Jaws Franchise - Honking big sharks versus the Brody Clan - 27 May 2009
The Jaws franchise produced four movies of dimensioning effectiveness with the final entry being about the closest thing you can imagine to total anarchy on the set. There's simply nothing else that could explain the rather alternative reality happening in that movie to be honest. The franchise went from the acclaimed, the first movie, through the averge, the second movie, to the total inept, the final two movies. What the franchise did achieve however was an impact on Hollywood far beyond anything Universal could have hoped for back in 1975.
Spielberg's first entry in the franchise remains the most influential. Besides it's three sequels, we have similar themes cropping up in movies ranging from William Castle's blockbuster Piranha, through psycho bears, to Dino's rather weird Orca. This shouldn't discount Jaws 2, which also had an impact, see the copter scene in Lake Placid for example.
In the final analysis the franchise will be remembered for two things. An all out return to the nature striking back sub-genre, which had been languishing somewhat, and the introduction of the concept of the big summer release movie. Whether or not either claim to fame floats your boat is of course up to individual readers. Clearly how ever you look at it Spielberg is responsible for the deterioration in the current Hollywood product due to the massive amounts of money being thrown at the current crop of "sell it to the lowest common denominate" tent pole movies we are getting. Why bother making anything half way decent when you can throw a couple of hundred million at the effects department, get 101 chimps to type out a script, and then market it to the gullible North American market? I'm pleased in recent times to note an "all that glitters is not gold" realisation creeping into our own market with disappointing results being returned for the current crop of yank "event" movies. At some stage even the most advertised driven American Teen is going to wake up to the face that the Studios are "shilling the rubes" each summer.
So how then did the Jaws franchise go from the penthouse to the outhouse in just four movies and what impact has this had over all? If the Jaws franchise is a game played in four quarters then how did the sharks fare against the Brody clan?
First Quarter: Jaws (1975) Dir. Stephen Spielberg
Made for roughly $8 million the first movie in the franchise went on to make $470,653,000 world wide, and heralded the arrival of the summer blockbuster. All sorts of box office records fell as the movie attracted audiences from all demographics, and in all markets it was released in. Hollywood with the then current release strategies were caught on the hop as Spielberg proved a single movie could obtain a mass market and generate rivers of gold.
Quite some argument over the years has centered on just what genre the movie fits into. Is it a horror movie? Sure the dark genre can lay valid claim to the film. There's certainly a body count going down, false scares and tension abound, and the shark can be viewed as the mother of all monsters. So yes it's a horror movie from the creature feature card of the tarot pack. Equally it can be viewed as an Adventure story, there's certainly a quest like flavour in the second half of the flick. Or you could view Jaws as a thriller, ample tension once again qualifying for that genre. End of day, does it really matter what genre the movie gets put into! It's a classic with a huge re-watchable factor working to make the movie viable for today's audience.
One of the interesting things about Jaws is the actual shark. A mechanical creature, or in fact creatures there was more than one, was used throughout shooting. Fortunately as it turns out "Bruce", as the mechanical shark(s) were collectively called, didn't work as planned. Hence we get all those shark POVs, and cameras at water level. Add in John Williams' distinctive shark attack da da theme and you have a pretty effective tension setter, which is used throughout. On a side note for the trivia buffs, "Bruce" was named after Spielberg's lawyer.
Back in 1975 $8 million was considered big money for a movie, and in fact Universal were taking one hell of a risk with the relatively untried Stephen Spielberg who at this stage of his career didn't have a track record. It could be viewed as unfortunate that things did work out for the Studio as it brought to the attention of Executives that there was a new untapped market that was just waiting on the right marketing campaign to get them into the summer cinemas. Considering budgets for modern summer tent pole movies are now heading north of $250 million with the same amount being thrown at advertising campaigns it could be argued that Hollywood has fallen into it's own fantasy trip. In order to have that hit movie Studios are increasingly having to up the anti on special effects, notably CGI work, in order to wow an increasingly jaded audience. If anyone wants to draw a parallel between heavy drug use and the increasing unreality of movie investment for an increasingly dumbed down audience then go right ahead. In the wash up Spielberg heralded in the summer blockbuster though it would be a disservice to blame the Director for the increasingly inane summer features we are now getting.
Initially Jaws had very little impact on the horrorscape, besides 101 imitators seeing gold in them there Amity Island waters. The dark genre continued it's run through the 1970s with a wide range of low to medium budget movies being released. Horror had already had three blockbusters for the decade in The Exorcist, The Amityville Horror, and surprisingly Rosemary's Baby, the genre was batting well above it's average anyway. In a sense it was business as usual, conjuring up a summer blockbuster horror movie to rival mainstream earning potential would take till the next century to achieve.
