Since we'll soon be turning from spring to summer with thoughts of heading to the water it seemed appropriate to bring up one of the season's great terrors thanks to Susan Green.
On America’s annual Fourth of July this month, I lazily tuned into a late-night cable broadcast of the ultimate Independence Day movie: Jaws, which haunted my visits to the beach – and that of countless others – long after it was released in 1975. This time around, adrenaline-fueled insomnia kept me glued to the TV for the film’s next two sequels, which I’d never seen before. But I was too pooped by 2:45 a.m. to keep my eyes open for Jaws: The Revenge. I can only assume that a franchise getting sillier by the year had reached an apex of silliness by its fourth go-round.
This guilty-pleasure marathon came despite the fact that Steven Spielberg’s career-making hit (he only directed the first one) and George Lucas’ 1977 Star Wars forever altered the landscape of cinema in my country. (Or should I say the seascape and galaxyscape?) The more introspective narratives with gravitas of the early 1970s gave way to action and adventure, a scenario that bombards us with one mindless summer blockbuster after another, few of them ever as original as their lower-tech antecedents of three decades ago.
Another clever Jaws bit is the struggle between Roy Scheider’s savvy police chief, Martin Brody, and the slimy mayor, Larry Vaughn, whose profound state of denial is supported by this village of the damned’s business community. God forbid a measly monstrous predator in the ocean should get in the way of tourism dollars. That anti-establishment sentiment, a popular one in those heady counterculture days, continues in Jaws 2. The 1978 production brought back Murray Hamilton as the politician, who apparently hasn’t learned a thing from the bloodbath of a few years earlier. Once again pooh-poohing Brody’s instincts that a second enormous shark is trolling for victims, he’s even embroiled in an ambitious real-estate development scheme that probably would turn Amity into a less amicable place to live. The story also focuses on heedless teens in peril, a favorite premise for today’s regurgitative slasher market.
By 1983, the old gang is gone. Jaws 3 - D unfolds in a Florida water theme park, where Brody’s grown son Michael (Dennis Quaid) seems to be Mr. Fix-It under the auspices of a greedy boss (Louis Gossett Jr.), who keeps putting everyone else in danger to maximize profits. The script sucks and the acting’s not far behind, as people do the stupidest possible things for no apparent reason. The flick doesn’t even resolve its own subplots but, as with the two predecessors, nothing can deter the marauding shark except an explosive of some kind shoved into the creature’s conveniently wide open mouth.
I was in dreamland as better night owls than me presumably endured Jaws: The Revenge (1987) starring Michael Caine, who on other projects -- such as Mona Lisa (1986) -- has rivaled Quint’s menacing aura. But I’m guessing that’s not the case in the pathetic fourth installment. The cast, as I recall, was stranded in the Bahamas for weeks, waiting for the faulty mechanical shark dubbed Bruce to work. Caine even wound up missing that year’s Academy Awards ceremony, where he won an Oscar for Hannah and Her Sisters (1986).
The late Robert Shaw was never honored with a statuette, though his masterful performance as Quint arguably deserved one. Forever seared in my memory is the robust British thespian and novelist, whose blue eyes glint on screen with deviltry and dogged determination, periodically singing the 18th-century English shanty “Spanish Ladies.” He even may have penned the monologue about that horrific shark feast after the Indianapolis sank; some sources say so, though others attribute the work to John Milius, a screenwriter who claims Spielberg brought him in for that purpose. Either way, Shaw was a guy well worth missing a few ZZZs for while becoming reacquainted with an escapist summer thriller.
- originally published on July 10, 2010 in Critics at Large.