C'mon Hollywood: Are you afraid to get back in the water with Jaws?
Steven Spielberg and Peter Benchley have pretty much ruined the experience of swimming in the ocean for me, a fear which is perpetuated every year with Shark Week and/or Googling shark attack. JAWS is widely regarded as the “father of the summer blockbuster” and is firmly embedded in popular culture, especially the haunting theme by John Williams and iconic movie poster. It launched Spielberg’s career (after a very troubled production), sold millions of books, and put the fear of being eaten alive in the mindset of beachgoers everywhere.
The film is regarded as a classic and is constantly revisited and examined in documentaries, celebrations, and home video releases that continue to cement the film in the next generation’s awareness. There were three sequels to JAWS, each of them sinking lower to the ocean floor in quality. Arguably, the second film, released in 1978, is the most consistent with the first, but the last two are nearly unrecognizable in terms of execution. JAWS 3D was one of the first “gimmick” films, playing up the use of the old school 3D, famously showing the shark crash through a glass window underwater, which was kind of epic for 1983. Then, there was 1987’s JAWS: THE REVENGE, one of the most asinine low budget sequels ever produced for an established property.
The JAWS franchise stuck primarily to the Brody family as the protagonists fighting against the shark. Roy Scheider portrayed Chief Brody in the first and second films, with Dennis Quaid playing his grown son, Michael, in the third, and then Lance Guest stepping into the role for the fourth. Ultimately, the Brody’s have been the “cursed” family fighting off the offspring of the first shark through four films, which can make for a good argument to never go to the beach again. Ever. And, so it seems, Hollywood has done just that for the franchise.
According to BACK TO THE FUTURE: PART 2 we should be watching JAWS 19 by 2015, but at the rate they’re going there’s quite a bit of catching up to do. So, the question is, can Hollywood return to the JAWS franchise or is it unapproachable? Would fans revolt or rejoice? And if they were to entertain the notion, how would they approach it? Reboot, reimagining, or something entirely new?
JAWS-like shark films have been turned into a joke throughout the years, especially with the low-rent creature features commonly shown on the Syfy channel, like DINO SHARK, MEGA SHARK VS. CROCOSAURUS, and of course MALIBU SHARK ATTACK. It’s hard to take the “menace” of a shark attack seriously when movies like that are floating around out there.
There have been a few serious, if not cheeky, attempts to capture the terror of a great white people eater, with Renny Harlin’s DEEP BLUE SEA, OPEN WATER, SHARK NIGHT, and a few others. Mostly, though, the shark attack films that have followed in the wake of the first JAWS have failed to capture the spirit, terror, and mythical motifs of the story, instead opting for gore-inspired shock and hollow characters that serve as bait more so than protagonists to root for.
So, is it too late for a JAWS revival? Is the 1975 film the gold standard that can never be replicated? I don’t think so. In fact, I think that there’s plenty of room to carry on the franchise in a way that pays homage to the original concept and carries it in a new direction. How can it be done? Well, that’s a loaded question and one that would require a lot of thought and careful consideration.
Here’s a few ideas to chew on (all puns in this article are intended, by the way):
- Continue the Brody family legacy: Keep it in the family in terms of who is fighting the shark. With Chief Brody’s surviving son, Michael, being an oceanographer, it would be a smooth transition to have him training his son/daughter in the field, haunted by the great white curse, potentially preparing his own kids to battle another threat
- Take a look at the shark’s origin: We know almost nothing about the shark. It’s more of a metaphoric threat than an actual one. Where does it come from? Why does it hunger for humans? What does it want? Is it just an aimless killing machine or is it really targeting specific people? There’s a lot of room for exploration there.
- It’s about fear, not gore and effects: The tendency is to make a gimmicky spectacle out of a shark attack film, but the thing that made the original JAWS so great was the anxiety, fear, and mythical/literary allure of the story. It’s a man vs. nature story at its best, not underwater gore porn in 3D with really snazzy special effects.
I’m sure there are plenty of other ideas out there that would fit the mold. However, it’s been 26 years since that familiar haunting theme has been heard anew and while I regard the original film as a classic, I’d still like to see the story continue and get a sequel that can match the tone of the original, a feat not yet accomplished.
What do you think? Could JAWS swim again?
|Extra Tidbit:||What do you think is the best non-Jaws shark movie?|