The Head, The Tail, The Whole Damn Thing

As Shark Week comes to a close, we present a look at the definitive shark movie series – MrMoth takes on All The Jaws:

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Jaws

Oh come on. I can’t review Jaws. What fresh insight can I possibly bring? It has been examined and cross-examined and we know it all. Its every frame is swollen with critical significance. So much so that it’s surprising to find how engrossing, how entertaining it still is. I sat down to watch it with a view to making notes but I didn’t make a single one. It’s brilliant, beautiful, a masterpiece. The pace of the story is familiar now but so confident and well measured, from Chrissie’s ill-fated moonlight swim through the rising panic; Alex Kintner’s end, Ben Gardner’s surprise appearance, Quint’s offer, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat”, the Indianapolis*, “No spit”, the end of Quint, “Smile, you son of a bitch!”… And that’s to miss out all the character beats and perfect detail that create the blue-collar, workaday milieu that the shark swims into, that services the holiday town of Amity (I always liked Hooper best because I too am a middle class soft lad). I could happily watch it again right now.

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Ahhhh

So no, I am not reviewing Jaws, but its presence will necessarily stalk this post, lurking just below the surface of all that follows.

*Though what is truly brilliant about that scene is the way the tension dissipates into song only to rise again…

Jaws 2

Fun fact – you can’t buy a box set of all four Jaws films. As if the sequels might contaminate the near-flawless original, they are never allowed to share box space with it. So I had to get Jaws on Blu Ray and the three sequels came in a ratty old DVD set. With 3 and 4, you can sort of see why, but Jaws 2 is a little hard done by in this deal.

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Can't see this ending badly.

For all its faults, and my god it has them in spades, Jaws 2 at least feels like a continuation of Jaws, an attempt to pick up where Jaws left off and see how the town of Amity is doing. The world is the same; wide shots across the sea, a humming background of families at play in the rolling surf, small-town bureaucracy pushing against one man’s dogged belief in the severity of the situation.

To its credit it doesn’t simply rerun Jaws. The town barely gets wind of the shark problem, it’s all quite contained. Sure, Brody yells about it a lot but you get the feeling Amity is used to ol’ Martin and his cries of “SHARK!”. He probably takes a harpoon to the leisure centre. There’s no sense of panic in the community as there was in Jaws. It’s all much smaller-scale, dealt with in-house as it were.

You would think Chief Brody might have earned the trust of the local authorities after the whole “Being 100% right about the shark that time” thing but you would think wrong. They basically treat him like some paranoid buffoon (he doesn’t help himself, I admit, by shooting poisoned bullets into a shoal of bluefish). Oh Brody, you and your sharks. As if! I mean. That one time, sure. But again? Given the movement of currents and tides and stuff, this is a totally different sea! It could never happen here twice. You’re fired, I guess!

Most of the plot is taken with some spirited teens, including both of the Brody children, larking about in boats. They run into some trouble of the shark variety and instead of the long, haunted vigil of the first film, there is a short rescue mission to bring them home. The shark is killed when Chief Brody tricks it. Everyone lives happily ever after except those who were eated, God rest their crunchy souls.

Which isn’t to say there aren’t some ante-upping set-pieces in there. Obviously the most famous is the water-ski attack – it’s on the poster, of course it’s the most famous – but there’s something to be said for the moment the scarred, angry shark brings down a helicopter. Not only is this probably the inspiration for one of the earliest of breakthrough photoshop memes, it also marks the moment that Sharknado was born. Not in the sense of the film itself, but the whirling vortex of shark-based nonsense we live with to this day. Deep Blue Sea. Megashark vs Giant Octopus. Jurassic Shark. Sharktopus vs Pteracuda. Before that faintly ridiculous moment the Jaws franchise had drawn sharks as a lurking, primal terror. After that, they were cartoon killing machines, ready to leap out of the water and take us down whenever and wherever we might be. We could be on a commercial passenger jet and one of those fuckers could turn up to take a lump out of us.

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HELLO CAN WE BE PALS I LIKE YOUR BEARD ARE YOU A TROLL?

That moment aside, though, Jaws 2 is at least a fairly serious-minded attempt to make another film about a force of nature and the small community that ends up inadvertently feeding it delicious teenagers. The same cannot be said of any further sequels.

