What more could be said in yet another article about Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece of cinema JAWS? As well, our very own Ryan Doom examined the underappreciated gem that was JAWS 2. For me, the two films took the very primeval terror of a great white shark and made for two of the most watched movies in my personal collection. And since we are now entering summer, it is my favorite time to re-visit the two films as I do every year. From John Williams incredible score to the perfect performance from leading man Roy Scheider, the love I have for both is immense. Of course nothing beats the original, but the Jeannot Szwarc directed sequel also holds up as one of my all-time favorites.
The very nature of the shark from JAWS swimming just below the surface still scares the crap out of me every time I go in the water. So how can a concept work so well, yet thus far find itself nearly impossible to recapture on film? Within this very franchise, the following two sequels, JAWS 3-D in 1983 and JAWS: THE REVENGE in 1987 got progressively worse. By the time the shark was following Chief Brody’s widow Ellen (Lorraine Gary) to the Bahamas, it was a mess that even the great Michael Caine couldn’t bring to life. Shark attacks are still a viable fear in our culture, so what happened to the sheer dread the original flick scared audiences with?
With the success of JAWS, a number of other aquatic thrills and chills were presented with mixed results. Whether it was a massive octopus in TENTACLES or killer whales in the better than decent ORCA – both films released in 1977 – the unknown horrors of the ocean were commonplace in film. That same year, TINTORERA: KILLER SHARK featured another deadly menace in between R-rated soft core sex amongst the film’s stars. At least that movie – which disturbingly features the killing of real life animals – tried (ineffectively) to do something a little different. In 1981, the JAWS rip off THE LAST SHARK (aka GREAT WHITE) played so close to the formula that Universal’s legal staff successfully had the film removed from theatres.
Over the years a number of directors endeavored to recreate what Spielberg had mastered with mixed results. In 1999 Thomas Jane and Saffron Burrows – as well as Samuel L. Jackson – fought off genetically altered sharks in Renny Harlin’s DEEP BLUE SEA. The film offered a sense of fun with its ridiculous concept but only a hint of suspense. The highlight was probably Ms. Burrows in her underwear – and possibly Jackson’s laugh-out-loud demise. However, the sense of anxiety that the powerful creatures once brought is nowhere to be found. The same can be said with the 2003 “true story” OPEN WATER. While the sharks seem uncomfortably close to the actors, the mediocre performances from the two leads leave much to be desired. Ultimately it was a good concept with only a couple of intense moments.
After years of taking sharks seriously, audiences began to see a shift in the way they were portrayed on-screen. With straight-to-video fare such as the SHARK ATTACK series – including the so bad its good SHARK ATTACK 3: MEGALODON – to MEGA SHARK VS. GIANT OCTOPUS, the subject seemed to get sillier and about as far from scary as you can get. The Asylum and the SyFy Channel created a whole new world inhabited by 2-Headed Sharks, Dino Sharks and even Sand Sharks, until finally leading up to the ultimate culmination of over-the-top entertainment with SHARKNADO. Sure these flicks are fun to watch but have they lessened the fright once brought to the big screen? Are we desensitized by spending too much time watching JERSEY SHORE SHARK ATTACK?
Recently, two features attempted to bring sharks to their former glory. Both THE REEF (2010) and BAIT (2012) presented the man-eaters as a viable threat. The Australian made movies shifted away from the joke, and once again made them a force to be reckoned with. While neither film is perfect, they at the very least attempted to bring a shiver or two as a great white shark stalks its prey waiting for the right moment to strike. And then there is MEG – based on the novel by Steve Alten – the one we’ve been waiting for to take a bite out of multiplexes. Unfortunately this gigantic shark flick has long been in development hell. And even if we do ultimately witness it on-screen can it possibly come close to the original – and still the best – 1975 man-vs-nature classic?
Maybe it’s the booze talkin’, but can Hollywood take killer sharks seriously again? With various jagged teeth and fins swimming through Asylum flicks in wild and wacky forms, it is hard to imagine another incredible work of cinema coming remotely close to the greatness of JAWS. Sure THE REEF and BAIT offer a refreshingly scary take on the impressive creatures, but it seems impossible that we will ever see a successful big budget motion picture about a great white. For all of us shark fans, we may have to get our fix from “Shark Week” on the Discovery Channel. Or simply consume and enjoy the upcoming SHARKNADO 2: THE SECOND ONE.