Jaws: the extraordinary destruction of a franchise
The summer of 2018 has come to an end. What better way to celebrate the close of another great season than with a discussion about one of the greatest summer blockbusters ever. Jaws took the world by storm in 1975. It coined the term Blockbuster. It made Steven Spielberg the household name he is today. The film is legendary for how successful it was by not showing the shark much at all. The one thing Jaws is not famous for? It’s franchise. Most movies as successful as Jaws spawn at least a few semi-successful film franchises. Star Wars is will be releasing its 11th film next year. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is up to 20 thus far. Jurassic Park just released its 5th film. Even something as ridiculous as Saw recently had its 8th installment.
So what happened with Jaws? The spectacular demise in quality as the franchise continued is nearly as legendary as the original movie’s success. When your fourth film is Jaws the Revenge, one of the worst movies ever made, your franchise is dead. How could a franchise recover from that? They can’t remake Jaws. It is far too iconic. Here is an examination on how the franchise went from amazing to garbage over its short 12-year span.
Jaws (1975) – The Masterpiece
Quite simply one of the greatest films ever made. It won 3 Oscars. It is #56 on AFI’s 100 Greatest Movies list. There are countless parts of the film that attribute to its success but below are three that were the most important. With the international success and respect Jaws garnered, it is no wonder it spawned a franchise.
Steven Spielberg’s Direction
This has been talked about a lot over the years. When Jaws went into production, it was a nightmare. Filming on the water is hard enough. Having an unproven, young director is a challenge as well. But when your mechanical shark, affectionately named Bruce, malfunctions, how do you adapt Peter Benchley’s novel? Well, Spielberg did it. He went the Hitchcockian route and showed the shark as little as possible. When attacks happen under the surface, you understand what is happening and your imagination fills in the blanks. The entire trope of the yellow tracker buoys always showing us where the shark was was brilliant.
John William’s Score
The use of John Williams‘ inspired score sets the film’s atmosphere as well as any score in film history. The two-note duh-dun raises the hair on the back of everyone’s neck. The ever-increasing volume and tempo of those two notes gets everyone’s heart racing. It emulates a shark perfectly as an ever-moving forward machine. Try watching Jaws without the score. A lot of the tension and excitement is lost. It is no wonder that Williams walked away with one of the film’s 3 Oscars.
The Hero Trio
Often, when people talk about the perfection of Jaws, it is about its vast technical achievements. However, we mustn’t forget how perfect the trio of Roy Scheider as Chief Martin Brody, Richard Dreyfuss as Matt Hooper, and Robert Shaw as Quint, were. They are three different hero archetypes. but when they are all aboard the Orca, their chemistry is perfect. Scheider is the family man trying to protect the town. Dreyfuss is the intellectual naturalist simply trying to help as much as he can. Shaw is the grizzled captain out to prove that he is the most dangerous thing on the ocean, not this 25-foot shark. They provide great clashes, great disagreements, but also a great camaraderie.
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Jaws 2 (1978) – The Decent but Inferior Sequel
So the inevitable sequel arrived in 1978, and it actually is a pretty decent film. It certainly pales in comparison to the original, but that was a virtual guarantee. Gone is Spielberg and in his place is TV director Jeannot Szwarc. Gone is Shaw (obviously) and Dreyfuss. Roy Scheider returns as the sole protagonist against a new shark terrorizing Amity. It is more of the same in a way, but there are a few nice new touches. It is basically what you would want in a sequel.
Roy Scheider’s Paranoia
When a man goes through something like Chief Brody did, his life becomes a bit paranoid. He is overprotective of his sons, Mike & Sean. A school of bluefish off the shore of the beach is a monster shark to him and terrifies the populace. The corpse of a whale washed ashore has to be the victim of what he faced before. When a dead diver’s camera brings back fuzzy images, all he can see is a Great White. He is a scared man, and it is actually believable when the town board and the mayor don’t believe him. What are the chances this is all happening again, after all?
Teens and Children in Peril
The eventual stakes of the film are actually a bit scarier. Instead of three men on an isolated boat hunting the shark, this time it is a large group of marooned teens and children. Mike and his friends are all out on their various sailboats and catamarans, doing what teenagers do. Sean tagged along too. Then the shark attacks the group, kills a handful of them, and destroys their vessels to the point they are just drifting around. It is a pretty scary scenario that Chief Brody has to rescue the kids from.
