Friday, February 28, 2014

Jaws: The Revenge (1987)

It's been said that when Steven Spielberg made Jaws in 1975 he made it too good.  Think about it: this movie is centered on the presence of a killer shark and manages to hover around the top 50 movies of all time according to the American Film Institute (AFI).  It's undeniable.  That score by John Williams, strong characters played by a great cast (Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfus, Robert Shaw), there's definite substance here.  It's not only about the maw of a great white shark but also the jaws of life.  This movie is without question the greatest shark movie that will ever be made.  How could you add to a film of such caliber?  You can't, but when there's an audience Hollywood will always try.  In the twelve years that followed this genre-breaking blockbuster, three sequels were made: Jaws 2 in 1978, Jaws 3D in 1984, and Jaws: The Revenge in 1987.  The general consensus from critics and fans alike is that each successive Jaws movie is worse than the last and that the fourth and final entry is one of the worst films ever made.  While Jaws 2 is both forced and forgettable and Jaws 3D is underwhelming with its dreadful 3-D effects and lack of both action and meaningful story, I can agree with the masses here.  The last sequel, however, I'd like to stand up and defend.  Not only is Jaws: The Revenge not the worst movie ever made, it's easily the best of the three Jaws sequels and a decent movie in general.  This movie is not nearly as terrible as it's made out to be.

For those unfamiliar, the biggest laughing point of Jaws: The Revenge is the plot.  Essentially, the same shark that was killed in the previous films is hunting down members of the Brody family, tracking the poor bastards through a psychological connection and following them to the warm-watered Bahamas, a location which great white sharks don't naturally inhabit.  I understand that some people will be unable to take the movie seriously with a story to this degree of absurdity, but it's actually what makes the movie work.  With the other Jaws sequels, another incident with the shark (or this family of sharks) just seems like too much of a coincidence or too far-fetched, but Jaws: The Revenge gives it that supernatural edge.  Of course it's stupid, but this fully disclosed plot device transforms the tone of the film and allows for everything else to make sense.  Jaws: The Revenge is a slasher movie, and the shark is the serial killer, inexplicably back again from the dead, just like Jason Vorhees, Freddy Krueger, or Michael Myers.

I'll admit that the special effects and animatronics are pretty bad in this movie, but the other sequels failed in this department as well.  The original Jaws manages to look good to this day because Spielberg showed as little of the shark as needed to get the desired effect for the scene.  You see the fin in the water or its mouth chewing on the boat or swallowing people, that's it.  Often you don't even see anything; you just hear that John Williams score, and the hairs on the back of your neck begin to raise.  Needing to make up for what it lacked in plot development and suspense, Jaws 2 upped the action and showed more of the shark, which is strikingly and unnaturally boxy, and they do some dumb stunts like setting the shark on fire.  In Jaws 3D, the CGI shots of the shark don't even show movement of the tail or fins; the still images just slowly get closer and closer to the screen which may have been cool in theaters with 3D glasses in 1984 but now just look like shit.  Jaws: The Revenge hearkens back to the effects of Jaws 2 with that terribly block-shaped body of the shark that somehow fails to capture the full size of what a great white shark would actually look like.  In fact, the underwater shots of the shark make it look like a big grey chode.  Some of these scenes still manage to develop suspense, however, as the scuba-diving protagonist frantically seeks cover in a sunken boat, movements quickened with fear yet slowed by the water and constricting scuba gear.

Moments of Jaws: The Revenge like this one are effective despite laughable effects because the characters are likable.  Widow Ellen Brody (wife of Roy Scheider's character from the first two films) can feel the presence of the shark and wants to keep her family away from the ocean after losing yet another loved one to the monster early in the movie.  Her son Michael Brody, however, is a marine biologist, lives his life in the water, and believes he can continue to do his job in a perfectly safe manner.  There's good mother-son drama here, and the extended family of Michael's wife and daughter add to the conflict.  The side characters aren't disposable shark food either.  Michael Caine, one of the most likable actors I can think of, plays a late-life love interest for Ellen and at one point jumps out of a helicopter into open water with the shark nearby!  Even the Jamaican guy with dreads, as cliche as his character is, is funny and with the scenes of him and his family you don't want to see him, or anyone else for that matter, die.  The amiability of the characters invested me in the outcome of the ridiculous story.

With two unnecessary sequels and the '80s gimmick of 3D visual effects, the Jaws franchise was already swimming in the waters of the slasher genre, and Jaws: The Revenge cut the bullshit and wrote a script to fully embrace that and throw in a generic horror subtitle for good measure.  And for what it is, Jaws: The Revenge isn't bad at all.

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