Clearly Jaws was intended as a stand alone, with the Studio not envisaging the huge commercial success they would achieve. But who the heck isn't going to try and repeat the winning formula, hence the franchise. Jaws laid the framework for the franchise very nicely. We have the central characters, the various Brody family members, and of course their nemesis, the overly large white pointer shark. Since Chief Brody got the home team on the board with movie 1, naturally the sequels would focus almost exclusively on one or more members of his family. In simple terms, the public would dial in for a Brody vs. a shark. How it all went wrong is simply astounding considering this premise.
Chief Brody scores late in the first quarter via an exploding air tank.
End of Quarter Score: Brodies 1 Sharks 0.
Second Quarter: Jaws 2 (1978) Dir. John D. Hancock (replaced by Jeannot Szwarc)
The 1978 sequel was another success for Universal Studios, but the return of $187,884,007 was certainly down on the original movie's mass rack in. Director Hancock got replaced by Szwarc, which is never a good sign at the best of times regardless of what spin the Studio decide to place on the decision. In between the two movies the summer blockbuster concept had bolted passed the stable door and budgets were rising as the various Hollywood Studios attempted to out gun each other. The other major factor affecting the sequel was the rising teen demographic that was forcing a radical change to how movies were structured, and in particularly the age of the characters seen on screen. Teenagers weren't dialling in for named actors, they wanted to see people around their own age head into perilous waters.
Both Stephen Spielberg and Richard Dreyfuss were asked to return to Amity's fatal waters but the pair declined due to a little project they were engaged with called Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Universal went with gun for hire Director Hancock and his wife Dorothy Tristan, who penned the first script for the sequel. Hancock wanted a people orientated flick, but the Producers wanted a more shark-orientated movie featuring teenagers in peril. The youth demographic having made their views quite clear by box office attendance. Hancock was fired, and his wife walked out in support. Szwarc was then hired to vision the Producers view of how things should go down.
Which explains to a certain degree the schizophrenic final movie we all ended up watching. The youth market was certainly catered for, with a number of teens being put in harms way, notably the Brody kids. And like the emerging slasher movie sub genre, the teens were on their own without adult help.
You simply can't go past the fact that Jaws 2 operates like a slasher epic in everything but the final showdown (swimdown?). The shark slots in as our resident psycho, and is this one mean mother with a vindictive streak. In various scenes, the shark chasing a water skier down, repeated attacks on boats, the shark seems to have gone non-shark by targeting the kids. Nowhere in the movie do you get the feeling that the shark operates via any natural laws or instinct.
Because this is a Jaws outing we have some reprise of themes from the original movie. Chief Brody isn't believed, and the beaches will remain open. That the Chief does take to the water to deal with business is never in doubt, and adds to a strange fascination with the movie. We have almost a slasher outing, yet the final girl is male and an adult to boot. Actually, and it's the subject for a completely different article, an early indication that the supposed rules governing a slasher were concocted in an Ivory tower rather than being the reality. Still we'll leave that particular self replicating believe system for another day folks, suffice it to say Carol J. Clover was writing to her own beat and completely misrepresented the facts in the pursuit of her own predefined gender bias.
End of day the producers with Jaws 2 were clearly trying to cater to a number of demographics, the approach ensuring the diverse target audience wouldn't be happy with the end product.
Two factors can be taken from a pretty average movie that would have an impact on summer movie development. Firstly Jaws 2 seemed to usher in the belief among Producers and Studio Executives that they knew more about movie making than the Directors and Writers. Strangely this belief continues, see the complete mad women's breakfast the Alien franchise has ended up as, regardless of the results achieved. Secondly the concept of a sequel was established, ironically in current times a sequel is apt to generate more income than an original movie, proof perhaps that the North Americans don't want to watch a new movie but would rather feel safe and comfortable with the tried and trusted. There's probably a whole sociological thesis in that concept.
Once again leaving it till late in the quarter star player Chief Brody scores via an undersea electrical cable. That was actually a thumping good time for all involved, well excluding the shark anyway.
End of Quarter Score: Brodies 2 Sharks 0.
