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Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Two-Minute Warning (1976) – Review

If one genre was to stand out in the 70s that would be the disaster genre; Airport (1970), The Andromeda Strain (1971), The Poseidon Adventure (1972), The Towering Inferno (1974), Earthquake (1974), Avalanche (1978), Damnation Alley (1979), The Swarm (1978) and Meteor (1979) just to name a few, inundated theatres in the 70s. What makes Two-Minute Warning stand out among these is that one doesn’t normally consider a mad sniper a disaster, even if it’s at championship football game. Sure it can really ruin your whole day but is a guy with a gun on par with a tidal wave overturning a luxury liner or a meteor heading for Earth? Yet this film was marketed as a disaster movie, and it even had the standard “actor boxes” that appear at the bottom of most 70s disaster movie posters, which unfortunately resulted in the film being a disaster but not in the way the studio had hoped.


Two-Minute Warning may not have the awesome spectacle of The Poseidon Adventure or The Towering Inferno but it does have the same formula for its casting; collect a large number of relatively known actors, give them quirky backstories, and then throw them in danger. In the category of innocent bystanders the film gives us Stu Sandman (Jack Klugman) a gambler who owes a great deal of money to his bookie and if his team loses he will be killed, he’s sitting next to a kindly priest (Mitchell Ryan) who got tickets from the aging quarterback, then we have elderly pickpocket (Walter Pidgeon) and his young accomplice (Juli Bridges) who the film cuts to randomly to show them lifting wallets, next we have a young married couple Mike (Beau Bridges) and Peggy Ramsay (Pamela Bellwood) who have come to the big game with their kids despite Mike recently losing his job, next is Al (David Groh) a football fan who begins flirting with Lucy (Marilyn Hassett) when he notices her date (Jon Korkes) is more interested in the game than in her, and finally we have Steve (David Jansen) and Janet (Gena Rowlands), an argumentative middle-aged couple who bicker throughout the movie because if you don’t have an estranged couple in your disaster movie you’ve missed one of the most standard tropes of the genre.


They’ll either reconcile or one of them will die. It’s a movie law.

Then we have the characters who are scrambling to save the day; stadium manager Sam McKeever (Martin Balsam), Paul (Brock Peters) the stadium's maintenance director, who stupidly tries to take on the sniper by himself, Police Captain Peter Holly (Charlton Heston) as the film’s chief hero who is called in to handle the emergency, and he will butt heads with SWAT team Sergeant Chris Button (John Cassavetes) on how to handle the situation. And of course we can’t forget the mad sniper (Warren Miller) who without him we wouldn’t have a movie, yet there really isn’t much to his character, he’s mostly treated like the shark from Jaws. We first “meet” him as he makes his first kill from his hotel room, and almost all of our time spent with him is threw “point of view” shots, as if he is a monster cruising through the world looking for his next target, but after a while these POV shots start to get boring.


Next we will get the exciting “Drive Thru at Burger King” scene.

A movie about a crazy sniper should not be boring, and it was done well just a few years earlier with Dirty Harry, but in that film it was about the cat and mouse game between Harry Callahan and the Scorpio Killer, while in Two-Minute Warning there is no interaction between the villain and the heroes at all. It’s one thing to have a basically faceless killer but then you have to flesh out the characters that are going after him. Instead we get Charlton Heston as the generic police captain and John Cassavetes as the even shallower SWAT commander. Aside from growling at each other, and randomly spouting tactical gibberish, these two have little impact on the plot. Any moment spent with them feels like a padding of the screen time. Which leads us to one of the film’s biggest problems; the almost complete lack of anything happening in the film’s two hour running time. The film is called Two-Minute Warning for no actual reason aside from it being a football term and a catchy title for a thriller, and to give some kind of arbitrary deadline for the heroes.


Alternate title "Two-Minute Aiming."

Just prior to the second half of the game the sniper is spotted by a camera aboard the Goodyear blimp, but we then waste most of the movie with Heston and Cassavetes running around accomplishing nothing. Heston tells Cassavetes that he will have the green light to take out the sniper at the two-minute warning, but why? Cassavetes has his own SWAT snipers positioned in light towers who should be able to keep the sniper pinned down and unable to open fire on the crowd, so waiting for the second half of the game to finish is beyond moronic. They have no idea what this man’s motives are, certainly nothing that could lead them to believe he is waiting to the game to end before shooting. We do get some bullshit about getting all the VIPs out of the stadium first but that makes even less sense, because if they were the target their sudden departure would tip off the sniper that they know he is there. Then again everyone in this movie is oblivious. When the mad sniper takes out one of the SWAT snipers the body hangs from the lighting tower for ages, and yet not one person notices him.


Peripheral vision does not exist in this movie.

Speaking of the SWAT team in this movie, they suck. The killer manages to take out both of the SWAT snipers, even though Cassavetes told Heston that his men can take out an eye at 300 yards, but all we see them to do is fail and die. The killer is seen constantly popping his head up over the concrete wall he’s hiding behind but for some reason these marksmen never take the shot. Is it because Heston won’t give the green light for the SWAT guys to take the man out? Partially, but that just makes Heston’s character look like an incompetent “man in charge” as in this situation, where the killer could open fire on hundreds of people at any time, those snipers would be told to take him out the second they get a clear shot.


