Just When You Thought It Was Safe To Go Back In The Water…
The unprecedented success of Steven Spielberg’s “JAWS” (1975) not only inaugurated the summer movie phenomenon, but it also guaranteed a sequel, despite the finality of JAWS’ conclusion. As I’ve said more than once on this site, JAWS is one of my favorite films of all-time; a near perfect synthesis of drama, humor, horror, action and even politics (watching the film during the age of COVID-19, one easily sees parallels between Mayor Vaughn and those real-life politicians who chose to ignore the dangers of the pandemic). I saw the first JAWS under less-than-ideal circumstances at a crowded drive-in on a warm summer evening over 46 years ago. A crummy, tinny speaker mounted on a car door and a far away outdoor screen were my first windows into this remarkable movie. Despite the circumstances, JAWS would forever alter the way I looked (and still look) at the ocean and the amazing life beneath the surface of those salty blue waters. There are so many reasons for JAWS’ success; Steve Spielberg’s ambitious, brilliantly-improvised direction, the chemistry of the three lead actors (Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, Robert Shaw), Bill Butler’s kinetic cinematography, Verna Fields fluid editing and John Williams’ Oscar-winning score to name but a few.
Any sequel to JAWS, no matter how well-intentioned, was almost guaranteed to fall short. With Robert Shaw’s “Quint” character killed off, and Richard Dreyfuss refusing to return as “Hooper,” the only remaining pillar of that first movie to return would be a very reluctant Roy Scheider, who was obligated for a sequel due to his contract with Universal. I can still remember, at age 11, going with my family to the massive Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood (now the American Cinematheque); this time we were giving “JAWS 2” (1978) every possible chance to wow us by seeing it in a movie palace. It helped, a bit. While JAWS 2 made for a decent summer popcorn movie, it was clear the movie was lacking in several important ways. The best a sequel to JAWS could offer, given its limited storytelling options, was a well-made retread. Since JAWS 2 was returning to the fictional island resort town of “Amity,” it was clear the movie (from its very title) needed to feature a second shark menace, and, of course, a reluctant Roy Scheider’s Brody would have to be the one to destroy it.
Just as when I saw the movie at the Egyptian 43 years ago, I chose to revisit JAWS 2 with my handy-handy digital projector and collapsible 7 ft. (2 meter) screen to give this retrospective an equally fair shot. The film’s flaws were still apparent, but so were its modest assets. So, to kick off Shark Week 2021, let’s do a deep-dive on JAWS 2…
******GREAT WHITE SPOILERS!!******
JAWS 2 (1978).
Directed by Jeannot Szwarc (“Somewhere In Time,” “The Night Gallery”), JAWS 2 was written by JAWS’ veterans Carl Gottlieb and Howard Sackler.
Note: JAWS 2 began shooting under a different director, John D. Hancock (“Bang the Drum Slowly”), but producers weren’t enamored with his vision of Amity as a dying ghost town, following the events of the first film (the novelization retains much of this original version), so Hancock was replaced with Szwarc. While several shots from Hancock’s version survived the final version, rewrites of the script were hurriedly made, and Szwarc went to work.
The movie opens with the Universal logo and some unexpectedly jaunty, nautical music from John Williams, as we see two rich divers (James Sparks, Gregory Harris) finding the wreck of Quint’s old fishing boat, Orca, from the first film. As one diver breaks out his expensive waterproof camera to document the find, we begin to hear the familiar stirrings of Williams’ familiar “Jaws theme” (da-dun, da-dun, da-dun…) as a new bad fish attacks the two divers mid-photo op. We hear their gargled screams, as we see the expensive camera fall the seafloor, where the bounce forces one last click of its shutter and flash…
Note: The wreckage of the sunken Orca doesn’t really match the colors or even the dimensions of the boat seen in the first film; even the stern nameplate of the vessel is lettered differently. I’d guess the producers had the art department craft a cheaper, random boat wreck instead of painstakingly matching it with the first film’s Orca. They probably assumed (correctly at that time) that few would likely notice or care.
