Peter Benchley

Jaws: The Revenge (1987, Joseph Sargent), the international version

If only there were something remarkable about Jaws: The Revenge. Just one thing terrible enough about it to make it somehow interesting. Jaws: The Revenge is unremarkably bad in its unremarkable badness. As the opening titles rolled, with shark POV of a New England harbor, I wanted it to be some kind of strange close to director Sargent’s theatrical output. But it isn’t. It’s not even interesting to think about as a film Sargent also produced. Lorraine Gary isn’t secretly great in the ostensible lead role. Lance Guest isn’t good at all as her son who sort of takes over protagonist when he hides the knowledge of a thirty-foot great white shark from the Coast Guard and it eventually attacks his daughter, setting his mother out to sea to sacrifice herself to the shark.

It’s a movie about a shark hunting a family and there’s no joy to it. Michael De Guzman’s script is painfully unaware, but Sargent’s direction shouldn’t be. Even though they have the same bland result, Sargent’s dumbing down and failing at it. He’s got actual ambitions during the first fifteen or twenty minutes; sure, he’s trying to avoid responsible narrative progression through some really cheap TV movie devices, but he’s trying something. It’s activity. By the second half, when Guest and his scientist sidekick, Mario Van Peebles doing an extremely bad Jamaican accent in a lousy performance, Sargent’s totally checked out. Gary has mostly disappeared and it’s just poorly shot shark hunting sequences.

And the shark sequences are another unremarkable, but should be somehow wonderfully cheesy element of the film. Sargent has a couple intense underwater sequences, including the shark hunting Guest through a sunken ship–which is idiotic but at least it’s something in a film where Gary and Michael Caine dancing in a street fair constitutes an action set piece. There’s no thrill to Jaws: The Revenge, there’s no spectacle. Thankfully, there’s no attempt at either of them–Revenge is rather poorly produced after all. Michael Small’s music is bad, Michael Brown’s editing is bad, John McPherson’s cinematography is pretty lame (though better than the editing or the music). It’s just a lame movie.

Maybe if there were some diamond in the rough, like if Karen Young actually gave a really good performance as Guest’s suffering wife, but she doesn’t. She does better than most everyone else but she’s not good. Lynn Whitfield might give the closet thing to the best performance and some of it is because she’s not it in a lot. The more you have to do in Jaws: The Revenge, the worse off you are.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Joseph Sargent; screenplay by Michael De Guzman, based on characters created by Peter Benchley; director of photography, John McPherson; edited by Michael Brown; music by Michael Small; production designer, John J. Lloyd; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Lorraine Gary (Ellen Brody), Lance Guest (Michael), Karen Young (Carla), Michael Caine (Hoagie), Mario Van Peebles (Jake), Judith Barsi (Thea), Lynn Whitfield (Louisa) and Mitchell Anderson (Sean).


Jaws 3-D (1983, Joe Alves)

Jaws 3-D is one part advertisement for Sea World, one part disaster movie, one part monster movie, then figure the rest is character stuff. It does really well as the Sea World ad, not so well as a disaster movie, a little better as a monster movie… and shockingly well on the character stuff.

Alves’s direction of the big shark attack stuff is nowhere near as good as his character moments. Obviously, there’s time in the script to develop these relationships between the cast members–there’s a great slight moment with Bess Armstrong and Louis Gossett Jr. who otherwise barely interact. And it’s just better for Armstrong and Dennis Quaid. Jaws 3-D is a silly movie about a giant shark but Armstrong and Quaid are always sincere.

So’s Gossett and, to some degree, Simon MacCorkindale. He’s not good, but he does try. As his manservant, P.H. Moriarty is terrible. John Putch plays Quaid’s visiting little brother who romances Lea Thompson. They’re both fine, they just don’t have anything to do except to quickly make Quaid and Armstrong more likable. The movie’s far from art, but screenwriters Richard Mathewson and Carl Gottlieb know how to make it work.

There are some good effects towards the end. Great music from Alan Parker. Alves does an adequate job throughout but he does have his moments. The way he stages some of the non-shark action sequences is fantastic and he always takes time for the actors.

It’s not bad at all.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Joe Alves; screenplay by Richard Matheson and Carl Gottlieb, based on a story by Guerdon Trueblood and characters created by Peter Benchley; director of photography, James A. Contner; edited by Corky Ehlers and Randy Roberts; music by Alan Parker; production designer, Woods Mackintosh; produced by Rupert Hitzig; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Dennis Quaid (Mike Brody), Bess Armstrong (Dr. Kathryn ‘Kay’ Morgan), Simon MacCorkindale (Philip FitzRoyce), John Putch (Sean Brody), Lea Thompson (Kelly Ann Bukowski), P.H. Moriarty (Jack Tate) and Louis Gossett Jr. (Calvin Bouchard).