I’m betting they’re watching the game and not the mad sniper.

When the killer finally starts gunning down our cast of innocent bystanders, the ones who fail to notice Walter Pigeon getting shot and his bloody corpse rolling down the aisle, we finally get to the disaster portion of the movie. The crowd panics and a stampede ensues. More death and destruction is caused by the stadium full of terrified fans trampling each other than what the killer does with his gun, and that element could have worked if director Larry Peerce didn’t get carried away with the mob scenes. We not only get people trampled by panicking football fans but we also get people tossed over railings multiple times, even though at that point they out of the stadium seating area and no longer in the sniper’s sights. This is a guy with a gun not a raging fire or tidal wave.


“They’re on thirty, the twenty, the ten, they are going all…the…way!”

Two-Minute Warning fails on pretty much every level; as a disaster movie we don’t get any of the awesome special effects fueled carnage one would expect, as a cop thriller we only see our heroes completely suck at their jobs, and as a drama we get a collection of vignettes that never once has us giving a damn about any of them getting out of the stadium alive. And then to top it all off the menacing killer has less personality than the shark from Jaws. On an interesting note NBC was uncomfortable with the idea of a homicidal sniper acting alone and without apparent motivation, so for the television version they shot new footage that show that the shootings were just a cover for a nearby heist. I don’t know if this fleshing out of the killer and his motivations could have helped this movie, it certainly couldn’t have hurt it, but not enough for me to want to track down that version.


Note: At one point in the movie Heston is giving Cassavetes shit about wanting his men free reign to take out the sniper, “What is it with you?  You just can’t wait to crank up those fancy M-16s. Dragging him down in a garbage bag may be your idea of a routine operation, god knows your people are good at it, but I’m the peace officer around here and it scares me.” A strange sentiment to hear coming from a guy who would become the NRA spokesman for years

Monday, August 29, 2016

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974) – Review

“Who in the hell would steal a subway train?” This question is asked a lot in this 1974 crime thriller by director Joseph Sargent, which was based on the hit book by Morton Freedgood under the pen name John Godey, but what is not asked often enough is, “Who in the hell would remake this classic?” There are certain types of stories that work best because of the time they were set in, and when you have to tweak your story to make it work in a new setting you are in danger of doing destroying what made the original good in first place. When Tony Scott released his remake in 2009 it hung solely on the shoulders of the star power of John Travolta and Denzel Washington, while in the case of the original film it was more of a character ensemble piece with Robert Shaw and Walter Matthau in the chief adversarial positions. So this review is for those of you out there who may have only seen the 2009 remake (I’m going to assume nobody even remembers the 1998 version with Vincent D'Onofrio and Edward James Olmos), and have not come across this excellent 70s thriller by director Joseph Sargent.


Long before Quentin Tarantino was giving his cast of Reservoir Dogs cool color code names The Taking of Pelham One Two Three had Mister Blue (Robert Shaw), an ex-mercenary and leader of this particular band of criminals, Mister Grey (Hector Elizondo) as the man so nuts he got kicked out of the Mafia, Mister Brown (Earl Hindman), and Mister Green (Martin Balsam) who is the key man to Shaw’s plan as he was an ex-subway train driver for New York City transit. These four men, armed with full automatic weapons, seize a subway car and hold its passengers for a one million dollar ransom.


And they will not be taking transfers.

What sets this movie smack dab in the middle of the 70s is the bizarre humor revolving around racism and sexism. Zachary Garber (Walter Matthau), a New York City Transit Authority police lieutenant, we first meet as he’s giving a tour to a group of Japanese officials who run the Tokyo Transit System. While showing them around he comes to the wrong conclusion that none of them speak English and so he makes several disparaging racist remarks, even referring to them as monkeys, but when the shit hits the fan with the hostage taking aboard train Pelham One Two Three, and he has to cut tour short, only then does he discover that they all understand English perfectly. The script beautifully slaps a proverbial pie in the face of our protagonist, showing us that our hero is far from perfect. Even later when he meets face to face with Chief Inspector Daniels (Julius Harris), who he’d been in contact with only via radio during the crisis, he is a bit flummoxed to see a Black man.


“Oh, I, uh…I thought you were a, uh…like a shorter guy.”

That the 2009 remake cast Denzel Washington in this part certainly shows that Tony Scott was going in a completely different direction with that character; with Washington’s Garber even under investigation for corruption, while Matthau’s Garber is just your basic New York City civil servant trying to do the best he can within an impossible situation. He’s not an action hero, he’s certainly not movie star handsome, and he’s also a bit of a schmuck. The original film is just littered with interesting and oddball characters; Transit supervisor Caz Dolowicz (Tom Pedi) repeatedly complains about having a woman working for him, "Oh, come on. If I've got to watch my language just because they let a few broads in, I'm going to quit. How the hell can you run a goddamn railroad without swearing?" Unlike racism this film takes sexism a little more seriously and Dolowicz is later gunned down for his crimes. We also have transit overseer Correll (Dick O’Neill) constantly ripping into Garber for even talking to the hostage takers, he’s more concerned with getting the trains back on schedule. When asked about the safety of the hostages he replies…


“What do they expect for their two bits, to live forever?”

