Why The ‘Jaws’ Sequels Deserve To Exist

     April 7, 2020

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The Jaws sequels are some of the notorious sequels in history, outside of that direct-to-VOD Backdraft sequel and Leonard Part 6. Steven Spielberg’s original film is an Oscar-nominated masterpiece of suspense, adventure, drama, and excitement. Jaws 2, Jaws 3, and Jaws: The Revenge are exactly none of those things. They are at best masterworks of things your mom rented for you by accident, and belong in the Criterion Collection of Things the Turner Networks Use to Fill Up Midday Time Slots. Nobody ever watches these movies on purpose unless they’re under extreme duress and trying to signal through the window to potential rescuers with a series of timed blinks.

Jaws is my favorite movie of all time. I got the VHS for my birthday when I was about 4 or 5, and I watched it so much that the tape wore out, self-destructing to escape me. I’ve purchased four more copies of that film in my life (one more VHS, two DVDs, and a Blu-ray), and I’m excited every single time. It’s a sickness, I know. That said, I also love the Jaws sequels, with the pure affection of a child trapped in an avalanche with Santa Claus. I’ve watched each one no less than 50 times throughout my existence on this planet. I celebrate each one of those movies, because if you’re able to separate them from the legacy of the first film, they’re actually a lot of fun. And sometimes you just want to watch people get eaten by a big rubber shark.

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Image via Universal Pictures

Jaws 2 steered away from the adventure aspect of the first film and instead made the bold decision to be a teen slasher movie, because that’s what was popular in 1978. And if you watch Jaws 2 as a schlocky 70s precursor to Friday the 13th with a monster shark instead of Jason Vorhees instead of the sequel to one of the greatest movies ever made, it actually works! The shark even interrupts two teens having sex, the hallmark of slasher films, to absolutely demolish one of them in arguably the most brutal attack in the series (until Jaws: The Revenge, but we’ll get to that in a minute). An authority figure shows up to help, as frequently happens in Halloween or Friday movies, and after providing a brief moment of respite for the teens he is completely annihilated by the killer. I’m of course referring to the scene wherein a profusely bearded helicopter pilot (seriously, pause the movie and lose yourself in his stunning chin sweater) lands on the ocean to try and tow the stranded teens to safety, when the goddamn shark explodes out of the goddamn water and drags his goddamn helicopter down into the briney goddamn deep. It’s incredible. In fact, the only anomaly to the teen slasher formula in Jaws 2 is Chief Brody – an adult authority figure who shows up at the last minute to save the kids and destroy the shark in sincerely hilarious fashion. In most other slasher movies, Brody would’ve bumbled onto the scene haphazardly and then gotten thrown out of a fourth story window by Michael Myers.

Jaws 3 is a full-blown monster movie at a theme park, which is such a glorious idea I cannot believe nobody has ever repeated it. (Just imagine Friday the 13th: Jason Goes to Disneyland for a moment. I want to live in that world.) Now, I will not deny that Jaws 3 is a badly made film – the 3D effects are poorly done, every scene is underlit, and the shark looks pointedly absurd. It has gums. Gums! But there are some all-time great moments in this movie that elevate it from “forgettable crap” to “utterly watchable cheese.”

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Image via Universal Pictures

In the end of the film’s second act, Dennis Quaid sprints through Sea World like a madman, crashes a golf cart, and knocks a performer into the ocean while screaming incoherent warnings into a microphone about a gigantic murder fish. No part of that is an exaggeration – Quaid is on a mission to tell everyone in the park that they’re in danger, and he accomplishes exactly 0% of that mission. It’s a tour de force of unintentional comedy, made all the more amazing by the fact that Quaid later admitted in an interview that he was absolutely snowblind on cocaine in every scene of the movie. The day he filmed his gibbering rampage must’ve been a blizzard. It also features a sequence in which a biblically enormous shark attacks a bumper boat ride. Plus, there’s an unsung hero of background actors in that bumper boat scene – watch for the completely expressionless heavyset dude slowly cruise his way up behind Sean and Kelly like a U-boat captain and ram the absolute shit out of them. That man deserved an Oscar.

There are also some choice schlocky horror moments, including an over-the-top gruesome dead body that has inexplicably been skinned like a Predator trophy. How or why the shark did this is never explained, but it is delightfully gnarly so I let it slide every time. And the death of Phillip FitzRoyce, the quasi-Crocodile Hunter who tries to trap the shark, is conceptually one of the most terrifying things you could imagine. He gets stuck inside the shark’s throat and it crushes him to death like an industrial press. It’s awful.

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Image via Universal Pictures

There’s a number of other joyous moments, including the ludicrous finale in which the shark gets its head stuck in the underwater control room like a dog trapped in a garbage can and the scene wherein Academy Award Winner Louis Gossett, Jr. furiously asks, “We’re talking about some damn shark’s mother?” It’s perfect fodder for a goofy movie to watch and make fun of with a group of friends.

Finally, there’s Jaws: The Revenge, generally regarded to be the worst of the sequels, as well as one of the worst films ever made. And it is difficult to argue that point – the effects, particularly in the ending, are laughably terrible – you can see the “ocean” lapping against the “horizon” because it is a “backdrop” and the characters are actually in a “swimming pool”. During the sequence wherein the shark chases Michael through a sunken ship, you can see the machinery in the shark’s stomach. And over the course of the film’s 90-minute runtime, the titular horrorfish only eats 2 people. The climactic scene in which Ellen impales the shark with Michael’s boat was changed because the effects were godawful (picture a wooden model boat ramming a toy shark in a bathtub and that’s almost exactly what it looked like), and in the new ending the boat collides with the shark and it just fucking explodes. One draft of the screenplay had a witch doctor put a curse on the Brody family and control the shark via magic, and honestly people would have never stopped talking about this movie if they had left that shit in.

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Image via Universal Pictures

But even after that litany of terribleness, I still think Jaws: The Revenge is a fun watch. First of all, it features Michael Caine as a pilot who is absolutely a drug mule smuggling shit in and out of the Bahamas. Caine can’t help but be delightfully watchable in every movie he’s in, and this pile of shit is no different. Nothing beats Michael Caine shouting at a big rubber shark in Agitated Cockney. Lance Guest and Mario Van Peebles actually have some decent chemistry as Michael and Jake, and the scenes in which they keep dunking on each other while trying to track the shark are particularly entertaining. And all of the bad stuff, like the garbage effects and the bizarre pacing, are so honestly, earnestly bad that they’re almost an artform.

There is one legitimately good piece of filmmaking in Jaws: The Revenge, and that is the death of Sean Brody in the film’s opening sequence. The director, Joseph Sargent, was not an untalented man (he helmed the classic crime thriller The Taking of Pelham One Two Three), and he stages the shark’s attack on Sean in a way that’s totally unique to the series. It’s a brutally terrifying onslaught of chaotic imagery, punctuated by the agonizingly realistic terror in Mitchell Anderson’s performance. I can but imagine the high hopes of everyone in the theater who saw that scene and thought “Hey, maybe this Jaws sequel won’t be that bad,” and then the rest of the movie happened.

The Jaws sequels are a paradox. As follow-ups to Jaws, they’re undeniably terrible, but that’s mostly because Jaws never should’ve become a franchise in the first place. However, as goofy monster slasher movies, they’re a delight. If you can separate them from the original film, you can feast on some top shelf cheese. Where else are you going to see a shark with a Harvey Two-Face burn scar eat a bunch of irritating teens right off their dumb sailboats?

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