It’s been a long time coming, but we have finally reached the end of this particular road. This is my review of the last Jaws film: Jaws: The Revenge, a stinker from 1987 that is widely regarded as one of the worst films of that or any year, and a far, far cry from the masterpiece that was Steven Spielberg’s original.
The conventional wisdom regarding sequels is that they are progressively worse the further along you go. Occasionally you encounter an exception like The Godfather, Part II, but for the most part this is completely true. I’m sure if I tried I could come up with a fairly lengthy list of film series that meandered their way into the crapper over the course of their lifetime, but I don’t think any of them would represent the same precipitous drop off in quality that we see in the Jaws movies. Has there ever been a series that started off so well, and yet ended up in such an ignominious place, as these? I honestly can’t think of anything else.
I do have to be somewhat fair to Jaws: The Revenge, and this is pretty much the only time I’ll say something nice about the movie, but the fourth film is actually better than the third. That doesn’t by any means indicate that it’s good, but it does give us some perspective on just how rotten Jaws III really was. There’s nothing in Jaws: The Revenge that can top for sheer badness the special effects of the swimming shark underwater in Jaws III. And despite the fact that Jaws III had arguably better actors than Jaws: The Revenge — minus Michael Caine, who’s good in everything — in the persons of Dennis Quaid and Louis Gossett, Jr., the latter film bests the former in that arena as well.
It’s been a couple of months, but we continue our examination of the Jaws series with Jaws III. Though some people say Jaws the Revenge is the nadir of this filmic quartet, I actually disagree; Jaws III is way, way worse. Jaws III is so bad that makes me feel stupid for having the audacity to watch it a second time for this review series. It’s 99 minutes of sheer ineptitude that somehow even manages to make Dennis Quaid look bad, and that’s saying something.
Credit where it’s due: at the very least Jaws III does not attempt to cover the same ground as the previous two films. It stretched credulity that a second, ravenous great white shark would wander into the waters of Amity Island in Jaws 2 and a third go-round would have been beyond ridiculous. Jaws III is still horrible, but it’s horrible in new ways.
Though only five years had passed since the release of Jaws 2, it’s been quite a while in movie-world. Chief Brody’s sons, Michael and Sean, have all grown up. Michael, not turned off by the water despite a very close encounter with a killer shark in the previous film, has taken a job working at Sea World(!) as an engineer. It’s not clear if this is a new Florida park or one that’s receiving upgrades, but it’s definitely Sea World, as the characters repeatedly refer to it by name. I find this so remarkable that I had to point it out here, because I doubt wild horses could drag out permission today to use Sea World in a movie like this one. Sea World bills itself as a fun and safe place to enjoy sea life, while Jaws III turns it into an abattoir.
Michael is played by Dennis Quaid, and I guess considering how awful the movie is he does a good job regardless. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Quaid phone in a performance, which makes the fact that he never become a huge movie star something of a puzzlement. His character is involved with marine biologist Kay (Bess Armstrong). Kay, you’d think, would turn out to be a valuable asset when the inevitable new shark appears, but she really doesn’t. Another disappointment.
You can read my review of Jaws and learn exactly how I feel about it, but I’ll sum it up here: I think it’s one of the best movies ever made and Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece, rivaled only by Raiders of the Lost Ark. It spawned a handful of direct imitators — like Grizzly, which I reviewed recently — and a series of sequels, of which Jaws 2 is the first and best. Though, to be frank, this isn’t great praise. Jaws 2 wins the Jaws-sequel competition by virtue of being not horrible, but that doesn’t mean it’s actually any good.
It was as true in the 1970s as it is today: successful movies get sequels. It doesn’t matter if the sequel is necessary or even advisable; it gets made anyway. Such is the case with Jaws 2, a film that exists solely because Jaws was a hit and nothing more.
The producers tried to get Spielberg to come back, but he was uninterested. The idea of a prequel was kicked around, following a young Quint as he served aboard the USS Indianapolis, but that was jettisoned in favor of the most obvious kind of follow up: they’d do the first movie all over again, except differently.
Richard Dreyfuss took a pass on Jaws 2, as well, so the only two remaining stars are Roy Scheider and Lorraine Gary. Scheider was about as interested in making the sequel as he was in having a root canal without anesthetic, but because of a contract dispute arising from his abortive involvement with The Deer Hunter, he was shackled to the project. I’m not going to say that Jaws 2 is lacking in marquee value, but when you have to put Murray Hamilton on your poster despite his tiny role as the mayor of Amity, you’re hurting for name stars.
There are some movies where I think, “Do I really need to review this one?” Jaws is one of these. Its position as one of the cinematic greats is undisputed, its popularity after almost 40 years undiminished. What exactly can I say about a movie like this that hasn’t already been said, at length, in other venues? A couple of months ago, however, I said I was going to re-watch and review all four of the Jaws movies and to do that, I have to include the 1975 original. There’s no getting around it.
Just to get this out of the way: I consider Jaws one of my top five all-time favorite films, so if you’re expecting me to say anything critical about it, you’re going to be disappointed. This is going to be 1,000 words of fawning praise, basically, and if your tolerance for such things is low, I suggest moving on to some other review.
I suppose it’s theoretically possible that someone reading this hasn’t seen Jaws. The movie is 36 years old as of this writing and there are almost two generations’ worth of kids out there for whom the summer of 1975 isn’t even a memory. To them Jaws might seem about as relevant as the Model T. A shark movie made on a relative shoestring back when Mom and Dad were kids? Boring. How wrong they would be!
For the benefit of those who haven’t seen the movie — and, really, you should stop reading now and go watch it — I’ll provide a brief synopsis.
The small town of Amity (similar to Cape Cod) is a summer town that depends on tourist dollars for its survival. The viability of their summer season is called into question when a large, man-eating shark stakes a claim off the coast, first killing a lone night-swimmer and then moving on to more public prey. These killings are not necessarily graphic, but they are intense and this owes largely to the skill with which director Steven Spielberg does his thing. Much of what’s good about Jaws derives directly from Spielberg’s work, though one can’t overlook the screenplay by Carl Gottleib, with contributions from the legendary John Milius.