By 1987, there weren’t too many film franchises that had ever reached a fourth installment. Planet of the Apes. Rocky. James Bond. That’s about it.
“Sequel” was still a dirty word. It was nearly impossible to make them come off as anything short of a shameless money grab. And Jaws already had two shameless money grabs to its name.
And the last one didn’t grab all that much money. But it managed to turn a profit.
That profit was enough to keep the door open.
Or rather, keep the beaches open.
As the Jaws series wears on, the amount of behind-the-scenes information greatly dwindles. And that’s a real shame. As we’ll see, this movie begs a lot of questions that demand answers. But there won’t be many. After some research, I’ve compiled as many accounts of the people involved as possible, and filled in blanks with necessary assumptions.
No matter what really happened, we have the movie to watch as evidence that the project was damned to the depths of so-bad-it’s-good hell before a camera ever rolled.
Lorraine Gary had some rough days after Jaws and Jaws 2. Her role of Mrs. Ellen Brody is almost inarguably her most famous. And that was a big problem.
Shareholders of Universal called into question if she was overpaid on both films just because her husband was Sid Sheinberg, the then-president of MCA Universal.
Cries of nepotism followed her ever since. The messy allegations drove her to therapy and an early retirement at the age of 42.
Her last film role was in Steven Spielberg’s 1941 (1979), the filmmaker’s first critical miss. While it still made money at the end of the day, it was seen as an overly busy and loud comedy from a director who should stick to thrillers. While by no means a hidden classic, it’s worth watching for its novelty and I may look at it in the future.
Naturally, Jaws 3D came and went, featuring none of the original cast and a ludicrous divergence from the series’ standard setting and structure.
The year after, the 3D resurgence died miserably. So there would be no Jaws 3D 2, as hilariously confusing as that title would’ve been.
Any news about another Jaws sequel went silent.
The shark, it had seemed, left Amity.
Until December 1986. In an announcement tucked away in the small print of a trade magazine, it was announced that Lorraine Gary would be reprising her role in what was then called “Jaws ’87’ and would be taking on the shark herself. And the most promising news was that the script was already finished. It was to be the debut of a first-time screenwriter.
His name was Sid Sheinberg.
Suddenly her nepotism concerns vanished.
But you’ll notice the working title was “Jaws ’87.” And the first draft was finished in December of 1986. That leaves a year for further drafts, which could reach over 20 on any given blockbuster, assigning production roles, the actual production, including wrangling another mechanical shark, and post-production. That, simply put, is almost impossible.
Well Sid Sheinberg didn’t want to do it either – he wanted it done by summer.
And the man to direct this hellishly paced production was Joseph Sargent.
Out of all the directors of the Jaws sequels (Jeannot Szwarc, Joe Alves and now Sargent), he’s easily the most qualifed with an impressive resume. Sargent is most famous for directing The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974), an excellent thriller featuring Robert Shaw (Quint) which was poorly remade by Tony Scott in 2009, and MacArthur (1977), a biopic of the famous general.
But the other directors seemed to need a big movie under their belt. They couldn’t let a Jaws sequel pass by. Why did Sargent take the dumbest of them all?
In an interview with Sargent for the Boston Herald, the director recounts getting a call from Sheinberg in September of 1986:
“I didn’t have time to laugh because Sid explained he wanted to do a quality picture about human beings. When he told me, ‘It’s your baby, you produce and direct,’ I accepted.”
Even with the nine-month race to the release date, he agreed. But why?
That’s a damn good deal. It’s nearly impossible to get any sort of job in Hollywood, even with a solid track record, and the option to produce and direct a huge tentpole sequel is almost unprecedented.
So he accepted. How much control he had is up for debate.
On one hand, he received proper credit for it and a writer who wasn’t Sid Sheinberg was credited as the writer. But by that same token, Sheinberg carefully removed his name from the whole production.
And no director, no matter how rebellious, would want to tangle with the president of one of the biggest studios in town while making a blockbuster sequel starring said president’s wife.
So I suspect that Sheinberg had a substantial hand in controlling how things progressed. Considering he had a month of production and several million dollars worth of momentum on Jaws 2 flushed down the toilet because his wife wasn’t given a big enough role, I would not rule this out.
