It’s a testament to the lasting power of Steven Spielberg’s Jaws that, 37 years on from its first release, you can still walk into a cinema somewhere and watch it. The American theatre chain Cinemark will be showing the classic killer shark flick as part of Universal’s 100th anniversary celebrations, which also includes a digitally remastered Blu-ray release of the movie, out in the UK on the 3rd September.
Now compare the reputation of Jaws with that of its increasingly ridiculous sequels, which culminated with Jaws: The Revenge, released in 1987. The former is among the few movies to have acquired a 100 per cent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes; the latter is rated zero per cent, making it one of the most critically derided movies of all time.
This makes The Revenge an ocean-going Plan 9 From Outer Space, and it’s extraordinary to note, as Michael Caine splashes about in shallow water and an obviously plastic shark bobs about next to a boat, just how far the Jaws franchise had fallen by 1987. But like all terrible movies – including Plan 9 – there’s much to love about Jaws: The Revenge.
So as Universal celebrates its centenary, and Jaws: The Revenge passes its 25th birthday, join us as we pick out the things to appreciate in one of the most inept summer movies ever made…
10. It features a classic opening scene
Before we go any further, a brief question: if you were to direct a Jaws movie, how would you open it? What image would set the tone of a horror sequel about a giant shark? Most pertinently, how would you top the unsettling opening shark attack in Steven Spielberg’s original?
The answer, at least for director Joseph Sargent, is to follow the opening credits (set underwater, naturally) with the image of a fish sizzling in a frying pan. Now, unless you’ve a phobia of fish – particularly ones lying on a stove – this isn’t a particularly frightening scene to open with. In fact, after almost three minutes of John Williams’ urgent theme (reworked here by Michael Small), it comes across as something of an anti-climax.
Then again, maybe it’s the perfect introduction to Ellen Brody (Lorraine Gray), the widow of Martin Brody, the hero of Jaws played by Roy Scheider. As we’ll soon discover, her calm exterior is merely a veil for her true nature: a fearless, shark-murdering Ripley of the high seas. The opening scene, weird though it is, tells us this: Ellen Brody eats fish for breakfast. Or dinner. Or something.
9. It’s a Christmas movie
This is a fact easily missed, mostly because you’ll be alternately yawning and laughing, but Jaws: The Revenge can be counted alongside Die Hard, Gremlins, It’s A Wonderful Life and Jingle All The Way as a Christmas movie.
It’s a few days before Christmas when Jaws: The Revenge begins, and all around Amity Island, snow has fallen. Sean Brody (Mitchell Anderson), son of Martin and Ellen, is now a police deputy, and will soon become the first victim of yet another killer shark. As Sean’s removing a log from a buoy floating in Amityville harbour, the Great White lunges out of the water and, with surgical precision, chomps off the poor chap’s arm.
Sean’s screams for help are drowned out by the warbles of carol singers, and he, along with a fair percentage of his boat, is hungrily devoured. Merry Christmas, readers.
8. Its shark carries a personal vendetta
As Amity reels in horror from Sean’s death, Ellen Brody begins to suspect that her entire family may be the target of an ichthyan vendetta. Her husband Martin, we soon learn, has recently died of a heart attack – which she thinks occurred because he was frightened to death by the sudden appearance of a shark.
With Sean now dead, she becomes convinced that the shark will come for her marine scientist son Michael (the Last Starfighter himself, Lance Guest) or her young granddaughter Thea (Judith Barsi) next. In real life, we suspect that anyone who started babbling about shark vengeance would soon find themselves referred to a psychiatrist, but Ellen Brody simply goes on holiday to the Bahamas with the surviving members of her family instead.
Given that Ellen screams in terror whenever she spots her granddaughter standing on a beach, you’d think she’d prefer to take a holiday in a location that isn’t surrounded by water – Hungary, perhaps, or maybe Milton Keynes. But no – the Bahamas it is, and the stage is set for a totally tropical woman-versus-fish battle of wits.
The big question, though, is how does the Great White in Jaws: The Revenge know what the Brody family look like, given that Martin Brody killed the sharks in Jaws and Jaws II? Are we meant to assume that sharks have some ancestral memory, and that the features of Roy Scheider and his descendants are forever etched in the minds of Great Whites all over the planet’s oceans? If so, why does only one shark go after Ellen’s family, and not an entire shoal of the toothsome blighters? How does The Revenge’s shark know which plane to follow to the Bahamas?
