Not A Jaws Rip Off At All (The Last Shark, 1981)

the_Last_Shark_PosterEnzo G. Castellari‘s 1981 shark epic is in no way an unofficial remake of Jaws.  It is entirely it’s own film with a unique plot.

The Last Shark is the story of a small town with a beach intended just for swimmers.  No sharks allowed.  And this one gigantic great white shark, we will call him Sharkey,  gets pissed about this bigotry and segregation.  Okay, well, not really, I mean, Sharkey is a shark, people.  A big shark.

Anyways, there are a couple shark attacks and a guy keeps trying to tell the Mayor there is a shark.  The mayor does not want to hurt tourism, so he keeps it a secret.  And then a shark attacks people at a big event in front of a television audience no less.  So some guys get in a boat and hunt the shark  Completely different from Jaws.  See?  I mean, the “No Sharks Allowed” rule at Chief Brody’s beach was more implied.

This shark actually looks better than in Jaw 3-D two years later.  That does not mean it looks good.  Just better.  The shark is a combination of stock footage of different kinds of sharks and a big immobile model.  The model bobs up out of the water to “scare” people.

The film is full of shots of people doing things in slow motion.  Running into the water.  Running out of the water. Flotation balloons moving through the water.  People windsurfing.  There is a lot of slow motion shots in this film.  A whole lot. Like, this hour and twenty minute film would be around thirty eight minutes if those slow motion scenes were played at a regular speed.

Really, the Last Shark is pretty unbearably boring that figures as long as you see a fin cut through the water and people in their swimsuits…and a cut rate Quint and the audience will be all in.  And uh…well, you might be shocked to discover that this simply is not true.

Up From the Depths With a Vengeance (Jaws: The Revenge, 1987)

Jaws_the_Revenge_PosterApparently, the one thing that could kill the shark was this film.  Opening up shortly before Christmas, we find Sean Brody is now working for the Amity police.  He lives with his mother (a returning Lorraine Gary).  He is called out to take care of a log floating in the bay.  As he tries to get the log, a large great white shark attacks Sean.

Mike comes home to be with his grieving mother and invite her to return with him to his Bahaman home where he is studying snails.  She gives in, though starts expressing a belief that the shark has returned to take out the family.  And sure enough, once in the Bahamas, the shark appears.

Most of the film is spent with Michael and local pilot Hoagie trying to convince Ellen that it is all coincidence, but she knows better.  In the meantime, Mike and his research partner Jake are secretly studying the giant great white.

While the idea that Ellen would be obsessed with the notion that the shark is seeking revenge on her family is intriguing…it is undermined by the fact that she is right.  The shark is calculated, ignoring people who are not related to the Brody family (one death is because the shark misses a Brody) and showing itself a skilled hunter, navigating its way through a sunken ship. The dialog also seems to ignore that Chief Brody killed the previous to sharks, with Ellen and Mike talking as if this new shark is the same shark from earlier films.

The film gets even more improbable.  It pretty much eats a plane (of course the shark downed a  helicopter in the second film).  The shark pops out of the water and roars.  Like a dinosaur.

Jaws: the Revenge completely ignores Jaws 3-D, and tries very hard to ties itself to the first film.  There are several duo-toned clips from the original, meant to draw parallels.  Except, they are presented in a way that implies they are memories of Ellen’s. But she is recalling things she never witnessed.  Martin killing the shark, Sean being killed by the shark…and so on and so on.

Really, all those call backs just bring more attention to how anemic this film is.  Even Michael Caine couldn’t save it.

Up From the Depths & In Your Face (Jaws 3-D, 1983)

Jaws_3D_PosterJaws 3-D was almost titled National Lampoon’s Jaws 3, People Zero…or so the story goes.  Spielberg apparently nixed the idea.  Instead, we got Jaws 3-D.  Set years after the second film, Mike Brody works for Sea World and is dating marine biologist Kay.  His little brother Sean comes in for a visit and becomes smitten with Kelly, a Sea World Performer.

Sea World is preparing to unveil its new Undersea Kingdom…a sprawling underwater complex for tourists to enjoy.  Overseen by the flamboyant Calvin Bouchard, he spares no expense when he sees potential dollar signs.  He also brings in celebrity game hunter Manimal…uh…Philip Fitzroyce.  Manimal…look it up, folks.

A baby great white enters the bay and is trapped inside.  When discovered Kay convinces Bouchard to allow her to catch it for study, noting that having the only great white in captivity would bolster Sea World’s reputation.  But baby jaws is the least of their problems when momma comes looking for her baby.

Jaws 3-D features an all new cast, with Dennis Quaid stepping into the shoes of Mike Brody.  The film actually has a pretty good cast.  Lea Thompson (in her film debut) as Sean’s love interest and Louis Gossett Jr. are fairly memorable.

