Published on June 16th, 1978 | by Padraic Coffey0
Jaws 2 (1978)
Charlie Bluhdorn, the former owner of Paramount Studios, allegedly coaxed a reluctant Francis Ford Coppola into directing a follow-up to The Godfather by saying, “you’ve got the recipe of Coca-Cola and you don’t want to make any more bottles!” It is no surprise, given such financially-motivated mindsets from studio bigwigs, that Jaws, the highest-grossing film made until that point, would spawn a sequel to capitalise upon the original’s success. Sadly, Jaws 2, failed to secure Steven Spielberg behind the camera, Verna Fields in the editing suite or the input of novelist Peter Benchley. The absence of these key figures perhaps explains the enormous step-down in the quality from Spielberg’s masterwork.
Jaws 2 owes as much to Spielberg’s cohort George Lucas as it does Spielberg himself. The American teen film, revamped by Lucas with 1973’s American Graffiti, had peaked in popularity the same year as Jaws 2 with the enormously profitable Grease, and thus it is no coincidence that Jaws 2 shifts much of its focus away from the adult characters of the original towards a group of gormless adolescents, who invoke the wrath of another gargantuan great white shark.
The success of the suspense in Jaws has often been attributed to a shortage of onscreen time given to the shark, arising as much from mechanical difficulties as any calculated effort on the part of Spielberg and co. Here, the creature is visible from early into proceeding, possibly because producers Richard D. Zanuck and David Brown were delighted at having this time obtained a functional creature. While exposing the shark is not an inherently flawed decision, problems arise from director Jeannot Szwarc’s propensity to have the shark arrive with little to no sense of anticipation. Gone are the terrifying POV shots and John Williams’ petrifying two-note ostinato (although Williams does return with a musical score that is admirably different, if nowhere near as memorable as the original). While Jaws 2 might offer one or two effective shocks, the sense of impending threat imparted on the viewer is almost entirely lacking.
What is most disappointing about Jaws 2, given that original screenwriters Carl Gottlieb and Howard Sackler (who performed an uncredited rewrite of the script of Jaws) are onboard, is the clunkiness of the dialogue. Jaws may have been set against an unnaturally menacing backdrop, but its characters, down to the smallest role, spoke and behaved with an authenticity rare for the horror genre. Here, we are constantly distracted with lame attempts at humour. And, without revealing too much about the inevitable demise of the creature, substituting Brody’s iconic “Smile, you son of a bitch” with “Open wide! Say ahh!” is downright embarrassing.
While Jaws 2 is not a carbon copy of the original, the sense of déjà vu is difficult to shake. Early in the film, Mayor Vaughan (Murray Hamilton, reprising his role) implausibly dismisses the death of two girls as “a boating accident”, just as he had done in Jaws. Likewise, several scenes from the original are transparently replicated, with minor adjustments. Thus, the discovery of a girl’s corpse on the beach is replaced with the discovery of a dead killer whale; the timeless ‘severed-head-in-a-boat’s-hull’ shock is replaced with a crude ‘charred-body-under-upturned-boat’ fright, and the touching moment of Brody’s son mimicking his actions is echoed in a cloying scene of the same son helping his father collect empty bullet shells after a commotion on the beach.
Contextually, Jaws 2 can be viewed in two separate ways. As a sequel to Jaws, it is a tremendous disappointment, without much of the skill that made the original such a masterpiece of the genre. Conversely, as an exploitation horror featuring a giant shark eating people, it is lent some credence by the presence of Scheider, Williams and other players from first film. Generally it is considered to be the ‘best of the Jaws sequels’, the epitome of a backhanded complement. This has less to do with Jaws 2 itself, and more to do with the truly dire films which followed; Jaws 3-D and Jaws: The Revenge, the latter regularly listed among the worst films ever made. Never had a film as wonderful as Jaws produced a sequel as far down on the food-chain (no pun intended) as Jaws: The Revenge. Comparatively, Jaws 2 is a passable thriller.