The scene cuts from underwater to dry land as a running-late, irritated Amity Police Chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) catches a ferry for an important ribbon-cutting ceremony for a new Amity hotel. His anxious wife Ellen (Lorraine Gary) is irked at her tardy husband’s arrival, but they soon settle in as Mayor Larry Vaughn (Murray Hamilton) orders “Miss Amity” Tina (Ann Dusenberry) to cut the ribbon (“atta girl,” he croaks condescendingly). The ribbon is cut, balloons descend. All the WASP elites of the island celebrate.
Note: As with the first film, there is a shocking lack of ethnic diversity seen on the fictional Amity Island which, through today’s eyes, is quite off-putting, though in context to a community of wealthy, upper-crust, “exclusive” (i.e. mostly white) vacationers off of New England, circa 1978? It’s era-appropriate, sadly. The implicit racism of this fictional community was also in Peter Benchley’s original JAWS novel as well (the fear in the largely white Amity community over a suspected “black rapist”). Not excusing it, just explaining it.
Ellen and Martin Brody are then met with Ellen’s real-estate mogul boss and town selectman, Len Peterson (Joseph Mascolo), who seems to treat employee Ellen with a familiarity that is just shy of sexual harassment–all but ignoring her police chief husband nearby. Ellen seems curiously oblivious to Peterson’s less-than-subliminal advances, but they’re not lost on Martin, who takes Ellen up on her offer to dance.
Note: A rivalry is clearly set up between Len Peterson and Chief Brody over Ellen. Sadly, there is almost no payoff to this setup, other than Ellen later telling Len she “doesn’t give a damn” about his motives for wanting the beaches open. This arc really should’ve ended with Ellen giving her boss an audience-rousing punch in the nose near the end of the movie, like Bonnie Bedelia’s “Holly McClane” delivered to the unethical reporter at the end of “Die Hard” (1988). Sadly, no such luck.
We soon meet the Brody boys; a curiously older Mike (Mark Gruner) and Sean (Marc Gilpin), as well as some of their friends, including boorish best friend Andy (Gary Springer), Vaughn’s son Larry Jr. (David Elliott), nerdy Doug (Keith Gordon) and his mopey loser friend, Timmy (G. Thomas Dunlop). We also meet Brooke (Gigi Vorgan), who wants to set a reluctant Mike up on a blind date with her cousin, Jackie. The teens of Amity are set up much like the young camp counselors in a “Friday the 13th” movie (which was still two years away). Each of the kids seem to be allowed one defining trait (geek, nerd, hunk, etc), as their personalities are delivered in shorthand.
Note: Regarding the younger actors in the cast, their variable acting abilities are all over the map. Some of the teens (Keith Gordon, G. Thomas Dunlop, Gary Springer) turn in earnest, sincere performances, while others don’t seem to be trying quite as hard. There’s also the curious matter of the two Brody boys, Sean & Mike, who seemed to have grown up a lot in the three years since the last movie, where they looked to be about 6 and 11, respectively. In JAWS 2, Sean and Mike now appear to be about 11 and 18, at least. Island living, I suppose…?
While the Brodys dance, and the kids do their teenage stuff, no one notices a rising fin out of the darkened waters off Amity bay. The next morning at the dock, Brody is told by his deputy Hendricks (Jeffrey Kramer) that there’s a report of two missing scuba divers whose boat has been located anchored at sea. Brody, who’s still not so keen on water or with boats, directs his eager deputy to take the Amity PD launch out to investigate (“Happy to do it”).
Note: There seems to be a weird confusion surrounding the first name of Brody’s slightly Gilligan-esque deputy Hendricks, played by the returning Jeffrey Kramer; in the first film, Hendricks was Len or Lenny (as he was in author Peter Benchley’s original novel). After Chief Brody is fired later on in the film, we hear Ellen call a contrite Hendricks “Jeff,” which is the actor’s real first name. I’m assuming (?) that Lorraine Gary either flubbed the line, or that everyone on the film just collectively forgot Hendricks already had a first name. Another possibility is that “Jeff” is Len Hendricks’ middle name, a name used only by his friends (?). Either way, it’s never made clear.
