The original Jaws is a stone-cold classic. Its director, some guy named Steven Spielberg who probably has a promising career ahead of him, expertly paced the original summer blockbuster, drew nuanced performances from Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, and Robert Shaw, and had the good sense to show as little of the titular shark as possible, allowing dread to build and imaginations to run wild. If you haven’t watched Jaws in a while, it’s always worth revisiting.
Jaws 2, Jaws 3D, and Jaws: The Revenge were, shall we say, less accomplished.
Jaws 2, essentially a retread of the first, is for my money the worst of the sequels, if only because it is simply dumb, not sublimely so. Scheider returns, playing his Chief Brody of Amity as a man on the verge of a shark-related nervous breakdown. No one heeds his warnings about the carnage to come, possibly because he keeps doing things like firing his gun at schools of fish on a crowded beach. The Chief is having a tough time, personally, professionally, and in terms of people getting eaten by animatronic shark robots.
Will he eventually save face, and the day? Watch and find out! (The answer is yes.)
Jaws 3D breaks with canon entirely, ditches the Brody’s and Amity, and plops us down in SeaWorld with Dennis Quaid and Louis Gossett, Jr., whose Calvin Bouchard is a regular water theme-park P.T. Barnum. Quaid — whose exact job is never entirely clear, seeming to involve piloting submarines, welding, and fighting sharks — and his dolphin-training love interest Bess Armstrong are gearing up for a big opening day at the park, along with everyone else, when (wouldn’t you know it) a Great White shows up. They’ve also got to grapple with the publicity hounds Calvin as brought in, photographer Philip FitzRoyce (played by the wonderfully-named Simon MacCorkindale) and some other guy who carries his stuff.
This third entry obviously also boasts some hot 3D action, with entire scenes hilariously staged to maximize this effect, including a sequence shot inside the shark, things hurtling towards you in slow motion, and whatever this image is meant to evoke.
Jaws 3D is the second-worst of the sequels, rising above its predecessor through sheer outlandishness and dialog like this:
Bess Armstrong: “Do you think he could’ve got trapped in the Spanish galleon?”
Dennis Quaid: “Yeah. He could’ve got caught in the superstructure.”
Indeed he could’ve, Dennis Quaid. Another fun fact: the 3D effects team boasted veterans of 1969’s softcore extravaganza The Stewardesses, though I’m sorry to report that Jaws 3D does not feature anyone having weird, acid-fueled sex with a lamp modeled on the head of Alexander The Great. On the other hand, it does feature this extra — never explained or seen again — wearing a shirt that says, “Let A Gargoyle Sit On Your Face”. So … points for that, I guess?
Finally, there’s Jaws: The Revenge, which is easily the most enjoyable of these three cash-grabs. We return to the Brodys and conveniently ignore the fact that Jaws 3D ever happened, which is a reasonable enough position. Ellen Brody is now a widow, which we know because Roy Scheider’s picture is prominently and lovingly displayed on the wall of the Amity Police Station, but she’s haunted by sharks. As well she should be, since it turns out the Brodys are being hunted by sharks. Her son (also a marine biologist) was recently killed by one.
Taking off for The Bahamas with her other son Michael (also a marine biologist, because you can never have too many marine biologists), his wife, and their very irritating child Thea, Ellen begins to fall for Michael Caine’s pilot character, named “Hoagie” for some reason. An entire subplot seems to involve the possibility that Hoagie is also a drug runner, but Jaws: The Revenge forgets about this almost as soon as it brings it up. I am told it’s addressed in more detail in the film’s (frankly incredible-looking) novelization:
Meanwhile, Michael and his research partner Jake (played by Mario van Peebles in dreadlocks and affecting a hilariously ill-considered pan-Caribbean accent) come across another Great White. But wait! It’s the same Great White, seeking revenge for having been killed twice, maybe. Bad news for the Brody clan, Hoagie, Jake, and that other guy who frequently joins the research team for no discernible reason.
