Friday, July 2, 2010

Jaws: The Revenge Production Analysis, Part 3: Sequel Envy



Sigourney Weaver’s return to the role of Ellen Ripley in Aliens, James Cameron’s sequel to Alien, proved to be a big hit in the summer of 1986. Not only was Aliens one of the top ten highest-grossing films of 1986, it was also the only one of the ten that was a monster movie sequel which featured a female lead. It was such a hit that Weaver scored an Oscar nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role (Weaver’s first nomination). It’s not a matter of whether Weaver deserved the nomination or not; what the nomination did prove is that an actress could earn significant critical acclaim from within the industry for reprising a role in a monster movie sequel—particularly a female, maternally-oriented role such as Ellen Ripley.

While the profitability of a monster movie sequel like Aliens probably spurred the quick production of Jaws: The Revenge, I don’t think that Revenge was intended to be a rip-off of Aliens in terms of plot. (That said, the beeping homing beacon that’s attached to the shark in Revenge serves as similar dramatic purpose as the beeping motion detectors in Aliens.) Yet because the aforementioned trade announcement in Part 2 of this analysis places the completion of the initial script as late as December of 1986 and a production deadline of July 1987, it appears to me that Sid Sheinberg pushed hard for an Ellen Brody-centric Jaws sequel after industry buzz began to build around Weaver’s performance in Aliens and the possibility of an Oscar nomination. If anything, it clearly convinced Sheinberg and his wife Lorraine Gary that a Jaws movie could be made featuring a “violent episode of woman versus nature” as its climax while Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, Amity Island, and even the titular shark itself were relegated to secondary roles. Read on ...

(To be fair, some actors have looked to the horror genre as a way of continuing their careers. For example, Chuck Connors appeared in many horror movies and TV shows during the 70s and 80s after having an early career based heavily on the action/adventure and western genres. Given how Revenge fails as a horror movie, it’s my guess that such a career move was never part of Gary’s plans.)

Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley in Aliens,
kicking alien butt and taking complicated,
hard-to-pronounce alien names.

The Revenge script had Gary in the role of Ellen Brody do all sorts of melodramatic, matronly things: mourn the death of a son, overcome personal trauma, dote over her granddaughter, argue with her other son over his career choice, and find love again in the shadows of her deceased husband and child. All of these plot elements would be worthy of strong critical acclaim in almost any other film. However, Jaws: The Revenge wasn’t Sophie’s Choice or Terms of Endearment; it was a Jaws sequel and a monster movie and as long as it failed at being both of those things (no matter how “human” the story was intended to be), no one could expect much more to be accomplished—let alone anything that would earn an Oscar nomination. In contrast, Aliens was a great sequel to Alien and a great monster movie in its own right, and it was within that context that Weaver was able to earn critical praise and an industry award nomination. Whatever character development and acting challenges there were in Aliens, they fit smoothly into the plot of the movie without compromising its entertainment value. The same cannot be said for Revenge. (It’s also worthy to note that Aliens was cheaper to make than Revenge, with an estimated budget of $18,500,000.)

In a further ironic twist, Sigourney Weaver’s nomination for Aliens did not result in an Oscar win for her in 1987 after all. However, Michael Caine, who was in Revenge, did win an Oscar for his work in Woody Allen’s Hannah and Her Sisters but he could not receive the award in person because he was still shooting the Jaws sequel. In other words, Caine couldn’t pick up his acting award because he was stuck in a picture designed to help another actor get a critical boost to her career. While Oscar nominations eluded Gary and the Revenge cast and crew, they did get nominated for seven Razzie awards. Interestingly, both Weaver and Gary were nominated for Best Actress for the Saturn Awards (for Aliens and Revenge, respectively) but only Weaver won.

Michael Caine at sea, desperately searching for
the 1987 Academy Awards ceremony.

It’s a stretch in the absence of hard evidence to connect the critical and financial accomplishments of one genre film to the production of another. Yet looking at the time frame presented—the release of Aliens in summer of 1986, Revenge’s absurd creative choices, its tight production schedule, and its struggle to meet the July 1987 release date—it appears that Revenge was intended to capitalize on the popularity and critical favor of another previously released film.

