Sunday, March 4, 2012

JAWS 3 (1983), JAWS THE REVENGE (1987)

CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *cosmological*  

 There’s not much point in inveighing against sequels.  Given that some of them make respectable money, they’re inevitable.  However, many film-reviewers critique sequels for ignoring the deeper themes of an original (or quasi-original) work—such as Spielberg’s JAWS—and concentrating only on base sensationalism.  A common joke is to imagine a sequel to HAMLET redone as an action-movie, with some title like HAMLET 2: THIS TIME IT’S PERSONAL (courtesy of the cartoon show DUCKMAN).

Sensationalism, however, is not the worst sin of a sequel.  Dullness is.  Thus I find that in comparison to Jeannot Swarc’s leaden foray into shark-infested waters for JAWS 2, JAWS 3 is a distinct improvement.  Directed by Joe Alves (second unit director on the previous JAWS films), with a script including input from Carl Gottlieb and the renowned Richard Matheson, the film is no more than serviceable, combining aspects of a slasher-film and a disaster-movie.  But at least it’s not a dull slasher-disaster-shark movie.

I’ve never seen the film in the three-dimensional format of its original release (under the title JAWS 3-D), but I would guess that the filmmaker’s desire to play to this gimmick resulted in a greater emphasis on thrills rather than tedious psuedo-Spielbergian psychologizing.  As Roy Scheider presumably gave the film a pass, Chief Brody is written out of the story (and is later pronounced dead of a heart attack in the fourth and last film), and the emphasis is placed on Brody’s two sons, which is the only point picked up from the Swarc sequel.  And though their mother Ellen also makes a minor appearance, the film’s setting is happily moved from the played-out field of Amity Island to Seaworld, a marine-themed park in Florida.

The characters are all simple types, many duplicating functions seen in the first film: Mike Brody, though a teen, fills the concerned “family man” role and there’s an experienced shark-hunter named Philip who takes the Robert Shaw role.  For the first time a female character occupies a more central role—that of the “know-it-all” essayed by Dreyfuss—though this particular know-it-all , an employee of Seaworld named Kathy, is directly responsible for bringing down the wrath of a Great White.  In a trope probably lifted from GORGO, Kathy persuades the park’s owner to capture a baby Great White.  The baby shark dies in captivity, and soon its mother—a shark about ten meters bigger than the sharks from the previous entries—besieges Seaworld.

Incidentally, just as Kathy is the first significant heroine, the park’s owner Calvin Brouchard marks the series’ first significant black character, though despite the casting of Louis Gossett Jr the role seems race-neutral.  Brouchard is merely the new version of Mayor Hamilton’s money-hungry douche.  The script’s only awareness of his race appears when Brouchard makes a strange remark about keeping different marine species in different cages, which he sardonically calls “marine segregation.”

The script keeps the emphasis largely on thrills, particularly in some strong set-pieces: one involving the mama shark attacking a waterskiing chorus-line and menacing tourists passing through a submerged passageway.  Because the script does place considerable emphasis upon the menace of the sea, with some better-than-average underwater photography, this gives JAWS 3 a stronger cosmological theme than the Swarc sequel.

Sadly, JAWS THE REVENGE sputters out by following the pattern of the second film: the sea is insufficiently seen, and the script devotes an excruciating amount of time to tedious human beings.  As noted above the film establishes that Chief Brody has died of a heart attack, which his wife Ellen relates to the trauma he suffered in sharkfighting.  A mysterioso opening suggests that the film may become a meditation on the horrors of the sea, but the film never delivers on this potential.  The story posits that a new shark comes looking for the Brody family back on Amity Island, and the film begins promisingly when the beast manages to catch and kill the younger Brody son. Very briefly the film verges into MOBY DICK territory, with the bereaved Ellen claiming that the shark’s out to get them while Mike argues that it’s just a dumb beast.  But the script, rather than concentrating on the metaphysics of piscatorial evil, fumbles by wasting time on the Brody family’s daily lives.  Much time is wasted on the flat and annoying character of bereaved Ellen, as the story takes the trouble to give her a new man in her life (Michael Caine, probably brought in for marquee value) though the heroic arc still centers upon the shark-killing destiny of Mike Brody.  The film’s one saving grace is that when Brody’s ship does finally come to grips with the fourth and final version of “Bruce the Shark,” this incarnation’s the biggest yet—perhaps absurdly so, but at least the shark’s last appearance still maintains his status as an icon of terror.  



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