Thursday, June 28, 2018

Reserved Seating Jumps the Shark: JAWS 2

by Rob DiCristino and Adam Riske
The review duo who aren’t going to let a second shark get in the way of a new Holiday Inn.

Rob: Welcome to Reserved Seating. I’m Rob DiCristino.

Adam: And I’m Adam Riske.
Rob: Our summer series on the Jaws franchise continues with 1978’s Jaws 2, which finds the small coastal town of Amity under threat by another killer shark. Though Chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) recognizes the warning signs when he sees them, Amity’s city council (still led by Murray Hamilton’s Mayor Larry Vaughn) refuses to acknowledge the threat. But that threat soon hits home when a group of day-sailing teenagers — including both Brody boys (Mark Gruner and Marc Gilpin) and Larry Vaughn, Jr. (David Elliott) — becomes the shark’s next target.

I’ve written in the past about my complicated feelings toward Jaws 2, and while I think the tone of that piece is a little too harsh in retrospect, this rewatch hasn’t changed my opinion on the film itself. The action is poorly staged, the teenage characters are irritating and worthless, and the last forty-five minutes is an absolute slog. With all that in mind, Roy Scheider’s reluctant return is actually a highlight; he plays Brody’s downward spiral incredibly well, and I wish the entire film — which was altered quite a bit after several script drafts and a change in director — had embraced the darker tone of these segments.

Adam: I read your article while I watched Jaws 2 yesterday and I don’t think you were too harsh at all. I liked the observation you referenced in that piece about how Jaws 2 is a slasher film. That doesn’t make me inherently like the movie, but as a slasher film it made for a more interesting watch. Jaws 2 is in an almost unwinnable situation. Storytelling wise, I’m not sure it could have ever worked staying with the same characters and location of the original Jaws. It stretches believability too much. It makes much more sense that a new shark terrorizes a different beach comprised of different people. Then again, leaving the island just makes it “Shark Movie” and not necessarily a Jaws story. It’s a lose-lose.
As much as the darker tone and ideas from the script stages are interesting (e.g. a dropped subplot about Amity using mob money to stay afloat after the events of the first Jaws), none of that stuff matters for a movie like this. It’s just clutter better left for a novelization. The only thing that really matters for Jaws 2 to work as a film is the spectacle. If the spectacle works then the other subplots you want to incorporate enhance. But if the action setpieces are bad, none of that shit matters because your shark movie doesn’t work as a shark movie.

I agree with you that Roy Scheider is still great as Chief Brody. In 1978, Scheider was so good that even a “phoned in” performance was an excellent performance. My favorite stretch of the movie was after Brody is fired as police chief. The ego hit Brody takes from being let go feels immediate and relatable. I wanted to watch the rest of that story and see how he reinvents himself in this small town. I don’t give a shit about the shark.

My biggest issue with Jaws 2 (and what makes me not like it overall) is that the shark attacks are shot poorly. I’m sure a lot of it had to do with the mechanical shark not cooperating again. Also, the shot selection is unimaginative. Things are too matter-of-factly staged and the impact is blunted. The best shot in the movie is when Michael Brody is knocked out and his friends are pulling him back on the boat. We get this crane shot that floats in one direction as the shark jump out in the other direction to snatch Michael. That sweep move is the type of thing I’m saying that this film needs more of because it makes the visual moment involving. It has movement. It feels like a close call instead of just looking like one. It’s not flat like so many other setups in the climax. Even when the shark is dispatched, we know what’s going to happen and how it’s going to look ahead of time. I will give props, though, to whoever decided to have smoke coming out of the dead shark’s eyeballs. That’s amazing.

Rob: I made the same exact note about that attack shot. It’s the only one with any dynamism or energy. So many of the shark attack shots are flat and unmotivated, and the editing is so jarring that they just come off as hilarious. I read that the filmmakers gave the shark the burned scar on his face to make him more intimidating, but there’s never any build-up or anticipation aside before the shark attacks, so what difference does it make?
Adam: At almost the very end, Sean (the youngest Brody) yells out “Get away!” to the shark and it took me back for a second because it’s what these damn teenagers should have been yelling the entire last hour. “Get away!” is the perfect, primal response to a man-eating shark circling you. Instead, these kids sound like the Bad News Bears.

Rob: The teenagers are still my biggest issue. I understand the slasher thing, and I’m not saying that every one of them has to be Robert Shaw, but couldn’t they have at least worked with archetypes (aside from “The Screaming One”) or built in a bit more character conflict than “guy is mad that The Screaming One chose Mike Brody over him”? There is so much time wasted in the last hour repeating the same attack/escape cycle with no actual plot advancement while the kids wait around for Brody to rescue them that there’s no reason they couldn’t have given the characters something to do so that we gave the tiniest shit about their fate. The entire thing reeks of a studio going, “Okay, we made the biggest movie ever. It created an entirely new genre of movies attracting an entirely new demographic. How do we make sure they’ll come back? Put THEM in the movie!” It’s cynical and I hate it.

