1987 - USA Diected By: Joseph Sargent. Starring: Lorraine Gary, Lance Guest, Mario Van Peebles, Michael Caine, Karen Young, Judith Barsi, Lynn Whitfield, Mitchell Anderson and Melvin Van Peebles.
Jaws 4: The Revenge
Available on both UK R2 and US R1 DVD from Universal. While these releases are fairly bare boasting just the original theatrical trailer extras wise, the film is at least presented in a nice looking anamorphic widescreen print. Fans of the film (if there are any) should note that every DVD release of this film thus far contains the revised "happy ending" with Jake surviving as opposed to the original ending in which he dies. Universal's UK DVD is also available as part of a 3-Disc box-set which also includes Jaws 2 and Jaws 3. There is also an earlier, inferior and now out of print non-anamorphic US R1 DVD released back in 1999 by Goodtimes which was the first DVD release granted any film in the Jaws series. Personally I find something really wrong in the fact that this miserable excuse for a sequel made it onto the DVD format before Steven Spielbrg's classic original Jaws.
Only for fans of really bad movies and even they will have to be either in a really forgiving mood, completely drunk or suffering from insomnia to appreciate this. Jaws: The Revenge is a thoroughly terrible film which with its ridiculous central premise of a "vengeful" shark descends to farcical depths of ineptitude which more than justify its unenviable reputation as one of the worst films ever produced by a major studio.
Review (Contains Spoilers)
Originally unleashed in the summer of 1975 Steven Spielberg’s classic shark thriller Jaws – based on Peter Benchley’s bestselling novel of the same name – captured the imagination of cinemagoers the world over. In many ways Jaws along with George Lucas’ Star Wars (1977) can be credited with ushering in the age of the big budget summer blockbuster as it proceeded to gross a gargantuan total of over $470,000,000 worldwide. Today Jaws is deservedly regarded as a classic thriller and various aspects of the film from the memorable opening shark attack sequence, to its iconic theatrical poster and John Williams’ unforgettable main musical theme have long been synonymous with modern pop culture.
Given the unprecedented success of Jaws sequels were perhaps an inevitability. Sure enough after much creative wrangling and production hassles Jaws 2 finally hit the screen in 1978. Directed by capable French filmmaker Jeannot Szwarc and starring Roy Scheider (star of the original Jaws), Jaws 2 never possibly hope to live up to its predecessor but in all fairness proved to be a taut and entertaining big budget thriller in its own right as yet another man-eating great white shark returned to cause terror in the waters of Amity, Long Island. Perhaps most importantly Jaws 2 as with the original film was a huge money maker for its studio Universal Pictures grossing over $180,000,000 worldwide.
This prompted Universal to produce yet another sequel in the form of Jaws 3-D (aka – Jaws 3) (1983) directed by Joe Alves who many regarded as the unsung hero behind the camera of both Jaws and Jaws 2 having worked on both films as production designer. Unfortunately the law of diminishing returns had firmly set in by this point as yet another great white shark embarked on a reign of terror this time within the confines of Florida’s famous SeaWorld resort in a film which despite the change of setting offered nothing new and boasted markedly less action and excitement than either of its predecessors. In desperation the makers of Jaws 3-D resorted to gimmickry by presenting the film theatrically in the 3-D format (hence the films title) which was enjoying a brief renaissance at the time as desperate producers sought to use the lure of 3-D effects to breathe life into other tired, formulaic second sequels such as Friday The 13th Part III (1982) and Amityville 3-D (1983). Upon its release Jaws 3-D encountered a largely negative reaction from critics who were keen to point out its inferiority to both Steven Spielberg’s classic original Jaws and Jeannot Szwarc’s Jaws 2. However, while nowhere near as commercially successful as either of its predecessors Jaws 3-D still managed to return an attractive profit, eventually grossing over $80,000,000 worldwide.
Now you would have thought that at this point common sense would have prevailed and following Jaws 3-D Universal would have quit while they were ahead by laying the Jaws franchise to rest permanently. Unfortunately this was not the case as Universal vainly tried to revive the series’ flagging fortunes with Jaws: The Revenge released in the summer of 1987. Directed and produced by the accomplished Joseph Sargent Jaws: The Revenge is widely regarded today as one of the worst films ever produced by a major studio. The insane creative decision to base the film around the plainly idiotic notion of a great white shark pursuing a grudge against the family of deceased police chief Martin Brody (hero of the first two films in the series) combined with what most viewed as sloppy execution, a bad screenplay and poor performances attracted widespread mockery from both critics and cinemagoers. The terrible critical and popular response coupled with the fact that the film was a commercial flop in comparison to its three predecessors (it only grossed a middling figure of just over $50,000,000 worldwide) ensured that Jaws: The Revenge killed the Jaws franchise stone dead and to date it remains the last film in the series.
