By: Garrett Collins
Starring: Roy Scheider, Lorraine Gary, Murray Hamilton, Joseph Mascolo, and Jeffrey Kramer
At one point in Jaws 2, while showing a muffled picture of what he believes to be another shark and attempting to defend his job and sanity in a room full of city councilmen, the character of Martin Brody (Scheider) yells that he knows what a shark looks like cause he has seen one up close. And, that they better do something about this one, because he does not intend to go through that hell again. Watch Scheider’s eyes as he gives this speech. It is readily apparent that he does not want to be there, and on set fights with director Jeannot Szwarc were not uncommon during this shoot. In looking at Jaws 2 as a whole, it is hard to not agree with him. This time, Chief Brody as written is an unsympathetic character. This time, there is not one character on land worth giving a damn about. And, probably most importantly: this time there is no Spielberg or Dreyfuss’ goofy yet endearing character of Hooper (ok, Mrs. Brody talks to him on the phone. But, really…does that count?). Whether he wanted to be or not, Scheider is here. And, while the original film was pretty much a flawless gem, here I would say the result is half as good. The half where the drama in which Brody eventually has a meltdown & is taken off the police force was pretty poor. But, yet, in a movie where the central focus is a terrorizing shark, you better have the scenes in the water be great. And, in Jaws 2, you have a film where when the shark is the central focus, you actually have a pretty darn good little thriller. It’s what leads up to these scenes that are the problem.
The film starts us right off with divers underwater examining Orca, the boat that was taken apart at the end of the last film. Right off the bat, you know there is a different movie at hand because the initial strings of returning composer John Williams’ score are heard and, frankly, they are not very good. In fact, I would say with the exception of themes that were already established in the last film, this is perhaps the worst score of Williams’ career. But, after the shark attacks the team, the film picks up to our reintroduction to Chief Brody and family. For this scene, it was nice seeing him interact with Gary again and make a few jokes & whistles at the ceremony they are attending. These two have always had great chemistry, and that is not something that is lost here. What are lost, however, are even more characters to sympathize with. And, right after we get our first glimpse of the girl who will pop up frequently throughout the picture (Tina Gray), and we are introduced to the remaining cast, it is hard to root for them.
It is worth mentioning that this film was released in 1978. Three years after the original, and the same year that John Carpenter’s Halloween would make its mark on horror history. So, with that in mind, the introduction of Brody’s son Michael and his friends bears more than a little resemblance to a slasher film. These are all people that would become a formula for the next decade or so. You have the gorgeous beauty queen. You had a guy who has no confidence in himself. You have a girl, who for some ungodly reason, gravitates towards said geek. You have the complete jerk who yells at everyone. And, of course, you have Michael, who against his father’s orders goes sailing out in the ocean with these, his friends. Again, there is no one here worth caring for. But, if the screenwriters (Howard Sackler, who did some uncredited work on the Jaws script, and returning Carl Gottlieb) want us to see these people go out and yell at the screen ‘no, no, no’ as they sail out to the depths of the ocean, they made a huge mistake.
However, again: if you are going to fail with things on land, then you better pull off the scenes that take place in the water and involve our title character. And, by and large, I would say that all the shark scenes in this film are set up beautifully, making for some real thrilling and frightening action. Lots of critics gave the film a hard time on its initial release because of the decision to make the shark look more monstrous by burning it, resulting in black scarring that takes up half the side of its face. However, I beg to differ. Not only is that whole attack in which this happens frightening (it is perhaps the most frightening set piece of all its sequels), but I think it succeeds. You have to make the shark stand out, and this look made scenes such as the attack on Tina’s boat and when the shark rips upward through a sail boat in extreme close-up even scarier. And, while director Szwarc wouldn’t exactly do on to great things (although he did direct a few great episodes of Smallville) he deserves a lot of credit for pulling these scenes off and making a film that had no right to be as thrilling and heart pumping as it was.
In the end though, I feel Jaws 2 was a detriment to the Brody character, and it was sad to see them take this story where they did. When the councilmen take away Brody’s job, they have every right to. He shot up a beach because he thought a school of blue fish was the shark (bringing yet another great shot by Szwarc , which is when Brody aims the gun and a little boy is directly in frame, giving it even more hints at danger). This makes the character that we took the journey with within the last film seem crazy and irrelevant. Which leads to the question, why have him here at all to begin with? Also, not all the make-up effects worked. For example, there is a scene where a killer whale is washed up onshore. Not only did Brody drop a line asking the possibility of a shark taking things ‘personal’ following the death of another (more on that focus later on in the series), the whale looks INCREDIBLY fake. But, when thinking about it, what is it that we were expecting out of Jaws 2? I guess that we were just so spoiled by the last film’s brilliance that we were expecting producers Richard Zanuck and David Brown to come out with something just as good, if not better. Maybe a ‘Jawsfather’ Part II,” if you will. But, the end result is a good slasher film without a decent script or character in sight. Which, in a way, describes most of the slasher genre as a whole.
3 out of 5