But with most of the pre-production conflicts, this is unconfirmed and likely unconfirmable.
However, something fishy runs through the scripting of Jaws ’87. The original posting in the trades listed Sheinberg as the writer. A later article in the LA Times in February of 1987 suggested that Sargent hired writer Michael Guzman to come up with a story idea.
Guzman, for the sake of being thorough, had experience in writing TV and TV movies, not unlike most of the filmmakers involved with the Jaws series.
And no disrespect to him, but it still doesn’t seem like the story idea was his. What I’d reckon happened is that Sheinberg had the story idea, he told Sargent, Sheinberg wrote the script as Sargent recruited people and got the shark effects in motion, and once the script was finished, Sargent hired Guzman to rewrite and polish it as necessary.
This theory partially stems from giving Sargent the benefit of the doubt. He’s obviously helmed some great films. And while every director’s career includes some duds, the catastrophe that is Jaws: The Revenge seems impossibly out of character. It feels like someone’s fan script for a Jaws sequel that somehow got through quality control and any sort of rewrite. Almost like a first-time writer who had some sort of power to bypass the system. Like a president.
This is all making inferences. Maybe Sargent was responsible for the concept or maybe Guzman. In which case, there’s no excusing the mess that resulted. But it sure smells like Sheinberg was the man behind Jaws: The Revenge.
But to whomever’s credit it belongs, they managed to get a solid cast.
Michael Caine wasn’t hurting for work. In fact, in an anecdote that’s gone down in infamy, he couldn’t accept his Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for Woody Allen’s Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) because he was busy reshooting the ending of Jaws: The Revenge.
So why did he take the job? A paid vacation. As soon as he saw it was set in the tropics, he signed right up. It helped that he was a great admirer of the first Jaws and wanted to be a part of the franchise.
Mario Van Peebles was no slouch himself. Son of (in)famous filmmaker Melvin Van Peebles, he’d appeared in high-profile pictures like Heartbreak Ridge (1987) and The Cotton Club (1984).
Even Lance Guest, who would pick up the role of Mike Brody from Dennis Quaid in Jaws 3D, had a solid line of work to his name. He’d scored starring roles in Halloween II (1981) and The Last Starfighter (1984).
Obviously Lorraine Gary was set to return, but the movie also called for three familiar faces. The most tragic was that of Murray Hamilton, the wonderfully smarmy mayor from the first two films. He was signed on to return for a cameo during the Amity portion, but unfortunately he passed away mere weeks before filming was to begin. Both Roy Scheider and Richard Dreyfuss were approached to make appearances. Scheider, as with Jaws 3D, turned them down. Had he agreed to appear, Chief Brody would’ve showed up at the beginning of the picture only to be killed by the latest shark. Not exactly a dignified end for the Chief. Dreyfuss would’ve showed up via a phone call to offer his condolences to Mrs. Brody over the death of her husband (or son, in the final film). Interestingly, he was referenced in Jaws 2 as just having called Mrs. Brody, so it almost seems like an intended callback.
Intended, failed comebacks. Remember that.
With a budgetary step-up from Jaws 3D, going from $20 million to $23 million, Jaws: The Revenge went into production.
And it was a blazingly fast wreck.
Seven mechanical sharks were built, including those that were just a single body part like fins. And pretty much none of them worked. While the sharks worked comparatively well in Jaws 3D which filmed in a controlled lake, they didn’t like returning to the ocean.
This isn’t to mention the fact that the designers had to start building them before they had any script, so they had no idea what feats the sharks might need to pull off.
When the shark wasn’t malfunctioning on camera, the actors were hustled through the day’s shoots, chasing the film’s deadline. The movie’s de facto leading man, Lance Guest, never had a day off. He was either filming on land with the other actors or getting the underwater sequences done with the second unit.
It was a mad dash. And it worked.
On July 17th, 1987, Jaws: The Revenge was unleashed on audiences.
How was it?
That’s a dumb question; you already know the answer.
Let’s get into it.
Jaws: The Revenge opens in good ol’ Amity. Admittedly, I was glad to see it again. While that pretty much guarantees the film will be recycling some of the charm and scenery of the original, it’s at least a welcome return.