For a nail biting thriller there is actually quite a bit of comedy in The Taking of Pelham One Two; Garber's sarcastic partner Lieutenant Rico Patrone (Jerry Stiller) is quick to lighten the mood with such on point observations when everyone is trying to figure out how the gunmen will make their escape from a subway tunnel, "Wait a minute. I just figured out how they're going to get away. They're going to fly the train to Cuba." We also spend time with the Mayor or New York City (Lee Wallace) arguing with Deputy Mayor Warren Lasalle (Tony Roberts) about how to handle the situation, and being the city is greatly in debt several of the Mayor’s suggestions are not all that helpful, "We're going to let 'em keep the goddamn subway train."


"Hell, we've got plenty of them; we'll never even miss it.”

At its core The Taking of Pelham One Two Three is an ensemble piece with a roster of great actors on both sides of the law; creating characters who make both good and bad decisions leading to some fantastic drama. Robert Shaw’s cool calculating lead villain is riveting; he may be the film’s scariest bad guy but because he is so good at his job we are at times caught up with him and are almost on his side. Then you have Matthau as the perfect counterpoint; he’s not cool or collected like Shaw but he’s also damn good at his job, this makes them perfect antagonists. We don’t get any “Yippe-Ki-yay motherfucker!” moments as we did between Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman in Die Hard, as the dynamic is very different here, but instead it’s more of a chess game with the villain trying to stay as many moves ahead as possible.  The entire cast really hit every note perfectly and Joseph Sargent’s direction is pitch perfect. I’ll go no further into spoilers as I’d hate to ruin any more of the cool moments in this movie. This is a must see.  Accept no substitutes.

Note: Seeing the remake isn’t even a spoiler as the two have almost nothing in common and this film’s brilliant ending is still one of my favorite movie endings of all time.


“Denzel? Who is this Denzel you speak of?”

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Tarzan and the Madman: Edgar Rice Burroughs – Book Review

madIn this book Tarzan must track down an imposter who is besmirching the good name of Tarzan, and it’s at this point we have to start wondering if there aren’t more people in Africa that look like Tarzan than those who don’t. Many people chuckle over the numerous lost cities that populate the Tarzan books, and don't worry Tarzan and the Madman has these as well, but for me the silliest trope that Burroughs created was the Tarzan lookalike. From villainous imposters to actors we’ve had Tarzan dealing with this bizarre personal headache, and for me the only time it worked was in Tarzan and the Lionman as it was used to nice comedic effect. On the positive side as this was the second last book in the series I at least was fairly confident this would be the last one.

Note: Though written by Burroughs in 1940 it was released posthumously in 1964, never getting its standard magazine issue but was released as a hardcover by Canaveral Press.
When Tarzan learns that someone is running around the jungle stealing women and children under his name the jungle man leaps into action. And by action I mean he intends to hunt this man down and kill him. Tarzan encounters a safari consisting of Pellham Dutton and a group of nefarious white men, one of whom Tarzan had previously kicked out of the jungle, but Dutton is unaware that his associates are not of the highest calibre he is more concerned with the missing Sandra Pickerall, daughter of Scottish millionaire Timothy Pickerall. Dutton is on the hunt because he is in love with Sandra, and will risk all to bring her home, but his men are more concerned with the reward her father is offering, and because it is believed that Tarzan is responsible for her abduction there is an added bonus for Tarzan’s head as well.

Just who is this Tarzan imposter and why is he abducting women and children? His true identity isn't revealed until the end of the book and for the bulk of the story he is seen as a man suffering from some peculiar form of amnesia. Two years ago he fell from the skies and was worshipped as a god by the people of Alemtejo, a lost city founded by 7th Century Portuguese explorers. The current king and high priest are fully aware this man is not a god, but he makes for a great tool to control the masses. The man himself believes that he is the great jungle hero Tarzan, because arrive garbed in just a loincloth, and though he is in excellent physical shape, and pretty good with a bow and arrow, he doesn’t quite have the jungle smarts that the real Tarzan has. As for his reason for stealing women and children, well that is on the behest of the king and high priest, they’ve told him that he needs a goddess so the poor deluded sap keeps venturing out into the jungle to grab innocent natives. Apparently black natives are not goddess material so most of those find themselves either enslaved or worse end up on the sacrificial alter or fed to the guardian lions. It’s when he lays eyes on the very beautiful and very white Sandra Pickerall do things change for him, she is a woman the people will except as a goddess.


When Tarzans meet.