The plot of Jaws: The Revenge begins with Ellen Brody (Gary) – widow of the deceased Martin Brody, here of the first two films in the Jaws series – preparing to celebrate Christmas with her youngest son Sean (Anderson) at their home in Amity, Long Island. However, tragedy strikes when Sean, during the course of his duties as a police officer, sails out onto the ocean to free a channel marker and is horrifically attacked and killed by a great white shark. In the days following Sean’s death a grieving Ellen becomes convinced that the shark “came for Sean” and that the shark is actively pursuing the Brody family in revenge for her late husband having killed the two sharks that had previously terrorised the waters of Amity. Happily for Ellen she is able to fall back on the love and support of her elder son Michael (Guest) who together with his wife Carla (Young) and their young daughter Thea (Barsi) now lives an idyllic life in the Bahamas where Michael works as a marine biologist in conjunction with his best friend Jake (Mario Van Peebles). When Michael and Carla suggest that Ellen accompany them back to the Bahamas she happily agrees.
Upon their arrival in the Bahamas beleaguered Ellen begins imploring Michael to give up his job as a marine biologist, insisting that the shark which killed Sean will also kill the rest of the Brody family if they venture into the sea. Michael refuses to heed his mothers warning and continues his work and soon Ellen begins to forget these fears as she is romanced by carefree aeroplane pilot Hoagie (Caine).
However, terror strikes when the shark which killed Sean follows the Brody family and is encountered by Michael and Jake whilst out at sea conducting their research. Michael is alarmed to find that a great white shark has staked a claim in the Bahamian waters but Jake is excited and Michael reluctantly goes along with Jake’s plans to track the shark. These plans are scuppered when a banana boat carrying little Thea and several other toddlers and their parents is attacked by the shark leading to a final deadly confrontation on the open sea between the Brody family and the vengeful shark.
With its truly imbecilic central premise of a great white shark bearing a grudge against the Brody family Jaws: The Revenge shoots itself firmly in both feet from the outset. This premise is simply impossible to take seriously and writer Michael De Guzman (who tellingly worked on another theatrical feature after this debacle) soon turns Jaws: The Revenge into a laughable farce as he pursues the vengeful shark concept to a ridiculous degree. This anthropopathism of the shark flies in the face of both all known scientific fact and also flies in the face of the continuity established across the first three films. Sharks do not bear grudges against individual people and even if they did why would this shark be out for the blood of the Brody clan? Bearing in mind that the sharks in all three previous films were emphatically killed why would this presumably unrelated fearsome fish opt to pursue such a vendetta? Are we to believe that this is a vengeful relative of one of the previous sharks? Or do all great white sharks now crave the bloody of the Brody family due to their past indiscretions against the species? Thinking about these ludicrously far fetched possibilities is enough to drive you quite mad!
Believe it or not the actual onscreen execution of this harebrained concept is even more absurd than it sounds on paper as the screenplay sees the titular fish commit acts that would require the sort of sophisticated intelligence beyond even that of a dolphin. The opening killing (some would say murder) of Sean Brody is a prime example of the way the script frequently refuses to acknowledge even an ounce of common sense. The shark strategically places a piece of wooden debris on a channel marker in order to lure young police deputy Sean Brody out onto the sea where it then proceeds to attack, kill and partially devour him. This of course raises the question of how the shark knew that Sean would be the one sent to free the channel marker in the first place. The stupidity continues straight after as beleaguered Ellen Brody seeks solace in the arms of her marine biologist son Michael and his family in the Bahamas and the shark follows her. How could the shark possibly know where she was going? Are we supposed to believe that this shark somehow has the power of telepathy? Of course it also goes without saying that the shark itself is as unconvincingly rubbery as ever and anorak like spotters of productions bloopers will no doubt me amused to note that the shark’s inner mechanics are plainly visible in certain shots.