Ellen Brody isn’t in the best of shape and she hasn’t been since her husband died of a heart attack.
We just got started and we need to stop for a moment. I get that they had to deal with the absence of Roy Scheider. But 3D already circumvented that. If they wanted to stay in the Brody lineage, just go with the kids. You might be thinking that it’d be far too convenient for sharks to attack Mike and Sean Brody again after Jaws 3D, but this movie ignores that one anyways.
But all this is moot because this movie was made for one reason only. Or should I say one person: Lorraine Gary.
But by handling his death the way they did, it comes off as a sloppy insult. Martin Brody, the killer of two Great White sharks, dies of a heart attack. Off-screen. And you want to know what reason the movie gives? Fear of sharks. Yup. They imply it’s because he had so much stress about running into another one.
This is great satire, but in no way intended – the franchise killed him.
Great White sharks kept showing up and it always came down to him to blow them up or fry them. It was almost laughably convenient and coincidental. It was the stuff of bad movies (*COUGH*), but it kept happening. The fear of another shark, of another sequel, killed him.
It’s funny, I think. But this movie isn’t a comedy. At least not on purpose. So they just threw him under the bus so Lorraine Gary could be fragile for most of the picture.
But she’s living with her son, Sean Brody, and his wife. As I said, this movie ignores the last one, so Mike and Sean never worked at SeaWorld and they’re in totally different lines of work.
Sid Sheinberg actually made sure this film ignored Jaws 3D because he thought the latter was a really bad movie. You should be laughing right now.
But anyway, Sean is a cop like his dad. And he’s sent out to fix a buoy in the bay. But lo, there’s something in the water, and it isn’t Quint’s somehow-still-alive upper half.
Sean reaches in and a Great White lunges up, tearing his arm off.
Aaaaand the nastiness is back. As I’ve said with Jaws 2 and 3D, all the deaths are made as grisly and tasteless as possible. The original Jaws wasn’t that gruesome. Moments of blood and gore were used responsibly enough to be shocking when they arrived. But this sequel shows no such restraint.
Because Sean doesn’t just die. Oh no.
He falls back into his tiny boat, now armless and gushing blood. He panics, as a newly armless person tends to do, and yells for help. But a group of Christmas carolers on shore drown out his cries.
Admittedly, it’s startling. There’s an uneasy dissonance between him bleeding out, a shark circling, and the joyous carolers ringing in the season, ensuring his death. But it doesn’t feel like a Jaws scene or a Jaws death scene, for that matter. It’s queasy. It’s cruel. It belongs in a slasher.
So Sean just sits there for a while, reaching for his arm that’s never there, and the shark pretty much eats his boat, dragging him down with it.
And we’re off.
Ellen is a wreck. But instead of just letting her be a wreck, the movie inserts the first of many gaping, stupid plot holes.
She believes the shark did it on purpose. Out of spite. Or revenge.
Suddenly Jaws: The Revenge makes a whole lot more sense. And none at all.
This movie forces you to believe one of two assumptions – either this is the same shark from the first movie and it somehow survived being blown up, or this shark is merely related to that one and can operate on complex human motivations like revenge. The first is ludicrous, but it makes sense then that this shark would have a vendetta against the Brodys. And I can’t believe I just typed that. The second is what I think the movie really suggests, that this shark is just mad that Chief Brody killed two of its kin. I’m not saying this is smart or approving of it in any way, I’m just saying buckle in because it’s only going to get worse.
So this shark wants revenge on the Brody family for the Chief killing two other sharks. This would suggest that it set a trap at the messed up buoy to lure Sean. What if another cop had shown up? Would it just wait and try again, like some sort of aquatic ding-dong ditch?
Whatever its plan, Ellen is consoled by (remaining) family and friends. Surprisingly there are cameos by background players from the first Jaws movie. Look for Mrs. Kintner, the woman who slapped Chief Brody in the original for not closing the beaches and letting her son die.
Alright we need to stop again. I’m all for letting bygones be bygones, but in the original she believed beyond a shadow of a doubt that Brody killed her son, in essence. Why in the hell would she be good friends with his wife? That doesn’t make any sense when compared to the original.
