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Saturday, 11 February 2012

“My mama told me, if I was goody, that she would buy me... a rubber shark like the one in JAWS: THE REVENGE (1987)"


There are two things I remember most about going to see Timothy Dalton’s first adventure as Bond in 1987’s The Living Daylights, with a school friend. The first is that, having drunk about a gallon of something syrupy sweet in the cinema that day that I think they called cola - I was desperate to use the toilet. Seriously desperate. And The Living Daylights is a seriously long movie. Just when you think it’s about to end, you get what feels like, and probably is, a half hour chase on horseback through the desert that goes on forever, which meant that – for the first time in my love of James Bond movies – I wanted the bastard spy to die. I didn’t expect him to live, I just wanted him to fall off the horse and break his stiff upper neck. I don’t think Dalton made a really great Bond movie until his second and last attempt; the dark and fabulous Licence To Kill. I think I have a certain hatred for The Living Daylights mainly because it almost destroyed my bladder, and not because it’s so po-faced, unBond-like and fairly boring. Hey, but Goldeneye was equally dead in the water as a debut for Pierce Brosnan, and he went on to make a truly great Bond movie; 1999’s The World is Not Enough. But by that point I was more in control of my no longer teenage bladder.

The second thing I remember most about going to see The Living Daylights at the cinema, is a trailer that was played - for a film sequel that marked the comeback of perhaps my favourite franchise of all time, for a fourth instalment, after a gap of four years. I wasn’t expecting the trailer - or the film it trailed. This was all pre-imdb, and all I had were film mags to keep me informed, and they didn’t care about this certain film franchise anymore. It was a short trailer too and didn’t show much. A shot of some open water, then familiar music, and the words “Jaws: The Revenge – Coming Soon” came up on the screen. And that, pretty much, was it. I sometimes wonder if there was also a shot of Ellen Brody looking out to sea wistfully in the trailer as well, because I do remember the film’s classic tagline: “This Time It’s Personal”, finishing the trailer off. But the reason the trailer made such an impact on me, I’m sure - is because all you got, was just a shot of the sea and a great tagline. That’s what made the trailer so effective. Or perhaps, if they had shown the shark, nobody would have turned up. I think the reason I keep getting the “Ellen Brody looking out to sea bit” image in my head whenever I think of Jaws: The Revenge - is because she does that a lot in the actual movie.

OK, so now you know my dirty little secret. I love Jaws 4 aka The Revenge, but sadly, when the film came out in the cinemas, it seemed like nobody else did. I must have seen the film perhaps close to twenty or so times by now, and every time feels different. There’s a good reason for this – there is a whole fish tank full of alternate edits and endings out there: TV versions; theatrical versions; video versions; DVD versions - you name it, and this film’s got it. In some versions the shark gets to explode, in others it gets to be spiked, and in others it gets to be spiked twice and really bloodily. Supporting characters live in some versions and die in others. And there’s even a US broadcast version with a voiceover explaining what the film’s all about – Citizen Kane this might just be.

There is a plot! The film ignores the fact that the last time we met Chief Brody’s grown-up children; Michael and Sean, they were all hanging out at a place called Sea World in Florida and being shot in 3D. Michael was training and studying dolphins while Sean was just hanging around and flirting with girls on the beach. Chief Brody from the first Jaws movie and the sequel, doesn’t appear in Jaws 3D, and neither does Ellen. In fact, Roy Scheider was asked to make a return to the third movie, but hated the idea so much he signed up to appear in Blue Thunder instead - to make certain he was unavailable. He also doesn’t appear in Jaws: The Revenge, despite the film’s producers wanting him back to be killed off at the start and be eaten. Hey – you wonder why he said no again? In Jaws: The Revenge, we learn the poor chap had a heart attack, or made another Blue Thunder movie, I forget which. Ellen Brody is still around though, and the start of the movie has our favourite worried mother in the movies, hanging out with her son, Sean. Ellen Brody is still played by Lorraine Gary - in her first movie in close to a decade, and also the last movie she has appeared in to date (she hasn’t died or anything, I think she’s probably just still traumatised by seeing the shark in the water in Jaws: The Revenge, much like her character was shocked – much like, seeing this particular shark in action, we all were). Son Sean is no longer a beach bum, but is now Deputy Chief Brody, and played this time around, by Mitchell Anderson of Doogie Howser co-starring ‘fame’. Hey come on – you call that fame?