Featuring stilted dialog, vaguely racist caricatures, and plot holes so big they’d need to hire a master welder like Dennis Quaid to repair them, Jaws: The Revenge is idiot fun for your idiot brain. Here’s some Michael Brody sexiness for you, as he puts the moves on his wife Carla, who, like Quaid before her, is a welder as well, though she uses that for her barely-discussed art, which mainly seems to consist of making terrible sculptures for the government of The Bahamas:
“I’ve always wanted to make love to an angry welder. I’ve dreamed of nothing else since I was a small boy.”
Yeah, I don’t know what that’s supposed to mean, either. Perhaps one of the actors could explain the thought process that went into it. (Probably not Caine, though, who famously quipped, “I have never seen [Jaws: The Revenge], but by all accounts it is terrible. However, I have seen the house that it built, and it is terrific.”)
Roger Ebert’s perplexed review of Jaws: The Revenge is also worth quoting at length for fun:
Here are some things, however, that I do not believe: That Mrs. Brody could be haunted by flashbacks to events where she was not present and that, in some cases, no survivors witnessed. That the movie would give us one shark attack as a dream sequence, have the hero wake up in a sweat, then give us a second shark attack, and then cut to the hero awake in bed, giving us the only thing worse than the old “it’s only a dream” routine, which is the old “is it a dream or not?” routine. That Mrs. Brody would commandeer a boat and sail out alone into the ocean to sacrifice herself to the shark, so that the killing could end. That Caine’s character could or would crash-land his airplane at sea so that he and two other men could swim to Mrs. Brody’s rescue. That after being trapped in a sinking airplane by the shark and disappearing under the water, Caine could survive the attack, swim to the boat, and climb on board – not only completely unhurt but also wearing a shirt and pants that are not even wet. That the shark would stand on its tail in the water long enough for the boat to ram it. That the director, Joseph Sargent, would film this final climactic scene so incompetently that there is not even an establishing shot, so we have to figure out what happened on the basis of empirical evidence.
For my part, I believe that Jaws: The Revenge is the ideal film to half-watch over the weekend while you get more important things done, like folding laundry or studying to become a marine biologist.
The Immigrant: James Gray is one of our most under-valued working directors, and The Immigrant is one of his best. Beautifully-told and gorgeously-framed, the film juggles themes of innocence and experience, guilt, exploitation, longing, and home with a skill that calls to mind a much older sensibility from cinema’s past. Marion Cotillard is luminous and fragile in the lead and Joaquin Phoenix (arguably the best American actor we’ve got) turns in yet another perfectly modulated performance. Catch up with this one if you haven’t, or just stare at the lushness of its visuals again.
Eagle Vs. Shark: Flight of the Conchords fans would already be primed to enjoy a Taiki Waititi-helmed, Jemaine Clement-starring, offbeat rom-com sort of affair, but plenty of others might, too. It’s light, charming, and self-consciously wacky in a way that invites criticism for being too twee. But it’s also really sweet and often very funny. With Waititi working on the (presumably) much-different Thor film for Marvel right now, why not check in on his slightly less expensive projects? Unless he surprises us all, and Thor: Ragnorak is actually a stealth remake of Eagle Vs. Shark, in which case you should see the original anyway.
The Warriors: Like Escape from New York or Assault On Precinct 13, Walter Hill’s classic, profoundly 1979-grounded vision of a dystopian gangland NYC holds up as both time capsule and gonzo action movie. The themed gangs — The Warriors, The Gramercy Riffs, The Rogues, The Baseball Furies — are the stuff of comic book goofballery and outsized caricature, A Clockwork Orange without the nihilism, and the whole thing remains a ton of fun. Come out and play.
Hoot: An eco-minded kid’s story about saving endangered owls imperiled by runaway development and greed, adapted from Carl Hiaasen and starring Brie Larson and Luke Wilson? Sure, why not. I first saw this in a hotel as a grown man, watching it on cable with my boss, another grown man. We almost missed our flight because we wanted to see how it ended. So that’s my Hoot story. Watch it with your kid, or maybe your boss.