Jaws 3(d)

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I'll be honest, my abiding memory of this film is of the man who yelled "MALTESER HEAD" from the back row whenever Louis Gossett Jr appeared. Thanks, Memorable Racist!

You know how all those serious, straightforward bands of the late 70s split up and formed weird bands in the early 80s like The Style Council, Big Audio Dynamite or Fun Boy Three? Yeah, that’s like Jaws 3. It looks and feels nothing like the previous two films. It incorporates elements of completely different genres, like sci-fi and disaster movies. It barely uses the iconic John Williams theme. It’s tempting to say this was written as an entirely different film and got the “Jaws” name slapped on at the last minute, but it does genuinely appear to be built from the ground up as a terrible, terrible sequel to Jaws. It’s Paul Weller in a patterned jumper on the Top of the Pops Christmas special; someone, somewhere thought it was a good idea.

How terrible is it? Well, you know how Jaws: The Revenge is supposedly one of the worst films ever made? Even that won’t acknowledge the existence of Jaws 3. That’s got to hurt. Jaws: The Revenge is Stalin to your Trotsky, Jaws 3. Although that is a bit unfair on Stalin (while being bang on the money about Trotsky).

Dennis Quaid plays Michael Brody, Martin and Ellen Brody’s eldest son, all grown up. Maybe a bit too grown up, to be honest. Not that much time passed between Jaws 2 and Jaws 3 in the real world, certainly not enough to allow the teen of Jaws 2 to become this fine example of sweaty, hairy 80s leading man. This could be taken to imply that Jaws 3 is set in the near future, which is not an entirely unreasonable conclusion. There’s a certain Westworld feel to the park in which it is set; I can’t put my finger on it, exactly, it just seems a tiny bit more advanced than SeaWorld was likely to have been at the time.

Oh, it’s set in SeaWorld. Did I mention that? Actual SeaWorld, the one in Florida. I assume a deal of some sort was struck. The quiet, sleepy Amity has been abandoned and in its place is the crowded, loud but limited environment of a theme park. This works in the script’s favour (Co-written by Richard Matheson!) and gives it a tighter focus. Without this it’s clear that the film would have bloated way out of control. As it is there are too many elements, too many characters; Simon MacCorkindale’s swaggering English prick has an overprotective cameraman who simply vanishes, a couple of unfortunate coral thieves die without ever being noticed and Michael’s younger brother Sean gets written out with less ceremony than an extra in Casualty. And then there’s the matter of the sharks.

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FUCK SHARKS!

Jaws 3’s second most notable feature is the “mother shark” story. The early shark attacks – mostly stealthy, near-silent affairs that attract almost no attention – turn out not to have been the work of the small shark accidentally killed in captivity by the blundering SeaWorld management (wait, is this an advert for SeaWorld or not?). No, the actual killer is that shark’s mother and BOY is she pissed when she finds out they killed her little boy. It’s basically the story of Grendel’s Mother with a stealth-killer supershark.

Jaws 3’s most notable feature is in the original release name – Jaws 3D. There was a brief craze for 3D movies in the early 80s (can’t see it coming back myself) and any series that reached a third instalment had to be 3D by law. This means plenty of THINGS COMING OUT OF THE SCREEN AT YOU, like severed arms and harpoons and, on one memorable occasion, a goddamn shark breaking the screen and lunging out into the cinema! The payoff for this wow amazing technological trickery is that the underwater scenes are frequently so dingy and dark it’s impossible to tell what’s going on.

So it was that, until 1987, Jaws 3D remained the worst Jaws film. That, though, was set to change…

Jaws: The Revenge

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I don't know what's worse, the pain or the embarrassment.

Look, say what you like about Jaws sequels, they know a good tagline when they see one. “Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water”, that’s genius. “The third dimension is terror” OK that’s a bit Troy McClure but still fine. But Jaws: The Revenge gave us the all-time great “This time it’s personal”. Tell me you haven’t used that even once in your life. It’s brilliant. So, points to The Revenge!

How bad is it? How bad can it possibly be? Let’s begin at the beginning, and see how it goes. It starts well, as it happens. Underwater. John Williams. Amity. Classic Jaws stuff. But, big twist, it’s dark! The previous movies started in summer sunlight but it’s clear this is winter. Actually it’s Christmas but I’m not there yet. Still in the water with this shark. You see, something bothers me about this opening sequence. Not even finished the titles and there’s a massive problem. The camera is, we all accept, the shark’s POV. So how do we know we’re near a town? Well, the camera bobs up over the surface of the water. Eh? What… what kind of shark pokes its head up over the water to navigate? No kind of shark, that’s what. So less than a minute in and it’s already significantly more stupid than all the other films.

