JAWS, All The Jaws, So Many Jaws
*Contains spoilers about who gets eaten and who wears short shorts and who dies violently while wearing short shorts
Let's start at the end of the series and work our way back to the front, shall we? The first movie always gets all the press and the others probably get jealous. Did you even know they made 4 (four) Jaws movies? I hadn't until we started down this (Peacock TV) streaming train with my very motivated ten year-old, who is all about movie franchises. Also, he's a little iffy on scary movies, but the CG monsters in these are so utterly silly, he finds it easy to be brave. I'd only ever seen the original famous Spielberg 1975 film that won three Oscars and is often considered among the best movies of all time. The others that followed? Notsomuch. Let's discuss why, in all their gore. Please note that you will learn NOTHING about sharks in these reviews or movies. I'm pretty sure I'm less shark-literate after having watched them.
Jaws 4: The Revenge; "This Time, It's Personal," (1987) Ok, so this movie has the dumbest premise of any of them, which is saying something, since they're all about people seeking entertainment in shark-infested ocean water and getting eaten by a...wait for it....shark. BUT because Lorraine Gary (Ellen Brody) throws her considerable energy, charm, and acting chops into the role of widowed and grieving mother/grandmother, it's mostly heartfelt and lovely. The movie starts on Amity Island, the fictionalized New England place these sharks kept molesting throughout the 70's and 80's. The boys (Michael and Sean) are now grown, and Sean has followed in his dad's footsteps and become the police chief of Amity. The absence of the original Chief Brody (Roy Scheider) is explained by a death by heart attack out of fear of shark, because they couldn't just say he bugged out after the second movie or that he was eaten by a shark off camera. What's even the point of a shark eating a person iif we don't get to watch? So, heart attack it was. ANYWAY, it's Christmas Eve and he has a blond fiancé. Life is fancy and grand right up until he goes out into the water and tries to free a buoy or some other random ocean errand. While Christmas carolers sing juxtaposed on the shore, Sean get murdered by a street gang. Just kidding. It's a shark. So then Mrs. Brody goes into real, true, touching grief mode. Brother, Michael, shows up with his wife (NOT THE SAME LADY FROM JAWS 3, MICHAEL IS A PLAYER DON'T TRUST HIM) and their young daughter (played by Judith Barsi- who was horrifically killed in real life by her real life drunken, abusive dad when she was real life ten, my god). So, this little family convinces Mrs. Brady to leave Amity and join them in The Bahamas where Michael is a sea research scientist kind of person with a cool partner (Mario Van Peebles). They're studying nice, quiet conch shells. What could go wrong? Well, it turns out that The Bahamas and New England share the same ocean and that a shark bent on murdering a whole family will migrate to make it happen. Honestly, every time the shark shows up, this sweet movie about a woman in the second act of her life, gets interrupted. She even has a dalliance with a young, but still British, Michael Cain. I wish the shark had just fucked off and let them alone to have postmenopausal coital bliss. But, alas, there it is again. In the end, though, Mrs. Brody gets HER revenge and she totally takes out the shark Ursula-style, but impaling it with the sharp front tip-thing of a boat. It's pretty bitchin'. By my count, sharks have eaten two aircrafts, nine boats, and seven thousand people by this time in the movie series. And, little known fact: when a shark dies in any way, it dramatically explodes.
Jaws, 3-D; "The Third Dimension is TERROR," (1983) So, a few years ago, my husband and I rented a horror movie about a turkey that talks, stalks and murders cute co-eds, called "ThanksKILLING." It was made for about $12, likely by a 12 year-old. That movie was better than this movie. Zero, zilch, none of the original cast signed on for this movie because they all respect cinema too much. However, fortunately for us, Dennis Quaid, Lea Thompson, Bess Armstrong (the mom from My So-Called Life), and Louis Gossett Jr. don't. They were all pretty early in their careers and apparently thirsty af for whatever parts they could get. Quaid plays the Brody brother, Michael, who is working as some sort of engineer at the brand new SeaWorld in Florida. His girlfriend is Bess Armstrong, who plays the lead scientist and dolphin trainer. They focus on their relationship throughout the movie, in little conversations between shark attacks. The whole SeaWorld situation is very pretty, with stacked humans stacked on top of each other water skiing, touriists everywhere smiling in their feathered hair and mustard yellow collared shirts, love stories abounding. And thankfully, it's also a very controlled environment, with underwater thin glass tunnels and a poorly functioning gate that lets only the water and *good animals* in from the ocean, never the sharks. Then something wholly unexpected happens. If you were wearing the cardboard 3-D glasses, you got to see human and shark parts go flying toward you, and I imagine in 1983 that was PRETTY rad. Now, in 2021, it's hilarious. Like my poor attempts at video editing on my phone are now more sophisticated than this (then) cutting-edge cinema magic. It's incredible how far we've come. My very favorite part is how the shark explodes. There's this Australian misogynist who is some sort of wildlife photographer, I guess? played by a very handsome guy who looks like someone who has starred opposite Julia Roberts in stuff, but hasn't. He gets eaten WHOLE by the shark, while holding tightly to a grenade. Fortunately, he gets eaten WHOLE feet-first, so that his creepy dead torso and extended arm, holding said grenade, are still in the shark's mouth when our heroes are stuck and need to make the shark go boom. It's just such a perfect camp solution to a big deadly fish problem. Loved hating this movie.
