Jaws 2 – Shark week

With this being 4th of July week and all the tar balls from the BP spill scaring people away from the beaches, I thought I would spend the week covering other reasons to scare you away from the beaches. This is Shark week. Jaws 2 is currently available on instant Netflix.

PASS: Jaws 2 (1978) – Rated PG.

“Just as Amity Island begins to rebound from a spate of deadly shark attacks, a pair of missing divers and a boating accident lead police chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) to suspect the worst, but his warnings go ignored by the mayor (Murray Hamilton). Sure enough, another great white lurks in the local waters, this time with its sights set on a group of sailing teens — including Brodys two sons. Jeannot Szwarc directs this blockbuster sequel.”

“I think we have got another shark problem.”

Well in the true fashion of sequels, they immediately up the body count. Instead of a lone swimmer, we have a pair of divers biting it in the first scene. The mysterious beach discovery this time are whale remains instead of human (to show that the Jaws 2 shark is bigger and better than Bruce from Jaws).

Having only one leg of the Roy Scheider / Robert Shaw / Richard Dreyfuss triangle really hurts Jaws 2. They should have spent the money to bring in at least one more name actor. Instead they spend a fair amount of the running time focusing on the Brody kids as well as some related teens.

Roy Scheider is just fine here as Sheriff Brody although his performance is clearly inferior to the same role he played in Jaws. They appeared to try and beef up the role of Ellen Brody for Lorraine Gary although she does not get to fight the shark of course.

Murray Hamilton reprises his role as Mayor Vaughn. He was just fine as the worried-about-the-wrong-things Mayor in Jaws but his role here does not ring true. He acts like the events of the previous film did not occur. It really reminds me of the characters in 24 who apparently are incapable of learning anything from what happened in previous seasons.

To pad out the running time between shark attacks and before the final confrontation, the writers just give us Sheriff Brody as the boy who cried wolf. The script works fine for hitting the numbers but loses most of the magic that Jaws had. It is co-written by Carl Gottlieb (Jaws) and Howard Sackler. There was also apparently a mob subplot that was jettisoned partway through filming.

I guess the long and the short of it is if you particularly like shark attack movies and have seen Jaws then this one is not bad. It just is not especially good either and you will find your self twiddling your thumbs while waiting for the next attack.

The final half hour is pretty action packed and if the whole film had been like the last half hour, this would easily have rated a watch recommendation.

Another note: like Jaws (but not nearly as bad), this transfer is pixelated in spots. Is someone getting lazy?

People Watch: A young Keith Gordon plays one of the teens, Doug Fetterman. He would later specialize in geeks and go on to star in Dressed to Kill and Christine.

Christine – The King of Horror

This is the King of Horror week. That is right – all of the films this week will be based on works by noted horror author Stephen King. Christine is currently available on instant Netflix.

WATCH: Christine (1983) – Rated R for adult content, adult language, and violence.

“Geeky student Arnie Cunningham (Keith Gordon) falls for Christine, a rusty 1958 Plymouth Fury, and becomes obsessed with restoring the classic automobile to her former glory. As the car changes, so does Arnie, whose newfound confidence turns to arrogance behind the wheel of his exotic beauty. Arnies girlfriend Leigh and best friend Dennis reach out to him, only to be met by a Fury like no other. Based on the chilling novel by Stephen King.”

“Let me tell you a little something about love, Dennis. It has a voracious appetite. It eats everything. Friendship. Family. It kills me how much it eats. But I will tell you something else. You feed it right, and it can be a beautiful thing, and thats what we have.”

John Carpenter begins the movie wonderfully as Christine rolls off the assembly line to the immortal strains of “Bad to the Bone”. This scene, one of the best in the movie, is not in the novel. The rest of the music choices in the film are quite inspired – Tarantino-esque before Tarantino.

This is a Stephen King love story. Make no mistake – this story may be about a murderous car but at heart, it is a love story of tragic proportions. As in Shakespeare, it is love at first sight.

While I did not notice any particular liberties taken with the book (other than cutting out several subplots), the focus is quite different. I remember the book being essentially a love story between friends Arnie and Dennis and what happens when Arnie buys the aforementioned car.

John Carpenter puts the focus more squarely on the relationship between Arnie and Christine. This is probably necessary to keep the film under two hours but at times it does seem a bit too streamlined.

The actors are serviceable. Strangely none of the regular actors that Carpenter uses make an appearance here.

Keith Gordon made a career out of playing the nerdy kid (Home Movies, Dressed to Kill) and as such plays Arnie, our lovable nerd who is transformed just as he transforms Christine.

John Stockwell (Cougar in Top Gun) plays Dennis, the jock friend to Arnie. Alexandra Paul plays Cabot, the human love interest they both share. William Ostrander plays the head bully, Buddy Repperton. Part of the problem is that the actors are all in their 20s and they look it as do many of the other high school “kids”.

The other part of the problem is Harry Dean Stanton. He has a brief role as Detective Junkins and he is so much better than the other actors that the rest seem somewhat dull in comparison.

The remaining “actor” of note is Christine herself. Carpenter makes Christine the star, her shade of red is gorgeous, and her headlights mesmerizing. The amount of damage done to her in various scenes is amazing. Every shot of Christine is lovingly framed or would be…

Annoyingly Netflix has presented this in a cropped for TV pan-and-scan format. This was actually the movie that convinced me decades ago that letterbox was preferable to full screen.

The first scene at the school lockers has Arnie in the background making fun of Roseanne while she flirts with Dennis. In the original pan-and-scan I saw on TV, Arnie is actually cut out of the frame – which completely ruins the scene.

This pan-and-scan version preserves a bit of the joke though it is cut badly. One of the strengths John Carpenter brings to the cinematic table are his lovely 2.35:1 shots. It is a real shame that this is shown “fool-screen”.

I still recommend this film from John Carpenter at the height of his career but I was tempted to rate this a pass because many of the beautiful shot compositions are ruined. This is neither the best of John Carpenter nor the best of Stephen King but is still enjoyable.

People Watch: Oh no it is the Scientology connection again. His wife Kelly Preston appears here as Roseanne.