Elsewhere on the docks, the teens gather for a day of summer sailing. We meet “cousin Jackie” (Donna Wilkes) who is prettier than anticipated, though a surly Larry Jr. tells his friend Bob (Billy Van Zandt) that she “has tits like a sparrow.” After Mike reprimands his kid brother Sean (Marc Gilpin), popular Tina teases the elder Brody boy (“Oooh, big brothers”) before merrily flitting off with her boyfriend Eddie (Gary Dubin). Having met Jackie, Mike is now cool with the whole blind dating thing.
Note: According to actor David Elliott, who played Larry Vaughn Jr., his misogynistic line about Jackie’s “tits” was improvised. According to IMDb, the actor also regretted it very much later on. Considering how ugly it comes off, I can see why. Larry Jr. seems to be set up as the town bully, but he never does anything too treacherous to qualify. The actor playing Larry Jr.’s sidekick Bob, Billy Van Zandt, later played a nameless alien ensign with a bulbous head and silver eyes on the bridge of the starship Enterprise in “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” (1979). Keith Gordon would go on to costar in 1984’s “Christine” and in 1986’s “Back to School.”
We then catch up with the two less popular sailing teens, Doug and Timmy. Doug is the well-read nerd of the two, who quotes “Mutiny on the Bounty,” while the eternally dour Timmy laments all of the girls who seem dedicated to ignoring his existence (incel alert), until good-natured Brooke agrees to go boating with him. Suddenly Timmy’s confidence lifts, and food has taste once again.
Note: Once again, these teens are each assigned a trait and the young actors play it to the hilt, with varying levels of competency. While the movie’s unwieldy, diverse-averse cast of all-caucasian teenagers could staff a small nation’s army, they still can’t fill the humongous voids in personality left by the movie’s lack of Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss.
As the teenagers frolic on the water with their sailboats, we cut to a suspenseful, though random scene of parasailing, with various sailers briefly dunking their derrières in the ocean before being yanked back up by their parachutes. It’s in this scene where we hear the shark’s primal theme stirring once again—this is our cue for when the shark is definitely nearby. While we do see a fin rise, the shark is denied its dinner… for now.
Note: This was another sequence allegedly shot by former director John D. Hancock before the producers switched him out with Jeannot Szwarc. The parasailing scene is an exciting sequence that wouldn’t be at all out of place in the first JAWS movie, though its inclusion here does feel a bit out of place, as it doesn’t directly involve any members of the movie’s already huge ensemble cast. The underwater shots of feet and butts dunking in the drink are tense and well-edited.
The movie lightens the suspense with comedy as we see just another ‘day at the office’ for harried small town top-cop Brody as he’s pestered by one of the town leaders about a girl teasing his son to distraction by dancing half-naked in her open window. There are also numerous other complaints pouring into the office until Brody is “rescued” by Hendricks, who comes in with the camera recovered from the ocean floor near the anchored boat of the missing scuba divers. Brody suggests to Hendricks that developing the film might give them a clue about the missing divers’ whereabouts.
Note: Seriously, Hendricks—who’d you f–k to get on the Amity PD? I realize Hendricks’ role in the movie is principally comic relief (and Jeffrey Kramer delivers) but really; developing the film (admittedly an archaic ritual these days) would be pretty standard in the case of a missing person who left behind an expensive, still loaded camera.
Returning to the frolicking good times on the ocean, we see a ski boat driver (Jean Coulter) who’s towing a young skier (Christine Freeman) behind her. Cue shark music, and some absolutely stunning shark-POV footage, as the camera menacingly stalks the skier by slowly switching from underwater to waterline perspectives. The skier is pulled under, and the driver immediately feels the lack of tension on the boat. Turning around, the boat driver is attacked by the shark in all its glory, as it repeatedly rams the small boat, cracking its hull into pieces. In a blind panic, the boat driver pulls a tank of gas onto the creature, spilling half of it on herself. She then grabs a flare gun in hopes of igniting the beast before she accidentally self-immolates! In seconds, the entire boat explodes in a huge fireball. In a house on the beach, an old woman (Susan French) witnesses the flaming carnage, as do Tina and her boyfriend Eddie, who were (as usual) making out on the beach before Tina was distracted by the sounds of the water-skiing.