There are some fun moments in Tarzan and the Madmen, but mostly we get the standard elements of the damsel being captured repeatedly; she is first abducted by the false Tarzan, then she is captured by some cannibals, after she is rescued by the real Tarzan she is about to be held for ransom by the villainous white men of Dutton’s safari, but then she is rescued by the false Tarzan. Sandra is brought to the castle of Alemtejo but eventually she is captured by the rival city of “Moslems” (Note: It does seem that all of Burroughs’ lost cities are dual capitals that are at war with each other), and then after escaping being a bride of the evil Sultan she falls into the hands of the group of great apes that once followed the false Tarzan, but then she lands back in the hands of one of the Sultan’s men who plans to rape and murder her. Sandra Pickerall has to be the lamest of the Tarzan damsels, though at one point she does kill an abductor, but by that time I’d given up caring about her. What is really odd in this story is that Sandra does fall in love with the false Tarzan, poor Dutton gets killed trying to get her home removing that romantic complication, and it never really rings true. Sure love is weird and mysterious thing, but to fall in love with a nutcase who thinks he’s Tarzan, a man who has been going along for years with the brutal murder of poor women and children, is just insane. His defense of “They told me I was a god so I had to do what they told me to do” is beyond idiotic, and certainly does nothing to bolster his character.


A god falling to Earth.

Also not helped is the “Big Reveal” as to who he really is; Colin T. Randolph, Jr, a rich American from West Virginia who was huge fan of Tarzan and who had spent a lot of time getting in shape and becoming proficient with bow and arrow. He also loved a good wager and he bet a friend he could survive in the jungle for a month with nothing but Tarzan’s standard accoutrements. The plane he takes to Africa develops engine problems and he is forced to bail out, the friend he made the wager with had also been aboard and he bailed out first only to be captured and enslaved by the Sultan for two years. Colin’s parachute dragged him into the walls of the Alemtejo castle which caused his unique amnesia. This isn’t even the worst of the contrivances Burroughs ladles on in the last chapters; when the real Tarzan is aiding the few survivors of this tale to escape Alemtejo they come across Colin’s plane, which somehow landed by itself ,and with but a minor repair and some pumped up tires, it's able to fly even though it’s been sitting out in the elements for two bloody years. I’d buy a jungle littered with Tarzan lookalikes before I’d buy that.  There’s adventure fantasy and then there is totally bullshit.


Tarzan seen here dealing with a different kind of bull.

There are some nice moments in Tarzan and the Madmen; the villainous thugs try to make off with the gold from the lost cities’ mines and basically die of greed, and we do get some nice Tarzan action moments such as him bringing down a charging water buffalo by taking it by the horns and wrestling it to the ground, but the goofy ass love story, and who imposter turns out to be is just too lame to compensate for those brief moments of coolness.  It’s quite easy to understand why this sat on the shelf unpublished for all those years and really should only be read by Tarzan completists.


Note: This book also includes one of the Burroughs' standard tropes to get Tarzan temporarily incapacitated. The Ape Man gets shot in the head, but once again the bullet only creases his skull and thus only knocking him unconscious, and not killing him.  By this point Tarzan must have more creases in his skull then the beds in a Holiday Inn.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Jaws (1975) - Review

The impact of Steven Spielberg’s 1975 shark film cannot be understated; not only did it basically create a genre, we’ve been seeing countless shark movies ever since, but it is also responsible for the industry turning the summer from being a filmic dumping ground to the place to hold their tent-pole productions. Jaws was the first summer blockbuster and is regarded as a watershed moment in motion picture history, but the film we got may have turned out radically different if certain things did not come into alignment. Spielberg was not the studios first pick, the book it was based on was a bestseller but was not without its flaws, Richard Dreyfus originally turned down the part of Matt Hooper, names like Robert Duvall and Charlton Heston were bandied about for the role of Chief Brody, both Lee Marvin and Sterling Hayden passed on the role of Quint with Robert Shaw only taking the part because of his wife’s urging (he didn’t like the book) and most importantly the mechanical sharks built for the film barely worked forcing the director to be creative in ways he didn’t intend. That this film got made, let alone became one of the greatest movies ever made, is one of those Hollywood miracles that happens oh so rarely. So let’s take a look at the granddaddy of all shark movies…


The movie begins, much as the book did, with a young woman (Susan Blacklinie) swimming off shore of the peaceful beaches of Amity Island while her drunken boyfriend collapses uselessly in the sand. She treads water for a bit until something tugs on her leg, the fear and horror that overcomes her is palatable, and soon she is in a fight for her life with a creature from the deep that has no mercy, no morals, just the desire to feed.

chrissie shark attack

Machete wielding maniacs may populate many horror movies out there but to me there is nothing scarier than a shark; Jason Voorhees had to don a hockey mask to create that dead emotionless stare while a shark was born with its visage of pure cold malice. When Jaws hit theaters in the summer of 1975 it wasn’t just the first film to ever make over 100 million dollars it also caused a hysteria that kept many people away from the water. I’m betting there were a few tourism boards out there that were less than impressed by “The Summer of the Shark” but it is the fact that sharks are real, and not just some supernatural boogeyman, that makes Jaws such a great horror/adventure film. When one walked out of The Exorcist in 1973 the most effect it would have had on the public would have been the sales of Ouija boards. The average person isn’t afraid of the devil possessing their children, but show them a shark and they’ll start planning that camping trip to Death Valley.

tourists on the menu 

“Yosemite Park here we come!”

