Let’s hear it for nostalgic pleasures! My introduction to the cinematic joys of man-eating sharks came with 1978’s Jaws 2. The original film hit screens when I was eight years old, and frankly, I was too much of a wussy boy to see it. I don’t know if my parents would have taken me anyway, but I was sure it’d be too graphic for me. I did read the novel instead, so at least I wasn’t left totally out of the loop.
By the age of eleven, however, I was fully prepared for some real screen-chomping, and my friend Kevin and I eagerly rushed to see Jaws 2 the day it appeared on local screens. Actually, it was a doubly-exciting time for us, since the movie came out on the last day of fifth grade. What better way to start the summer than with a little violent entertainment?
And make no mistake about it: Jaws 2 really captivated me. As a kid, I must admit that I changed allegiances fairly rapidly, and J2 was one in a long line of my “all-time” favorite films. Still, I loved it well enough that at least it briefly possessed that minor honor, and I eventually saw it six times during its theatrical run; I just couldn’t get enough of that shark!
I finally saw the original Jaws during a theatrical reissue in the summer of 1979. I also thought it was really cool, though I remained more fond of the sequel. In time, I would change my mind; I can’t pin down the exact period during which I realized that 1975’s Jaws blew away the sequel, but when the change occurred, I never looked back.
However, I have given Jaws 2 another chance over the years; the nostalgic appeal remains strong, so I periodically check it out once more. Adult viewings of childhood favorites are dangerous; if you don’t like the movie now, you’ll likely lose precious memories. As such, I’ve always gone into each new screening of J2 with trepidation.
That’s for one good reason: Jaws 2 simply isn’t a very good movie. Of the first film’s three main characters, only one returns: Martin Brody (Roy Scheider), police chief of small vacation island Amity. Although some supporting personnel come back for the second movie - including Brody’s wife Ellen (Lorraine Gary), his kids and Mayor Larry Vaughn (Murray Hamilton) - we don’t find the other leads of Jaws. Anyone who’s seen the first flick knows why Quint (Robert Shaw) didn’t return, but the absence of Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfus) is less logical.
In any case, Jaws 2 functions almost as a remake of the original film. Another great white shark menaces the shores of Amity, and only Brody seems concerned. Actually, the presence of the shark is less clear-cut to the islanders in the sequel; there have been some mishaps, but no one can say for certain that it was a shark. Brody’s pretty positive a new beastie is responsible, but no one believes him.
Ultimately, Brody is proven correct, but not until many of the island’s young folk are put in danger. In Jaws, Brody, Hooper and Quint specifically went out after the shark to restore Amity’s diminishing commercial fortunes. In the sequel, however, the presence of the fish has not had any impact on the island; despite the place’s history, its tourist trade seems to thrive. However, when the shark attacks a group of teens - including Brody’s 17-year-old son Mike (Mark Gruner) and 11-year-old son Sean (Marc Gilpin) - it’s Brody to the rescue.
The structure of both Jaws and the sequel are similar. In their first halves, the audience and Brody become aware of the threat, but it’s not until the second parts of the films that anyone really does anything about it. Of course, the crew in Jaws was much more proactive, whereas in the second film the primary goal is to save the kids.
At times, Jaws 2 can offer some fun moments. A few of the shark attacks are well-executed, with the best involving a rescue helicopter. The fish itself still doesn’t look terribly convincing, but the sequel’s beast was a better mechanical animal than we saw in the first movie.
Other than a smattering of good action bits, Jaws 2 is a bit of a dud, however. Perhaps it’s not fair to compare it to the classic original, but such viewpoints are inevitable, and the sequel comes up lacking in virtually every category. My primary disappointment with Jaws 2 stemmed from character development. In the original, the roles were all quite defined and rich. All three leads seemed full-blooded and believable, and the supporting parts fit neatly into their niches; none of them came across like generic roles, and they meshed with the other personae well.
That doesn’t happen in the sequel. For one, the absence of strong actors like Shaw and Dreyfuss is severely felt. In their absence, we get a roster of teens, none of whom shows much presence. Gary and Hamilton took over the co-lead billing once occupied by Shaw and Dreyfuss, but their roles aren’t nearly as important or well-developed. Actually, both Vaughn and Ellen seemed better-realized in the first movie; their roles aren’t really expanded in the sequel, and they felt like they existed here just to fill space.
While Jaws was a taut psychological “man vs. beast” thriller, the sequel is nothing more than popcorn fare. The teens go to sea just to be shark bait and to lure Brody after them; there’s nothing more significant at work. It’s a simple scare ride in which some thin characters are put into dicey situations to draw a response from the audience.