Note: The shark incurs burns from the boat driver’s panicked, admittedly foolish attempt to set it aflame. This actually gives the shark a terrifying charred scarring on the right side of its snout that makes it somewhat scarier than the otherwise pristine great white shark props from the first film. The mechanical sharks for JAWS 2 (dubbed “Bruce 2” by the production) were reportedly a lot more ‘cooperative’ than the infamously malfunctioning sharks designed by production designer Joe Alves (who would direct JAWS 3D), and built by a semi-retired Bob Mattey (“20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”) for the first film. Apparently, many of the R&D bugs plaguing the original hydraulic sharks were more or less worked out for the shark props of JAWS 2.
Brody, with his young son Sean tagging along, is called out to the home of the old woman, where he also meets Tina and Eddie. From their eyewitness accounts, none of the three actually saw a shark, but Brody’s spidey sense begins tingling. Tina and Eddie are eager to resume their making out, and Brody lets the hot-to-trot kids go. Despite the lack of confirmation for his suspicion, Brody knows they’ve got another shark problem…
Note: Some beautiful ‘golden hour’ lighting on the old woman and Brody’s faces during the questioning scene on the woman’s porch; nothing too extraordinary, just some aesthetically pleasing natural lighting on the actors in this scene. It only catches my own eye as a photography aficionado. Kudos to cinematographer David Butler, no (apparent) relation to JAWS cinematographer Bill Butler.
Over a tense breakfast the following morning at the Brody household, a nervous Martin tells his son Mike that he has a summer job lined up for him painting toilets at the beach. Mike’s none too thrilled at the prospect, since he was hoping to get to know Jackie a little bit better, especially since island alpha teen Larry Jr. seems to have his eye on her as well. Back at the beach, near Amity’s lighthouse (shot in Florida), we once again see Tina and Eddie’s extended mating rituals of running around the beach after each other until Tina slips on a sand dune and almost lands atop the corpse of a heavily-mutilated, beached killer whale (aka orca). Tina screams, and a crowd soon gathers. Later on, a haughty ichthyologist named Dr. Elkins (Collin Wilcox Paxton) comes to study the whale’s rotting corpse. She tentatively agrees with Brody that a large shark might’ve delivered the fatal wounds. While the doctor doesn’t reach any definite conclusions herself, Brody’s mind is made up–there’s another great white shark (“a big mother”) off the shores of Amity Island.
Note: Kudos to the movie’s art department for its exceptionally realistic faux-carcass of the slain juvenile killer whale. Well done.
Following up on the old woman’s account of the water skiing tragedy, Brody returns to the approximate point on the beach where the explosion occurred. Taking off his shoes, a thalassaphobic Brody eases into the water until he’s waist-deep in the surf. He sees something in the water–possibly a piece of debris from the destroyed boat. Reaching for it, he’s startled by a charred human corpse lunging out at him from the crest of a wave (!). An ambulance is summoned, and the burned corpse is recovered.
Note: The charred corpse of the boat driver, rising out of the surf, is JAWS 2’s ‘jump scare’ equivalent of dead fisherman Ben Gardner’s severed, one-eyed head popping out from the wrecked hull of his boat in the first movie. It works, too.
The following afternoon sees a hot, crowded day at the beach as Ellen, Len Peterson and Mayor Vaughn are showing off summer rental properties and playing up Amity life to prospective summer renters with deep pockets. Their sunny narrative is interrupted by the sight of Brody, manning an old, rusted shark tower on the beach; the nervous police chief is casting an almost literal shadow on the festivities as he anxiously watches the water for signs of his great white shark. Before long, a large, dark mass in the water sends Brody into a panic; he runs down the tower and begins firing his pistol into the ocean—until a young lifeguard tells him the mass is just a harmless school of bluefish. Feeling a rush of embarrassment, Brody tries calming the terrified beachgoers and realtors, who are more frightened by the apparent loose cannon-cop with a pistol than a shark. A humiliated Brody drops to his knees and begins picking up the spent shell-casings from his gun. His young son Sean quietly begins helping his father pick up the cartridges.
Note: The scene with Sean Brody helping dad Martin collect the spent shell casings from his pistol is a somewhat grimmer repeat of the father-son moment from the original movie where young Sean Brody (Jay Mello) mimicked his father’s every move at the dinner table–before giving his tired father a much-needed kiss.