Jaws 2; "Just When You Thought It Was Safe to Go Back in the Water," (1978). Set in Amity, with the original cast. The kids are growing up and teenaging themselves out on sailboats where they encounter...more than just sunburn and hickeys. This movie is the first where an aircraft gets eaten by a shark. It's overall fine. A little drab. The parenting choices are fabulously 70s. Mrs. Brody has gone to work for a condominium developer, and Chief Brody is still policing the quiet little island, so they have very reasonably hired a house keeper/nanny type person to assist in living. Despite this, there almost never seems to be anyone actually supervising the children. Thus the very personal shark bate moments. At one point, someone gets eaten and drops a camera that takes a bunch of pictures of what is clearly the prehistoric creepy eye of a giant shark, but the city council decides Ol' Chief Brody is shark-obsessed and toss him out. So then he's just tan and drunk for a while, before he goes back to being tan and heroic. One of my favorite things about the whole series is how cool the Brody's are with each other and how they focus on their romance over bourbon and only bother themselves with pesky things like children and sharks when they absolutely must.
Jaws (1975). The Spielberg one. So, we're finally here. On the island of Amity, in New England, with a chief of police (Roy Scheider), fresh from New York, who hates the water, his super cool wife (Lorraine Gary), and their two boys. There's a whole other cast of players, as well, including Richard Dreyfuss called in as the (wealthy) academic shark expert, and the world's most accurate politician, the mayor (Murray Hamilton), who is only worried about keeping the beaches appealing for tourists. Of course, having a child-eating shark in the waters is bad for business, but he is singularly focused on image preservation, no matter if some limbs and lives are lost in the process. Quint, a salty Irish fisherman (Robert Shaw) with tons of shark experience offers to catch the beast. He gives a monologue two-thirds through the film that to me is the highlight of the whole deal. What he's describing is so colossally horrific, and it's said in such a stoic way, the whole thing is real, and really jarring. Robert Shaw made a lot of pirate and war movies before his untimely death by heart attack (they associated with alcoholism) 3 years after Jaws was made, at age 51. The movie is still outstanding, all these years later. They do a good job of only showing the shark when they have to, so the menace is more in the famous music score (for which they won an Oscar and for which all sharks since are probably spiting them because it's become so ubiquitous with sharks) and the knowledge that somewhere under the sparkly water, there's a hunter. The dialogue is quick, the characters and relationships, believable. The movie is more than just a set-up for a monster, and it doesn't feel all that dated. I mean, the color of the film, the clothes, that kind of thing for sure plants it in the 70s, but the way the characters interact and the themes are modern. There are sweet and funny moments throughout, and even when the chief, the scientist, and the fisherman are on a sinking boat about to be shark snacks, their characters have their own motivations and quirks. It's all just really fun to watch.
Overall, the series is pretty progressive when it comes to women's representation. Mrs. Brody is always a bad-ass, and although she spends a lot of time fretting over her man and serving him food and drink, she's also shown sleeping in and eating and drinking, herself. She's not just there as a supportive spouse, she gets what she needs. Same with Michael's girlfriend and wife, in the later movies. The girlfriend is a scientist who the men defer to, and the wife is a sculptor who always makes her needs known. There are a lot of skimpy bathing suits throughout the series, but I think they're mostly evenly distributed between the sexes. And, in the end, Ellen Brody saves the day.