Monster Movie Monday: Jaws 2 (1978)
Shark vs teenagers7
Matthew Turner | On 09, May 2022
Director: Jeannot Szwarc
Cast: Roy Scheider, Lorraine Gary, Murray Hamilton, Mark Gruner, Marc Gilpin, Donna Wilkes, Jeffrey Kramer
In the mood for a creature feature? Amazon Prime has a veritable menagerie of monster movies, so we’re working our way through them, one killer beastie at a time. Welcome to Monster Movie Mondays.
Jaws 2 may not be a better film than Spielberg’s Jaws, but it does at least have one of the all-time great tag-lines: “Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water.” Made three years after Spielberg’s shark-tastic smash hit, Jaws 2 understandably suffered by comparison at the time, but its reputation improves considerably when set against the following two sequels Jaws 3 and Jaws: The Revenge. It’s also worth pointing out that Jaws 2 was a smash hit at the box office, briefly becoming the most profitable sequel of all time.
Directed by Jeannot Szwarc (of Supergirl and Santa Claus: The Movie fame), Jaws 2 is set three years after the events of the first movie. Police Chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) is still in the same job, so he’s understandably concerned when it appears as if the beach town of Amity has, as he puts it, “another shark problem”, with the Mayor (Murray Hamilton) once again refusing to listen to his concerns. Meanwhile, a bunch of sailing-obsessed teenagers – including Mike and Sean (Mark Gruner and Marc Gilpin), Martin’s teenage and pre-teen sons – head out to sea in a fleet of dinghies, unaware of the toothy menace lurking in the depths.
The creature effects are surprisingly good. Jaws 2 used mechanical sharks, created from the same mould as the first film, but with a new jaw mechanism and some clever disguising to get round some of the problems Spielberg had faced. To that end, the shark is badly scarred in an early explosion, which gives it a distinctive, more terrifying look and also serves as a distraction.
Because audiences were expecting the shark, the option to keep the creature mostly hidden was off the table, so Szwarc couldn’t use the same suspense techniques as Spielberg. Instead, the film makes strong use of a series of different suspense and shock techniques, each of them highly effective. A good example occurs when Brody reluctantly wades out into the sea to fetch a piece of boat – the familiar theme briefly plays, along with a shark point-of-view shot, so you’re expecting an attack sequence, but a charred corpse from the explosion pops up instead.
Similar suspense patterns occur throughout, from small moments – such as Brody rushing to see what we think is a body that would give him the evidence he needs, only for it to turn out to be a different, non-shark-attack body – and jump scares to terrific, near-Hitchcockian sequences, where the teens are desperately trying to claw Mike’s unconscious body back onto the boat as the shark approaches, and they keep losing their grip.
Wisely, the film doesn’t try to emulate Spielberg’s original in terms of its chilling mood and atmosphere. Instead, Szwarc subtly shifts the tone, making it slightly lighter and adding moments of humour. The end result feels a little like a slasher movie, with the shark mostly setting its sights on attractive teen victims, complete with lots of impressive screaming (Donna Wilkes, as Mark’s love interest Jackie, really goes for it in that regard).
The great director Howard Hawks once said that “all you need to make a great film is three good scenes and no bad scenes”. Whether there are any bad scenes in Jaws 2 is up for debate, but it certainly has at least three great ones. Highlights include: a sequence involving a water-skier (the film’s poster image) and a flare gun; the shark attacking a helicopter; and the film’s frankly brilliant climax, which makes excellent use of Chekhov’s Power Cable.
The film is also significantly elevated by returning composer John Williams, who tweaks and expands his original score to produce something really special, particularly during the third act when the shark starts chasing the boats.
The cast are excellent too. Scheider made the film against his will, fulfilling a contractual obligation, but to his credit you can’t tell and any residual resentment arguably works in favour of his performance. The kids are decent, with several distinct personalities emerging within the group, who are then spread out over several different boats to keep things interesting.
The dialogue isn’t as much fun as it is in the first film, but you do get the occasional gem of a line – “Sharks don’t take things personally, Mr Brody” – and you also learn the Latin for “Great White” (Carcharodon carcharias, if you’re wondering).
The only real issue with the film is the discrepancy between Brody’s kids’ ages – three years are meant to have passed, yet Mike appears to have aged at least 10 years, while Sean is roughly the same age as Mike was in the first film. Also, and let’s be honest about this, the shark doesn’t eat enough teenagers. Other than that, this is both a highly enjoyable sequel and a terrific creature feature in its own right.
(Note: There’s a small issue with the copy on Amazon Prime Video, as it occasionally slows down and speeds up for a split-second, giving a slightly jerky appearance.)