The Revenge’ sinks the franchise for good
Jaws was a global phenomenon. Steven Spielberg’s monster jump movie rode a wave of perfect casting, ingenious direction, stunning (so sadly reluctant) special effects, an indelible John Williams score, and a carpet-bombed universal marketing campaign. to essentially create the modern blockbuster. It’s also, all these years later, still one of the most watchable and entertaining films ever made.
Sequels were inevitable, Jaws ending up raking in nearly half a billion 1975 dollars and providing a seemingly inescapable template for future installments. Unfortunately for giant shark fans, a model isn’t a finished film, and with rising director prodigy Spielberg utterly uninterested in returning to the shark-infested waters of Amity, each of the three successive Jaws the films increasingly fell in critical appraisal and box office return.
It’s this Mariana trench of comically inept, soulless cinematic achievement that viewers must venture to find 1987’s laughable legend. Jaws: Revenge. While the cookie-cutter simulacrum that was that of Jeannot Szwarc Jaws 2 (1978) boasted at least a mostly returned main cast, and 1983’s turgid stunt 3-D jaws had the novelty factor of three-dimensional jump alerts, Jaws: Revenge remains perhaps our purest example of profit-seeking, fund-raising studio calculus. The Jaws franchise was already considered more of a studio attraction than a viable arts venture by the time Joseph Sargent’s film dropped, but Jaws: Revenge added levels of sloppy incompetence and enough storytelling madness to at least give viewers something truly disastrous to watch.
Sargent, a professional director with an undisputed classic under his belt (1974’s The Taking of Pelham One Two Three), was, to be fair, given a ridiculously short filming window to get Jaws: Revenge hit theater screens summer 1987. MCA Universal executive Sidney Sheinberg saw a fourth Jaws film as a stopgap solution to the company’s growing financial problems, and also rushed Sargent into production without a completed script. Still, the sheer number of continuity errors, visible shark-hissing working mechanics, and often incomprehensible action sequences surrounding the heroic Brody family’s final run-in with a killer great white make for excellent game material to to drink. (If you can hold out until the climactic scene where co-star Michael Caine’s ocean-soaked clothes are suddenly dry, drink up.)
Even more damning – and utterly baffling – is the film’s central conceit. You know, the one where faithful widow Ellen Brody (Lorraine Gary, in what would be her last acting role) becomes (correctly) convinced that the giant fish terrorizing what’s left of her family is doing it because of a personal vendetta. against the Brodys and all their ways of killing sharks. The film begins with Brody’s youngest son, Sean (now an Amity cop like his late father) eaten as he untangles a buoy from a floating log, an inciting incident the film inevitably involves was set up as a Brody bait trap. By a shark.
Watch the trailer for ‘Jaws: Revenge’
Ellen, throughout the film, is also speculated to have some sort of psychic connection to the shark, with Gary glassy-eyed and furiously protective whenever she feels the shark laying her doll’s eyes on one of her children. Ellen has also developed the ability to rewind scenes she didn’t witness, such as Sean’s lonely death, and (thanks to sepia archive footage of the original film from long ago), Roy Scheider’s Martin sending the progenitor shark with a well-placed bullet towards the swallowed scuba tank.
Then there’s the question of the shark’s ability to follow the Brodys from Massachusetts to the Bahamas (traveling 1,900 miles in three days), where the last surviving son, Michael, is pursuing a career in highly vulnerable underwater research. (Jaws: Revenge waves away 3-D jaws entirely, so goodbye, overplaying Dennis Quaid as Michael.) The whole idea of shark revenge “This time is personal” (the movie’s actual tagline) is implausible, as is a subplot included in the subsequent novelization on a voodoo curse targeted by Brody.
When you’re so far down the abyss of cinema, it’s tempting to consider Jaws: Revenge like a “so bad it’s good” movie, but this ill-conceived sequel can’t even do it right. Gary, so warm and believable in the 1975 original, is little more than a Carcharodon carcharias early warning system, despite long-widowed Ellen taking tentative steps towards a rekindled romance with Hoagie, the pilot of Caine’s villainous island. (Some say Gary’s marriage to Universal’s Sheinberg is damning nepotism, but, at least in the first two films, it doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.) Paycheck-happy Caine himself would never have seen the film, but he was quoted as saying that the house he bought her is quite nice indeed. He also had to skip his big Oscar presentation to Hannah and her sisters thanks to studio water tank covers, his $1.5 million salary for his seven-day trip to the Bahamas may be mitigating the sting. The Last StarfighterLance Guest does a thoroughly restless Michael this time around, and the Bahamian family melodrama overwhelms talented castmates Karen Young, Lynn Whitfield and Mario Van Peebles (wearing his version of a Bahamian accent) in tedious scenes of landlocked dialogue. .
Is there anything worthwhile in this film? Even playing “spot the gaffe” becomes daunting for anyone who manages to conjure up memories of the flawless first film. When a sequel has strayed so tragically from sterling, the thrilling place of its birth, not even the laughable sight that is Jaws: RevengeThe end of the bananas can save the experience.
Reshot after audiences found the original climax disappointing, the final version (the one available on DVD and streaming) sees this iteration of Bruce the Shark, particularly rubbery and clumsy in the blazing Bahamian sun, leaping through the air, s impaling on the shards prow of the boat carrying Gary, Cain and Guest, then, inexplicably, exploding into a shark’s blood red bisque that’s probably more crowd-pleasing. That the original ending saw Van Peebles’ sidekick get eaten graphically and Bruce simply succumbs to his injuries might, indeed, be a little disappointing, of course. (Van Peebles impossibly survives in the revised cut, despite a series of shark bites nasty enough to test the limits of Wolverine’s healing factor.) But rest assured that both versions offer this latest great white in the Jaws franchise. a very audible and unmistakable, powerful lion-like roar as it comes for the kill.
In the end, Sheinberg achieved the modest success he was looking for, with the Jaws name good enough for about twice. Jaws: RevengeThe budget of 23 million dollars. This despite the movie being savage, like Bruce, by critics and audiences alike, and the Jaws franchise forever becoming seen as a cautionary tale of Hollywood greed trumping quality or legacy. Also, the shark roars.
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