Jaws: The Revenge killed the franchise. Possibly for good or until the inevitable reboot, which will probably have to wait until long after Mr. Spielberg has shuffled off this mortal coil.
Not that I, or many people, want a reboot.
Let the original be.
None of the sequels did it even remote justice. Jaws 2 came the closest by a wide margin, but it was still underwhelming.
But there was a sequel that did justice to the original. And it passed right under our noses.
It could be sheer coincidence, another movie that follows a similar structure to Jaws with common characters and conflicts.
But there’s a big clue hidden pretty subtly in the movie itself.
And the fact that it’s directed by Steven Spielberg.
I now present Jaws V.
Jurassic Park. Most of you reading this already have the theme running through your head. If it’s not, it should be.
It’s as enduringly linked to its film as, well, the infamous shark’s theme is to Jaws.
I won’t cover the making of Jurassic Park, partly because that’s not really what this article is about but also because I want to do that separately in more detail down the line.
Instead, for our purpose, I just want to point out how it’s the perfect sequel to Jaws. So let’s get started.
We open on secluded location in the dead of night. A gathering of people mill about, all following the routine. Nothing seems terribly out of the ordinary. Until something goes wrong. One hapless person is brutally killed by a virtually unseen monster. And there’s nothing the rest of the people can do to save them.
This incident prompts an investigation, aided by the one person most apt to save the victim. The fateful investigation offers far more than the yet-to-be-seen protagonists bargained for.
Quick. Am I talking about Jaws or Jurassic Park?
Could be either. That’ll be a trend from here on out.
In Jaws, it was Chrissie Watkins who took the bullet. In Jurassic Park, an ill-fated Ingen security guard.
After some scenes specific to each film, we meet the heroes of our ensembles, each in their natural element, the place where they feel most at home.
Martin Brody is literally at home, waking up with his wife, who will stand by him for most of the coming adventure. We see what matters to him – his family and their safety – and his biggest fear – water. Pretty soon he gets a fateful call, rudely interrupting his morning, that ties him to the incident from earlier. The kid who found the body of Chrissie Watkins reported it to the police and in the small town of Amity, pretty much every case reaches the chief of police – Brody.
When he sets out that day for work, to investigate a probable boating accident, he’s really starting a journey that will see him out of his element, dealing with his fears and just one step ahead of a grisly death between some creature’s jaws most of the way.
Alan Grant would rather be on an excavation in Montana than just about anywhere else. He’s out working with Ellie Sattler, something of a girlfriend, who will stand by him for most of the coming adventure. We see what matters to him – dinosaurs – and his biggest fear – children, courtesy of the most annoying small human put to film. Pretty soon a helicopter comes to the site, rudely interrupting his dig, that ties him to the incident from earlier. Grant isn’t told just how it’s linked, but the viewer knows that a worker died, prompting the shareholders to panic and forcing Gennaro, their lawyer, to order an investigation of the island. And a place like Jurassic Park is going to need a dinosaur expert – Grant.
When he sets out on that chopper for a paid vacation, just to offer an expert opinion on a nature preserve, he’s really starting a journey that will see him out of his element, dealing with his fears and just one step ahead of a grisly death between some creature’s jaws most of the way.
More pieces fit together. And the story picks up speed.
The hero gains allies. And enemies.
Brody soon finds that the mayor and his cronies won’t close the beach because of the profitable July 4th crowds. Matt Hooper, a marine biologist, arrives and quickly becomes the sarcastic expert on the situation who almost seems to relish in how bad things are. The master fisherman Quint, after showing up earlier, comes into the fray as the seasoned pro who stands the best chance at squaring off with a shark. He’s seen it all and doesn’t trust this big one.
Between Hammond and Gennaro, Grant finds himself against a ruthless mix of idealism and capitalism. Hammond absolutely refuses to close the park and give up on his dream. Gennaro wants nothing more than for the park to be safe because of the inevitable millions of tourist dollars it will bring in. Dennis Nedry, who Grant never actually meets, is the most distinct antagonist, a computer programmer who is paid handsomely to ruin the park and steal the embryos. Ian Malcolm, a chaos theory mathematician, arrives and quickly becomes the sarcastic expert on the situation who almost seems to relish in how bad things are. The master hunter Muldoon, after showing up earlier, comes into the fray as the seasoned pro who stands the best chance at squaring off with a dinosaur. He’s seen it all and doesn’t trust the velociraptors.
Things look up for a while.
The local fisherman have caught the shark and saved the holiday weekend.