Brody returns to his office, where he begins filling bullets with shark poison and capping them with wax. Unexpectedly, Hendricks walks into the office, and an embarrassed Brody covers his work with a convenient nearby towel. Hendricks then tells Brody that the town’s photo lab technician, Phil Fogerty (Herb Muler), has recovered the film and is about to develop the pictures. Brody joins Phil in the darkroom as he bathes the images in development solution. Most of the photos are of the divers and the wreckage of the Orca, but the last grainy photo shows a familiar gray/white snout and part of a “black, lifeless” eye–an eye with which Brody is all-too familiar. He snatches the dried photos and marches down to Amity Town Hall, where the town’s board of selectors are holding a special session to discuss the day’s ‘events’…
Note: While the shot of the shark’s snout and black eye are very familiar to JAWS fans, the image’s grain and foreground bubbles muck it up just enough for a layman to make a reasonably credible case for it being something other than a shark (“Seaweed?”), which only enhances Brody’s justifiable paranoia, as well as his growing Ahab complex against the shark. While the film really could’ve used a Matt Hooper-type to bolster Brody’s case, the late Roy Scheider (1932-2008) truly gives a tour de force performance as a man whose obsession is seemingly clouding his good judgment.
Brody barges in uninvited to the selector’s meeting of the town council, where he shows them the photos of his shark. “Bad Hat” Harry himself (Alfred Wilde) dismisses the eye and snout as “seaweed”, while Len only sees distortions. With no support from the town’s leadership, Brody begins to snap. Len Peterson then takes that opportunity to launch into Brody for firing his gun on the beach, something for which Brody already feels a great deal of shame. An unusually sullen Mayor Vaughn asks for calm, and for Brody to take a seat while they vote on his continued role as Chief of Amity Police. The township fears that Brody has an Ahab complex…
Note: In a deleted scene that should’ve been kept in the final cut, we see the town selectors taking the vote to replace Brody with Hendricks; the vote is unanimous, save for an unexpected ‘nay’ vote from Brody’s onetime nemesis, Mayor Vaughn, who knows that Brody is correct in his suspicions, and wants to be on the right side of things for a change.
A deeply inebriated Martin Brody returns home after getting canned, and is comforted by Ellen. He’s surprisingly vulnerable when he tells her he’s “never been fired before.” Their moment is interrupted by acting police chief Hendricks, who drops by to tell Brody that he genuinely doesn’t want the job, and that he thinks Brody’s “the greatest.” At first Brody mocks the younger man with a “hail to the chief” salute, before realizing that Hendricks is being sincere. Hendricks shows himself out, and Ellen comforts her “too damn tired” husband in her arms, gently admonishing him for being “too damn drunk.”
Note: Once again, the scene of a drunk Brody and a tense Ellen receiving a visitor is something of a callback to the first film’s scene of a despondent Brody drinking at the dinner table with a similarly nervous Ellen, when Matt Hooper comes by to take the drunken police chief out to look for their shark on the night ocean. As sequels go, JAWS 2 doesn’t offer any big surprises (the Brodys, Amity Island and a shark…c’mon, what are you gonna do?) but it does offer some solid character moments and adequately builds on the fictional town’s mythology from the first film.
The following morning, a grounded Mike Brody is coerced by his kid brother Sean into taking him boating with his friends, while Martin takes Ellen to work…
We then see team of diving trainees practicing in the depths of Amity’s waters, when one of the divers encounters the shark and breaches the surface too quickly, resulting in a severe case of decompression sickness. As his fellow diverse remove his scuba gear, there is blood pooling in his mouth and nose from burst capillaries. Martin and Ellen hear the ambulance as he’s taking her to work, and despite the fact that he’s been fired, Martin pursues the ambulance. He and Ellen see the bloodied, disoriented diver being taken away. They learn the diver panicked so hard that he bit through his regulator’s mouthpiece.
Note: I must credit this movie for teaching my then-11 year old self about the dangers of ‘the bends,’ aka decompression, or barometric sickness. Thus ended any childhood curiosity of mine as to why scuba divers never held underwater races (hehe…).