It gets better. The shark is in Amity on business. That business is, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, setting a trap. A giant tube with teeth is setting a trap for Sean Brody, Chief Brody’s youngest son and now a deputy in the Amity police department. Hey, wasn’t he a hydrophobic cowboy in the last movie? Wouldn’t he be significantly older than this, given his age in Jaws 3? Jaws: The Revenge has answers to your questions, and its answers are “Shut up” and “Fuck you”. Especially if your name is Brody.

It appears that the shark is very choosy about its victims. If you have Brody DNA, it wants a piece of you. Sure, if you get in the way of its chomping it’ll chomp you… but you’re collateral chomping (and half those chomped in such a way survive somehow). It really wants the Brodys. Clearly its motive is revenge but it’s never made clear what it’s revenge for, exactly. Maybe it’s the grandchild of the shark Martin Brody blew up in Jaws. Maybe it lost out on a job interview to Ellen Brody. Maybe Michael Brody took its disabled parking spot once.

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what, you think a shark doesn’t count as disabled? IT HAS NO LEGS AND CAN’T BREATHE AIR omg who is the real monster here? You? It’s you.

Lorraine Gary plays Ellen Brody, Martin’s widow, and is only returning actor from Jaws (though there is a blink-and-miss-it appearance from Lee Fiero as Mrs Kintner). She decides enough is enough – fuck Amity, this Christmas is going to be spent in the Bahamas! The script makes a point of stating that great whites don’t like warm water, so that spoils the next joke sorry. That particular line is uttered by Michael Brody, now no longer Dennis Quaid, no longer a beefy 80s man, no longer a theme park designer. In fact, the casting of Lance Guest is rather canny. There are moments he looks a little Scheiderish around the eyes. More points to The Revenge.

What follows is a film that has become chronically unmoored from the reality that drove a spike of terror into audiences in the masterful original. Where Jaws 3 was a disaster flick, Jaws: The Revenge is firmly into the magical-realist supernatural territory of the slasher. The shark has become an aquatic Freddy, a swimming Jason, a massive finny Michael Myers. It stalks Michael as he innocently tags snails with his buddy Jake (Mario van Peebles doing a hilarious Bahamian accent). It has a psychic connection with Ellen. It can appear from nowhere, even when tagged with a proximity alert. Sharks are terrifying monsters on their own terms; No one who has watched Jaws could doubt this. There is absolutely no need to make them any more than they are, to enhance them with super powers. But Jaws: The Revenge does not hold with your petty logic.

It’s a film that invites pointing and laughing, though I can’t imagine anyone making it actually intended that, except Michael Caine. I’m sure everyone is familiar with his quote about Jaws: The Revenge – “Blah buh buh bah bluh fubble” because fuck Michael Caine. Oh you never watched it? Maybe you should! Not just because misery loves company, but also because you’ll find something to enjoy. Particularly the scene in which you are eaten only to be hauled (bone dry) out of the sea moments later as if you’d just hit “Continue”. Or the underwater sequence during which the trolley on which the shark runs is visible for minutes at a time. Or the final death of the shark, roaring as it leaps out of the sea to be impaled on the ship’s bowsprit and EXPLODE. For no reason! Sharks are explosive, right? Look, just go and have a look at the “Goofs” section on imdb for this film. It is astonishing.

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I swear to GOD this is a real still from the film. It really is.

This is how it ends, then. In farce, in despair. In cash grabs and misunderstood purpose. The Jaws series stayed true to itself once, for the length of its first sequel. After that it bent to the will of fashion, shaping not just itself but the very image of the shark into a cartoonish grotesque. Jaws made sharks a campfire horror scare, a horror story. Jaws: The Revenge made them a punchline. Ultimately, they are neither but I would prefer a world in which we spoke of them in whispers on a silent ocean than the one we are in now, where they are shouted about over the roar of a tornado and a chainsaw.

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About Mr Moth

Mr Moth writes - mainly about pop music, videogames and other trivial nonsense - for Mostlyfilm dot com. He also writes poetry, short stories and personal waffle for his own site mothinabutterfly.net (and has even done a book). Known weaknesses: Strontium-232, electro-pop.

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