Of course having a villain that has a built in hereditary visceral gut wrenching fear is only half the job, you have to provide characters we care about to face such a menace, and Steven Spielberg and company populated this small coastal town with some of the most memorable characters ever put to screen. You have Chief Brody (Roy Scheider) as the everyman, an audience identifier figure who finds himself literally out of his element, then there is Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfus) the ichthyologist, a lovable and charming scamp who does not underestimate the problem Amity Island is facing, and of course the stand out character in this movie is Quint (Robert Shaw) the shark hunter, a man out of time who survived the sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis amongst schools of killer sharks.

quint jaws 

Can you even imagine this film without the Quint's Indianapolis monologue?

The film also supports a plethora of great supporting characters such as Ellen Brody (Lorraine Gary) as the supportive wife, Mrs. Kintner (Lee Fierro) the distraught mother who loses her only child to the shark and blames Chief Brody, and Mayor Vaughn (Murray Hamilton) who doesn’t want the beaches closed as that would destroy the towns economy and result in the Mafia fitting him with a pair of cement shoes?

mayor vaughn jaws 1975 movie 

“Mafia, what Mafia?

If you’d read the Peter Benchley novel you would know that the real reason that Mayor Vaughn was against closing the beaches during the 4th of July wasn’t just because he was a sniveling coward and slave to his own greed, but because he was in deep with a group of “Silent Partners” who had invested heavily into real estate on the island, and those investors just happened to be mob related. That is just one of many changes the movie made when it came to its cast of characters; in fact most of the people in the book were fairly unlikable, Spielberg himself said he was on the side of the shark when reading the book, and the most egregious example of this is the “love triangle” between Chief Brody, his wife, and Matt Hooper that Benchley created. In the book the Chief and his wife were constantly bickering which resulted in Ellen Brody sneaking off to a local motel to have a tryst with Matt Hooper. So when the shark eats Hooper (yes, he dies in the book but not in the movie) it’s kind of a karmic payback.


"Brody, you didn't tell me you're wife was such a dish."

In the book Quint is just a knock off version of Melville’s Captain Ahab, with none of the personality or backstory that Robert Shaw brought to the character, he even gets a lame death in the book; instead of being sucked into the gullet of the shark as we see in the movie his foot gets entangled in one of the ropes that is attached to a harpoon sticking out of the shark, he is pulled underwater and drowns.

quint dies 

The age ole battle of Man versus Puppet.

The shark himself has quite the different ending in the book; in the movie Brody rams a compressed air tank inside the beast’s mouth, and when the shark makes it’s finally run on our hero Brody shoots the tank and the shark explodes. Author Peter Benchley took umbrage to this change as the whole idea is patently ridiculous (something Mythbusters confirmed), unless the shark had early swallowed a bottle of nitroglycerin and some C4 explosives. So how did the shark die in the book you ask? It succumbed to its wounds and sank to the bottom of the ocean. Call me old fashioned but I prefer exploding sharks over realism any day.


“Smile you son of a Bitch.”

When Spielberg’s lead actors weren’t suffering from sea sickness, or in the case of Robert Shaw drunkenness, the fledgling director also had to deal with two other major problems; the fact that shooting on the ocean is about the worst idea possible if you want your film to come in on time and on budgeted, and that the mechanical sharks, when they worked, didn’t look all that convincing to begin with. With walkie-talkies constantly blaring, “The shark is not working” Spielberg was forced to come up with alternative ways to stage his shark attacks. Shooting from underwater up at the dangling legs of unsuspecting swimmers brilliantly showcased man’s vulnerability to creatures of the deep, and also didn’t require the shark to be on camera, but the most effective idea Spielberg and company came up with was the “Three Barrels” motif. Quint is able to harpoon the shark and attach three bright yellow barrels to it, thus whenever they pop up we know the shark has returned; henceforth they become almost harbinger of doom.

barrel chase

Despite not once seeing the shark during the barrel chase sequence it is still one of the most exciting and suspenseful action scenes put to film.

You could drag barrels through the water until you were blue in the face and it would not have achieved the result it did without the work of legendary composer John Williams. The Jaws theme is easily the most memorable piece of movie music ever composed, and can be recognized after hearing just the first few notes. We’ll never know how well the film would have done without such a fantastic score but I’m betting it would have reduced the success by at least a factor of ten, and a surprise to no one that it won the Academy Award for Best Score.


Without the score this is what you are left with.

Jaws is a film that speaks to our primal fears and despite those fears we readily go along on this mad adventure with Brody, Hooper and Quint as they set out to take on nature’s greatest eating machine. We agonize over Chrissie’s horrible death, are shocked at the brutal taking of the Kintner boy, laugh with the comradery over our heroes as they bicker amongst themselves, and thrill to the chase as man versus nature as it’s never been filmed before. Never before and not really since either. The success of Jaws had Universal clamoring for a sequel (eventually making three of them), and every other studio was also trying to cash in on the Jawsmania with their own versions. My personal favorite was the 1977 horror film The Car as it wasn’t just another killer fish movie but took some of the basic framework of Jaws and worked it into a desert town being terrorized by a demonic car.


It was a lot dryer than Jaws but still very effective.

Most Jaws rip-offs didn’t go for that much originality and Universal even tried to sue New World pictures for their 1978 movie Piranha, but Spielberg saw an advanced screening of Joe Dante's film and loved it, he later convinced Universal to drop the suit. The 1976 Grizzly has an ursine version of Jaws and even had Susan “Chrissie” Blacklinie as one of the bear’s victims. Decades later and we are still getting shark movies; from the absurd Shark Attack  and Sharknado  series to the recent entry in the survival/horror genre The Shallows.

