Jaws: The Revenge Production Analysis, Part 2: This Time, It's Marital
Jaws: The Revenge was written and filmed with Ellen Brody as the main character. Ellen is the wife of Amity Police Chief Martin Brody and is played by Lorraine Gary. Gary’s acting career largely consisted of secondary roles in TV shows and movies; Jaws and Jaws 2, the other Jaws films which featured Ellen, were no exception. Prior to Jaws: The Revenge in 1987, her last big screen role was 1941 (1979), Steven Spielberg’s first major flop. (Consider the many layers of irony here: Spielberg first gave Gary a blockbuster film like Jaws on her resume, and then he gave her a blockbuster flop less than five years later—her last role before Revenge, a sequel to a Spielberg film, which finally killed both the Jaws franchise and her acting career.)
Jaws: The Revenge was Gary’s only lead role in a movie—which, in a Jaws movie, means that her character will be the one who kills the monster shark by the film’s conclusion. Yet even within the monster-centric narrative logic of the Jaws universe, such an act is highly improbable; never in the previous Jaws movies is it indicated that Ellen would be the type of person to hunt and kill a shark, let alone go fishing at all. Thus, making Ellen the main character is what ultimately necessitates the plot of a vengeful-minded, globe-trotting, psychic-powered shark, because there’s no other way to explain how a character such as Ellen Brody—who, as written in Revenge, is a widowed, middle-aged real estate agent with two adult sons and one granddaughter—could kill a 25-foot long Great White Shark. Read on ...
If the plot of Revenge had the shark just eating people near the beaches at a seaside resort, it would follow that local authorities would hire individuals with the necessary shark hunting experience to get rid of the problem—no dramatic need for Ellen. So, the shark has to limit its diet to the Brody family for the duration of Revenge to give Ellen both motive and opportunity (no matter how contrived) to kill the shark. Furthermore, when it comes time for Ellen to face the shark, the shark seeks and finds Ellen, as opposed to Ellen dumping bloody buckets of chum in the water to find the shark herself. (Who needs a grizzled, experienced, USS Indianapolis-surviving shark hunter like Quint from the first Jaws when the shark goes out of its way to find you?) The shark even helpfully jumps out of the water long enough so Ellen can stab it to death with a boat mast (or blow it up with a boat mast, depending on which ending you see), instead of Ellen having to figure out some clever shark-killing solution that would involve firearms, poisons, explosives, electrical cables, or something else that’s more plausible but far outside of the skill set normally associated with middle-aged real estate agents who wear shoulder-padded pantsuits when hunting sharks for the first time (yes, that’s what Ellen wears during the film’s climax). Heck, Ellen doesn’t even bother to use a spear, even though that’s what she appears to be carrying in the film’s poster! (See above.)
Ellen Brody (Lorraine Gary) in fashionable shark hunting attire.
Now imagine Robert Shaw as Quint in the same outfit, shoulder pads included.
In Revenge, it is monster shark hunting made ridiculously easy to accommodate its unlikely main character. Only by directly copying Saturday Night Live’s notorious “Land Shark” Jaws spoof could Revenge have made it easier for Ellen to kill the shark—and that much more anti-climatic for the audience. In short, just about everything that’s wrong with Revenge stems directly from its choice of main character.
But to get such a goofy story (even by monster tale standards) into full film production and release would require the act of someone very powerful within the entertainment industry. Someone such as a studio head, someone such as Sid Sheinberg, Gary’s husband of 50 years and former studio chief of Universal Pictures. According to Jaws trivia, its was Sheinberg’s influence that got Gary cast as Ellen Brody in Jaws in the first place (as opposed to Richard D. Zanuck, co-producer of Jaws, who wanted his then-wife Linda Harrison for the role). He also reportedly fired John Hancock, Jaws 2’s original director, for not writing a larger role for Gary in the first sequel. A few critics did comment on Sheinberg’s possible influence in getting Revenge produced and released when it first arrived in 1987. However, one of the key articles that I’ve been able to find that suggests just how involved Sheinberg was in creating Revenge is this small announcement (presumably from a December 1986 issue of Variety or some other industry trade) that was scanned and posted on Jawscollector.com:
If anything, this announcement puts the following quote in a much more dubious light. Gary was once quoted by Daily News reporter Fran Wood saying this about her Ellen Brody role in Revenge: “This is an extraordinary, rich role, the kind women my age just don’t get to play. Isn’t it ironic that I’m playing what could be the most rewarding role of my career after my retirement?” Of course it’s a rewarding role for Gary—her husband wrote it himself!
Further explaining Sheinberg’s involvement is Rosenthal’s Boston Herald article (previously mentioned in Part 1 of this post series), where she quotes Revenge director Joseph Sargent’s account of the sequel’s origins: “(Sargent) calls the hurried production ‘a ticking bomb waiting to go off. … Sid Sheinberg (president of MCA Inc., parent company of Universal Pictures) expects a miracle – and we’re going to make it happen.’ Sargent got a call from Sheinberg in late September asking him to direct this latest episode of ‘Jaws’ – with no script yet written. Said Sargent: ‘I didn’t have time to laugh because Sid explained he wanted to do a quality picture about human beings. When he told me, “It’s your baby, you produce and direct,” I accepted.’ … Then, said Sargent, Sheinberg ‘cut through all the slow lanes and got ‘Jaws’ off and running.’”
(One of the more eye-popping bits that Rosenthal got from Sargent was this: “‘This ‘Jaws’ is a more human story,’ (Sargent) said, than any of the previous ‘Jaws’ films. ‘The script and the picture should make you laugh and cry and give you a few good scares in between because of its quality.” Yes, the only Jaws film which features a shark that’s out for revenge against a specific family is the most ‘human’ of the four Jaws movies. Really.)
Just when you thought it was safe to play with toys in the bath tub:
a still from the alternate ending of Jaws: The Revenge.
Some details differ between Rosenthal’s article and the trade announcement. According to Rosenthal, Sargent hired Michael De Guzman to write the script, while the announcement makes it sound like Sheinberg had a more direct hand in the script’s development. Who exactly wrote which draft of the script may never be fully determined, but it’s clear from both of the pieces that Sheinberg was the sole creative force behind Revenge. As for Gary, here’s what she said to Rosenthal: “The truth is my husband runs the studio. I heard about it at home. He came in and said, ‘We’ve got to have a hit movie this summer and I think we can do another ‘Jaws’. I was stunned. I thought he was teasing me.” In a later article by Rosenthal, “The Shark That Won’t Go Away” which appeared in the March 22, 1987 edition of Newsday, Gary said that “I made a good deal on (Revenge), but I didn’t make as good a deal as I would have if I weren’t married to Sid.” Curiously, Sheinberg’s name is nowhere to be found in Revenge’s credits, even though the film couldn’t have happened at all without his insistence and authority.
Yet what would lead an actress, particularly one who is married to a studio head, to conclude that a hastily made monster movie sequel is an ideal career move? My answer: Blame Sigourney Weaver and James Cameron. (Hint: It has nothing to do with Avatar.) Find out why in Part 3 of this production analysis.