I appreciate what you said about the shark action having to work for anyone to care about the characters, but if the shark is a metaphor, it has to stand for something. There’s nothing here to work with because there are no characters aside from Brody, who again, is the highlight of the whole thing. I think we both just wanted a whole movie about him working out his issues on land.

Adam: Yeah. In Jaws: The Revenge, we learn the fear of the shark killed Brody. I’d like to now re-interpret that as the fear of economic ruin from losing his job because of the shark killed Brody. As for the shark as a metaphor, I get what you’re saying. It works better as one. Do you think the shark read your comment and was like “NOW I GOTTA BE A METAPHOR TOO? I burnt my face. You guys are too hard to please!”

Rob: It’s true. I’m putting way too much on this poor shark. He only has half a face! All I’m saying is that the movie left so much on the table in terms of Brody’s descent into madness. Remember the scene where he’s coating bullets in cyanide and hiding it from his deputy? Remember when he opened fire on a school of bluefish? I wanted more of that crazy shit. I don’t want him rescuing a bunch of teenagers; I want him swimming to the bottom of the ocean and punching that shark in the face. I want him to depose Vaughn as mayor and blow up that Len Peterson douche’s house. I want Matt Hooper to swoop in at the last moment like Han Solo in Star Wars. I’m just saying Death Wish Brody would have been more interesting.
Adam: I love this idea so much. I want the last act of the movie to be Broken Arrow with the burnt shark as Travolta and Brody as Christian Slater. “You’re out of your mind, shark!” “Yeah! Ain’t it cool?” Then the shark dies by a train colliding into the ocean and a nuclear warhead hits it right in the belly. And smoke comes out of its eyeballs.

Rob: Any of these ideas are better than what we got with Jaws 2. Except Tina Wilcox. She’s the best.

Adam: I’m glad we’re no longer burying the lead. I love Tina Wilcox. When they announced she’s Ms. Amity Island, I was like “This makes more sense than when Aragorn became king.” She makes the sun bashful.

If you had to pick a favorite Jaws 2 teen (besides Tina), who would it be?

Rob: Oh, it’s definitely Gary Springer as Andy Williams. He’s Mike’s doofy sidekick whose bullying of Sean turns out to just be tough love. Andy’s up front about who he is, and I respect that.

Adam: Haha. Jaws 2 is so bad that I don’t even remember who that is. All those teens blend together, except the one with the crazy hair who yells at Sean and maybe Murray Hamilton’s kid, because he looks like a Swayze boy. Oh wait…. you just messaged me. We’re talking about the same guy. I thought his name was Larry. I’m almost sure they were calling him Larry at certain points.

Rob: I think that’s the mayor’s son. But who really cares? They all might as well be Larry.

Adam: What do you think about the screaming girl? That arc was so dumb. She’s set up to be this amazing woman by this group of knuckleheads and instead we get...her.

Rob: That’s what I’m saying! They set her up with the whole, “Do you always do what your parents tell you?” arc as if Mike’s going to make crazy decisions to impress her or there’s going to be some kind of tension or danger that’ll make or break their relationship. Mike will learn the value of family and go back to painting sheds on the beach. But they can’t even commit to that! Do the two of them even share a scene outside of the group for the rest of the movie? It’s just so lazy. Who care about any of these kids? You know who I care about? Diane the speedboat lady. She doused herself in kerosene and blew up her own boat. Was that to save herself the pain of being eaten by the shark? Or do you think she was trying to take the shark down with her? Either way, she’s my favorite minor character in the movie.
Adam: It’s kind of amazing that she shoots a flare point blank at the shark and ends up blowing herself up (but not the shark) while Brody holds a fucking power line and doesn’t get electrocuted (but the shark does) even though he has no way to avoid either a) being electrocuted, b) setting on fire or c) both. Smoke should be coming out of both their eyes while they stare each other down and sink to the ocean floor. Then there’s a title card that says “Fin.”

Rob: I went into this conversation thinking, “Eh, Jaws 2 is okay, but I really wanted more.” Now I’m like, “Adam and I should have written Jaws 2.” Are you as Mark Off on this as I am?

Adam: Yes. I think it’s okay at best. Too bad Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again” wasn’t out when this movie was released, because that is Brody’s Jaws anthem in this movie.

Rob: I just Googled that, and no one has made a fan trailer using that song. Internet, I’m disappointed in you. What do you want to cover next week?

Adam: Not Jaws 3. I should see if Patrick will let me go to his house and watch it on 3D Blu Ray. I’ve seen it in 2D enough times but never in three dimensions as G-D intended. Next week we’re reviewing the new Sicario movie, Day of the Soldado which I always want to call Sicario: Daddario.

Rob: You had me at Daddario. Until next time…

Adam: These seats are reserved.

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