The park seems to check out. The science makes sense and the security is reasonably tight.
But Hooper proves it’s not the real shark and they find the decapitated head of Ben Gardner.
And Nedry codes the files that will ultimately cripple the park’s power.
All the while we see hints of the real threat, but never a direct glance.
The Great White tears off an entire dock and menaces two fishermen.
The raptors devour an entire cow in seconds.
The sarcastic expert provides several speeches to the antagonists about why the situation is doomed but nobody will admit it. But the heroes press on. For a moment, all is well.
Then the shark kills again, almost taking Brody’s son for kicks.
The company happens upon a sick triceratops. They give up the tour to investigate.
In both cases, the seams of the original plans are starting to show. Clearly this shark is no ordinary Great White. And this park isn’t airtight and a storm’s brewing.
Action needs to be taken. And the heroes are going to have to handle their fear.
Brody parts from his wife Ellen when he takes to the sea with Hooper and Quint. Grant parts from Ellie who opts to stay with the triceratops to find out just what’s wrong with it. This leaves Grant with the two children.
And we’re off.
From here on out, the timing of the matching events may get messy, but I’m trusting that most are familiar enough with these films to follow along.
The mayor finally approves of the shark hunt because it was endangering his children too.
Brody, Hooper and Quint strand themselves out on the ocean. Hooper’s tactics don’t work from the beginning, so Brody reluctantly allows Quint to use his own methods to kill the shark.
The power fails, leaving Grant, Malcolm, the kids and Gennaro to fend off the T-rex. It’s not quite the mayor protecting his kids, but Gennaro does come around to see the problems with the park and Nedry realizes the folly of his ways. And by that I mean both are eaten alive. Hammond finally starts seeing cracks in his perfect world, so he allows/tells Muldoon and Ellie to go find his kids.
The hero faces his fears directly for the first time. Brody goes out on the water for a final showdown with the shark. Grant distracts the T-rex to save the children.
And the sarcastic expert is proven right, much to his dismay. The shark is a killer. And it’s trying to kill them. The park is falling apart. And it’s falling apart around them.
As the T-rex attacks, Malcolm pulls a last-ditch effort to distract it. It doesn’t pay off and he seemingly dies.
Finally Quint lets Hooper try his newfangled shark cage. It doesn’t pay off and the shark wrecks the cage, freeing Hooper. While he swims free, he’s still in the water with a Great White so he seemingly dies.
Ellen Brody tries to contact her husband via the Orca’s radio, but Quint interferes by destroying their only link to the mainland.
Ellie tries to contact Grant by physically going out and searching for him, but Muldoon interferes when they hear the T-rex roar in the distance. While they don’t find Grant, they discover that Malcolm is actually alive.
Hooper’s resurrection will have to wait.
Missing one main character means the hero has to deal more directly with his fear.
The Orca, badly wrecked by the shark, starts sinking, filling with water, miles from shore.
Grant is alone in the park, now running rampant with dinosaurs, and he’s the only one who can save the kids. He has to lead them to safety.
Meanwhile, the seasoned professional has to take on his dreaded foe. Ahab has to take on his white whale.
Quint tangles further with the shark, going for broke. Muldoon grabs a shotgun and hunts the escaped velociraptors.
And their white whales violently kill them.
The characters who should be the first to survive are the last to die. They almost make it back to the mainland, out of the park, but they fell at the finish line.
And that makes things just that much bleaker for the hero. He’s now even more stranded, more alone.
Raw survival is all that’s left.
Brody scurries up the sinking ship, grabbing Quint’s rifle and climbing the quickly shortening mast. His only enemy is the monster that killed Quint.
Grant and the kids rush for the Visitor Center. Along with Ellie, they scramble to get the power back on. Their only enemies are the monsters that killed Quint.
And the hero has just about run out of luck.
The shark’s swimming straight for him.
The raptors have surrounded them.
But a million-to-one shot saves them.
Brody manages to land a shot on the oxygen tank, blowing the shark to kingdom come.
The T-rex was one step behind them and takes on raptors herself.
Reunited with the surprisingly alive sarcastic expert, the hero leaves the personal hell they’ve been trapped in for so long.
On the way back to civilization, Grant lets the kids snuggle up to him as they sleep off the weekend’s excitement. Brody doesn’t mind the paddle back to shore very much at all.
Cue the John Williams score to take us home.
And there you have Jaws V.
When you watch Jurassic Park from the right seat, it almost feels like a remake.
Both films presented the same challenge to Spielberg – special effects.