No matter how many sequels, rip-offs or threatening reboots there are out in the world we can rest assured that that there is only one Jaws. It was a perfect storm of brilliant filmmaking overcoming adversity to deliver one of the greatest movies of all time. Jaws, accept no substitutes.

Jaws game 1975


Note: Though not a sequel or a rip-off one of the greatest things to come out of Jaws was this toy.

Jaws 2 (1978) – Review

The effect of Spielberg’s shark movie cannot be overstated, not since Norman Bates ruined showers for millions of people has a film kept so many people out of the water, so the idea of a sequel to this mega-blockbuster seems natural by today’s standards, but sequels were not the norm at this point in history. Aside from the Planet of the Apes franchise, and the long dormant Universal Monster movies, not very many movies spawned sequels, but the success of Jaws and its sequel changed all that. When Jaws 2 came out and became the highest grossing sequels of all time the studio took a hard look at themselves and came to the conclusion, “Whoo-hoo, easy money!” Of course for every Godfather II you’re going to get many more like Exorcist II and Halloween II. But was Jaws 2 nothing but blatant cash grab? Does it deserve the scorn heaped on other sequels of its kind? Well let’s take a look.


"Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water..."

That it took three years for this sequel to come out is probably the most surprising thing to most people, but if you look at the countless production problems you’d be a lot less surprised. Universal wanted Steven Spielberg to direct but his was response was, “Making a sequel to anything is just a cheap carny trick" and that he had made the “definitive shark movie” and saw no point in revisiting the subject. Now as true as those statements may be I’m betting the hell he went through making Jaws was another big factor in him refusing the job. Following this rejection was an insane 18 month pre-production period with draft after draft of scripts and treatments for the sequel, and then enters director John D. Hancock. With ideas of his own, and script work by his wife, Hancock was aiming for a darker movie than the studio wanted. The Mafia element that was in the original book he brought back, and his movie dealt with a dead and decaying Amity Island. This could have made for a very interesting movie but it was not the tone Universal wanted for what they hoped would be another summer blockbuster. Then after a month of tumultuous filming Hancock was fired.


Note: Refusing to create a larger part for Lorraine Gary, wife of then Universal President Sid Sheinberg, and then later firing another actress who was a girlfriend of another Universal executive, may also have had something to do with his dismissal.

Now enters Jeannot Szwarc, a television director who would later give us such “classics” as Supergirl and Santa Clause: The Movie. Taking over a struggling production is no easy task, and when your previous experience is mainly on episodic television that at least shows the man has balls of steel. By now every director in Hollywood would have heard of the nightmare shoot Spielberg had making the original, and so to take over this sequel, after another director had just beem fired, must have been a little daunting. And considering all these factors I’m surprised we got a product as good as it is. Jaws 2 was going to cost a lot more than the original and with the studio breathing down your neck to “cut costs but keep shooting” no matter what horrific problems arose, integrity of the story never seemed to be a pressing concern.


“Hold that cup properly or Coca-Cola won’t pay us for the product placement.”

Let’s put aside the production issues and look at the final product. Though not as bad as the following two sequels Jaws 2 is still a major step down. Gone is the comradery between Sheriff Brody (Roy Scheider), Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), and Quint (Robert Shaw) that made the original such an endearing classic, and in its place is more shark and less character development. Jaws wasn’t just a “shark movie” it was an adventure tale with amazing characters, but in the sequel we essentially get a horror film in the “Dead Teenagers” category. Roy Scheider is back but under protest, he was basically forced at gunpoint to fulfill a contractual obligation, and aside from a few supporting characters from the original; the Mayor (Murray Hamilton), Brody’s deputy (Jeffrey Kramer), and Brody’s wife (Lorraine Gary), this is movie is about him and a bunch of dumb kids.


I bring you this movie’s chum.

My biggest issue with the film is how it treated Sheriff Brody. This is a man who saved the community from a giant killer shark, and by the trophy we see on his desk he’s consider a local hero, but then this movie has him comes across like a paranoid loon. Divers go missing, a boat mysteriously explodes, and a killer whale washes ashore with a rather larger bite taken out of it, all this leads to Brody being sure that another shark has arrived. When the Mayor and the town council “pooh-pooh” his fears I’m kind of on their side, he has no evidence to substantiate his claims, and it all makes him look like a man desperately wanting to relive his glory days, despite his protestations that, “I don’t intend to go through that hell again!” The levels of his stupidity/insanity reach their height when he discusses the killer whale’s carcass with expert Dr. Ellkins (Collin Wilcox), he actually asks her, “I know that dolphins communicate. I mean they send signals. You don’t think that if a shark was destroyed, that another shark could come and…” Dr. Ellkins reassures Brody that, “Sharks don’t take things personally, Mister Brody.”


“Well Dr. Ellkins, you just wait until Jaws: The Revenge proves you wrong.”

