What with Jaws (1975) being one of the best films of all time, and a smash hit, it was no big surprise a big old sequel had to come about.
Jaws 2 launched in June 1978 and was a predictable hit, although this time taking on a type of teen slasher horror vibe to proceedings.
Despite being in the shadow of its predecessor, it’s not a terrible film at all. So, we’re celebrating it today. Huzzaarrghhhh!!
Jaws 2 (yes, the 1978 sequel)
Directed by Jeannot Szwarc, straight away the sequel was notable for the absence of Steven Spielberg.
But Universal Studios craved a sequel to the monster hit of 1975. After Spielberg didn’t even respond to studio requests for him to direct, thusly they went for Szwarc.
Now that’s a bloody difficult act to follow up on. It’s no surprise that Jaws 2 is far from a classic, but it does have its merits.
Despite providing some credit there, the film does rather laboriously attempt to recreate the original’s structure.
There’s a long opening act with Chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider, who’d just come off a difficult 1977 shoot called Sorcerer) as he begins to fear another killer shark is off the coast.
Yes, another one. Wishing to avoid another nightmare, he again attempts to convince the local government, led by Mayor Vaughn (Murray Hamilton reprising his Jaws role), there’s a problem.
Again, they downplay the whole hoo-hah. Despite various calamities developing on the oceans around Amity Island.
These are alarmingly similar to the last debacle. And, again, government is super eager to pretend there’s not a massive shark about trying to kill everyone.
Still, Brody bans his kids from going sailing, but his son Michael (Mark Gruner) disobeys the order and heads out for a jaunt with his mates.
He takes his younger brother Sean (Marc Gilpin) with him.
And they’re joined by a bunch of other teenagers including Andy (Gary Springer), Tina (Ann Sudenberry), Jackie (Donna Wilkes), Marge (Martha Swatek), and many more!
With a bunch of teenagers out on the ocean, it’s not long before the killer great white shark emerges. And all hell breaks loose!
Even when a helicopter dude turns up to try and save the day there’s a minor hitch caused by the local wildlife.
Much of the film at the mid-point revolves around the antics of the teenagers stuck at sea. All their various efforts are gradually thwarted by the shark.
Worst of all, and memorably, Marge is wiped out by the shark whilst attempting to save young Sean.
The young lad is left with PTSD, but the good news is Brody takes to the ocean in a boat to try and find his sons and save the day! This is after becoming aware they’re out at sea, of course.
A series of further incidents unfold, with Brody finding the teenagers, confronting the shark with another standoff, and this time the great white goes up in a ball of electric flames.
So, yes, perhaps it was wise director Szwarc didn’t stray too far away from the successful formula in the previous film.
Whilst it makes Jaws 2 predictable, it helps ground it in the original film’s realism. Whereas future Jaws films (namely Jaws the Revenge in 1987) began inventing all sorts of bizarre plot contrivances to force through another film.
And full credit to Scheider (who died in 2008), throughout the first sequel he really put his all into a production he wasn’t exactly delighted about.
He’d actually quit the set of The Deer Hunter and, due to his contract with Universal, he was ordered to star in Jaws 2.
Despite believing the project couldn’t offer anything new, he eventually reluctantly agreed. His return added gravitas to the production, as otherwise no major stars from the original film would have been there.
However, frictions between Scheider and director Szwarc spilled over on set and the two came to blows. They later made up after written correspondence and agreed to finish the film to the highest possible standard.
And, well… is it a good film? Yes, sort of. It’s not amazing.
It drags a lot of the time, with a lot of camera action spent lingering on the teenagers lost at sea as they look cold and miserable.
The whole shoot seemed strangely overcast, too, rather than the sunny Martha’s Vineyard of the previous Jaws shoot.
But adding to Jaws 2’s strong points was the teenage cast, who largely did a good job of screaming, being devoured, and portraying teenagers convincingly (more on these actors below).
So, yes, given this film was just an obvious cash in it really wasn’t that bad.
It’s nowhere near the standard set by Jaws, but given how many atrocious shark films there have been since 1975 (think of the godawful Great White from 2021) and it’s a pretty solid effort.
Don’t choose to watch this over the original, of course, but it’s still an interesting horror flick from the late ’70s aimed at a teenage audience.
Jaws 2’s Production
As we’ve already mentioned, Steven Spielberg wanted nothing to do with the project. This, in part, was influenced by how appalling the whole shoot had been for him and his crew.
In case you don’t know, filming at sea is a bit of a nightmare.
So, Universal drafted in Szwarc as the script was thrashed out. Early ideas involved a prequel with Quint (Robert Shaw in the original) and his famous USS Indianapolis story.
That was eventually rejected in favour of the teen horror/slasher thriller concept.
Also of note is Jaws’ author Peter Benchley’s total lack of involvement in the sequel—including the book.
This was adapted from Howard Sackler and Dorothy Tristan’s screenplay and was written by Hank Searls. Why? To, you know, cash in and all that.
Anyway, three sharks were built for the film. And Szwarc’s approach was to show the shark as much as possible, as opposed to the original’s idea of keeping the monster hidden.
Shooting took place in Martha’s Vineyard (as with the original) in 1977, although it was another tough shoot due to the unpredictable oceans. A local newspaper commented of the crew’s return:
“The Jaws people are back among us, more efficient, more organized and more moneyed. Gone are the happy-go-lucky days of the first Jaws, where the big trucks roved about the Island from day to day, always highly visible with miles of cables snaking here and there over roads and lawns. Gone are the acrimonious wrangles and Select persons over noise and zoning regulations and this and that. What is still here is money—about $2 million of it.”
As with the previous film, many locals were used as extras throughout the shoot.
And although big name stars Roy Scheider and Lorraine Gary returned after Jaws (although no Richard Dreyfuss as Hooper, unfortunately), the cast was notable for its inclusion of many young, up-and-coming actors waiting for a big break.
Starring in Jaws 2 must have felt like that big moment, except most of them ended their acting careers soon after.
Gary Springer, for example, was 29 at the time of the shoot. Previously, he’d enjoyed a small part in Dog Day Afternoon (1975) next to Al Pacino and John Cazale. Here he is!
However, Springer did little more acting work after the shark film and retired in 1984. Consequently, Andy in Jaws 2 remains his career highlight.
Elsewhere, most young blokes watching Jaws 2 no doubt had a crush on Martha Swatek, who played Marge (the one devoured hideously by the shark).
In case you’re a bit dense, Swatek is the one on the right. Sorry… left! On the right with the blue top. Left!
She was 22 at the time of the shoot, but this was to be her only film credit. She also did work as a model, before becoming a teacher in California.
Other notables included Ann Dusenberry (26 at the time) who played Tina. Here she is gawping at Roy Scheider on the set.
She went on to star in minor films roles up until 1986, before calling it a day.
Although we believe she then put that experience to good use, working as Artistic Director of the Actors’ Conservatory Theatre in California.
We cover these brief stories as interesting curiosities.
For that brief moment in 1978, Jaws 2 would have been the biggest film on the planet. And yet it didn’t do much for most of these young hopefuls and their acting careers.
And that’s despite the film’s success! It wasn’t a Jaws type phenomenon, but off its $30 million budget it raked back $208 million.
It goes to show how random the film industry can be, with big breaks not really being big breaks, and many actors disappearing from the scene as unknowns. Despite starring in major blockbusters.
But Jaws 2 did, at least, create one of the industry’s most iconic taglines:
“Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water…”
Indeed. And that, readers, is at least one legacy the film can claim.