The Beast (1996, Jeff Bleckner)

The Beast is, like most television miniseries, engineered to be watchable without being compelling. It’s like a McDonald’s milkshake (are they still called milkshakes or are they back to shakes?)–you’re in the mood for a milkshake, so you figure it can’t be too bad and order one… only to finish it and discover you should have waited for a real one. The Beast is never real–it’s incredible how many opportunities the movie misses, mostly out of laziness, but also out of disinterest. It’s a TV miniseries about a giant squid, which is–according to wikipedia–a real thing. So I guess it’s a little real, anyway.

But it’s never too terrible, just like most event miniseries. There are sturdy, recognizable cast members. William Petersen does his TV leading man thing here, the working class guy–just look at his beard, but he’s well-groomed enough for the viewer to know he’s not any working class guy… he’s the soulful, quietly intelligent working class guy who’s going to get the job done. While battling his demons, of course. Petersen doesn’t have many demons in The Beast–though a scene where he impales his daughter with a stake (and Missy Crider does have some exceptional talons on her fingers here, scarier than any of the rubber squids) sadly did not make it into the film. It must have been in my imagination, since Crider’s one of the worst actors I think I’ve ever seen. And in a TV miniseries from the 1990s, the acting’s not supposed to bottom out… it’s supposed to be where the network showcases its actors who aren’t leads on popular shows. You know, so viewers will follow them from the event miniseries to the weekly show. (This entire system has all changed and I have no idea why, so I’m not even going to bother hypothesizing–but it worked to a degree).

In other words, most of Petersen’s fellow cast members are good. Karen Sillas is somewhat wasted as the Coast Guard officer who can’t get any respect because she’s a woman. Her really good moments just remind how Sillas never really found a great role. Charles Martin Smith’s in it a bit–he’s fine, though the character’s poorly written. Ronald Guttman is goofy. Both Sterling Macer Jr. and Denis Arndt are good. As Crider’s friend, Laura Vazquez doesn’t have enough scenes (and should clearly have gotten the bigger part). Larry Drake’s funny as a drunken moron, kind of an incompetent Quint.

The comparisons to Jaws are legion. Peter Benchley only has so many scenes he can do, regardless of what characters he can fill them with. The scenes generally move the same way, with a lot of the same props. I remember when Beast first aired, Entertainment Weekly pointed out it didn’t just rip off Jaws, but also Jaws 2 and Jaws 3. The Jaws 3 rips are stunning. I missed the Jaws 2 stuff.

Oh, I forgot to mention Murray Bartlett–he’s awful too.

Bartlett’s one of the movie’s Australian cast members (where it shot). Occasionally accents are iffy, but the production values are good. The special effects are lame. I kept wondering how it couldn’t look better than the original Jaws, given the developments in special effects in the twenty years between the two adaptations. Maybe because giant squids just look dumb. But there’s only one really terrible CG shot and there is one good sequence with a miniature boat.

The Beast kind of made me miss miniseries. Strangely, there’s an exceptional amount of potential for the format–the abbreviated third act in the first half and the abbreviated first act in the second half, it changes the pace of the storytelling… maybe even in good ways. There’s also the opportunity for a lot of character development. It’s just too bad the source material (I’m guessing) wasn’t very good here. With a lot of the cast–and maybe minus a giant rubber squid or two–it would have been fine.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Jeff Bleckner; screenplay by J.B. White, based on the novel by Peter Benchley; director of photography, Geoff Burton; edited by Tod Feuerman; music by Don Davis; production designer, Owen Paterson; produced by Tana Nugent; released by the National Broadcasting Company.

Starring William Petersen (Whip Dalton), Karen Sillas (Lt. Kathryn Marcus), Charles Martin Smith (Schuyler Graves), Ronald Guttman (Dr. Herbert Talley), Missy Crider (Dana Dalton), Sterling Macer Jr. (Mike Newcombe), Denis Arndt (Osborne Manning), A.J. Johnson (Nell Newcombe), Larry Drake (Lucas Coven), Murray Bartlett (Christopher Lane), Laura Vazquez (Hadley), Robert Mammone (Ensign Raines), David Webb (Jameson) and Marshall Napier (Commander Wallingford).


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