There’s only one possible explanation for all this…
For the first time, the Jaws franchise takes a detour into the paranormal. As we’ve already established, the shark in The Revenge somehow knows where every member of the Brody family is at all times; as soon as one of them takes to the sea in a boat, or dangles their feet in the water, up the wretched beast pops.
There’s a telepathic link, it seems, between Ellen Brody and the Great White. Every so often, Ellen will look out to sea, twitch her little nose and know instinctively that her son Michael is about to be attacked. She also experiences flashbacks to scenes from the first film (presented in sepia tones) that she wasn’t even in – further proof of her raw psychic talent.
In the Jaws: The Revenge tie-in novel, the origins of the movie’s telepathic themes are made clear, since it’s implied that the shark is the weapon of a vengeful witch doctor, set on destroying the Brody family for reasons unclear. Maybe Ellen Brody stole the witch doctor’s parking space at a supermarket once – we just don’t know. At any rate, it’s possible this brilliantly mad idea was trimmed from the film’s shooting script.
The notion of a telepathic connection between sharks and humans is one of the great unexplored ideas of the Jaws franchise, and it’s a pity Universal didn’t think of following up The Revenge with Jaws V: Psychic Wars, in which telepathically-controlled sharks are used to carry out assassinations on rich drug dealers lounging around on luxury boats.
6. It features a shark bronco ride
Using its now well-established powers of telepathy, the shark locates and attacks little Thea, who Ellen’s foolishly allowed to venture out onto the water on an inflatable banana boat. Displaying rather less surgical accuracy than it did at the start of the movie, the shark manages to snap up a secondary cast member instead – or rather, the actress dutifully stuffs her leg into the creature’s gaping jaws.
Look closely, and you can actually see the lady wrap a fond arm around the shark’s snout. Presumably, she actually wanted to get eaten – or at least head off on a shark bronco ride, which actually sounds like a lot of fun now we think about it.
5. It takes the franchise back to its B-movie roots
Roger Corman once said that, with the success of Jaws, the B-movie industry was robbed of one of its more lucrative staples. Whereas audiences were once perfectly happy with the iffy special effects and hurried production of a Z-grade creature feature, the breakout success of Jaws in 1975 meant that Hollywood was suddenly making the same films with big budgets and John Williams.
Steven Spielberg had taken a classic B-movie premise and elevated it to A-picture quality, just as George Lucas would with Star Wars, and Ridley Scott with Alien in years to come. But over the course of its sequels, the Jaws franchise gradually slipped back down into Z-picture territory, like a chewed-off leg sinking to the bottom of the sea. The scar-faced shark of Jaws II (1978) was followed by the shoddy camp of Jaws 3D (1983), and topped off with the psychic antics of Jaws: The Revenge, and thus, the circle was complete.
Taken as pure schlock, there’s something quite endearing about Jaws: The Revenge. All aspirations of artistry and sophistication are gone, leaving only a sea of incompetence and occasional flashes of narrative madness.
4. It contains some of the best continuity errors ever committed to film
Jaws: The Revenge’s various continuity blunders and other technical errors are almost incalculably numerous. Sections of a boat are shown to be broken in some scenes, and in perfect repair in others. There’s blood in the water before the first shark attack’s taken place. Ellen Brody wears shoes of varying colours in alternate shots in the same scene. Oxygen tanks change from yellow to black and back again.
The mechanical workings of the shark, meanwhile – wires, levers and metal guide rails – are so commonly seen that we almost began to suspect they were left in deliberately; a clue, perhaps, to a post-modern twist ending, in which it’s revealed that the shark is in fact a giant robot remotely controlled by a demented ancestor of Robert Shaw. As we’ll see later, the real ending is actually more outlandish than this.
The finest and most commonly celebrated continuity error, though, is one involving co-star Michael Caine. His smart-talking pilot, who goes by the name of Hoagie Newcombe, climbs out of the water in one late shot, yet his clothes are unaccountably bone dry in the next. It’s such a breathtakingly glaring mistake that film critics Siskel and Ebert spent much of their 1987 review commenting on just how amusing it was.