As such, Jaws 2 appears to be something of a missed opportunity. Throughout the movie, we see the underpinnings of psychological issues in Brody. After the nightmare he experienced with the first shark, he’s a guy ripe for a breakdown, and the “accidents” that start to occur look like they’ll push him over the edge.
That never happens, and it never almost happens. Although we see some small hints of self-doubt, the film never lets these take root for one debilitating reason: we know Brody’s right. The movie clearly shows us that a new shark has appeared off the Amity coast, so we’re in Brody’s corner from minute one.
This was a terrible mistake. Jaws 2 could have been much more interesting if the audience saw things solely from Brody’s point of view. In that case, we’d be just as unsure as he may be, and we’d wonder about his sanity. As it stands, we never have any concerns about him, and we just hate the cardboard-cutout villains represented by the town council; they refuse to see the truth that we know exists.
Because of this decision, the story of Jaws 2 becomes little more than an exercise in the inevitable. We know there’s a shark, and we know Brody will have to fight it. We know that a number of folks will be eaten along the way. We don’t know whom, and we don’t know how Brody will stop the fish, but otherwise, the rest of the path was predetermined.
Just because a film is predictable doesn’t mean that it has to be bad, and in truth, Jaws 2 isn’t a terrible flick. Director Jeannot Szwarc has helmed some serious stinkers over the years - he was responsible for both Supergirl and Santa Claus: The Movie - but J2 doesn’t deserve to stand among his worst work.
However, it remains a fairly unsatisfying sequel. It strips the original to its barest elements. As Jaws 2 grabs the overt action of the first film, it loses that flick’s tension and drive. Indeed, the lack of stress seems fairly astonishing; it never feels like much is at stake. In Jaws, it was clear that the survival of a community depended on the actions of its chief, whereas in the sequel, nothing much ever seems to be at risk.
Without that threat or danger, the film becomes little more than a series of moderately-effective action sequences. If you want to see some decent shark attack scenes, Jaws 2 will probably make you happy. However, if you seek something with a little more meat on its bones, the original Jaws remains the only game in town.
Jaws 2 appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Although the film betrayed a few concerns, as a whole it presented a surprisingly fine visual experience.
Sharpness consistently seemed terrific. Throughout the movie, the picture remained crisp and well-defined. Some very minor softness cropped up during a few wider shots, but as a whole, these were negligible and the image seemed nicely distinct. No jagged edges caused concerns, but I did discern some mild moiré effects during shots of blinds.
Jaws 2 maintained a very naturalistic palette, and the DVD replicated these colors well. Throughout the film, the hues appeared clear and accurate, with no signs of bleeding or noise. The variety of tones seen in the sailboats looked quite rich and vivid, and a few other scenes - such as the opening party at the resort - also provided colors that were quite lively and vibrant. Black levels seemed nicely deep and dark, and though some shadows could appear a little heavy, for the most part low level scenes came across as appropriately thick but not excessively opaque.
For most older movies, print flaws create the majority of the problems, and that was the case with Jaws 2. Light grain cropped up during some nighttime shots, and examples of grit, speckles, and small nicks appeared throughout the film. However, while these did show up during the majority of the tale, they never came across as heavy or especially problematic. Although the print defects were the only reason the movie didn’t earn an “A”-level grade, they still were pretty insubstantial, and I thought Jaws 2 was a very satisfying picture to watch.
While the DVD of Jaws provided an excellent 5.1 remix - which was best experienced through the DTS version - Jaws 2 has to settle for the original monaural soundtrack. Although the lack of directionality meant that it wouldn’t compare favorably with the first movie, I still felt that the audio for the sequel seemed quite solid.
Dialogue was consistently crisp and acceptably natural. I heard no problems related to edgy or brittle tones, and intelligibility seemed to be strong. Effects lacked much dynamic range, and they could be a little dense, but they generally were reasonably clear and accurate, with no signs of distortion. The music also failed to convey a sense of strength or power, but the score was replicated with adequate fidelity. Ultimately, Jaws 2 provided a fairly good soundtrack for its era.
When Universal announced that Jaws 2 was on their DVD schedule, I expected a very “bare bones” release. To my pleasant surprise, the disc actually provides a nice little roster of extras that compare pretty favorably with the package created for Jaws itself.
First we find The Making of Jaws 2, a 45 minute and 15 second documentary about the movie. If the format reminds you of the program found on the Jaws DVD, there’s a good reason for that; both were created by Laurent Bouzereau, a fine documentarian who also created the excellent piece found on the Close Encounters of the Third Kind release.
