Jaws 2 -1978 A Movie A Day Day 56

The greatest adventure film ever made, with one of the best casts that is imaginable is the predecessor to this movie. The original Jaws is Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece, everything he has done since is an attempt to reach the same heights of personal success and movie history glory. Sure he has made dozens of films since then, and won honors and accolades for most of them. There is popular and critical success in everything he does, but Jaws will be the movie he is remembered for. Jaws is the movie that scholars, critics and fans continue to write about thirty-five years after it’s release. There is nothing to compare to it, which means that today’s movie has an impossible task. You cannot fall in love for the first time on a second occasion. You can try to relive the moment, but it is never the same. I think Spielberg knows this and that’s why he stayed away from the subsequent films in this series. Indiana Jones is a continuing story, but you can’t kill Quint more than once.

Everyone in 1978 was looking forward to this movie despite the lack of Mr. Spielberg at the helm. The first movie was still in everybody’s head and the energy from the movie hung in the air like electricity waiting for Ben Franklin to get out his key and try to capture it. The director for this movie was a TV director who had made one feature film before this, a horror film called Bug. It is on the list for the project, although I do not have a copy of it and I am running a bit low on time, we’ll see. Anyway,he made a few other features including the beloved “Somewhere in Time”, but he has never had the success he would expect from this movie again. He is still directing TV programs on a regular basis. Universal seems to have gone to their bullpen for a good relief pitcher and they got a solid inning out of him. Not one that would make him a star, but one that held the lead and advanced the team to the next inning. Of course it was a no win scenario, you can’t top perfection. So what is it that Jeannot Szwarc managed to produce.

Jaws 2 is the movie that the first film would have been if two things had happened. If the mechanical shark had actually worked consistently, then we would have seen it early on and often, not just at the climax. This is what you get in Jaws 2, after the opening segment with two divers checking out the wreck of the Orca, we see the shark in every attack. Long shots, medium and close ups are used in all the subsequent attacks. Sometimes there are some good solid set ups, but they can’t create the suspense that the first film was forced to improvise because of the lack of an actual shark to show. The other thing that would have made this version the original movie, would be the absence of Spielberg. The performances that he got out of the actors in the first movie, the small pieces of humor and imagination are missing here. Jaws 2 is a straightforward action thriller. There are some attempts to add drama to the mix, but they mostly lead to dead ends. For instance, the segment where Brody is fired, lasts just a couple of minutes before he is back in action, on a boat and off to save the day despite not being the Chief anymore. So what is the point of him losing his job?; it is to fill in time until we can get back to the shark attacks. In the original, everything happens for a reason, it builds character and makes motives relevant in the final resolution of the story. In this movie, we know the characters for the most part. They are cardboard figures that exist to move us to the next action sequence, or to try and give us a reason to care about the events that are coming. It is pretty standard stuff and works fine here, but it does not elevate the film-making.

We are set up for this movie with one of the greatest ad lines in the history of movies. The tagline is on a par with the tag for “Alien”…”In space, no one can hear you scream.” The teaser poster for this movie put it plainly,…”Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water.” The original really did keep people out of the ocean. Amanda to this day is not a fan of the beach for this very reason. It took twenty-two years to come up with a sequel to Psycho, but no one remembers much about it, in part because the memory of being afraid to shower was lost in the intervening years. The producer’s of the Jaws films, did not make that mistake. They struck while the iron was hot, and as far as the fear factor, it works pretty well. There is a great sequence in the movie where the shark is stalking a water skier. We get some good looks at the fin, and some better point of view shots from under the water. The climax of the scene works not because of the close up of the shark attack on the boat, but because of the confusion and panic of the boat driver. In a similar vein, at the end of the movie, when all the kids are stranded on the boats, it is not the horror of undetectable death that holds us, it is the wild notion of what would happen if a shark attacked a helicopter? Brody’s final showdown with the shark lacks any suspense, but the execution of the idea is pretty satisfying. Thus, this movie works fine, but it is just another action film.

Dolores and I saw this movie on opening day at the multiplex in the Cerritos shopping center. There was a long line and most people were anxious to know what was going to happen. I can say we were satisfied but not wowed. I thought it was a tight film that got to the action beats the audience expected without too much mucking around. I did appreciate that the kids in the picture were not overwritten. They are just teenagers, having summer fun and trying to figure their lives out. It looked at one point like a love story might be in the offing, and the Mayor’s son is set up as a bit of a prick, but it never turns into a bully cliche, or a sappy romance. The Mayor’s son turns out to be a pretty decent guy like all of the kids. If this movie were going to be lengthened, and you were going to attempt to add the same kinds of layers that the first movie had, the kids would have been the place to try it. I think they were smart to stay out of that pond and stick to the action. I suggest that you stay away from the other films in the series completely. Jaws 3-D was a gimmick film that suffered from the problem that most 3-D films in the 80’s suffered from, not enough light. You have two or three good 3-D shots but the movie is so dark that even on shore in the sunshine it seems dim. And speaking of dim, Jaws the Revenge is just stupid. See Jaws 2 if you must, but remember, You can’t fall in love for the first time again.