Third Quarter: Jaws 3-D (1983) Dir. Joe Alves
1983 saw the third movie in the franchise trying to take advantage of an early 80s infatuation with 3D movies. Whether or not the movie was hampered at the box office by those funky glasses you had to wear, or in fact due to bad word of mouth remains in conjecture. Sure the movie was a shocker, but how many people were ever going to pony up to put on uncomfortable cardboard glasses for an hour and a half anyways? The movie did under half of the previous outing, and limped in with a final gross of $87,987,055. Guess that must have been enough to realise a profit then, as we got a fourth, and to date, final entry in the franchise.
A new movie a new director, Joe Alves who was the production designer on the first two Jaws films took the helm. This to date is his only Directors credit, which should tell you something about how absolutely woeful the movie was. But hey it was in 3D.
Alves jettisoned the teens in peril storyline of the second movie, and relocated the whole she bang to Florida, well away from Amity's blood soaked beaches. Whether this was due to Florida's SeaWorld putting up some funding remains unknown. But we are certainly treated to prolonged SeaWorld attractions, rather than anything remotely resembling a Jaws outing. The movie has a very low shark attack score, but does have lots of Water Skiers, frolicking Dolphins, and a killer whale to make up for the short fall.
Team stalwart Roy Scheider decided to cancel out on this one, but we do get Dennis Quaid of all people dialling in. So scratch Chief Brody from your playing roster and insert Mike and Sean Brody as the go to guys. Remarkably both the Brody kids managed to age quickly by the time the movie was lensed, so who knows exactly what year it's meant to be set in; it's certainly not following any sort of discernable chronological order that's for sure.
This movie really showed that the cracks that were starting to appear in Jaws 2 weren't an isolated phenomena as the franchise headed toward chaos city, and started to pick up momentum along the way. We have a 35-foot shark making an appearance, this would appear to have been some Muppet's weird notion that the bigger the shark the more scares, and unfortunately that Muppet would still seem be in gainful employment in Hollywood judging by the number of Meglodon movies slated for release in coming years. Back in Jaws 3D world we learn sharks can swim backwards, sharks can roar like enraged lions, and sharks can move without using their fins. The list of worrying things l didn't know about sharks starts to mount in this movie. Clearly the idea of researching their subject matter never entered the heads of anyone while making the movie.
Hampered by poor science, a reliance on non-traditional Jaws scenes, and some pretty loopy developments, the movie simply disappeared into a complete mess. You really have to wonder what seaweed the Studio was smoking to have put their names behind this shambles. It's a long way from Spielberg's 1975 epic, and the intervening years certainly weren't kind to the franchise. As more than one person has noted the art of making pretend sharks as realistic as possible also took two steps back and none forward between 1975 and 1983.
About the only legacy we can take from Jaws 3D is that when you have a movie that went blockbusters at the cinema then ring every last cent out of that movie. Hence the never ending Jason Voorhees sequels, Rob Zombie proving he knows jack about how horror works, and all those Chucky flicks. But if we want to be perfectly realistic then we can't really blame the Jaws franchise for this particular quirk in cinematic output.
The Brodies managed two points in the third quarter. An assist early in the quarter courtesy of the rather ineffectual Park owner, and a major utilising an exploding shark ala the first quarter. The Sharks really do need to tighten up that defence, as two scores via the same lapse is not acceptable.
End of Quarter Score: Brodies 4 Sharks 0.
Fourth Quarter: Jaws the Revenge (1987) Dir. Joseph Sargent
Which brings us finally to the franchise killer, 1987s weird and truly unique fourth movie. An international gross of $51,881,013 simply wasn't enough to have Universal digging into their pockets for a fifth movie. It might also have had to do with everyone being involved in this shambles leaving it with their reputation in tatters. If the third movie was bad, Jaws The Revenge redefined the word.
Fortunately for all involved I've been unable to find a DVD copy of the movie. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. I blame Universal, they have clearly resigned the movie to Dante's fifth circle, never to be mentioned again.
So just to ensure Universal don't get off that easy, here's one of the very problematic developments Revenge throws at the viewer.
The movie opens at night with a POV shot from out in the ocean that breaks the surface occasionally to scan the town. Guess its no surprise exactly whose POV we are dealing with here. John Williams' amazingly good theme music plays over the scene to ensure we get what's going down. We then cut to the Brody household where Ellen Brody, generally playing off the bench but getting a full run on here, informs us that the Chief has died sometime previously. From memory a heart attack was the culprit with Ellen laying the blame squarely on an aquatic adversary, so I'm going to award the sharks a minor on that one. We next learn that Sean Brody is now following in his Dad's footsteps and he's a Deputy in the Amity Police force. He also likes to muck around with boats, uhmm wasn't Sean afraid of the water or something in the previous movie? Actually wasn't Sean, oh forget it monkey magic time folks the previous movie never happened.