Remember what I said about failed callbacks?
So Ellen packs up and leaves for the Bahamas, where her other son and our hero, Mike, works as a marine biologist.
There she meets the real cast. Michael Caine plays a character named Hoagie. My best guess is that this was an attempt to play off the one-memorable-name of Quint. Here’s the thing – Quint sounds cool; Hoagie is a sandwich.
But in all honesty he’s one of the best things about the movie. He seems to be enjoying himself on his paid vacation.
He’s a freelancing pilot for the island and its environs. When asked what he does besides fly people he says “deliver laundry.” The novelization of the movie fleshes out almost everything about it, including this throwaway line. Hoagie was supposed to be a pilot who transports drugs and laundered money for mysterious clients. My question is how, if that made it into the movie, were we supposed to really root for this guy? That’s like if they threw into the original that Quint poached whales in his spare time.
She also meets Jake (Mario Van Peebles). He works with Mike and is the worst Jamaican caricature you’ve ever seen. Or heard, I suppose.
Pretty quickly, Ellen tries to convince Mike that he has to get a job on land because of the vengeful sharks about. Now imagine, if you will, that your mom comes to you, a successful marine biologist, and makes the same request.
Wouldn’t you be the least bit concerned for her mental health?
Instead, Mike just goes back out on his boat with Jake. Wouldn’t you know it, a shark tries to eat them. But wait. This is no ordinary shark. It’s the same shark that killed his brother.
How do we know?
Because Ellen is now psychic and just knows it is.
I’m not joking.
Let’s think about this. The shark arrived the day after Ellen did. It’s around 1400 miles from New England (Amity) to the Bahamas. Most planes travel around 600 mph. That means her flight (not including layovers) would be about 2 1/2 hours.
Sharks swim about 1.5 mph. That means it would take about 934 hours. That’s over a month.
The shark would’ve had to be swimming at around 60 mph to make it to the Bahamas within the day.
I don’t think I need to explain any further how stupid this is.
But anyway, Mike declines to tell her about the impossibly fast shark and life goes on.
A romance develops between Hoagie and Ellen. It’s pretty low-quality romantic banter and it’s horribly cheesy at times how nervous Ellen gets because of a new guy, but the biggest problem is Chief Brody. While I know he’s dead and Scheider wouldn’t come back if you paid him Fort Knox, there’s a melancholy to Hoagie and Ellen because you know he’s essentially replacing the Chief. Hoagie is a likable character, but he’s a drug-smuggling, washout pilot. He’s no Chief Brody.
In the mean time, Mike amusingly grills Jake about Hoagie, making sure he’s not dangerous for his mom. It’s so amusing you almost won’t notice how little the shark appears in this movie.
It’s a big problem. In the original Jaws you didn’t see the shark all the time (and that’s part of its legendary appeal), but you saw effects of it. Aftermaths of its attacks. The dock being dragged out to sea and back. Ben Gardner’s head.
Here, you sometimes forget you’re watching a Jaws movie. Outside of Ellen’s psychic visions and nightmares of the shark, it’s easy to mistake it for a romantic comedy set in the tropics.
Also, Ellen has visions and nightmares of the shark.
Moving on, Mike goes back out on his boat and explores a shipwreck. I doubt this is an homage to Jaws 3D, so that means it’s just unoriginal. And wouldn’t you know it – the shark arrives, somehow slipping through holes in the wreck that Mike can hardly squeeze past.
And I’d like to take a minute now to say something about the shark. It looks bad. Probably the worst in the series, besides the 3D effect shark in the last movie. It looks hastily thrown together (because it is) and discolored. Instead of the natural gray of the original, it looks like a mixture of muddy browns. I believe this is because of a problem with the artificial skins and the water, but that doesn’t excuse anything considering there were three other movies to learn from. But fear not, the shark will look worse.
Once escaping, because they weren’t about to kill the hero this soon, Mike and Jake decide to plant a tracking device on the shark. Their original project was researching conch shells, but Jake convinces Mike this is much more interesting. I love movies where the heroes get involved out of boredom. But again, they say nothing to Ellen.