An Equally Spectacular Death
The line, Smile you son-of-a-bitch, while Brody shoots the SCUBA tank that blows up the original shark was a spectacular way to bring the beast down. Though, Jaws 2 has an even cooler way to bring down the shark. It is foreshadowed throughout the movie. When a fisherman brings up the massive power cable that feeds Amity Island, you just know that is going to come in to play. When Cable Junction is discussed as the marooned kids’ only sanctuary, it feeds that suspicion. What is all leads to is a great game of chicken that climaxes into a ferocious firework display of an electrocuted shark. It is so cool that Universal Studios Florida used this scenario on their Jaws ride.
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Jaws 3D (1983) – The Gimmick
In 1983, the third movie was released, and almost all of the magic was gone. Nobody that had anything to do with the original film was around. Worst of all, the studio realized that there wasn’t much to take seriously anymore and went full-on gimmick. No family drama, no tense moments. Nothing that made the franchise special.
These days, studios often post-convert movies into 3D in order to squeeze a bit more money out of the public. Some movies are made with 3D cameras — like Avatar — and use the medium properly. Then there are those ridiculous movies like My Bloody Valentine and The Final Destination that simply rely on the 3D gimmick wholly and completely. The filmmakers aren’t interested in telling a good story…just provide cool things jumping out of the screen at the audience. It is completely apparent in Jaws 3D that is the only thing the filmmakers were concerned with. It is incredibly corny.
Setting Jaws 3D in Sea World is the height of tedium. The personal terror and isolation of the everyman cast members are what made the first two films frightening. Making the victims faceless tourists and marine biologists in a theme park sucked a lot of tension right out of the film. It is the same difference between Jurassic Park and Jurassic World.
The Brody Brothers
It is a bit incredulous that Michael and Sean Brody would grow up to work in Sea World. Seriously? It is just WAY too convenient. The situation isn’t akin to a kid who beats cancer to grow up to be an oncologist. These two boys suffered childhood traumas at a level which most of us can’t imagine, and both of them grow up to study marine life in a theme park? Maybe one of them would decide to work through their trauma in such a way, but both? Get them in there are security professionals who want nothing less than to enter the park. Or just make them tourists, made to bring their kids to a family-friendly experience. That would have at least brought some believability and poignancy.
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Jaws: the Revenge (1987) – The Nail in the Franchise Coffin
In 1987, one of the worst films of all time was made. Sure, it has a bit of so bad it’s good corniness, but Jaws: the Revenge is one of those movies that treats its audience like complete idiots. Forget the kind of stuff like the fact that the movie pretends that sharks can roar. Also, forget the kind of amateur filmmaking, like the editing, where the climax is 100% incomprehensible. The film just never seems to have an original idea in its head. The ideas it does have are absurd.
A Shark With a Personal Vendetta
So the movie opens up with Sean Brody, a cop in Amity just like his now-deceased father, being killed by a shark. The next thing we know, the shark follows Ellen Brody to the Bahamas, because that is a thing. The rest of the film tries to have us believe that the shark is holding a personal grudge against the Brody family. It is just sublimely stupid.
Michael Caine Didn’t Accept His Oscar
If you can believe it. Michael Caine never showed up to the 1987 Oscar ceremony to pick up his award. He won the Best Supporting Actor award for Hannah and Her Sisters. How embarrassing. We would understand if he missed the show because of something respectable. But he missed it for a garbage, paycheck movie. A movie that cares so little about continuity that Caine jumps from a crashed plane, swims to a nearby boat, and pulls himself aboard totally dry.
The Movie disregards Jaws 3D
So, Mike never married Kathryn and isn’t an engineer at SeaWorld anymore. He now is an academic in the Bahamas and has a daughter with his wife, Carla. Sean is a deputy in the Amity police, so he never moved to Colorado. Nope…Jaws: the Revenge just rewrote the Jaws canon to fit the absurd vendetta storyline. Jaws 3D was no masterpiece, but it somewhat followed the history of the franchise. This final film went so far astray that Jaws has never been seen again.
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