Anyway, and this is a spoiler alert coming up - Sean doesn’t last long. The poor chap gets called out on an urgent job by Mrs Taft, the dear old lady who always works in the Amity Police Department’s head office, and runs the place pretty much single-handedly, except in Jaws 3D, when she wasn’t needed. Mrs Taft is played by the same actress from the first two movies. In fact, this role is pretty much Fritzi Lane Courtney’s only role in the movies ever, aside from something called Spraggue, in-between the shark stuff. You can see why she agreed to come back. Here, in Jaws: The Revenge, she is single-handedly responsible for the death of Sean, when she calls him back after hours to go and stupidly clear a stupid log floating out at stupid sea. Sorry – I was upset they killed off Sean, my favourite most annoying character from the Jaws movies apart from that girl who screams throughout the entire second half of Jaws 2. Sean is an everyman in a world of madness. The link between beer and shark death. Between dumb and the deep blue sea. Well, I say this – I’m only going on the character background that he was given in the other Jaws movies, as here he isn’t really given any characterisation at all - far less than he was given when he appeared as a toddler in the Spielberg film, and copied his dad at the dinner table. He does, however, have a great and very bloody death scene in the fourth movie, that is sometimes cut, depending on which version you get to see. It’s also pretty shocking to see a favourite character being eaten alive, even if it is only by a rubber shark.

Sean’s death sees brother Mike head to Amity from a job as a marine biologist in the Bahamas (how can I be a marine biologist in the Bahamas and where did my life go wrong?) to comfort his mum. In possibly the only evidence of continuity from the previous movies, Mike actually was a marine biologist in the previous film, Jaws 3D, although in that one he was also played by Dennis Quaid, and before that he was played by Mark Gruner in Jaws 2 and Chris Rubello in the first one. This time around we get Lance Guest, who had previously appeared in the least appealing Halloween movie so far; Halloween II, but was actually really good when he took the lead in 1984's The Last Starfighter. In this film, to be honest, he looks bemused for much of the time, and you wonder whether he’s had too many exotic cocktails in the local Bahamas beach cafe with Michael Caine between takes. He also has an incredibly distractingly hairy chest, which probably isn’t a fault of his acting ability. But he does play the role of concerned son very well. And is very convincing as ‘man concerned at the state of the movie he’s in, even compared to Halloween II’, too.

Michael persuades mum to go with him and his family back to the Bahamas, a place of sun, sea and swimming in shark-infested waters, to rest. The film's producers pretty much persuaded the entire cast to appear in this movie, the same way. Michael has a beautiful wife to show off now (and boy isn’t she just – you haven’t lived until you’ve seen Mrs Brody in bra and denim dungarees welding away in the garage, or that could just be me?) and a young daughter called Thea, played by Judith Barsi, a role played with about the most conviction any cast member in the movie gives. Barsi’s acting career was on the rise. Tragically she was shot dead by an abusive father at the age of ten. 


The rest of Jaws: The Revenge takes place in the beautifully-shot Bahamas setting and sees Ellen’s granddaughter soon terrorised by the returning shark, as well as her son being menaced again as he secretly spots and studies the great white, egged on by his best friend and colleague, Jake. Jake is played by Mario Van Peebles, who fills the role with such sun-drenched enthusiasm and charisma, that he livens up every scene he appears in. His father, Melvin Van Peebles, also has a cameo. The last time these two worked together, was for the classic blaxpoitation movie Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song back in 1972. In Sweetback, dad Melvin directed son Mario to get it on with an abundantly proportioned actress at the start, and then claimed he’d used a body double to film the rude bits. When the British Board of Film Censors found out a few years ago that this wasn’t entirely true, thanks to the Van Peebles family talking about this scene in a documentary about the film’s making and influence, the British censors banned Mario’s sex scene from all future screenings and releases. Thankfully, in Jaws: The Revenge, Mario only gets eaten by a shark. Or survives a shark attack, depending on which version you see. 