Jaws: The Revenge also offers numerous other risible annoyances including the always maddening “it was only a dream” shock which everyone is all too familiar with. Unbelievably Joseph Sargent falls back on this cheap and irritating shock tactic not just once but twice as both Ellen and Martin dream of being fatally attacked by the shark. The film also suffers from an irritating and unnecessary proliferation of references to the original Jaws which only serve to underline just how poor a sequel Jaws: The Revenge actually is. By far the worst of these is a cloyingly sentimental and more or less pointless scene in which Michael’s infant daughter Thea sits mimicking her father’s actions in a rerun of a near identical scene from Spielberg’s classic. By contrast die hard fans of the Jaws series may be a little irritated to find that the characterisation of Michael Brody established in Jaws 3-D is completely ignored. In Jaws 3-D Michael was an engineer, however in this film Michael is now depicted as a dedicated marine biologist. Indeed certain press releases issued prior to the theatrical release of Jaws: The Revenge actually credit it as the third film in the saga suggesting that the makers had erased the events of Jaws 3-D from the history books, although to be honest this is not really any great loss.
The films various woes are not unfortunately not helped by a cast who either fail in the impossible task of salvaging the wretched screenplay or just end up compounding the problems. Top billed and the main focus of the film is series returnee Lorraine Gary who reprises her role from Jaws and Jaws 2 as Ellen Brody, the widow of Police Chief Martin Brody the now deceased here of the first two films. In the role of Chief Brody’s attractive and ever supportive wife Gary was an appealing background presence in her two previous appearances in the series. However, this time around she makes for an aging, unappealing and poorly characterised female lead. Somewhere in the gap between Jaws 2 and this film the character of Ellen Brody has transformed into an over protective and domineering middle aged mother and grandmother who seems to be constantly teetering on the edge of complete hysteria. The misjudged characterisation is compounded by the fact that Gary is resolutely unconvincing in her role. Some have suggested that Gary’s top billing and central role were awarded to her as a result of nepotism and in all honesty it is hard not to agree. Lorraine Gary is the wife of Sidney Sheinberg who was at the time the President and Chief Operating officer of Universal’s parent company MCA Inc. As Gary had not undertaken any other acting roles in the eight years between Jaws: The Revenge and her last prior acting appearance in Steven Spielberg’s WWII comedy flop 1941 (1979) it is widely believed that Sheinberg pulled strings in order to secure her starring role. It is worth noting that Sheinberg had also previously caused creative problems during the pre production of Jaws 2 when he began unsuccessfully manoeuvring to have a more active role written for Gary’s character of Ellen which would see her actively involved in the combating of the shark. Following the failure of Jaws: The Revenge Lorraine Gary would resume her retirement and has not appeared in any film or television roles since.
Gary also receives poor support from a Lance Guest in the role of Ellen’s grown up marine biologist son Michael. In addition to sporting one of the most hideous beard and mullet combinations in recent cinematic history totally fails to convince in the role. An attempt is made to cast Michael Brody as the voice of reason. As his mother insists that the shark “came for Sean” and implores Michael to give up his marine biologist job before he becomes the next victim Michael insists that the. This friction between mother ands son could potentially have added a modicum of tension to the ridiculous plot but unfortunately Guest and Lorraine Gary have absolutely zero onscreen chemistry and despite the early promise he displayed in films such as Halloween II (1981) and The Last Starfighter (1984) it must be said that his performance here is poor at best. In fairness however it must be said that in a film where the writers seem hell-bent on making everyone involved look foolish Guest suffers more than most. A good case in point are the unintentionally hilarious scenes in which Michael disapproves and pouts over his mothers budding relationship with carefree pilot Hoagie which only serve to make his character appear petulant and unsympathetic. Indeed the screenplays preoccupation with familial drama often leaves Jaws: The Revenge resembling a tedious, poorly written soap opera with the shark merely serving as a background presence until the final twenty minutes.