But the story just is not all that compelling.  Moving the setting to a theme park might make it all look bigger, but it is a pretty hollow story with no real emotional resonance.

In addition, I would say the film has some of the worst shark effects of the entire film, with the sharks looking like plastic toys.  Jaws 3-D is inferior to both Jaws and Jaws 2.

Up From the Depths Redux (Jaws 2, 1978)

Jaws_2_PosterWhen you beget the first summer blockbuster, the studio will want to get back to that gold mine.  Of course, Steven Spielberg did not return…reports include production conflicts as he was working on Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  Others report that he thought sequels were a joke.  Close Encounters also prevented Dreyfuss from Returning.

However, much of the central cast did return.  Set a few years after the first film, Brody is still the Chief of police.  He is struggling with his teenage son Mike.  And when there are some mysterious deaths, Brody jumps to his default…a big shark. Unsurprisingly, everyone tells him he is crazy…I mean, ANOTHER shark?  Who is this guy? John McClane?!

Of course, it is a shark, another great white to be exact…and it falls on Brody to put an end to it.

Jaws 2 is not really terrible.  It can be downright suspenseful in fact.  There are moments of high drama.  But in this film, there is no Quint or Matt Hooper for Martin to play off of.  He gets support from his wife, but in the end, it is all on Brody’s shoulders to kill the shark.

The film skips the hiding of the shark as the director felt there was no way to duplicate the original film’s big reveal.  And he is correct.  But the shark in this film seems even more rubbery, especially noticeable in a scene where the shark barely misses Mike Brody and slides against the boat.

Jaws 2 is a decent attempt to follow up the original, but in the end, it more imitates it, with only limited success.

I do have one question…after the events of the first film…who the heck voted to keep Mayor Vaughn in charge of things????

Up From the Depths (Jaws, 1975)

Jaws_posterIn 1975, Steven Spielberg created “The Summer Blockbuster”.  Based on the book by Peter Benchley Jaws tells the story of police chief Martin Brody, who must deal with an aggressive great white shark that has invaded the beaches of his island community.

The film opens on a beach party, a young woman named Chrissie runs off with Cassidy for a late night skinny dipping session.  While Chrissie swims, Cassidy passes out on the beach.  Suddenly, Chrissie is jerked under water…she surfaces, now frightened, then she thrashes violently.  We never see her attacker as she disappears below the water.

Chief Brody is a man frightened of water, yet lives on an island (He tells Matt Hooper that it is only an island if you are looking at it from the water).  When the coroner suggests Chrissie was the victim of a shark attack, he leaps into action, only to be shut down by the Mayor, who does not want to close the beaches during tourist season.  Only after a very public series of attacks do they allow Brody to take measures to destroy the shark.  He is joined by marine biologist Matt Hooper and the gruff Quint.

Jaws may have kicked off the concept of a Summer Tentpole film, but that does not mean it is light fare.  While there are plenty of thrills, Spielberg is focused on the characters and their stories.  Brody loves his family and becomes worried for their safety.  His wife Ellen is constantly trying to fight his obsession with the danger of the shark.  But even she finds it hard not to give in.  In one scene, Brody tells his son to get out of his small boat.  Ellen tries to convince him not to worry…until she sees a picture in a book that Brody is holding showing a shark tearing through a boat.

The film has many great character moments, such as when Martin and his oldest son are sitting at the table and the son starts to imitate his father.  It is a touching moment showing the connection Broody has with his family.  Then there is a moment between Hooper and Quint on Quint’s boat where they compare scars.

The performances in the film are compelling.  Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss have a terrific chemistry.

The shark (nicknamed Bruce) tends to look pretty fake, and due to limitations of the time, Spielberg chose to cut the movie in a way that would hide these issues.  And it is a wise move that builds suspense effectively.

In later years, Benchley became an advocate for sharks, feeling both his book and the film created an irrational fear of sharks that resulted in people slaughtering them.  But still, Jaws is an effective classic, worth watching.

Tense Swim (The Shallows, 2016)

shallows-movie-posterI confess, I saw the trailers and thought this would be a pretty standard survival flick.  Instead, what I discovered was a very tense thriller of woman versus nature.

Blake Lively is Nancy…a young woman grieving the loss of her mother.  She has discovered a remote beach and is there to surf.  Late in the day, she follows some dolphins and discovers a dead whale.  After a large great white shark attack, Nancy finds herself trapped on a rock.  The shark seems determined to make Nancy a meal, and she struggles to find a way to survive.

Director Jaume Collet-Serra has brought us an intense story that does not often give you time to breathe as Nancy tries to find a way to outsmart the shark.  When you consider a large chunk of the film is Lively sitting on a rock, it is pretty impressive that they are able to keep the audience on their toes.

This film was a very good surprise.  

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