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'Jaws 2' doesn't equal the original, but it still has its moments

Jaws 2

Rating:
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WARNING: THIS REVIEW DOES CONTAIN SPOILERS (BUT YOU PROBABLY KNOW WHAT THEY ARE ALREADY).

A water skier has a close call.
A water skier has a close call.
Universal Pictures
Movie poster for 'Jaws 2'
Movie poster for 'Jaws 2'
Universal Pictures

"Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water..."

Ah, what a great tagline to a halfway decent sequel. "Jaws 2" is easily the best of the sequels to Steven Spielberg's horrifying classic which became the first movie to make over $100 million dollars at the box office, so of course a sequel had to be made. Another shark is off the coast of Amity Bay, to get revenge or just to feed or just to scare the crap out of the residents who depend on the summer months for their very existence.

Some people seem to think that this is the same shark from the first movie...what are you, stupid? IT GOT BLOWN UP! This is probably the wife of the shark from the first movie, or maybe it's his mother. Maybe it was the shark's gay lover or something. We never do get to learn about the shark’s relatives, do we? I am assuming that the shark in "Jaws 3-D" was not a distant relative, but someone who just hates Florida theme parks with a passion. As for the shark in "Jaws The Revenge," that one was definitely a relative. It had to be to swim all the way to the Bahamas to go after the damn Brody family!

Anyway, back to this shark, also a relative who waited a little while after the first one to strike. This sequel takes place a couple of years after the original and opens with some divers exploring the wreckage of the Orca who are then are attacked by the shark. Immediately, we zoom ahead to Chief Brody (Roy Scheider) rushing off to the opening of a new hotel on Amity Island which his wife (Lorraine Gary) has helped out with in terms of the festivities. We get to meet up again with Mayor Larry Vaughn (Murray Hamilton) who is just as excited about the summer months as he was in the last film. We also get to see the two Brody boys, Mike and Shaun, who have grown up a lot since the last time we saw them (especially Mike who has had one massive growth spurt).

Then the darn shark appears again when he (or is it a she?) is least expected. There is a good scene involving a water skier which is the movie's first big action sequence. Of course, no one actually sees this shark attack the skier, so they just assume it was some sort of boating accident. Otherwise they would have found out earlier and got rid of the shark sooner, and there wouldn't be a friggin’ movie for us to watch. But then some kids find a beached killer whale on the sand that has had huge chunks of his skin bitten off, and this catches the eye of Chief Brody who quickly becomes convinced that there is another shark on the hunt. He has no proof and only his instincts to go on, so naturally no one believes him.

One of the great things about the original movie was that the human drama on the island was very strong. Spielberg wasn’t just interested in giving us shark attacks. That brings me to this film's biggest weakness; the scenes on dry land suffer without the buddy relationship between Roy Scheider and Richard Dreyfuss. The characters are more like clichés this time around instead of just fully realized human beings, and the story is much more contrived. One guy standing in Brody's way is Len Peterson (Joseph Moscolo), and he doubts Brody's sanity every step of the way. He is the movie's key idiotic character, and the one guy we want to see get eaten by the shark. When movies have characters like these, it doesn’t take long for audiences to get aggravated by them.

You'd also figure that Mayor Vaughn would know a lot better this time around. He went through all that crap with the first shark attack, and now he thinks that Brody is misguided in his assumptions yet again. He urges Chief Brody not to press it this time around, and their working relationship in this movie ends up seeming completely ridiculous. If the Mayor is not going to be trusting of the instincts of his Chief of police, then he should have fired him a long time ago.

There was a naturalness to the characters and the acting in the first film that unfortunately does not carry over to "Jaws 2” and the movie is deeply affected as a result. It would have been great to have Steven Spielberg and Richard Dreyfuss back on board for this one, but they had better things to do with their time like making "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." Actually, it would have been a huge shock if Spielberg came back to direct this one, considering the hell he went through making the original. I heard in interviews around the time "Jurassic Park: The Lost World" was released that he always felt guilty about how badly the “Jaws” franchise turned out. Come on Steven! Don't be so hard on yourself! Universal is more responsible for that than you will ever be.

However, if you can get past the contrived screenplay, there are still plenty of shark attacks to enjoy here. The shark is still a very threatening villain as he (or she) was in the first movie. Every time that fin comes out of the water, I get goose bumps all over my skin. The tension is still pretty taut as the shark sneaks up on its prey stealthily. There are also a couple of good jump out of your seat moments here, especially one involving Roy Scheider slowly going into the ocean to retrieve some boat wreckage.

