JAWS 2 (1978)
Director: Jeannot Szwarc

One of the last true drive-in films I ever saw was JAWS 2 upon its release in 1978 at the now-defunct Sunrise Drive-In on Long Island. I had already seen the original JAWS theatrically several times as a 13 year-old boy during its premiere in '75 and then later on when it returned for an encore. It had quickly become one of my all-time favorite motion pictures and leaves its pleasant cinematic scar to this day.

I recall riding in a car with a few other teens for the eagerly anticipated sequel on that summer night in '78. The line on Sunrise Highway was backed up for miles and it was clear that we could never make the showing we had planned on. Once we arrived at the Drive-In all we could do was get tickets for the later show and pull over to a neighboring lot and watch the screen from a distance with no sound. I didn't want to look too often and spoil the event for myself, although I couldn't resist straining a curious eye in that direction every now and then. What I was seeing seemed quite perplexing.

Ultimately, the grand moment came. We were pointed at the giant screen, listening to the opening music through those static-filled little window speakers...and my heart pumped excitedly. It began with two divers underwater discovering the remains of Quint's mangled ship from the first film...suddenly, there's that familiar dum-dum-dum-dum shark theme and WHAM! -- both of them get chomped as their waterproof camera falls to the ocean floor, snapping crude photos of the tragedy which might later prove crucial to the story...

...and then the movie continued. And my heart began to sink. Deeper and deeper. JAWS 2 would turn out to be one of those unsatisfying follow-ups destined to pale mightily in the shadow of its predecessor. For me it still ranks third on the scale of all-time botched sequel opportunites; only TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 and EXORCIST II: THEHERETIC are more disappointing.

A few years have passed since the last picture. Chief Brody (Roy Scheider) is still on the job as sheriff at Amity Island, married to Lorraine Gary. Brody hears about the missing divers, and later two women who vanish during some sort of water skiing mishap. When he sees the chewed remains of a killer whale washed ashore, Brody feels a gnawing sense of deja vu and suspects he's got a second Great White shark on his hands. Retrieving the diving camera at the bottom of the ocean and developing its film, Brody comes up with a photograph of bubbles and what appears to be the black eye of a killer shark.

Once again he confronts Mayor Murray Hamilton about his hunch, but is dismissed as paranoid. Brody's anxieties come to a head when he fires his gun on a crowded public beach, shooting up a school of bluefish he mistakes for a Great White. He then finds himself without a job and with two missing sons who have taken it upon themselves to go sailing with a group of other annoying kids against dad's orders.

Way out on the ocean, the teenagers are being terrorized by this latest killer shark. Their tiny sailboats are getting smashed and at least one of their friends gets devoured. Even when a friendly helicopter pilot sets down to help out he finds his own aircraft being bitten and pulled under the surface where he meets his doom. It seems like all hope is lost until Brody shows up in a stolen police boat and lures the shark to bite down on an electric power cable which puts a fiery finish on this contrived chapter of the JAWS saga.

The real assets to the film are director Jeannot Szwarc (who inherited it when original director John Hancock retreated) and returning star Roy Scheider. As director, Szwarc does a capable job with the script he's got, making many scenes much more interesting than they otherwise might have been. Scheider had recently walked off THE DEERHUNTER and Universal agreed to forget about it if the actor would do the Jaws sequel. Once the studio offered to count this film as two for Roy, he reluctantly agreed. He gives a very good performance despite his misgivings for the project.

The biggest problem with JAWS 2 is its script. While the whole business about Brody's obsession is involving, little else is. Reportedly, Steven Spielberg and JAWS star Richard Dreyfuss wanted to participate, but they were committed to further work on CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND. Rather than wait it out, Universal wanted to go ahead with the sequel at any cost and what the price turned out to be was a decent story. As it turned out, we got the "teens in peril" approach, with a film aimed at a younger audience: take a bunch of silly kids and throw them on the ocean as fish food. Even as a 16 year-old kid myself in 1978 I was unimpressed. It's not that JAWS 2 is without merit (one scene that is especially unsettling features Ann Dusenberry as a terrified teen found cowering inside her tiny boat after her boyfriend has just been eaten by the shark) but the film just can't compete with the awesome power of the original, and particularly the marvels provided through the characterizations from Scheider, Dreyfuss and Shaw.

The DVD presentation of JAWS 2 is another matter. Universal Video must be thanked for treating this sequel with almost as much respect as the original JAWS. Their widescreen anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer looks marvelous. Colors are rich and the picture image is generally clean and sharp. Even more appealing is an intriguing 45 minute documentary on the making of the film, as well as a little segment featuring then-teenaged star Keith Gordon (DRESSED TO KILL, CHRISTINE) looking back on his experiences making the film. There's also another feature on composer John Williams and his score for the movie. And try these extras on for size: Storyboards, Shark Facts, Production Stills, two trailers, and deleted scenes (for a change, most of these excised moments could have worked in the released version -- especially the underwater shark attack on the helicopter pilot. This was added for television broadcasts). One curious quibble I have is that the sound on this DVD is only offered in 2.0 mono. It would have been sweet to get a new surround recording to match JAWS.

A minor note about the cover: Why not use the original poster art featuring the new-looking shark towering behind an unsuspecting water skier? All Universal did for the DVD cover was take the classic shark image from the first film and tilt its head to an angle. Maybe for their eventual release of JAWS 3 they can fittingly take that same head and turn it upside-down... (Joe Lozowsky)