Jaws: The Revenge (1987)
"This time it's personal"
Years after the original attacks on Amity Island, another great white shark has staked a claim in the local waters and kills Sean, the son of now-deceased Chief Brody. Older brother Michael, now a marine biologist in the Bahamas, convinces his distraught mother, Ellen, to come with him to the Caribbean for a much needed holiday. Ellen maintains that the shark specifically targeted her son but no one believes her and reluctantly agrees to go with Michael. However, the shark follows her to the Bahamas to finish the job.
Perhaps the most universally reviled sequel in film history, Jaws: The Revenge is, in short, an absolute abomination of a film. It is so bad that it killed the franchise. No more sequels. No reboots. Nothing. Just killed it dead in the water. Almost everyone who was involved in the project has never spoken positively of it. It holds almost unanimously appalling reviews across the major critics both past and present. People claim its one of the worst films of all time - certainly it must rank as one of the worst big studio productions ever made - but I could list countless films I'd choose Jaws: The Revenge over any day as far as 'worst film of all time' goes. The sad thing about this film is that there is almost nothing positive to say about it. It's rare for a film to be as incompetent and downright shoddy in as many departments as this one is but it somehow manages. It's not like it had a controversial production history as you hear from many big failures - the only delay was getting a script that Universal would greenlight. This was reasonably plain sailing and a twenty five to thirty million dollar budget to boot, making it one of the most expensive films of 1987.
For a start, who can take the idea of a shark taking personal revenge seriously? Jaws: The Revenge set itself up for failure before it even began shooting with such a ridiculous premise that no one was ever going to buy in. Is it the same shark reincarnated? A relative looking for payback? The film never explains why this particular shark is so single-minded in it's pursuit of Ellen Brody, not that we really care though. She develops a bizarre telepathic link with the shark so she can feel its presence when it gets close and she has flashbacks to scenes that she was not present for. Seriously, writer Michael De Guzman has no idea what he's doing with the story, cobbling together bits and pieces in an overcomplicated mess and which sound hair-brained and ludicrous given how simple the story of a giant shark terrorising a coastal community is. One must question the decision to have the character head off to another seaside community when the easiest thing to avoid the shark would have been to head as far inland as possible.
The opening ten minutes of Jaws: The Revenge promise a lot more than it ends up delivering, starting first with a riveting version of the classic motif by composer Michael Small (capably standing in for John Williams) and then with the horrific attack on Sean Brody. This is one of the most violent in the series: a rather bleak, haunting scene with inter-cut shots of the carol singers drowning out his cries for help. There's a few cameos from some of the people from the original to try and build a bit of continuity together and remind audiences that we're back on Amity. Once the film leaves Amity and heads off to the Bahamas, Jaws: The Revenge rapidly degenerates in a rather dull film featuring sporadic shark moments alongside the silly story and awful special effects. Outside of a decent attack on a banana boat (actually its more than decent, its quite scary despite seeing more of the shark than we need to), that's it for excitement. Outside of the two aforementioned sequences, there are about another three 'set pieces' involving the shark and none of them are worthwhile.
You'd have thought that all of this time after Jaws, they would have come up with a remotely realistic animatronic shark. But the sequels have all showcased progressively worse animatronic sharks, despite advances in technology, so much so that at the end of this one, a tiny miniature shark is used during a re-filmed ending. Depending on which version you watch, there are two endings and both as pathetically rendered as each other. In one version, the shark explodes when being impaled by the boat's broken pole on the front. In the other one it simply roars a bit, blood spurting from its mouth, and then slowly sinks down into the depths, ripping the front half of the boat off and causing it to sink. The exploding shark ending contains one of the most unconvincing "special" effects that I can recall. Like Jaws 2, the film suffers greatly due to the fact that the shark is seen more than it needs to be. I'm not talking about scenes with it, as there's not nearly enough shark action in the film. I'm talking about not just getting fleeting glimpses but whole body/head shots where you can every flaw and defect in the model. In some widescreen edits of the film, you can actually see the moving mechanism protruding from a gaping hole in its stomach. I honestly can't believe that got through the editing room but there are repeated shots of the hydraulics and mechanics visible, really stripping away the pretence that this is meant to look real. The fact that they are filming in the crystal clear water of the Bahamas doesn't help the shark's cause either.
Depending on which version you see and whether Jake lives or dies, the film has a feeble body count of two. Some revenge huh? The film is bogged down with too much pointless melodramatic piffle on land. Jaws worked well due to the interactions of Chief Brody, Matt Hooper, Quint, the Mayor and the other characters before they finally set out to sea. This one features a dreary love angle with Ellen Brody and Hoagie, a pilot she falls for, as well as sexual frustrations with Michael Brody and his wife. Throw in the token Rasta character Jake to make sure that you know this is set in the Caribbean and you've got idiotic drama which wouldn't even wash for a Monday morning daytime soap.
Roy Scheider did the right thing by refusing to reprise his role for even a cameo and so the writers crudely kill him off-screen, saying that Martin Brody was a victim of a heart attack brought on by "the fear of the thing." Whether this refers to the shark or the script remains to be seen. Lorraine Gary reprises her role as Ellen Brody so at least the film has some continuity from the earlier sequels but she's really bad in this. Watching her and Caine attempt to inject some vitality into their supposed romance is cringe-worthy. Michael Caine could not accept his Oscar for Hannah and Her Sisters because he was filming this. I love his famous quote "I have never seen it but by all accounts, it's terrible. However I have seen the house that it built and it's terrific" and, as you can clearly see, you know what Caine was thinking about when he took the role. He phones it in and must have had a clause in his contract stating that he wouldn't be killed despite suffering the film's closest shave with the shark.
Jaws: The Revenge is bad. The only question is just how bad. It's a terrible, incompetent film full of glaring deficiencies in the story and ridiculous plot ideas that should never have been given the light of day until these issues were ironed out But I prefer it over Jaws 3-D any day. Although that's like saying I'd rather eat out of the toilet than the sewer.
Jaws: The Revenge
Director(s): Joseph Sargent
Writer(s): Peter Benchley (characters), Michael De Guzman
Actor(s): Lorraine Gary, Lance Guest, Mario Van Peebles, Karen Young, Michael Caine, Judith Barsi, Mitchell Anderson
Duration: 89 mins