While the first shark was indiscriminate in who he (or she) killed, the shark in this sequel seems to have a big hankering for teenagers, especially the ones that won’t stop screaming. One critic, I can't remember who, said that this movie would be a good time for those who enjoy seeing teenagers getting eaten, so I can only imagine what parents around the globe feel about this “Jaws” sequel. After a while, it just seems like the shark is going after these teenagers in order to get them to shut up. It makes you wonder what this shark is thinking throughout:

"WHAT ARE YOU STUPID?! I CAN HEAR EXACTLY WHERE YOU ARE YOU STUPID SHITS!!"

The teenagers in this movie do a great job of screaming and when they are in shock. The moments where they are in shock are very effectively done, and it helps to quiet things down for a bit until the great white pops up again. Among the kids in the cast is Keith Gordon who later went on to star in "John Carpenter's Christine" and "Back to School" with the late Rodney Dangerfield. Seeing him looking so young in this movie is a bit of a shock after all these years.

The last half of this movie has the teenagers of Amity Island out sailing, basically laying themselves out as shark meat. Among these kids are the Brody boys, both who have been grounded from getting into the water because of their father's suspicions. But what's a boy to do when a girl's cousin wants to go with him to the lighthouse? She tempts Michael with that line we often hear teenagers say:

"Do you always do what your parents tell you to do?"

On top of that, why should the older brother have all the fun? Little Sean hitches a ride with Mike who really doesn't want him around. So they have the typically older brother/younger brother relationship which adds quite a bit to the story. When the teenagers find their lives in danger upon the appearance of the shark, how they feel about each other becomes completely irrelevant as they have to band together in order to survive.

Actually, I wonder if the filmmakers went with teenagers as shark meat in response of the sudden popularity of the slasher genre which was gaining in popularity at the time. I mean, the great white shark is in many ways the ultimate serial killer. He has sharp knives for teeth, and he (or she) can cut you up good. This one leaves us no leftovers even if we wanted any!

"Jaws 2" was directed by Jeannot Szwarc, and it is a good thing that I am writing down his name instead of trying to pronounce it. He takes on daunting task of following a Spielberg masterpiece with a movie that at best could hope to equal it. The fact that he does not entirely succeed is not altogether his fault. No one could ever have expected this sequel to be even better than the original, and this certainly could have been a lot worse. Szwarc pretty much films the movie in the same manner Spielberg did in terms of the shark attacks. You see more of this shark than you did in the first one, but he also does a good job of keeping the viewer on the edge of their seat as we keep wondering when the shark will strike next.

Szwarc went on to direct "Somewhere in Time" with the late Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour, and that film has since gained a huge cult following. He later directed "Supergirl" which was intended to start a new franchise, only to see it end just as quickly. These days, he directs episodic television for the most part, but it’s nice to know he is still working long after this sequel came and went.

Roy Scheider made it clear on several occasions that he did this movie mainly as a contractual obligation to Universal Pictures. I doubt that he was all that excited about doing it while a lot of the key players went off to do other things. At least Robert Shaw had a good excuse; his character got eaten in the original. All the same, he is still very strong here as Police Chief Brody as he tries to convince the town that there is a shark out there and makes it clear that he’s not going to wait around for the rest of the town to realize this. Scheider is one of the best reasons to watch “Jaws 2,” and he gives the audience a lot to cheer as the film comes to its inevitable conclusion.

Of course, we all know what happens to the shark at the end of “Jaws 2.” If you haven't seen the movie yet and don't want to know, don't read any further. It is a very cool death as Brody gets the shark’s attention by banging on a power line and drawing it in by sound. Holding the power line out for the shark to take a bite of, his glee and anxiety are ever so apparent as he invites the shark to "SAY AHH!!!!!"

The death of the shark by electrocution is right on a par with the way the first shark died. It's a scene that I am sure had audiences cheering like crazy and saying, "YES! WE GOT YOU, YOU CRAZY MUTHA!!!"

One of the other key ingredients of this sequel was also one of the main characters of Spielberg's film, and that is the music of John Williams. His score to the original still remains one of the best and most frightening pieces of music ever created for a movie. With "Jaws 2," John takes those themes from the first film and mixes them up with some new ones for the characters that inhabit this sequel. It's another great score by him, and it captures both the heart and the terror that unfolds onscreen. None of the other composers in this franchise came close to matching what Williams did. They simply lost the heart of the music, and they just relied on that main theme to carry them through.

"Jaws 2" is understandably no masterpiece, but it is "Citizen Kane" when you compare to the other two sequels that came after this one. I could go on and on about how bad "Jaws The Revenge" with its glaring errors that reeked of filmmaking ineptitude. "Jaws 2" was the last good movie in a series that would quickly descend into mediocrity. If you have to watch something on cable in the afternoon, you could certainly do worse than watch this movie.

Besides, it gave us one of the greatest taglines in movie history:

"Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water..."

Of course, by the time "Jaws The Revenge" came around, the tagline changed to:

"Just when you thought it was safe to go back to a movie theater..."