celebrated its 30th anniversary this week, released in 1987 it has a certifiably bad reputation and the intervening years certainly have not been any kinder.
The Revenge is what most fans and film critics of the original would like to have on this third and (to date) final sequel to Jaws which was the final theatrical film directed by Joseph Sargent, perhaps most famous for The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, which featured a pre-Jaws Robert Shaw on bad guy duties. Whilst Revenge is series cannon most would probably like to see it fired out of one.
It is a bad film (0% rating on rotten tomatoes tomatometer and only a 2.9 on IMDB) but I still remember renting it with excitement and anticipation from my local Video Magic. It always was a pale shadow of its former glories, and this is from a fan of Jaws 3D. Having recently bought the sequels on Bluray I decided to take a deep breath and explore the tropical waters of the Caribbean and ask, could I find some redeeming features in my return to Jaws the Revenge? (I’d like to prove that and get my name into the National Geographic).
Personally I don’t have so much of a problem with a Great White stalking the Brody family, it makes no less sense than John McClane being in the wrong place at the wrong time. In fact originally, according to the novelisation of the film, written by Hank Searls who penned the Jaws 2 novel as well, it was originally even more loopy where a local witch doctor had put a curse on the Brody family and the shark was controlled by him. Sounds like something straight out of Scooby-Doo!
Even without that this is still very much the runt of the litter and now the title appears to be about a vigilante shark with a vendetta, sounds more like Death Fish. The stuff with the shark and water is nice but is padded out by travelogue and an unnecessary romance and appearance by Michael Caine. The plane stunt is a bonus toward the end though.
The story, as it is, rolls over me largely fine until the climax where it really plunges to new depths where the boat pierces the shark and the shark, er, explodes. They were obviously going for another variation on the scuba tank in Jaws and although that wouldn’t actually happen (thanks Myth Busters) we buy it and it looked good. This Razzie winning not so special effect in this fourth film has to be seen to be disbelieved. The film as a whole probably would have won a clutch of them were it not for Leonard Part 6 being released the same year.
And don’t get me started on Ellen Brody’s apparent sixth sense for sharks when she is close to water or not is also unintentionally hilarious as it is wheeled out far too many times, the oddest being when she senses her son is in danger and she is nowhere near him. She also has the oddest expressions this side of Tippi Hedren in The Birds.
But there is still room for some love and if you (s)quint a little you can see flurries of a better film trying to get out. I do love that the film continually harks back to the original, even starting back in Amity (once again Martha’s Vinyard) where we now have Sean Brody (briefly) as the Deputy Chief of Police and we also get to see the character of Polly (not printing but now played by a different actress) and the original actresses who played Mrs Taft and Mrs Kintner. The latter loaded with meaning as she is seen with the Brody’s prior to Sean’s funeral and she herself obviously lost her son to a Great White as well.
The music is a major strength of the film, we have of course another variation on the Jaws theme but the other themes are also strong and memorable, which is of little surprise when it is scored by Michael Small who also provided the scores for the likes of The Parallax View, Klute and The Marathon Man (the latter two also featuring Roy Scheider). It’s a humdinger of an opening with the theme played in its entirety as we take a shark’s POV tour of Amity.
Another plus point was the retread of the hand copying scene at dinner, originally between Chief Brody and Sean but now between Mike (played by Lance Guest from The Last Starfighter now more like The Last Sharkfighter) and his daughter, Thea. It is once again witnessed by Ellen without their knowledge, I really like the symmetry of it and as well as being something else echoed from the first film it is the sort of thing that would get passed down from one generation to the next. It can’t help but make you smile. It certainly doesn’t seem forced and it gives them a real bond.
It’s all the more poignant a scene between screen father and screen daughter, played by Judith Barsi, as less than a year after the film’s release Lance Guest (Mike) acted as one of her pallbearers after she and her mum were shot by her father.
The underwater diving sequence with Mike evading the shark in a shipwreck is also genuinely taut and exciting. It really takes full advantage of the clear water and confined spaces of the wreck.
The banana boat attack – yellow naturally like the barrels and Alex Kintner’s lilo – also put me off going on such a ride for the rest of my life as it grabs a woman and drags her to her death, her blood surrounding the burst banana as it limps back to shore with screaming children passengers.
Despite her bad perm and some of the worst reactions committed to celluloid – the shark lady is still not working and hasn’t done since - it is genuinely nice to see Lorraine Gary return to our screens as Ellen Brody, she just isn’t Roy Scheider or Chief Brody, and it shows.
Chief Brody does appear, sort of. First in a giant picture in the Amity PD, then in conversation informing that he died of a heart attack and then in a series of sepia tinged flashbacks taken from the first film. The latter only serving to show how great the original is, how bad this is and how Scheider, although missed was right to let this pile of ship sink without him.
According to Wikipedia he was offered a cameo in the film which would have seen Martin Brody succumb to the shark in the first attack rather than Sean, no one would have wanted to see that. Terrible idea. That would have been like having Mahoney from Police Academy dying in a hail of bullets, destroying your childhood heroes.
Talking of Sean’s death, it had great potential and I loved the juxtaposition of Christmas carols being sung but sloppy editing, blurred teeth the order of the day it seems, and the worst ‘hidden arm’ ever rather bungle the whole affair.
Jaws the videogame has better special effects than this, so do most TV movies and this very much feels like one. And what does Michael Caine, who played Ellen’s love interest – the first thing on your mind after your youngest son has been gobbled up by a shark - think of it? He is later recorded as saying: “I have never seen it, but by all accounts it is terrible. However, I have seen the house that it built, and it is terrific.”
To be fair the alternate ending where the shark is just rammed and pierced, sending the boat and shark to the bottom of the sea is far better than that which made the theatrical cut, it tends to be luck of the draw which gets played on TV. Oh and Mike’s friend and colleague, Jake, and his terrible accent, doesn’t escape the clutches of the shark either. This always made more sense after the mauling he got and was far more satisfying as he is rather annoying.
It still has the Roy Scheider and other attack flashbacks in sepia, the bad location matching from the Bahamas to the water tank on the Universal lot (you can even see the water lapping against the horizon at one point) and the shark roaring like a lion of course. This less bad alt ending can be found on the Bluray, which along with a trailer for the film rounds out the extras.
This limp conclusion certainly wasn’t a fitting ending to the Jaws saga and Universal – in the films at least – haven’t treated the property with the respect it deserves. Jaws is a great monster movie, all the more fitting that it was produced by the studio that gave us the monsters of Dracula, The Wolf Man and Frankenstein in the 1930s.
Jaws like these fell from cinematic grace with each returning film, who knows with the resurrection of the Universal monster series starting with The Mummy later this year perhaps we’ll one day see a return of the Brody bunch and that 25-feet long shark, all three tonnes of him.
It’s not as if it didn’t make a return, this last gasp did bring in a total of $50 million from its $20 million budget. And we have the long awaited ‘Jurassic Shark’ film, Megalodon smashing into cinemas in 2018.
But for me, in an alternative universe, I like to think that The Shallows is the continuation of the Jaws saga, with Blake Lively as Thea Brody, her mum or (or gran if you wanted to reference Ellen) having just died, and her dad trying to contact her an older Michael Brody. That would have certainly been a fitting fin-ale to the Jaws saga.
Will any of this stop me from watching Jaws the Revenge? Of course it won’t. Dark horse of the Jaws family? Definitely, but sometimes it is just the killer shark itch that needs catching again when you’ve had enough beer to drink to your legs.
By Dean Newman
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