The fourth and (so far) final installment in the Jaws series is often cited as one of the worst movies of all time. It was nominated for seven Golden Raspberry Awards and was made in about nine months, sure evidence of its lack of quality. It does feature some questionable if awful special effects and the cinematography is muddled, but it’s also not as bad as its reputation suggests.
As with any cinematic venture, one’s mileage will depend on how Jaws: The Revenge is approached. The 1987 movie features the directorial services of Joseph Sargent, with a screenplay by Michael de Guzman once again making hay from the Peter Benchley characters. The events of Jaws 3 seem all but forgotten and logic has little place in this surreal world.
Ellen Brody (Lorraine Gary), widow of Chief Martin Brody from the first two Jaws pictures, lives with her youngest son Sean (Mitchell Anderson). He’s a police deputy. One night, he’s murdered by a great white shark. Ellen believes that the fish has it out for her family.
When Mike (Lance Guest) visits for his brother’s memorial, he convinces his mother to join him in the Bahamas where he works as a marine biologist. Ellen agrees, believing that a break from Amity will be good for her. She falls for a gambling pilot (Michael Caine), but it appears the great white shark has followed her and wants revenge. Or something.
Perception is a big deal in Jaws: The Revenge and Sargent conducts most of the movie like it exists in a nightmare. Lucidity isn’t “necessary” and cinematographer John McPherson captures the action in a series of fluttering, flickering, concealed eruptions.
The opening shot is a doozy. After the underwater credits, the lens zooms in on a familiar eye and pulls away to reveal Ellen cooking a fish. It’s a terrific gauge of things to come and suggests the reprisal of the title. And there’s an oblique question: just who is getting revenge here?
Unfortunately for the protagonist, Ellen’s simple act of making a fish dinner precludes the simple act of a fish making Sean dinner. This sequence is captured without clarity and Sargent juxtaposes sequences of the original pillaging shark with the present-day attacker, creating a jarring effect.
The point of such admittedly messy collocation is to remind the audience that the fish are linked. The fish don’t forget. When one considers that the Sean-eating shark has seen his or her entire clan destroyed by Brody family, the dovetailing yarn becomes clear: Jaws: The Revenge is about ancestral retribution.
Of course, the Brody vs. Shark rumble doesn’t pass muster. It does feature several continuity errors and technical blunders. The shark alternates between a ridiculous-looking slab of papier-mâché and a semi-impressive floating beast, plus it growls underwater – just like its cousin in Jaws 3.
There are other matters. There is a singing limousine driver. Caine’s clothes dry in a hurry. Shoes and oxygen tanks change colour in the scope of a single scene. Mario Van Peebles has a rather unique accent. The shark stands on its tail in order to get run through by a boat. Mike tells his wife (Karen Young) that he’s always wanted to make love to an angry welder. And so on.
Few sensible people would make the case that Jaws: The Revenge is a “good” movie, but it does have the distinction of understanding its B-movie focus while squeezing in a few psychological reflections. And it is a shade or two better than Jaws 3, for those scoring at home.