A lot of the critical mockery heaped on Jaws: The Revenge tends to centre around the supporting performance of the legendary Michael Caine who appears as the kindly, good humoured pilot Hoagie who becomes romantically involved with Ellen as the film progresses. Some critics – in particular Roger Ebert – also bemoaned the fact that Caine was unable to attend the 1987 Oscar ceremony in person where he was awarded the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance in the Woody Allen romantic comedy Hannah And Her Sisters due to the fact that the date of the ceremony clashed with his shooting schedule for this film. Whatever problems and weaknesses <>i>Jaws: The Revenge may suffer from Caine’s performance – to his credit – is certainly not one of them. In fact Caine’s presence is one of the films redeeming features as he brings a welcome mixture of compassion and irreverent humour to the character of Hoagie. Caine is clearly having fun in the role and not taking the script too seriously. The same could also be said of Mario Van Peebles who also shines as Michael’s laid back Bahamian research partner Jake. Van Peebles, as with Caine, seems to approach the turgid excuse for a script with good humour and genuine enthusiasm which is enough to make Jake the films most readily likeable protagonist. The same sadly cannot be said for the grating presence of Ellen’s irritatingly sweet granddaughter Thea played by the late Judith Barsi. I hope I will be forgiven for saying so but I have to admit that the combination of Barsi’s shrill whine and her supposedly “cute” but in actuality just intolerably sickly interaction with her adult co-stars left me praying that little Thea would be served up as shark food. Tragically poor Judith Barsi would be dead within a year of the films release, murdered along with her mother by Judith’s abusive, alcoholic father Jozsef Barsi who resented his young daughters growing success as a child actress.
While he will perhaps never shake off the stigma of being the director and producer of Jaws: The Revenge it should be pointed out in the interest of critical fairness that Joseph Sargent is a fairly capable filmmaker whose credits in prior years include the classic crime thriller The Taking Of Pelham One Two Three (1974), the acclaimed military biopic MacArthur (1977) and the reasonable horror anthology Nightmares (1983). Sargent does try and partially succeed in injecting a touch of quality and excitement, of course it is all for nought in service of such a dreadful screenplay, but in fairness Sargent – with the assistance of some excellent underwater photography – does manage to pull off a couple of modestly effective set pieces. By far the best of these is a tight and genuinely hair-raising extended chase sequence in which Michael whilst diving is attacked in his motorised submersible by the shark which then proceeds to pursue him relentlessly across the seabed and through the remnants of a sunken shipwreck. This is an excellent edge of the seat set piece by any standard and one worthy of inclusion in a much better film than this. Another later scene in which the shark attacks a group of children (including young Thea) and parents onboard an inflatable banana boat gorily devouring one hapless young mother in the process also makes for a genuinely effective shock. Sadly even Sargent eventually ends up adding to the prevailing ineptitude by handling the films finale in a laughably incompetent fashion. Indeed the inevitable death of the shark which sees the fish exploding after being rammed by the prow of the Brody’s boat is so badly shot and sloppily edited that it is actually very hard to discern what has happened or what exactly has made the shark suddenly explode. It should however, be pointed out that this was not actually the original ending and was in actual fact the result of a re-shoot which was ordered after Sargent’s original ending encountered a negative reaction from test audiences. The originally shot ending was actually markedly better and saw the shark dying after being bloodily impaled on the prow of the boat as opposed to inexplicably exploding. The original ending also differs in that it sees Jake being killed by the shark whereas in the re-shot ending he improbably survives the attack. It is said that test audiences generally reported that they liked Jake and were disappointed to see him killed off at the finale so executives ordered that Jake was to escape with his life in the new ending. Unfortunately all the DVD releases of the film to date feature the re-shot ending; however the print of the film used for the films regular British television screenings by the BBC does usually feature the superior original ending featuring Jake’s death and the shark’s gory impalement.
With its unfathomably silly central premise of a “vengeful” shark coupled with an absolute dog of a screenplay, lousy characterisation, largely poor performances, bungled set pieces and a blatantly plastic shark Jaws: The Revenge cheerfully lives up to its now legendary reputation as a truly terrible sequel and one of the most willfully stupid and inept motion pictures ever made with the backing of a major studio. However, maybe I am just a forgiving soul but I do have to concede that I found Jaws: The Revenge to be actually rather compelling in that amusingly backwards manner that really awful movies sometimes are. If nothing else Jaws: The Revenge certainly cannot be accused of being dull and definitely offers those looking purely for mindless killer shark thrills more bang for their buck than what its competent but dull immediate predecessor Jaws 3-D does. In all honesty I really cannot go so far as to hail a film as totally incompetent in terms of both its concept and execution as a guilty pleasure, but I think it is safe to say that bad movie lovers and insomniacs with lax standards may find in Jaws: The Revenge a certain perverse, trashy entertainment value. My advice to everyone else however is to steer well clear of this twenty-four carat turd of a sequel and watch either the classic original Jaws or the really rather good Jaws 2 again instead.
Also Try… Jaws / Jaws 2 / Jaws 3-D / The Last Shark / Devouring Waves / Cruel Jaws / Tintorera… Killer Shark / Piranha II: The Spawning / Tentacles.
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