“The Making of Jaws 2” isn’t quite up to that level, but it’s a solid program nonetheless. During this show, we find the usual combination of film clips, production photos, and recent interviews with a number of participants. In the latter regard, we hear from director Jeannot Szwarc, producers David Brown and Richard Zanuck, co-writer Carl Gottlieb, and associate producer/production designer Joe Alves. While we find a decent report on background issues - such as the departure of the film’s original director - most of the show sticks with technical concerns. We discover a fair amount of information related to the production challenges that affected the shoot, and the program nicely details these problems.
While I generally enjoyed “The Making of Jaws 2”, it suffered from two major deficits. For one, it included far too many film clips. This show wasn’t created to promote the movie, and pretty much anyone who will watch it already knows the flick. As such, the preponderance of scenes from the film seems redundant and pointless. I don’t mind documentaries that use occasional movie snippets to illustrate thoughts, but sometimes they become excessive, and that occurred here.
I also was surprised to see no actors present during the documentary. Sadly, Hamilton’s no longer with us, but it was odd to see no remnants of the rest of the cast. Scheider’s absence was especially glaring.
That situation is mildly rectified in the next supplement, Jaws 2: A Portrait By Actor Keith Gordon. Although Gordon appears nowhere in the full documentary, he gets this eight minute and 15 second piece all to himself. Here we find recent interviews with Gordon as he relates memories of his experiences on the film. I don’t know why these weren’t simply integrated with the documentary, but they add a nice perspective on the flick and are an entertaining viewing.
Another viewpoint appears in the next extra, John Williams: The Music of Jaws 2. During this piece we hear from director Szwarc, producers Zanuck and Brown and Williams himself as they discuss the challenges created by the sequel. Williams’ remarks lack some specificity at times - as he admits at one point, he has trouble remembering what work he did for Jaws and what he performed for the sequel - but this seven minute piece was still a good look at this aspect of filmmaking.
The ‘French’ Joke features a brief 75-second interview clip with Szwarc who talks about his return to his native France to promote the film. The “Joke” aspect of the story discusses a mildly-witty pun that would have occurred if the movie had received its logical title.
More interesting are the four Deleted Scenes provided. Each runs between 25 seconds and 125 seconds for a total of four minutes and 25 seconds worth of footage. While the clips are brief, they still were quite fun to see, and at least one of them should have made the final film. That one shows an aspect of Mayor Vaughn’s personality that would have added a lot to the character; its absence from the finished cut makes him look more like an ingrate and a bad guy than was necessary.
In the Production Photos section we get 97 images. These include shots of the mechanical shark, publicity images of the actors, candid snaps from the set and some publicity materials. I especially liked the moody Japanese poster for the film.
Storyboards includes drawings for three scenes: “The Water-skiing Attack” (24 frames), “The Shark Attacks Doug’s Boat” (12 images) and “Underwater Concept Sequence” (18 shots). “Shark Facts” offers 12 specifics about the vicious beasties. Although the DVD doesn’t indicate this, these notes actually come from an ad campaign that surfaced along with the theatrical release of Jaws 2; I remember reading them at that time.
We get two theatrical trailers for Jaws 2. One was for the movie’s original 1978 release, and the other promoted a 1979 re-issue of the film. Oddly, the re-release clip appears first; shouldn’t it have been the other way? In any case, I do have to give credit to the publicists; with “just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water”, they came up with a brilliant tag line for the movie.
The Production Notes offer some generally compelling details about the movie, though I was confused at times as they provide some information that contradicts thoughts heard elsewhere. During the documentary, we’re told that Steven Spielberg refused to consider helming a sequel to Jaws, but the “Production Notes” indicate that he mulled the idea more seriously.
In the Cast and Filmmakers area we find brief and passably interesting biographies for director Szwarc and actors Scheider, Gary and Hamilton; they’re not terribly useful, but they’re decent. Lastly, the “Recommendations” domain adds trailers for Jaws and fellow Universal films The Mummy (1999) and Tremors. All in all, Jaws 2 may not be a packed special edition, but I thought it included a nice roster of extras nonetheless.
Although Jaws 2 will always maintain a fond spot in my memories, I must face facts: it wasn’t much of a movie. To be certain, parts of the film offer some reasonably well-executed action sequences, but the flick lacks tension or character and provides little more than a few moments of excitement; the depth and heart of the original do not reappear. Universal have created a very strong DVD, however, as Jaws 2 looks very good. The monaural audio seems fine for the era, and the extras are a fun and unexpected treat. Ultimately, Jaws 2 merits a look for nostalgic thirty-somethings like myself or those who just can’t get enough of that shark, but don’t anticipate a very stimulating experience; the original film leaves the sequel in the dust.