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Jaws 2 and the Sequel Question

Jaws 2 and the Sequel Question

| On 14, Nov 2013


“Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water.”
There it is. The tagline for the 1st sequel to one of the biggest blockbusters of the 1970’s. It’s been three years since a great white shark terrorized the fictional town of Amity and shock moviegoers around the world. Not since Alfred Hitchcock’s PSYCHO in 1960 has anyone been so remotely afraid to carefully examine a once normal daily task as a possible endgame to life. The fear captivated audiences and compelled them to see JAWS more than once in the summer of 1975, bringing the box office total to over $100 million for the first time. This watershed moment not only defined the summer blockbuster, it created an era of the franchise that continues  exploitatively to this day. Despite an initial re-release of JAWS the following year, the producers wanted to capitalize on the momentum of this new phenomena. But the question was how. A question that still persisted after seeing the sequel three years later.
JAWS catapulted director Steven Spielberg’s career, but when asked several months after its initial release about the possibility of a sequel, he stated “…making a sequel to anything is just a cheap carny trick.” An ironic statement from a man who gave the world GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH. But in 1975, Spielberg had the confidence of a budding artist to create new, individual works of art that stood on their own merit and not to take advantage of the short attentions spans of film-goers. It would not be until 1984 when Spielberg embarked on his first attempt at franchise building when he directed INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM, the prequel of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK.
In 1975, Spielberg ignored the huge money offers and back-end points to direct JAWS 2 and instead wrote and directed a more personal story: CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND. The Steven Spielberg of the 1970’s was n idealistic artist, foregoing  the easy money of a sure-win sequel and instead tackling  a scifi story around one man’s mental breakdown and disintegration of his family with his unnatural obsession with mashed potatoes and not seeing a alien payoff until the very end (for some, three years with the Special Edition release).
By the mid 70’s, there were only two major film franchises, and one was on its last breath
Franchises in the mid 70’s was a novel oddity with only the James Bond series and PLANET OF THE APES in production. Francis Ford Coppola’s THE GODFATHER PART II can be looked upon as a standalone film, bookends to the original, a sequel and prequel rolled into one. But Bond and the Apes were running out the clock all the way to the bank. By 1975, PLANET OF THE APES had five films, a TV series and a Saturday morning cartoon and James Bond was played by three different actors in several films over 13 years.
The production on JAWS 2 was loaded with problems. The first director, John D. Hancock, was fired after 18 months on the production (and one month of filming). He was replaced by Jeannot Szwarc, who’s difficulties with the reluctant Roy Scheider led to a fist fight. And of course, the shark once again was breaking down on set. But the show (and franchise) must go on. Scheider was forced to reprise his role of Chief Brody after dropping out of THE DEER HUNTER just before production started because of creative differences (he was cast as Steven Pushkov, the role played by John Savage in the final film). Universal forced him to fulfill his three picture deal by returning to the JAWS franchise. Scheider was so distraught at reprising his role, he pleaded insanity and begged off the picture. Universal upped the ante by quadrupling his salary and giving him points. Miraculously, his sanity returned and he was off to make JAWS 2.
In the summer of 1978, I was embarking on the last year of my single-digit decade, the youngest son of divorced parents, who happened to be deaf. My movie viewing habits revolved around PG rated celluloid classics that was out at the time. But since my parents were deaf, I had the luxury of watching many first run  movies in the basement of my Long Island home via a 16mm film projector with closed captioning.
In the days before closed captioning became standard on TV sets, the deaf were inexplicably left out of the dialog for all visual entertainment. Sometime in the 70’s, movie company’s created special versions of their films with captioning on 3-5 16mm reels per film, that were loaned out to hearing  impaired folks. For my parents and their friends, this became viewing parties in each others homes. I’ll never forget watching BLACULA with two dozen middle aged suburban white people in my basement.
Chief Brody (Roy Scheider) in an inflatable raft holding a live power line going mano-o-mano with a Great White shark
Chief Brody (Roy Scheider) in an inflatable raft holding a live power line going mano-o-mano with a Great White shark
These are the reasons why I watched JAWS 2 three time in the summer of ’78. Once with my Mom, once with my Dad and once in my basement for the closed caption viewings. By the third time, I was obsessed. Not with Jaws, but the why a shark would terrorize the same island and the same man as in the original JAWS. Many questions popped up. Were sharks sophisticated enough to seek revenge? Was the second shark related to the first shark?  And why go after poor Chief Brody?
All these questions started my fascination with sequels and franchises. And then prequels, reboots, remakes, interquels, midquels, parallel storylines, serials, spinoffs and more. What started as a family-friendly teen horror flick on the water has become the unoriginality of Hollywood product today. The modern era of franchise building is the business model that studio executives create and nourish, cranking out big budget sequels with a lack of devotion to creative storytelling. The analysis of the sequel question has now reached over 2000 different titles based on a prior chapter. The money cow has arrived and its time to Milk the Franchise.
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