A Little Something Extra found on August 10, 2010

The Candidate 1972 A Movie A Day Day 55

Here is a movie about a left wing community organizer, that takes up the cause of running for a U.S. Senate seat. He doesn’t really know what he is doing, he moves his public speeches and pronouncements to the center of the political spectrum, he abandons causes that he first stated were his reasons for running, and he gains ground by being effective as a public speaker. At one point a very telling incident occurs. He is on a plane with his political advisers, and he says, “You know what I’m going to do when this is all over?” and his main adviser responds, “Learn something about economics?” Ladies and Gentlemen, guess who is running the country. It might as well be Robert Redford’s character in this movie. There are some other eerie parallels in the film as well. Two years before Jerry Brown was elected Governor, this movie came out, featuring a activist lawyer, who is the son of a previous Democratic Governor, choosing to run for higher office without much idea of what he was getting into. I had heard at one point that this was a movie actually based on the political campaign of John Tunney, who was California’s Senator from 1971-1977. If true, the appearance of this film may have had something to do with his serving a single term.

Michael Richie, the director of this movie, used an interesting approach to get the footage he needed. He basically had the film crew run a campaign along with political operatives, that put Redford in scenes with real people at rally’s and speaking events. There is a sequence at the Democratic State Convention (it must have been 1971), where prominent political figures of the day were featured. They appear as background in the movie, making them the most exclusive set of unpaid extras ever. I don’t know how they got around union rules on this but it added an aura of authenticity to the film. Peter Boyle plays the political adviser who is really just interested in a job and pulls Redford’s character into the race. The writer’s get away without having to deal with a primary fight on the Democratic side by portraying the incumbent Republican Senator, as a polished smooth political natural who has no chance of losing, so no one else was anxious to get into the campaign. If you listen to the Republican candidate early in the film, you hear many of the same themes that drive the Republican political, philosophy today. He is for personal responsibility instead of government paternalism, he opposes abortion on moral grounds, and he sounds like he is a fiscal conservative. In fact, it was hard for me to see what was so annoying to the makers of the film. There is one scene that seems to push Redford’s character into running. He goes to see the Senator at a campaign stop and the Senator after speaking to several well wishers and being surrounded by others, pretends to know Redford when he shakes his hand and asks if the Senator remembers him. Wow, what a phony, and this is Redford’s tipping point. Of course later in the film, candidate Redford has to do some of the same things, he blows off an odd guy at a walking tour in Watts, who keeps asking him what he thinks of the guys dog. Wow, what a phony, he smiles and looks away while someone else handles the oddball. Of course I don’t know that the film makers recognize the hypocrisy of their candidate.

This movie was released in 1972, during the Presidential election that I volunteered on for nearly nine months. I was a political junkie and this movie was like heroin to me. It gave me a high on the inside knowledge I was getting at the time from participating in the election and seeing the film. By the way I was fourteen at the time, I hated the politics of the movie candidate but I loved watching it all work. I know I went to see this movie at least twice that year. It is interesting that I saw it at the Garfield theater in Alhambra, because, two doors down from the theater was the election headquarters that I went to to volunteer. I did precinct canvasing, and made phone calls looking for support and then leads for others to call back on for donations. We painted posters for campaign rallies and went to several political presentations. The stuff that went on in “The Candidate” was several steps above my level, but it all made a lot of sense. The campaign ads in the movie look a little primitive by today’s standards, but you can watch them and see how the theme of the campaign was being honed.

The movie cheats on the resolution of the campaign. There is not much explanation of why Redford’s character suddenly turns on the electorate. He stops saying the things he means, and sells himself the way other candidates do. The collapse of the Republican incumbent is never really explained, and the subtle edge he loses in the one TV debate they have is really only likely to change the minds of people watching the movie, not real voters. There are some insightful looks into underhanded campaign techniques, for instance, to insure there is a crowd for a parade for the candidate in San Francisco, the campaign manages to have some cars break down and back up traffic so that the area will be packed. The candidate appears to have a casual fling with a supporter, it is hinted at in a pretty direct way, but no one ever discusses it and his wife is allowed to go on supporting him in her ignorance (John Edwards please step forward). The focus of the campaign becomes Change for “A Better Way” and a youthful Redford is cast against the image of the older Senator. The voters are shown but none ever articulates a reason that the newcomer is working for them. The candidate himself, mutters the usual liberal platitudes, they are presented well, but there is nothing compelling about any of the issues. In fact, his crime policy was created just to have a response in the debate on TV. He has to be told what it is. It is a little frighting to think that some sharp political operative could take a little know entity, turn him into a Senator, and then put him into a position where he could be President of the U.S. (Which is strongly hinted at by the playing of “Hail to the Chief” over the credits). Gee, I wonder why that is so scary?

Peter Boyle’s character seems like a template for the character of Toby Zeigler on”the West Wing”, right down to the beard and bald plate. The movie makes only one reference to fund raising, which seems like it misses a real chance to criticize the system. There are of course substantial differences in campaigns today compare to nearly forty years ago. News is not managed the same way, casual comments can become Youtube viral hits instantly, and nobody smokes in public places the way almost all of the background characters do in this show. Voters may be a little more sophisticated, but the issues are only slightly different. The one thing that has clearly not changed is the contempt that political figures on the left have for the average voter. They must be pandered to, turned against traditionally valid ways of living and trust that the smartest guy is better for them then the one who makes the most sense.