Two divers visiting the wreckage of the sunken Orca from the first Jaws movie, are ironically devoured by a passing Great White. Further violent attacks occur along the Amity coastline prompting Police Chief Brody (Roy Scheider) to wake up and scream “shark!” once again. Meanwhile, Mayor Vaughn (Murray Hamilton) and his pompous panel turn a blind eye to the Chief’s ranting. But when a group of youths (including Brody and the Mayor’s sons) go missing at sea, our hero sets sail in hope of saving the kids and destroying the predator before they all get turned into shark lunch.
Jaws was always going to be a hard act to follow and producing a sequel was a terrifying task that even Spielberg himself refused to undertake. Yet the original’s producers David Brown and Richard D Zanuck accepted responsibility for what was going to happen anyway, with or without them. Together they toyed with various sequel story options, discarding a curious pitch from Arthur C Clarke that involved a “mysterious underwater object in the Indian ocean” and another by Howard Sackler which was a prequel based on Quint’s Indianapolis monologue from the first Jaws movie.
In the end they decided that what the viewers wanted (if anything at all) was to go back to Amity island, and so Roy Scheider, Lorraine Gary, Murray Hamilton and Jeffrey Kramer (Deputy Jeff Hendricks) all returned to their original roles while Brody’s son Michael, this time played by Mark Gruner (who never acted again), was given a much more pivotal part. But Jaws 2 is sorely lacking the ingenious characters of the first movie with classic personalities like Quint and Hooper, greatly missed this time around. Meanwhile, the clumsy screenplay places far too much emphasis on crafting stand-alone set-pieces and lacks fluidity, character depth/ development and the complex dramatic conflict that the first film had in abundance.
Brody’s son Michael blossomed into the type of perfunctory, vacuous teen that is often killed within the first few minutes of a slasher movie. Instead this annulled, attractive but empty-headed air-bag had somehow been elevated to key character status. The rest of the adolescents (including a pre-Christine and Dressed To Kill star Keith Gordon) serve as nothing but lolloping shark meat; background fodder to the suspense sequences, biding time before they’re shunted into the action and mauled accordingly. The PG rating limits the claret levels but sporadic dots of the red stuff can be seen on occasion. There is a terrific aerial view of the snarling Shark as it glides underwater towards a petrified swimmer before popping her like an aspirin.
Some of the action/ suspense sequences are gaudy enough to be enjoyable but fail to coalesce for a linear whole and Jaws 2 mostly amounts to a scatty assemblage of set-pieces, stereotypes and lopsided drama. Meanwhile, underdeveloped characters and weak conflicts serve as padding between erratic, vibrant attack scenes and Director Jeannot Szwarc fails to summon efficient tension required to make them rattle the nerves.
The story unravels like a slasher adaptation of a saucy seaside postcard. Slapdash shock moments shoehorned in attempt to replicate the head bobbing out of the bottom of the boat bit from the first Jaws movie, this time fail to batter an eyelid. A swollen corpse is propelled into Brody’s face while he stretches for a hunk of driftwood, accompanied by the obligatory instrumental overkill, but it might as well be a wave. There is also another “going to the seaside” montage in which the town-folk descend to the coastline with their bad hats, inflatable rings and embarrassing tans, intercut with tactless fat jokes, shots of waddling bottoms and John Williams’ plodding, jovial score. It all reeks of desperation in attempt to replicate the magic of the first Jaws film which was, in retrospect, solely Spielbergian.
Jaws 2 feels like a rushed novelty hack job with a couple of makeshift facets. The shark has a brutal burn across its face that it acquires in a brilliant (but slightly ridiculous) boat explosion. Meanwhile inapt dialogue “she’s got tits like a sparrow”, wooden characters, tired tropes and trashy acting (even Scheider seems emotionally AWOL) encumber the flimsy plotline and, despite a couple of enjoyable sequences, Jaws 2 ultimately fails to make a splash.
As detailed in the DVD extras: in France, director Jeannot Szwarc’s country of origin, the first Jaws movie was titled “Les Dents de la Mer”, roughly translated as “The Teeth of the Sea” which presented a problem when it came to titling the sequel. They couldn’t call it “Les Dents de la Mer Deux” (Teeth of the Sea 2″) because “merdeux” is an adjective applying to “merde” which of course is French for “shit”. Instead they opted for “The Teeth of the Sea 2nd Part”. Whether this is irony or prophecy depends on your perspective.
Even though director Szwarc came from a similar TV background to Spielberg, also helming episodes of Columbo, Night Gallery and Marcus Welby MD, before moving into movies, he isn’t half the visionary of his predecessor: Spielberg followed Jaws with Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Raiders Of The Lost Ark and (cough) 1941 whereas Szwarc directed Santa Claus: The Movie and Supergirl. While Jaws 2 isn’t an entirely terrible follow-up and Szwarc can’t be held totally responsible for its botched execution, it’s a film that should have either been crafted with greater consideration and care for its source, or not have been crafted at all.
Words: Dan Goodwin