Everything seems to be going well until Mike’s wife has a public unveiling of her sculpture. Mike’s family isn’t given a whole lot of fleshing out, but his wife is a sculptor and his daughter is cute. That’s all you need to know.
The mayor of the city is there to commemorate the sculpture. Everyone’s kids are out on a banana boat playing. What could possibly-
Ellen has a vision. The shark’s out there.
And it attacks. It’s a limp homage to the beach scenes in the original. Even though Mike’s daughter is on the boat, you never really feel like she’s in danger. Sure, someone else on the boat dies, but the way it’s shot and edited, there’s no tension.
Another common theme.
But naturally Ellen is furious at her son for not telling her.
So she does the rational thing – steals his boat and decides to kill the shark to save her family.
Let’s stop again. I get that she’s supposed to be the hero. But notice I’ve been calling Mike the hero. And this is specifically why – he’s the most capable and trained of anyone here.
We never even see Ellen Brody in the water in any of the movies. Mike, by contrast, is a marine biologist. If anyone would have a chance against a shark it’s him.
But this movie wants us to think that Ellen is doing what she absolutely must. We’re supposed to root for her. Instead we just feel bad because she has no experience (that we’ve seen) with the water or sharks.
Fortunately Ellen told Hoagie that she thinks the shark is after her family so he knows where she probably went. Also he apparently doesn’t find this woman insane for accusing a shark of wanting revenge.
So Hoagie flies Mike and Jake out to sea, looking for Ellen and the boat. Once they find her, they land on the water.
The shark then eats Hoagie’s plane. Mike and Jake swim to the boat. Hoagie goes down with his ship, only to appear a couple seconds later when he climbs onboard.
That’s fine; we like Hoagie.
Once everyone’s on the ship, the shark comes a calling.
Mike and Jake hatch a plot to throw explosives in its mouth. Smart guys, these two.
So they bombard the shark with electromagnetic impulses, which annoy it to no end.
Now comes one of the movie’s most famous nuggets of absurdity.
When the shark breaches the water, it roars.
So now we have a super-fast, roaring shark. Now it makes sense. This isn’t an ordinary shark out for revenge, it’s the next evolution of shark that has vocal chords, impeccable speed and the capacity for complex emotions.
Sadly, that fills a lot of plot holes.
But eventually the shark gets close enough to the boat so Jake throws the bomb in its mouth.
Until he gets eaten. Yup. Wouldn’t be a Jaws movie unless someone gets eaten just before the end.
Here’s where things get dicey. Well. Dicier.
Everyone goes into slow-motion, bemoaning the loss of the fair Jake. And it’s really bad slow-motion. I haven’t mentioned all the instances of it, but this movie loves slow-motion. But not the kind that’s filmed at a slower speed so it looks smooth. They made a lot of normal speed footage slower in post, making it choppy and cheap.
But the situation speeds up again and Mike keeps hitting the shark with impulses when Ellen takes the wheel.
She drives/steers the boat right for the shark. And she has flashbacks to the ending of the first Jaws. She hears her husband say those immortal words, “Smile you son-of-a-(explosion).”
Unfortunately for her, there was nobody around to hear him say that. It was him, a shark and miles of open ocean. She had psychic flashbacks to scenes she was never in.
So the shark jumps straight up, perfectly in line with the stern and she spears it in the side, so it-
She spears the shark in the side with a wooden boat and it explodes. I assume they want us to think Mike detonated the explosives or maybe the boat struck them, but none of that’s comfortably conveyed.
In fact, this isn’t the original ending. The shark was supposed to rear up, get stabbed and then writhe around, dying and hauling the boat down with it. Then the heroes would swim away, victorious.
The original ending has even been seen on TV broadcasts (it’s significantly less bloody) and is equally as available as the final, stupid ending.
But because they had to reshoot the ending (which is what kept Caine from accepting his Academy Award), they had to stage the shark getting speared and exploding. And that costs money. They could build another fake shark, stuff it with explosives, shoot it on the water tank at Universal and really do it right.
Or they could do this.
That’s a frame before the explosion. It cuts almost directly from this to stock footage of blood in the water from the original Jaws. And it couldn’t look worse.
This is something I’d be ashamed to do on a movie I made for no budget, let alone a Jaws sequel. But there it is, for all to see.