Elsewhere on the water, Mike and Sean have joined his friends sailing towards the lighthouse, though Tina and Eddie–easily the horniest teenagers this side of a slasher movie–are in her boat, “Tiny’s Joy”, where they are searching for an onboard blanket to have a little sex on the sea. Predictably, the boat is rammed by the great white, and a hapless Eddie falls overboard. A mortified Tina watches helplessly as Eddie tries in vain to out swim an oceanic predator with millions of years of evolutionary practice under its fins. Eddie becomes chum, as Tina begins to take an understandable break from reality. She whispers, both to the shark and the images in her head, to simply “go away!”
Note: Once again, the action sequences are this movie’s bread and butter. The scene of poor doomed Eddie trying to out swim a natural oceanic predator is just crazy-exciting. This also marks the third time in the movie that Tina and Eddie’s shenanigans have given them a front seat to horror; the exploding boat, the dead orca, and now this…these kids today.
Chasing down Hendricks, Brody learns that his two sons (including the grounded one) have joined their friends for a day of sailing. There’s a great white shark in the water and the Brody boys are on the menu. Putting his ass on the line for his ex-boss, Hendricks quips, “What the hell? They can’t fire both of us,” and takes the Brodys out on his police launch. Out on the open sea, they find “Tina’s Joy” apparently abandoned. Coming alongside the damaged sailing boat, Martin finds Tina under a blanket—shivering, pale and in deep shock. Ellen comes over to comfort the girl, and when asked what happened, Tina stammers and screams, “Sh-sh-sh-shaaaaaaaarrk!” Flagging down a Coast Guard patrol boat, Martin transfers Ellen, Tina and Hendricks onto it before he takes the police launch out in search of his kids, who were last seen in the direction of the offshore power station at Cable Junction.
Note: Ann Dusenberry, who plays Tina, does a convincing enough job with her post-Eddie’s death trauma, but her line delivery of “Sh-sh-sh-shaaaaaarrk” absolutely takes the cake! So help me, William (“Khhaaaaaan!”) Shatner himself couldn’t have overacted that line with as much aplomb as Ann Dusenberry.
Meanwhile, things are going so great for the other teenage sailboaters, either. The shark once again makes an appearance, ramming Mike’s sailboat and knocking him unconscious before he falls into the water. Timmy and Patrick (Ben Marley) struggle to bring the floating Mike onto their boat, just as the great white grazes their boat’s hull. One by one, the shark’s repeated attempts to eat the kids by ramming their sailboats damages most of the sailboat flotilla. Timmy and Patrick, realizing their boat is more or less intact, decide to take the injured Mike in the direction of shore to get help.
Note: There is an infamous scene where you can see the inner mechanics of the shark as it grazes the side of Timmy’s boat; you also see its upper jaw seeming to cave in a bit towards the center, almost like foam rubber. One has to remember that this movie was made in 1978, before VCRs and still-framing scenes for bloopers would be commonplace, and decades before DVDs, Blu-Rays and streaming allowed for poster-perfect still framing. In those days, people generally watched movies once, maybe twice, perhaps a third time on broadcast television, and that was usually it.
With the remaining damaged sailboats drifting away from each other, Andy and Doug get the idea to use onboard ropes to tie their vessels together for increased safety and security. Young Sean is stranded on an overturned boat with a young woman named Marge (Martha Swatek), who is literally swallowed whole by the shark right before Sean’s eyes (!). The others try to coax a terrified Sean to grab the rope as they throw it to him, but the traumatized kid is near-catatonic with fear. A frustrated Andy tries threatening the boy to shake him into action (“I’ll break your ass!” whatever that means). Eventually reaching Sean, Andy tosses the rope to Sean and they pull him over to their makeshift collective oceanic platform. Unfortunately, the platform is drifting away from their destination of Cable Junction and they can’t risk the attention of the shark by paddling…
Note: As the youngest member of the young cast, Marc Gilpin does a convincing job at conveying Sean’s trauma. Gilpin is the kid brother of actress Peri Gilpin, who played Frasier Crane’s on-air radio producer Roz Doyle, on the “Cheers” TV series spinoff “Frasier” (1993-2004).
