They should make a new sequel to Jaws. Here is my pitch.
Happy July 4th, dad.
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny did not do very well at the box office this weekend. Its commercial failure has inspired some takes, one of which is that Holywood needs to stop nostalgia plays. This is a take that is sibling to the “Hollywood has no new ideas” take, which is increasingly common. The problem with the take is the need part. I am sympathetic to the argument that, from a creative point of view, it would be better if the studios didn’t make so many sequels and reboots. But they don’t do it for no reason at all. The fact is, dipping back into IP is something audiences do respond to. They do like it. Hollywood needs to ignore the advice of people who let their hearts get in the way of their heads, and that’s what a lot of the people whining about nostalgia films are doing.
The anti-IP crowd has said to me, incredulously, many times over the years, “What if they remade your dad’s classic films? Wouldn’t you hate that?” And the answer is always the same: of course, I wouldn’t hate it. I’d welcome it!
Whether the remakes turned out good or bad, they would convince some number of people to discover the original for the first time. And if the new version turned out good, great! And if it turned out bad, people would say, “Well the original was better.” From the perspective of my emotional attachment to my father’s films, it’s a no-lose situation.
Let me put my money where my mouth is.
Jaws is my father’s most famous film. It is a historic classic that invented the summer blockbuster, changed Hollywood forever, and, adjusted for inflation, remains one of the highest-grossing films of all time. It was followed by three increasingly bad sequels, which each saw decreasing box office returns. By the time the utterly indefensible Jaws: The Revenge bombed in 1987, the franchise was done. In the span of 15 years, the Hollywood sequel machine, which Jaws didn’t invent but did help standardize, had reduced what should have been one of the most promising franchises in history to a gin-soaked punchline paralyzed in a ditch on the Universal backlot.
It’s time they dusted it off, sobered it up, and made a sequel!
Not just any sequel, either. I’m going to tell you the sequel they should make.
What Makes A Good Legacy Sequel
Successful sequel reboots have certain things they need to accomplish. They need to be familiar but fresh. They need to remind you of the original and offer the same joys and delights that made you love the first one, but they can’t be just straight remakes. You can’t just do the same thing exactly over again but with a younger cast and cell phones.
What makes Jaws so special is that it takes a universally understood fear—the shark lurking in the deep—and, with a certain amount of realism, illustrates what that fear could look like given the right dramatic circumstances. There are things that happen in it that push beyond the realm of credibility but not too much. The film then documents how that thing that everyone worries about but almost certainly won’t experience in their real-life affects three different men. Brody, Hooper, and Quint and different in every way, but they are brought together by this man-eating tornado. They are forced to confront it but for very different reasons.
Brody is brought to the struggle through duty. He is the sheriff. He has a fear of water and, all things considered, would prefer someone else handle this, but since too many of the people in Amity Island are not prepared to handle the situation, he rises reluctantly to the challenge.
Hooper comes to the island because of a preexisting passion for sharks. He’s a marine biologist.
These two men have a moral compass that obligates them to go further than their vocational responsibilities and they each discover new levels of courage that they didn’t know they had.
The third man is Quint. He, too, ends up in the story by virtue of his occupation. He’s the local fisherman. But he doesn’t particularly care about the dead tourists at the beach. His fascination with the shark stems from a traumatic experience during the war, when the Indianapolis sank, the survivors went into the water, and the sharks picked them off one by one for days until rescue came. That trauma has turned him into Ahab. He wants to kill the shark, all sharks, any shark, because he wants revenge for the ones that he had to fend off in 1945.
Quint’s singular obsession with killing the shark slowly reveals itself during the 2nd act of the film. At first, maybe he’s in it just for money. But on the Orca, the mask begins to slip when he refuses to wear a lifejacket, tells the tale of the Indianapolis, and then bashes in the radio. Quint gets himself killed and almost gets Brody and Hooper killed as well.
This is to say, the shark has a body count, but human nature is also one of the villains of the film.
The first Jaws sequel, Jaws 2, is not the worst movie ever made, but it is unnecessary creatively. It’s basically running it back and doing a lot of what the first one does but with less interesting characters and more uninteresting teenagers. But it could have been worse. It also has one interesting idea. In Jaws 2, Chief Brody is the one person on the island who seems pretty distressed by the fact that the small town is being tormented by another great white. Audience members in the real world were probably quite aware that that is unlikely as well but excused as a necessary reality of it being a movie. But Brody doesn’t know he’s in a movie so he can’t explain it away like that. At one point, he wonders aloud if the shark is there intentionally because the shark is mad about the first film. The marine biologist in that film, who is not played by my father since my father was smart enough to avoid this trainwreck, shoots that notion down. “Sharks aren’t murderers.” Some things happen in 2 which suggest Brody is right and that the shark is, in fact, an evil mastermind hellbent on revenge, but none of them are so extreme that you can’t ignore them and chalk the whole thing up to just really bad luck.