And now on to the crowning glory of the film; the big coup – yes, it’s the appearance of Michael Caine as local pilot, gambler and all round good time guy, Hoagie. Clearly Hoagie is only in it for the money and the good life, for much the same reason that Caine is in the movie, but he settles down by starting a relationship with Ellen that goes beyond her being yet another conquest. Indeed, at one point, he even tells her, when questioned by Ellen about the fact that there must be "plenty of other women out there", that “yes, there are (dramatic pause) but I’ve become tired of one way conversations”. I think he has to be boasting, I mean, with all those hot Bahamian beach bodies on display, why would the girls all go for Hoagie? Unless, it's the 'having his own plane'-thing.

When you first watch Jaws: The Revenge, you hardly notice Hoagie. He’s kind of there, but like a side salad in Pizza Hut, he’s pretty much forgotten by the time the main meal arrives – the really big shark in this case, not the Deep Pan. The more times you watch the film though, the more you realise it's Hoagie who holds the whole thing together, through sheer charisma, through the underplaying of a role clearly written to be overplayed, and through the fact that Caine is clearly soaking up all the sunshine and rum and letting you know it. His role as Hoagie also seems to grow the more times you watch-along-a-Caine, until he sort of becomes the star of the movie. Caine of course, turned down the chance to collect his Oscar for Hannah and Her Sisters to appear in a film that he clearly, in later years, has no time for whatsoever, but as he said himself: “I have never seen the film, but by all accounts it is terrible. However, I have seen the house that it built, and it is terrific”. I think that’s a fair exchange.

Ellen Brody does get her revenge by the end of the movie; spearing the shark in its rubbery tummy and watching it bleed, horribly from the mouth - much like grizzled fisherman Quint bled horribly from the mouth in the first movie, when the great white straddled his boat, The Orca, and bit down on him - killing off one of the greatest movie characters I’ve probably ever seen, in certainly one of the greatest movies I've ever seen. For the shark’s death in Jaws: The Revenge, they probably needed a bigger blood bag as well as a boat, for it to chomp down on, and who could have known that the old great white had so much blood left in him.


So, yes - the trailer for the film that first hooked me in to shore, in that cinema I was in, watching a Bond movie with my legs crossed, really did give me what it promised on the tin. It did all get personal this time around. Of course, nearly everyone hated the film anyway, but I loved it, and I still do. I love the moment Hoagie climbs out of the water, having had his plane eaten by the shark, only to climb on board Ellen’s boat completely dry (apparently due to the water in the tank turning Caine’s hair blue, resulting in the actor keeping out of the water from that point on - not because of a shark, but for the sake of avoiding a blue rinse). I love the fact that Michael Brody doesn’t tell anyone about the great white he is secretly studying and following, and when a local girl gets eaten by the shark while riding a banana boat, the guy doesn’t even feel a little bit guilty – he only worries that his daughter nearly got eaten. Nearly? Hey – this girl sitting next to his daughter really did get munched on, but nobody gives a damn about her do they? I mean, if his dad had been around, Michael the marine biologist would have had a right ticking off for that boo-boo. And then I love Michael Brody’s wife welding away on a bloody awful sculpture to be put on display at the local beach, while dressed in her underwear and oversized dungarees - for no real reason than to have her dressed up like that. No actress in the history of the movies has ever looked less like a welder of metallic art, than Michael Brody’s wife does here. I love the fact Mario Van Peebles and his dad, who appeared, like Michael Caine, in some of the greatest movies in the history of cinema, have supporting roles here to the boy from The Last Starfighter and Halloween II. I love Ellen Brody’s scene where she’s laughing on a boat trip with her family (the family that are still alive and not digested by sharks), only for her laughter to suddenly turn to sobs, and for her to walk to a corner of the boat and have a good cry, in what is an unexpected and genuinely upsetting scene.

I love the shark too. No really, I do. It’s completely fake, seriously weird-looking and quite surreal in every scene it appears in - but it’s a real prop, not some CGI created crap, and it has a huge mouth, a rubbery tummy when spiked at the end that crinkles more than a man’s tummy would when it loses ten stone in half a year and didn’t get the leftover flesh stapled and, best of all – this shark leaps out of the water on its tail fin and roars. Yes, roars. I, personally, like that idea. Take that Spielberg! The shark in this one also knows how to die properly in front of a camera – it goes to that great ocean in the sky with a poetic flamboyance, half out of the water, howling, blood spilling from its rubbery mouth. I know some critics say that this was clearly over-acting on the part of the shark, but I disagree. To me, it’s almost Shakespearian.

words: mark gordon palmer

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