He was attempting something that may have been attempted before, but certainly not like the way he wanted to do it.
Peter Benchley wrote the novel Jaws assuming it would never be a movie because the technology to build a 25-foot shark didn’t exist. But they built one.
Spielberg originally was going to use claymation for the wide shots of dinosaurs, a time-tested process, until a fledgling technology known as CGI offered the chance to make them photo-realistic.
His solution to both challenges was the same – responsibility and the power of suggestion.
If a technology isn’t quite perfect and may not work as intended, don’t lean an entire film on it.
He didn’t show the shark except when it really counted. He used animatronics, no doubt with some learned lessons from the Jaws experience, when he could and used very sparing CGI.
In fact the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park only have about 15 minutes of screentime in total. But you feel their presence in every frame, just out of view.
The shark has decidedly less time in the spotlight than that but you still know it’s just under the surface.
And why? John Williams.
As I said before, Jaws and Jurassic Park have two of the most recognizable musical scores of all time.
While Jurassic Park tends to fill one with wonder just as often as dread, both scores keep reminding audiences that there’s something deadly just around the corner.
It’s music as a special effect and few films use it quite as well.
But the similarities between the two boil down even further.
Name one actor from Jaws. Name one from Jurassic Park.
Unless you really know either movie you probably said Richard Dreyfuss and Jeff Goldblum, ironically both the sarcastic experts.
They’ve probably had the most prolific careers in recent years (Richard Attenborough takes it for lifetime achievements, as does Robert Shaw), but think about the rest of the cast. Most of them are probably familiar faces if nothing else.
Spielberg populated his casts with wonderful character actors. There aren’t any really big names if we’re being honest, and if a name can be considered big, it’s likely because of either movie.
Because we may recognize but not know the actors, we have no clue if they’ll live or die.
Harrison Ford was Spielberg’s first choice for Alan Grant, but thank goodness he decided otherwise. As soon as you see Indiana Jones on an island of dinosaurs, you know he’ll make it off alive.
Sam Neill, the actor who does play Grant, offers no such assurances.
Roy Scheider, who plays Brody, might get eaten. We can’t be sure.
Because all the characters feel like real people and look like them, too. So we’re left in the dark and on edge.
This is, of course, also thanks to the work of Peter Benchley and Michael Crichton, the original authors of Jaws and Jurassic Park.
As is the case with adaptations, the movies left a lot of material out of the scripts. The case could be made that Jaws and Jurassic Park are just very similar stories on the page.
But both novels are stunningly different from the finished products. Some of the plotlines of Jaws were covered in the film’s sequel, which I discuss in my review of Jaws 2. And a fair amount of Jurassic Park was covered in that film’s sequels and even some video games, a topic I’d like to visit in the future.
But it was Spielberg who steered what the final storylines would be, who made them so similar.
Jurassic Park could be called Jaws 2, ignoring all the official sequels. It acts as a sort of anthology sequel, eschewing the characters and the shark for a new cast and a new set of jaws.
Whereas sharks are a very real threat, they were mysteries in 1975. Marine biologists didn’t study them very widely, leaving only shark attack stories as accounts of their behavior. So while the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park are assuredly long dead, Great White sharks took on the same mythical fright. Just like people are afraid of spotting a T-rex in the woods on a rainy night, people are afraid of taking a bath and getting eaten by a shark.
And both films reignited study of their respective animals, leading to countless marine biologists and paleontologists finding their causes in a dark theater behind a bucket of popcorn.
Next time you watch Jurassic Park, think of it as a Jaws movie. The magic of Brody, Hooper and Quint couldn’t be replicated, so they didn’t try; they found a whole new sort of magic. They made the water couldn’t be made any scarier, but what about the woods? Even something as innocuous as a kitchen?
If none of this has convinced you, maybe this quote of intent from Spielberg himself might help:
“I was really just trying to make a good sequel to Jaws, on land.”
Even if you prefer Jurassic Park to stand on its own, whether you hate Jaws or for some other reason, one thing you can’t argue is that they are forever linked.
Remember how I mentioned there’s one huge clue hidden in the movie itself that makes it a pretty clear sequel to Jaws?
Maybe this will convince you that Jaws and Jurassic Park were meant to be seen as a franchise of their own, two interpretations of the same story. Both unforgettable cinematic experiences.
I don’t know. I’ve wrapped up my Jaws sequel coverage, the first series on this blog. I have some ideas for further articles, some mentioned in this one, but I’m always open to suggestions. If you want to hear more about a certain movie or series, just leave a comment below and I’ll see what I can do.