You could blame Revenge’s failure on its director, or its scriptwriter, or its special effects crew, or even Universal itself, but all evidence points directly to Sheinberg (and by extension Gary) for getting Revenge made the way it was. Unfortunately, I can’t confirm anything specific; I can only infer on the basis of the available evidence. I doubt that Sheinberg or Gary will ever fully reveal what went on behind the scenes during Revenge which led it to become the disaster that it was—how many directors Sheinberg approached to do Revenge before getting Sargent, if anyone at Universal voiced disapproval at the high-priced, quickly-produced sequel that had no script, etc.—so speculation is all that’s left. Then again, it gives a rather prophetic tinge to Jaws 3, People 0, an unproduced 1979 comedy script which depicted the incompetent, disaster-ridden production of a Jaws sequel, including a shark that slowly eats its way through the film crew. (Imagine Mel Brooks’ The Producers with the Springtime for Hitler musical replaced by a Jaws sequel, and you have the plot for Jaws 3, People 0.) If the full story behind the production of Revenge ever came out, it would probably one of those cases where truth is much, much stranger than fiction.


As for whether Sigourney Weaver or James Cameron ever considered a connection between their movie and Revenge, it’s probably unlikely. However, there’s this to ponder: one of the tag lines for Aliens was “This time, it’s war.” The tag line for Revenge the following summer was “This time, it’s personal.” When Cameron’s Terminator 2 came out in 1991, one of its tag lines was “It’s nothing personal.” Considering that the overall plot of the Terminator saga involves the assassination of a specific individual, John Connor, it’s a bit out of place to say that a Terminator film is not “personal”, don’t you think?

Still, I can’t help but to wonder what the fallout was within entertainment industry circles for Sheinberg when Revenge flopped at the box office after he forced it through such a haphazard production. Gary stopped acting altogether after Revenge; the role that made her a name among film buffs also ended up putting her career permanently to rest. Sheinberg has often been credited with ‘discovering’ Steven Spielberg, so I can only wonder what Spielberg thought of Sheinberg’s attempt to use a sequel to Spielberg’s first hit movie as an abruptly produced star vehicle for Gary.

Anyone can make a film that’s mediocre and forgettable. What Revenge proves (much like Ed Wood’s filmmaking career before it) is that it requires an unwavering commitment to grandiose self-delusion, along with all of its inherent unreasonable demands and expectations, to make a true cinematic spectacle of incompetence and absurdity. In conclusion of this autopsy of the exhumed celluloid body of a notorious franchise killer, this Titans, Terrors & Toys CSI has ruled that the death of Jaws: The Revenge was caused by a lethal combination of reckless studio leadership and nepotism in the first degree.


17 comments:

  1. +JMJ+

    I read all three parts of your analysis, and this one is my favourite. It's always interesting to look at the context in which a movie was made. I never would have figured out the connection to Aliens; but I agree with you that it makes a lot of sense! And now I almost like Jaws: The Revenge better now. (Almost!)

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  2. Thanks for commenting! It took me a while to piece together why Jaws: The Revenge was rushed into production (particularly with such a poor script) and Aliens was the only detail from the summer of 1986 that seemed to fit. The more digging I did, the more it felt like there was a cause-and-effect sort of connection. It's just a shame that Universal didn't bother to take the time to understand what made Aliens work as both a monster movie and a sequel....

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  3. Jaws:The Revenge was the 1st Jaws film i ever saw so it will always have a soft spot on me.

    While i know it is far from a great or decent film, I do enjoy it slightly better then ''Jaws 3'' don't ask me why i just do.

    Although loved reading this because it shows that this sequel could have been a lot better had they just spent the time to get it right.

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  4. You never forget your first, eh? :)

    For what it's worth, I've always had a soft spot for Jaws 3 because it was the first film I saw in anaglyph (red and blue) 3-D. Glad to hear you liked my article!

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  5. Brilliant research! Jaws has been my favorite film ever since I was a child, and as a MST3K fan, the complete train wreck sequels have always been a fascination. I come back to Revenge every couple of years and search the internet for trivia.

    All this stuff about Sid is completely new to me, and I think your point on Caine missing his Oscar speech so that the studio head can try and get one for his wife sums it up perfectly. I wonder how many lives would have changed or films changed (or even made) if he hadn't forced her into the original cast in the first place.

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  6. Glad you liked the research! In comparison to the first Jaws movie, finding details about the productions of the Jaws sequels can be pretty hard to do. To make matters worse, I could only infer what happended behind the scenes with Jaws: The Revenge based on what I could find--nothing conclusive, nothing verifiable. Yet I think that it's safe to say that the lesson to be learned about Revenge is that studio executives should never be the creative force behind a movie--sequel or otherwise.

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  7. Great multi-part post. I would give anything to know what is being shown in each of the "quick cuts" during Sean's attack at the beginning of JTR. Even on DVD, I can't make anything out.

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  8. Geof,

    As far as I can tell with the Sean attack scene, I think they cut in shots from one of the shark attack scenes shot in the Bahamas in with the footage they shot in Martha's Vineyard, because they didn't bring any of the mechanical sharks to New England on such a tight production schedule and that was the only way to show the shark in the scene. If you look closely, you'll notice that the quick close-ups of the shark's mouth have a daylight quality to them, while the footage of Sean was clearly shot at night.