Brody is finally able to reach a helicopter patrol unit, and orders it in the direction of the teenager’s assumed position. Within a few minutes, the helicopter pilot (Jerry Baxter) spots the kids and lands his aquatically-buoyant chopper on the water. He tosses a line out to the teenager’s flotilla-platform, and revs up his engine for towing. The sounds of the engine reach the shark, which then bites the helicopter’s port pontoon and pulls the craft underwater (!!). Bits of the helicopter’s blades fly off upon impacting the water at speed, ripping through the sails of the tied-together flotilla. In short, the kids are now in even worse shape than before their ‘rescue’ showed up…
Note: Yes, folks, this is where the movie hits maximum preposterousness. We are meant to accept that, in the universe of JAWS, an aquatic-landing helicopter can be brought down (and destroyed) by a freaking shark. Granted, this is the same universe where an oxygen bottle was turned into a bomb by a million-to-one rifle shot several years earlier, but this is utter insanity. This is the point where the movie takes a bus-flying-over-50-feet-of-unfinished-freeway style leap of faith.
Meanwhile, Brody’s police launch comes across Timmy’s boat. He finds a recovering Mike there, and learns that little Sean has been left behind with the others. Seething with a parent’s rage, Brody instructs the three boys to continue for the shore. Brody continues towards Cable Junction, where he learns the kids are currently stranded…
Note: Mark Gruner is less-than-convincing when he pleads for his dad’s understanding (“It’s okay, isn’t it?!?”). Something just felt off about his performance in that scene. At any rate, it might’ve been a bit more effective if all three Brody boys somehow pitched in to help their poor dad defeat the shark (as they would later do for themselves in the variable canon of the sequels…).
Arriving near the island power station of Cable Junction, Brody spots the kids, huddled together for survival on their makeshift floating sanctuary. As he prepares to rescue them, the shark lunges violently at the police launch, and Brody accidentally rams his boat into the rocks of Cable Junction. Trying in vain to tow the kids towards the shore with him, the boat’s tow cable hook gets caught on the thick, insulated power lines below the water. Brody is as stuck as the kids are, until he spots the boat’s emergency life raft. When the shark goes off to menace the teens once again, Brody uses the grappler to pull the power line fully out of the water. The chief then takes a rowing oar and begins to whack the power cable, hoping the echoing, rhythmic sound will attract the shark’s attention away from the kids. It works. Brody, in his rubber raft, continues paddling the encased cables, goading the shark to come and get him. Brody yells, “Open wide!! Say ‘ahhhh'” as the shark surfaces, its massive jaws open…
… and the creature bites down on the power line, resulting in a spectacular electrocution. Massive electric arcs roast the shark alive, as the surviving teenagers whoop for joy. The shark is dead. The surviving teens reach temporary refuge on the rocky shores of Cable Junction as Brody takes Sean and Jackie on the life raft and paddles towards the shore for help.
Note: One fact I learned years after watching JAWS 2 was that the rocky island of the Cable Junction power relay station was entirely artificial—the rocks and power shed were essentially a massive boat-set that was taken out to the Atlantic and anchored to the sea bottom for filming. When I learned this at about age 15 or so, it completely blew my mind. Onscreen, this ‘set’ appears very convincing; in fact, it reminds me of the man-made jetties at some of the local beaches here in Southern California.
The Last Legitimate Sequel?
While the two Brody boys were recast (and aged up), returning cast members Roy Scheider, Lorraine Gary, Jeffrey Kramer, Murray Hamilton, and even Fritzi Courteney (“Mrs. Taft,” the Amity hotelier who sits on the town council), there is a sense of legitimacy in JAWS 2 that is largely missing from its sequels. “JAWS 3-D” (1983) would recast the Brody boys once again, with no original cast members returning. “JAWS 4: The Revenge” (1987) would feature Lorraine Gary, with brief cameos by Fritzi Courtenay and Lee Fiero as “Mrs Taft” and “Mrs. Kintner,” respectively, but that was it. The JAWS sequels featured peripheral characters doing what they could to fill in for the keenly absent Scheider, whose character of Brody dies of an offscreen heart attack between JAWS 3 and 4.
JAWS 2 was also the last JAWS sequel to feature a full John Williams’ score; something its increasingly inferior sequels couldn’t muster. While JAWS: The Revenge did return to Martha’s Vineyard for filming of its first act, it doesn’t stay there, as JAWS 2 does throughout most of its running time (though some shoreside and oceanic scenes were shot in Florida). JAWS 2 is the only one of the increasingly divergent sequels that retains the overall gestalt of the first film, despite an admitted drop in quality.