The story goes that, by the time the cameramen were ready to film Michael Caine’s scene, his clothes had dried out in the sun, and for some reason, no one thought of damping his shirt back down again for the sake of continuity. In a weird sort of way, we’re rather grateful they didn’t.
3. The shark roars like a lion
The Revenge’s shark really is an incredible creature – and not just because it actually looks less like a living thing than any of the sharks in the previous Jaws movies. The colossal Great White is capable of floating on the surface of the ocean with a victim in its mouth, popping in and out of the water like a Jack-in-the-box, and best of all, it roars like a lion.
In more than one scene, the shark’s looming maw is accompanied by a feral growl – and in one instance, this is while it’s still submerged. Now, some critics were quite annoyed by this factual inaccuracy back in the 1980s, but we’d argue that it at least gives the creature a bit of individuality.
Besides, going into a filmmaking project armed with facts and research is the mark of a technician; making a Jaws sequel by following intuition rather than science is the sign of a true artist at work. We think.
2. It has two endings, and they’re both insane
As the rivalry between Ellen Brody and the vengeful shark reaches its apogee, the pair clash in a mind-boggling climax at sea. Jake (Mario Van Peebles, who made up his own accent especially for the role) has bravely risked life and various limbs to plant a strange electrical device in the monster’s mouth. As Michael stands on the prow of the ship, Ellen fearlessly steers the vessel right into the shark’s path.
At a vital moment, Michael sends a jolt of electricity into the shark, causing it to leap out of the water, roaring in pain. The ship’s bowspit slices into the creature’s side, spearing it like a sausage on a cocktail stick.
Then the shark explodes for no discernible reason at all.
If this ending looks rushed, incoherent, and appallingly realised with crude miniature models, that’s because it is. The ending originally shot failed to pass muster with test audiences, so this new one had to be hastily cobbled together, apparently with a toy shark purchased at a SeaWorld gift shop.
In the conclusion originally filmed, the shark’s simply impaled (illustrated in a spectacularly cheesy slow-motion shot of blood pouring from its mouth and wounds). Its bulk then tears off the front of the ship, leaving it to sink to its resting place at the bottom of the sea.
Test audiences, it seems, wanted an exploding shark – even if the logic behind its detonation was spotty at best. How much of an electrical charge would you need to blow up a 30-foot-long Great White? Now there’s an experiment we’d like to see.
Oddly, both endings still survive in some form, since the theatrical ending (the one with the exploding shark and a miraculously surviving Mario Van Peebles) is the one commonly found on DVD, while the original one (with the sinking, impaled shark) is the ending we recently saw on television. No matter: both endings are completely bizarre and, in their own ways, quite wonderful.
1. Michael Caine
We don’t know why Michael Caine agreed to star in Jaws: The Revenge (money may have had something to do with it), but his sleepy-eyed charisma illuminates the otherwise dreary moments of drama. As a pilot of dubious moral fibre and love interest to the mighty Ellen Brody, Caine delivers his increasingly absurd lines with gusto. Here are a few of our favourites:
“She got the idea in her head that the shark that killed Martin and Shaun is following the family.”
“It’s a big ocean out there”
“You passengers are all the same – complain, complain, complain… [The shark attacks his plane] Oh, shit.”
“I need a couple of boats fast, and someone who can kill a shark. A big one.”
“If I fly any faster, this’ll turn into a flying liquidiser and we’ll all be diced into oblivion.”
History also records that, due to the last-minute reshoot mentioned above, Caine missed the chance to collect his Academy Award for Hannah And Her Sisters. Far from frustrated by this, Caine was quite philosophical about the whole experience. “I have never seen it [the film],” Caine once famously said, “but by all accounts it is terrible. However, I have seen the house that it built, and it is terrific.”
Given just how much Caine contributed to Jaws: The Revenge, and how much diginity he managed to muster in the face of such appalling filmmaking, it’s only fitting that he was given the last line in the movie. And appropriately, for a movie that began with an image of a fish sizzling in a frying pan, it’s a strange one:
“When I get back, remind me to tell you what happened when I flew a hundred nuns to Nairobi.”
What a performance. And what a film. Now let us never speak of it again.
Follow our Twitter feed for faster news and bad jokes right here. And be our Facebook chum here.