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  9. Jaws: The Revenge. The film that could have been.

    For what it's worth, I like Revenge a hell of a lot more than 3D, which felt like a terrible made-for-TV movie complete with terrible casting choices.

    What Revenge does right, or tries to do right, is admirable at least. Omitting 3D, bringing the story back to Amity (they never should have ventured to the Bahamas), cameos by Mrs. Kintner and Mrs. Taft from the original, the return of Polly (recast, unfortunately) and of course Lorraine Gary. On top of that, Michael Small's score was excellent and one of the truly memorable things of the film.

    Now, I am not a Revenge fanatic, but I certainly see the diamond in the rough. You make great points about the rushed production. I believe that if they had more time to flesh everything out that Revenge wouldn't be so poorly received. It gets a lot of flack for being the final film of the series and incidentally the nail in the coffin.

    Regardless, very interesting article and a noble attempt at digging up info on the production. I know a lot of online communities that would die to learn more of Revenge's production, or even 3D's at that.

    I normally can only sit through the first 30 minutes or so of the film - which I find pretty good actually. The rest is just laughable, but I find an odd charm in that. Must be all the late night AMC viewings of this film that has dug a bit of nostalgia into me. As for 3D, I can't even watch it. Absolutely terrible film.

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  10. Thanks for commenting, and I'm glad that you could get something out of my post. I always wondered what happened behind the scenes during the last two Jaws sequels since there's very little information about both. There's a Jaws 3D fan site out there that covers a lot about the movie, and you can check it out at http://www.jaws-3d.com/blog/.

    There's a possibility that Revenge could've been a better film, particularly had they stayed in Amity. Yet between the rushed production schedule and the project being driven by Sheinberg--not by a talented director or inspired writer--I think that this film's fate was sealed before a single frame was shot. Of course, that didn't keep me from doing my own rough fan edit of Revenge to see what could be salvaged from this. I'm kind of proud of my effort, so I'll have to save that for another post.

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  11. Dakota (previously Anonymous)October 14, 2011 at 5:26 PM

    I'd love to check it out. There are some things a fan edit could easily fix that would instantly make Revenge much better.

    I can't say it was really the director's fault. Joseph Sargent isn't a bad director by any means. I wouldn't put it past the Sheinberg idea, but I do think he had good intentions, honestly. Yeah people can argue well Lorraine shouldn't have had the lead but I think it was cool to see her again and I think she did a great job given the material.What I would have changed was the revenge plot and the Bahama setting. A few more deaths outside of the Brody family, and definitely work a Quint-esque character into the film. Michael Caine and his shark deterring plane tactics just doesnt cut it. I'd have Jake die on a shark hunt reminiscent of the original film, and Michael, the Quint character, and Ellen remaining. Maybe Hoagie's character, I don't know.

    I am babbling. Getting lost in the ideas that could have easily made this film much better. At the end if the day, I can't argue that it is baffling that this film was released to theaters like it was. Another six months to a year should have been taken to overhaul a lot of the movie.

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  12. It's not to say that Joseph Sargent was a bad director, it's just that he clearly wasn't the one who was making all of the key creative decisions. Either way, you're right--had they waitied longer, they could've had something much better to put in the theaters. At the very least, they could've stayed at Martha's Vineyard.

    In the meantime, go to this site to download my fan edit: http://www.megaupload.com/?d=TWU06XAN. It's not perfect, and it's only around 40 minutes long. Essentially, I tried to make the shark as intimidating as possible, and kept the revenge issue unanswered. It also extends the story to three different incidents during a single year. Hope you like it!

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  13. At the moment, I only have Internet access through my phone. Once I get to a desktop, I'll check it out and post feedback. It sounds very interesting.

    By the way, noticed the Myers avatar. Halloween has to be one of my favorite films, right behind Jaws.

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  14. Hey there. As embarrassing as this is (and unfortunate), I have still not been able to reach desktop connectivity for any decent amount of time and if I have it has been business related with no time for leisure. I have had this fan edit in the back of my mind ever since you posted the link so I thought I'd drop back by and ask: is there anyway you could upload it to YouTube or possibly a QuickTime format?

    My day to day Internet activity rests solely on my phone and therefore I can't download normal files. I'd love to see this fan edit though.

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  15. Hi Dakota,

    Actually, I was thinking about posting my fan edit on YouTube but I never got around to it. I'll give it a shot and see how that goes. If you send me an e-mail through my profile, I can get in touch with you as soon as it's available or I could arrange another way to get the edit to you.

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  16. Replies
    1. Thanks for reading--I'm glad you liked it!

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