Franchise Killers: Jaws: The Revenge
Jaws IV wasn’t called Jaws IV. It was called Jaws: The Revenge. The thinking behind this seemed to be that the studio wanted to hide the fact that Jaws: The Revenge was the fourth film in a franchise that never needed a second film. At the time, this was a bold departure from tradition. Sequels were very clearly labeled numerically – although for reasons I will never understand those numbers were almost always Roman numerals. I guess Weekend at Bernie’s II is somehow classier than Weekend at Bernie’s 2. Lack of Roman numerals was a clear indication that the sequel in question was not a worthy successor to the original except in the case of Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo. The Boogaloo – electric or otherwise – more than makes up for the lack of Roman digits.
But back to Jaws 4 – or Jaws: the Revenge if you prefer. J:TR was the final film in the Jaws saga. It didn’t just kill the Jaws franchise, it blew it all to hell like a shark full of compressed air. Most franchises are never too dead to be revived with a remake or a reboot. But almost thirty years after Jaws: The Revenge, no one has touched the shark franchise (despite what was predicted in Back to the Future Part II).
The Revenge part of the title is not randomly sitting in for the IV. The movie’s tagline promised “This time, it’s personal.” That wasn’t just an absurd slogan for a movie about a man-eating shark. It was a plot point. The shark in Jaws: The Revenge isn’t just an eating machine, it’s pissed. You don’t think sharks hold grudges? Then buddy, you don’t know Jaws!
The movie opens with Chief Brody’s son, Sean, having taken his father’s job on Amity Island. Since everyone knew better than to ask Roy Schieder to return for another Jaws sequel, his character died off-screen. Did a shark finally get him? No, the chief died of a heart attack. No matter. Much like General Zod vowing revenge on Jor-el’s heir, this shark is more than happy to even the score by eating what remains of the Brodies.
Lorraine Gary, aka Ellen Brody – Chief Brody’s widow and real-life wife of Universal studio’s chief executive at the time – was the sole cast member to return for Jaws 4. Based on that – and surely owing nothing to the fact that her husband ran the studio that owned the rights to Jaws – Gary’s character assumed the lead role in the sequel. When Ellen Brody learns of her son’s death, she is naturally upset. But also is certain of something that seems very unlikely.
Ellen believes that her son’s death was an act of vengeance. Why would a shark want revenge on her son? Even if sharks were motivated by things like vengeance, why would any shark have it in for Sean Brody? Well, not *any* shark would. But Ellen does not believe that her son was eaten by just *any* shark. She believes he was eaten by *THE* shark. The one her husband killed at the end of the first movie. The one he blew up in a bloody mist with pieces of shark flesh flying everywhere. This shark:
Um, I don’t know Ellen. That shark looked pretty definitively dead to me. I don’t think that shark is going to trouble anybody after that. But what do I know about sharks? Apparently, it was just a flesh wound. He got better.
To cheer her up, Ellen’s remaining son decides to whisk her away from Amity. That seems sensible. Where do they go? The Bahamas. Okay. Sure maybe someplace dryer would have been better considering that Ellen believes she is being pursued by a vengeful great white shark that somehow reassembled itself after being blown to bits twelve years earlier. But then again, the Bahamas are a thousand miles away from Amity. What are the odds that a shark could swim at the same speed as an airplane to keep up with them?
Better than you would think as it turns out. Cause when Ellen and her son get to the Bahama’s *THE* shark is ready to pick up where he left off.
But Ellen has other things on her mind. Specifically, she is in the mood for love. In the Bahamas, she meets a carefree pilot played by Oscar-winning actor, Michael Caine. Caine actually missed the opportunity to pick up that Oscar (Best Supporting Actor for Hannah and Her Sisters) because he was in the Bahamas battling a mechanical shark. Apparently, his large paycheck compensated for the missed opportunity. Caine has been quoted as saying of Jaws 4:
I have never seen it, but by all accounts it is terrible. However, I have seen the house that it built, and it is terrific.
So how bad is Jaws: The Revenge? It’s worse than Jaws 3-D. And that movie took place in Sea World. Yes, the theme park in central Florida where a shark could never ever possibly eat people. And the 3-D shark looked like this:
Folks, that was the big scene in Jaws 3-D. The stationary shark slowly edging towards glass while Dennis Quaid and Lou Gossett Jr. looked on in horror was the scene that was used to sell tickets to the movie. By all rights, Jaws 3-D should have killed the franchise in 1983. But then we would be robbed of the catharsis of seeing the shark from the first movie do battle with the first film’s protagonist’s wife. It’s like how after Rocky, everyone couldn’t wait for the movie where Apollo Creed fought Adrian.
Interestingly enough, Universal had the audacity to diss Jaws 3-D in the press release for the fourth film. Jaws: The Revenge was referred to as the “third film of the remarkable Jaws trilogy”. So either they are really bad at math or they are claiming that Jaws 3-D never happened.
But as bad as Jaws 3-D was, and it was bad folks, it didn’t hold a candle to Jaws: The Revenge. Roger Ebert famously pointed out some of the movie’s obvious flaws. In one scene, Michael Caine crashes his plane into the ocean. When he climbs out of the water onto the boat, he is completely dry. Throughout the movie, Ellen has flashbacks to memorable scenes from the first movie… including scenes she did not witness.
And then there was the finale. Every Jaws movie ends with a shark death. The more spectacular the death, the better. The exploding shark in the first film set a high bar and none of the sequels came close to clearing it. But in the case of Jaws: The Revenge, it wasn’t for lack of trying. The ending of Jaws 4 overshoots implausible and goes straight for “what the hell was that?!?”
It comes down to the shark and Ellen facing each other down like gunfighters in the Old West. The shark makes the fatal mistake of leaping out of the water and skewering itself on the bowsprit of Ellen’s sailboat. Then, it explodes. Now this is very unusual behavior for non-explosive things like sharks and sailboats. But apparently if you combine the two with just the right amount of shark vengeance, BOOM! Shark explosion.
Why did the shark blow up? Because test audiences for Jaws 4 didn’t care for the original ending in which the shark dies a slightly less ridiculous death.
And with that, the once proud Jaws series came to a close. Let’s break this down:
How many movies in the series? 4
How many of them were good? 1
Health of the franchise before it died? Critical condition
Likelihood of a reboot? Up until recently, slim. But with the success of Jurassic World, apparently Spielberg is considering it.
Any redeeming value? The Jaws 4 drinking game