This is an interesting idea! Not the idea that the shark is Moriarty, but the idea that Brody would reach for an answer like that. It’s an interesting comment on how characters in films process some of the ridiculous things that happen in movies just because they have to happen since it’s a movie!
Unfortunately, the sequels that follow 2 take this interesting little idea, double down on it, and say, yes, the sharks are deliberate criminal masterminds who, in fact, are serial killers with elaborate plans for revenge.
In the fourth film, aptly titled Jaws: The Revenge, Brody’s widow is undone by grief when her son is chomped on by a shark and she too wonders if the sharks are picking on her family. And in that movie, she’s right! The shark plays an elaborate game of cat-and-mouse revenge that spans thousands of miles. That fourth film establishes that in the universe of the Jaws films, sharks are basically magic.
Now you may be able to make a serious, mature film set in a world where sharks are magic serial killers, but I personally don’t know how to do it, so our Jaws sequel is a direct sequel to the first film. It ignores the events of the three original sequels.
What does a sequel need to have to be a Jaws sequel?
The shark is sort of important.
Some people need to doubt the danger of the shark.
This isn’t unique to Jaws. Every disaster film has a mayor who won’t listen. But it is one of the main things you associate with the first film, so it can’t be abandoned.
Normal, flawed and imperfect people who are not The World’s Greatest at anything have to handle the situation.
Some of the characters can have expertise in marine biology or fishing, but they cannot be former Navy SEALS.
They need to basically be the sort of people you can find on short notice within a few hundred miles of the events.
Human nature needs to be one of the villains of the story.
I say human nature and not “humans” because it should not be that there is some evil character rooting for the shark. It’s not a Scooby Doo episode where an evil real estate developer is trying to lower property prices. It needs to be something like Quint’s single-minded, self-destructive obsession or Mayor Vaughn’s denial.
The general arc needs to be: shark does bad thing, some people don’t care, shark does more bad things, suddenly pandemonium ensues, and the core group of characters need to then go off on a hero’s journey to fight the shark alone.
A legacy connection to the original film.
Spoiler alert: one of the stars is still alive
Here’s what doesn’t necessarily need to be in a Jaws sequel:
This sounds like sacrilege but in reality, the location doesn’t really matter. Setting it in Amity Island creates more problems than solutions.
The shark doesn’t need to be bigger or worse than the original.
In most film series, the villain gets progressively worse over the course of the franchise. This is how the original sequels go astray. But the core beauty of the original premise is that a great white, just by its very nature, is terrifying. Movies like The Meg and Deep Blue Sea do the “what if the shark was a super shark” thing, and that’s fine for them, but it runs contrary to the ethos of the original film.
Here’s what a Jaws sequel must avoid:
A shark that is out for revenge.
This is just such a stupid, insane idea that it has to be avoided entirely. The shark feeds because it is a shark and if that means it feeds on humans, so be it. But the shark is not waking up in the morning with a list of names to target.
So here is my elevator pitch for a new direct sequel to Jaws.
JAWS PART 2.
July 4th, 2023.
The first scene begins the same way the first scene in the original film begins.
A group of young adults are drinking around a bonfire on a beach at night. A girl and a guy break off the group to flirt. She decides she wants to go for a swim. The guy tells her it’s dangerous. She doesn’t care and strips down and dives into the sea. The guy screams after her to come back, but she doesn’t listen. She swims out to a buoy and looks back at the shore, and teases him for not joining. Then her head dips underwater. She comes back up terrified. She was just pulled down by something. She begins to scream and cling to the buoy. She is going to die the same way Crissy dies at the beginning of Jaws. Except here, things change.
The shark has one of her legs in his mouth and is gnawing away at it. He’s trying to pull her out to greater depths so he can drown her, as right now, they’re actually still in pretty shallow water.
She flails around but then reaches her hands into the water to push the shark away and, through sheer luck, ends up hitting its eye. She claws at it. The shark is hurt and releases her.
Meanwhile, her screams compelled the guy to jump in and help her. He swims out. He doesn’t have a plan, but he just reacts. The guy grabs her and tries to help her swim back to shore.
The shark comes back again, and this time he grabs the guy. The woman doesn’t look back and keeps doggy paddling to the shore. She pulls herself onto the sound, blood pouring out of her leg wounds. The commotion has alerted the rest of the people at the bonfire, and they rush to her aid. 911 calls have been placed. Sirens blare. They tell her to hold on.
Right before she loses consciousness from blood loss, she realizes that the guy didn’t make it back to the shore. And the sea is now deadly quiet.
He’s the shark’s first victim.