Being that Sean is responsible, about to be married, and other happy things (heck it's even Christmas for god's sake), he checks in with the station to see if any marauding Voorhees family members are on a rampage. Unfortunately for Sean the Voorhees are taking Christmas off, and he's stuck with removing a dock piling that has got snagged in Amity harbour, hence endangering returning fishing boats.
Sean gets the dock-piling job due to the other deputies having prior engagements with an outbreak of cow tipping, wtf is that, and the Coast Guard. So we soon have Sean out in a Police boat doing what ever you do with stuck dock pilings. Quick watery POV, this can't be good, and the shark strikes. Mark down a major to the Sharks their coming back big time in this quarter. Astoundingly, for the two people remotely interested, there's a fair amount of blood in the water prior to Sean's fatal encounter. I just thought that was an awesome bit of continuity and editing. Don't worry the movie has a whole bunch more stuff to throw at the unwary viewer.
We could let the opening go of course, what are the chances of a Brody meeting a white pointer in the Amity surf after all, but a subsequent scene really makes you wonder exactly what's in the drinking water in LA. A close up of the now freed piling shows long lacerations in the wood, gulp, just the sort that would be made by a giant shark setting an elaborate trap from which to ambush an errant Brody! Dum dum da! Sorry have my own personal soundtrack playing in my head, the discovery of the lacerated wood happened as there was a huge clash of thunder by the way.
Leaving beside the obvious questions about how the shark knew Sean had returned to Amity, was now a member of the Police Force, and no longer has a fear of water, the elaborate trap set-up strikes me as simply weird. Well okay weirder than believing for more than five minutes that a great white would have the capacity to think through strategy. Let's not go there our heads will explode. I can stretch things to believing the shark somehow got the Coast Guard sidetracked, maybe with a well planted drugs shipment, but how did it organise the cow-tipping epidemic that has pretty much paralysed local law enforcement? I'm not willing to believe for a second that the local bovine population would be in bed with a killer shark over here.
From here the movie simply throws up it's hands like it just don't care and enters the twilight zone in a big way. Psychic sharks, sharks that swim halfway round the world on a vendetta, and heck Ellen Brody having flashbacks to scenes she never witnessed. Take your pick about which is the wackiest development in what has to be some sort of intentional farce.
It would have been really cool if they had of set Jaws the Revenge, hey this time it's personal, in outer space. That way we could point at the movie and roll our eyes in a knowing way. Unfortunately that would have implied some imagination was involved in concocting this drug induced insane asylum of an aquarium
The sharks take out the final quarter but fail to run down the Brody scoring machine. A minor on the heart attack, and the cow tipping aided major put the Sharks in a reasonable position early in the quarter. Ellen Brody replies late in the quarter with a major via the ever-exploitable shark exploding weakness in the opposition defence.
End of Quarter Score: Brodies 5 Sharks 2.
Extra Time: Jaws 5????
Every now and again rumours circulate on the web that a fifth movie might be on the drawing boards for the franchise. These generally coincide with a shark movie making an impact at the box office, Deep Blue Sea or Open Water for example. Universal have remained adamantly quiet on the subject, so who knows. Maybe one day we'll head out into Amity waters to again see how the great whites are doing. I wouldn't hold my breath however.
I wrote this article sometime ago, naturally I didn't date it as that would be way too efficient, but there has been some movement at the station since. Besides the odd fan written script appearing on the web that excites some sites who should know to check their sources, a couple of rumours from Universal have crossed my desk recently. Please note these are unconfirmed but come from the same source that could inform me a new Romero zombie flick was being made prior to anything like a press announcement about Land of the Dead. Apparently we might get a complete remake of the original Jaws as the Studio sees some coin in rebooting the franchise, or the lucrative DVD market might be the target for a completely new movie. I'm not sure which option sends the biggest chill down my spine to be honest.
A remake sounds the most unlikely option, it's friggin Speilberg for god's sake! However lots of fun can be had when the intellectual challenged post on the internet, "I'm a big fan of the Jaws franchise, but the remake is better than the original". Please, please, can they give the movie to Rob "I'll never do a remake or sequel" Zombie, "Orinoco Flow" would just have to be on the soundtrack somewhere. Wonder if he would have Sig Haig in a shark costume?
I wouldn't bet against a straight to DVD shot by the Studio with some lame arsed marketing campaign behind it. There's a lot of people out there who like them a shark movie, and let's face facts here kids who isn't going to dial into a new Jaws movie from the comfort of their living rooms.