So the ship sinks and the heroes swim. It’s clear as day that they’re not in the ocean but in fact the Universal backlot’s pool. The water changes wildly from natural green to mini-golf blue. And also you can see the painted backdrop, where the world ends. But there has to be one last slap in the face to the audience. As they’re swimming away, they happen upon Jake who’s alive and well. Or at least alive.
I don’t even want to point out why that’s a meaningless epilogue. In the original version, he was supposed to stay dead, which actually would’ve meant something. In the end what was learned? The shark didn’t kill anyone in the Bahamas that the Brodys really knew. In fact, it only killed two people in the entire movie. I don’t think the overkill of the last two movies is a better alternative, but this is a pretty toothless shark.
Then again, it only wanted revenge on the Brodys.
And that’s the movie.
It’s really bad.
The only compliment I can give it is this – it’s more interestingly bad than Jaws 3D. That was just mediocre. This is insane. You’ll think you’re watching a fever dream at times. It is one of those watchably bad movies.
No scene shows just how far it misses the mark than the after dinner scene with Mike and his daughter. It’s a quiet scene, thankfully, where Mike runs through a series of unconscious gestures, like scratching his nose and such. Meanwhile, his daughter mimics his every move. He notices and then makes her mimic ever goofier expressions, much to her delight. It’s cute. It shows the bond between them. Then Ellen sees and notes how it’s just like his dad and him.
This scene isn’t an homage. It’s a rip-off. In the original Jaws, Martin sits at the dinner table, thinking about the shark and how to handle it. His son sits next to him and does the same thing. Sure enough, the small one imitate the big one, then the big one takes note and gets goofy. It’s understated and a great character moment for Brody and his son. But this was his younger son, Sean. So are we to believe Mike did the same exact thing? It makes sense that Sean would do it, seeing as how he even ended up as a cop. But this very deliberate callback doesn’t make sense within the context of the movie, doesn’t make sense as a callback and just makes you want to watch the earlier movies instead. Thought it should be noted that they at least cut in parts of the original scene so you know what you’re supposed to be feeling this time.
This movie can’t win. If it does something original, it fails. If it references something else, that something is assuredly better.
Interestingly, it was supposed to make more sense in earlier drafts. The novelization provides clues as to the original plot. It’s quite similar, but with the crucial difference that a voodoo witch doctor casts a curse on the Brodys, inspiring the shark to come after them.
Is that dumb? Oh hell yes it is. But it’s a more reasonable explanation than a psychically linked, superfast shark that wants vengeance. That plot was reportedly cut because it distracted from the shark too much, but I don’t see how. The shark’s hardly in the movie as it is.
Somehow I’d recommend this more than Jaws 3D. At least it tried to do something outside the box, something with the established characters. Sargent mentioned in interviews that they wanted to add a mysticism to the shark, which is something. Jaws 3D just slapped familiar names on mannequins and fed them to a shark. This one gets some credit for effort, but a far worse grade for the actual outcome.
The actors all perform admirably considering the circumstances. Gary, accusations of nepotism and all, does a fine job with what she’s given. But there’s just no saving the sinking ship. Sargent handles the quiet scenes decently, but the shark action is hardly action at all. Michael Small’s score is surprisingly solid but what does it matter in a picture like this?
So how did it do with audiences?
Critics would’ve burned down theaters to stop it from spreading to anyone else’s eyes if they could’ve. It managed a 0% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, meaning not a single professional critic gave it a positive review.
Compare that to the original film’s 100%.
Audiences, however, weren’t quite as angry. The film managed to more than double its $23 million budget at the box office, coming in just over $50 million worldwide.
But for once, critical response outweighed dollar signs.
There would be no Jaws V. The Revenge managed to sour the series’ once lofty reputation. At least for a while.
Thankfully, now almost thirty years removed from Jaws: The Revenge, and most people don’t even realize there were sequels to Jaws. The original stands as one of the all-time-greatest blockbusters. As it should.
But what most people don’t realize is that there was another Jaws sequel, if not in name.
It would come almost 20 years after the original Jaws and act as the perfect sequel, outclassing all of its official brethren.
What is it?
You’ll just have to wait and see.