All this “evidence” leads to Brody lacing his bullets with cyanide and shooting up a beach. When he is fired we are supposed to feel sad and outraged at how he’s being treated, but I’m only outraged at the screenwriters who are doing their best to ruin a beloved character. Brody isn’t the only one who suffers from “Bad scriptitus” as the shark doesn’t fare that well either. In the original Spielberg kept the shark off camera, making it a mysterious and deadly force (how much of this was due to the robot shark not working is a debate for another day), but here Jeannot Szwarc has decided to show the shark right off the bat, and as often as possible. His justifications for this is that Spielberg had already done the slow build and now that audiences know what the shark looks like there is no point in hiding it.


That it still looks like a bad Universal Park attraction isn’t a good enough reason?

Szwarc has also amped up the shark’s abilities, because having it be just another Great White isn’t enough, no this thing has to be faster than a speedboat and can pull a helicopter underwater. Great White Sharks can swim up to speeds of 35mph, yet in this movie we see the shark’s fin cutting through water so fast it’s actually sending up a wide spray of water as it chases done the hapless water skier.

Note: This idea came from the filmmakers seeing the periscope of a nuclear sub chasing a speedboat. Apparently no one told them that sharks do not have nuclear power, well that is until the SyFy channel gets a hold of them.

And Szwarc also wanted his shark to be more distinct so he has one of the victims set its face on fire so as to give it a scarier look. Seriously, you need to make a Great White scarier? I find just a photograph of a Great White to be fucking terrifying, I don’t need him to look like an aquatic version of Jason Voorhees.


Jaws 3 should have had him wearing an opera mask while terrifying the people of Paris.

Aside from the drama of Sheriff Brody being fired over his obsession with the shark this movie spends equal time with the idiot teenagers of Amity Island. Mike (Mark Gruner) and Sean (Marc Gilpin) Brody love to go sailing with their friends, it’s nice to see that they’ve got over the traumatic events of the previous film, but unfortunately this new shark has heard that Brody blood is the best and its but them and their friends on the menu. The actors playing the kids in this movie are universally bad, and we can only cheer on the shark as he stalks these teen clich├ęs. The terrible thing is that to maintain a PG rating the studio was limited as to how many people could be killed by the shark, so most of these twits survive, and for some reason Mike Brody is knocked unconscious and is taken to safety while his little brother and other friends wallow around waiting to be eaten.


“Guys, I think Mike’s five year old brother could fit in that boat with you.”

Remember the ending of the original Jaws, the Orca is sinking, the shark is approaching, and Brody snarls out, “Smile you son of a bitch,” then he shoots the oxygen tank that was lodged in the sharks mouth, and kablooey no more shark. The ending of this movie has Brody holding an undersea power cable as the shark comes on its attack run, Brody growls, “Open wide OPEN WIDE! SAY AAH!” then the shark bites the cable and ludicrously bursts into flames. This was a terrible decision as it just looked like they were trying to copy Spielberg's ending, but all I took away from this film is that sharks are incredibly flammable.


“You and you alone can prevent shark fires.”

Jaws 2 is competently shot, and despite being forced to appear in the film Roy Scheider does decent work here, but when comparing it to Spielberg’s original it just doesn’t hold up. John Williams returns to score the film, and the iconic Jaws theme still sends shivers down one’s spine, but the majesty and mystery of the deep is somewhat absent in this movie.

Trying to catch lightning in a bottle twice is a dubious prospect at best, but when you are missing key ingredients that made the last one so great, well that has to make it next to impossible. I don’t blame director Jeannot Szwarc for delivering a mediocre product; he was an experienced television director being given an impossible job;  the real villains here are the greedy studio execs who would force a sequel out even if they couldn’t come up with a decent story. Sadly the fact that this film made a ton of money opened us up for Jaws 3D and Jaws: The Revenge, and constant threats of them remaking the first one.  All I have to say to that is...

jaws quote

Jaws 3-D (1983) – Review

After Jaws 2 hit theatres, and was the highest grossing sequel up to that point in time, producers David Brown and Richard Zanuck were interested in making the third installment a send up of the previous two films, entitled Jaws 3, People 0. They went so far as to hire the producer of National Lampoon’s Animal House to oversee the production, but alas the studio told Zanuck and Brown that they didn’t want to be seen as “Fouling in our own nest” so the parody idea was shelved and a more “serious” version was put in the works.


This is there idea of serious?

Now in the 80s there was a resurgence of 3D movies, mainly in the horror genre with the likes of Friday the 13th 3D and Amityville 3D, so the studio thought Jaws 3D was the obvious way to go. *sigh* If only we lived in a world where the spoof version existed and not this “new dimension in terror.


Jaws 3D went through many drafts, with the likes of Richard Matheson working on early drafts, and at one point the shark in this movie would have been the burn scarred shark from Jaws 2. Give the shark a hockey mask and they’d have been on their way to making the parody they’d shitcanned earlier. Matheson was also forced to include the two Brody sons, even though he thought the idea was dumb, and so the “Curse of the Brody Family” really starts to take hold. We learn that Mike Brody (Dennis Quaid) has become an engineer and is currently working at a new Sea World park, while his younger brother Sean (John Putch) is visiting from Colorado. Mike informs his girlfriend Kay Morgan (Bess Armstrong), who is the park’s head of marine biology, that his brother chose the University of Colorado so as to get as far away from water as possible. Then Sean meets water skier Kelly Bukowski (Lea Thompson) and the lure of sex gets him into the water, with the expected results.