Summing It Up.
JAWS 2’s greatest sin was that it didn’t need to exist in the first place. With Robert Shaw’s return not possible (both the character and the actor passed away) and a lack of participation from Richard Dreyfuss, the movie was already hobbled out of the gate. While Roy Scheider is an extraordinary actor, he doesn’t have effective support with the uneven talents of the younger cast or even the older cast members, whom he doesn’t interact with as much as he could. To quote Scheider’s own character in the film, “I’m all alone out here.” Supporting actor Jeffrey Kramer tries to fill some of that void with the comic relief of his Gilligan-esque Deputy Hendricks, but it’s simply not enough.
Note: Kramer’s Hendricks character’s first name is inexplicably changed in dialogue from “Lenny” to the actor’s own first name of “Jeffrey” after Brody’s firing–I assume it was a blooper that stayed in the film somehow (?). Kramer tries his best, but he lacks the intensity of Richard Dreyfuss—who won an Oscar in 1979 for “The Goodbye Girl” (1978).
In tone, director Jeannot Szwarc’s sequel attempted to send the series into slasher flick territory, which would experience a surge in popularity a few months later with the release of John Carpenter’s “Halloween” and “Friday the 13th,” two years later. I also had issues with the movie’s uneven editing; the middle act of JAWS 2 lags quite a bit, with pieces that fit (more or less), but don’t exactly flow. There is little of former editor Verna (“Mother Cutter”) Fields’ instinctive fluidity. Editors Arthur Schmidt (“Back to the Future”), Steve Potter and Neil Travis do very credible work for the film’s major action scenes, but the dramatic material lacks the crackling tension we saw in the first film—it meanders. Returning Oscar-winning composer John Williams’ jaunty, nautical musical score is used too sparingly as well. There are large music-free chunks of the film which fall flat without it. Where we do hear Williams’ music, it’s refreshingly non-repetitive.
Despite these undeniable flaws and faults, JAWS 2 is still a fairly entertaining, well-photographed popcorn movie that tries nobly, if not always successfully, to fill the daunting diving flippers of its classic predecessor. As we see with subsequent JAWS sequels, it could’ve easily been worse.
The Daily Jaws: Just When You Thought It Was Safe To Go Online…
If you’re a JAWS fan who is active on social media (Twitter, Instagram, FaceBook), you owe it to yourself to pay the good folks at TheDailyJaws a visit. Two UK-based JAWS fans, Ross & Dean, run the site, which the largest JAWS fan group online. The site’s social media outlets host daily trivia and other challenges for JAWS fans to enjoy. Whenever I’m having a lousy morning after reading the news, a quick visit to their Twitter or Instagram accounts (filled with wonderful JAWS puns) always makes me laugh. Their home site also features interviews with people associated with JAWS, such as writer Carl Gottlieb and actor Ian Shaw, the son of the late Robert Shaw (Ian does an uncanny impression of his pop, too!).
TheDailyJaws’ articles on all four JAWS films and other related subjects (such as real-world sharks) are clever and thoughtful. If you’re a JAWS fan, give their site a visit and be sure to check out their JAWS “WeMake” as well; a labor of love that features JAWS fans from all over the world recreating nearly every single moment in the first JAWS movie. It’s three barrels of fun! Check it out here:
Safe Viewing Options.
“JAWS 2” is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video, and is also available to purchase on Blu-Ray or DVD, via Amazon.com. To my readers, I once again wish you and all of your loved ones good health and strength during the current coronavirus pandemic. The current number of COVID-related deaths in the United States are over 604,000 as of this writing. Meanwhile, several vaccines are available and inoculations are finally widespread (whew!), which is greatly slowing the US mortality rate (though the new Delta variant is cause for concern). Given a certain level of vaccine hesitancy, it may take a while longer for eventual herd immunity. Even vaccinated, it may still be possible to catch the coronavirus, though your chances of getting ill from it are slim-to-none. So, if you haven’t already done so, please get vaccinated as soon as possible and let us immunize our way out of the COVID pandemic.