Damn, cockblocked by a shark.

The original script by Matheson had the central premise being a Great White Shark swimming upstream and becoming trapped in a lake, but several script doctors later and it’s now takes place in a newly constructed Sea World owned by Calvin Bouchard (Louis Gossett Jr.), which to fair this idea could have worked if the aforementioned script doctors weren’t obviously doing all the cocaine they could get their hands on.


Note: The only evidence I have that the writers were doing cocaine is the final result we see on screen, so I could be completely wrong, but I bet I’m not.

The basic plot of Jaws 3-D is that a Great White Shark has followed a group of water skiers into the park, it eats one of Mike’s subordinates before it makes itself known, and then it is captured by Kay and visiting nature photographer Phillip FitzRoyce (Simon MacCorkindale). Because Bouchard is your standard movie capitalist he ignores Kay’s advice and moves the Great White into an exhibit tank before it has a chance to properly recover from being drugged, and it dies. Things get a bit tense when the chewed up corpse of Mike’s worker floats in front of some tourists that were walking through the Undersea Kingdom, and then the tension ratchets up even more when Kay sees the bite marks on the body and realizes that there is a much bigger shark out there, and that what they had captured was its baby.


"This was no boating accident."

If that plot sounds vaguely familiar that would be because it’s kind of the plot to the giant monster movie Gorgo. In that film a large prehistoric monster is captured and put on exhibit, but then the scientists discover that the creature they have is just an infant, right in time for the colossal mother shows up and trash London. That this 1961 British monster movie has a more credible story than this shark movie is one of life’s cruel ironies.


Though Gorgo and this shark were both made of cheap rubber.

The amount of things wrong with Jaws 3-D is staggering, but first and foremost is the visual effects and the shark itself. The optical work and the barely movable shark prop would have been considered crap if they’d shown up in a Roger Corman film in the 60s, but certainly not what you’d expect from a major studio.

Now I’ve seen my fair share of poorly written shark movies but what sets this one apart is of course is the 3D element, now if you do get a chance to see the new 3D Bluray release I do advise it as the 3D stuff is actually quite fun, but if you watch it in 2D you may be left wondering why there are all these endless shots of objects just pointing at the camera.


“Hello, I’m as thin as this movie’s plot.”

At the studios request the filmmakers were forced to add more “Coming at ya!” gimmicks than were original intended and every time they appear they stop any momentum a scene had cold. The greatest detractor is in any of the dark scenes as then the screen becomes murky and almost unwatchable at times, add an optical layer to these shots and they become twice as bad. Some of the 3D underwater sequences are quite good, but once again the second an optical effect floats on to screen it becomes laughably bad.


Even the 1969 Captain Nemo and the Underwater City had better effects than this

The film is directed by Joe Alves, the man who was the production designer for the previous two Jaws films, and learning that this was his one and only time in the director’s chair did not surprise me. He may be a helluva production designer but he had no business being behind the camera. He was criticized by some for failing to "linger long enough on the Great White" but if you’ve seen the mechanical travesty he was stuck working with I’d say cutting down on shots of the shark is one thing I can’t blame him for.


Even the shark found the effects hard to swallow.

The classic Jaws theme does return for this outing but not composer John Williams, this time it falls to composer Alan Parker who does his best with the subject matter, but one can only polish a turd so much. In fact I’d say using the original Jaws theme hurt the film more than it helped as all it did was remind us of that much better film. That this movie wasn’t the last in the series is the true mystery here. The critical response was universally negative and the box office returns for Jaws 3-D was $120 million less than the total lifetime gross of Jaws 2 and $400 million less than the original Jaws. Still it did manage to be number one at the Box Office when it was released back in 1983 so I guess Jaws: The Revenge was inevitable.


Jaws 3-D, in your face!

Further Jaws 3-D Observations:

• Sean Brody is king of the bar game “Stand-Off” Was this game ever an actual thing?
• Sharks continue to growl in this series.
• People continue to talk while having scuba regulators in their mouths.
• The shark is constantly seen swimming backwards even though it's physically impossible for them to do so.
• Kate rubs her bare around back and forth across the sick shark. This would result in the shark’s abrasive skin flaying the skin off Kate’s hand.
• Why is a world renowned nature photographer taking pictures in a park?
• The Undersea Kingdom exhibit seems designed to trap and kill guests if anything goes wrong.
• FitzRoyce is swallowed whole by the shark, but for some reason stays in the shark’s mouth even after it has eaten another park employee.
• The shark is able to bend a steel restraining bar by just waving its tail back and forth.
• Our heroes are in an enclosed flooded room when a grenade goes off and suffer no after effects such as death or at least ruptured ear drums.
• The parks dolphins distract the shark so that the humans can get away, but in reality dolphins are notorious for killing sharks. They should have been the film’s heroes.
• And finally, what and the hell kind of accent was Louis Gossett Jr. trying to pull off?


Though the shark did blow up real good...again.