'This Movie Was Hell': 4 Ways ‘Jaws’ Movies Were A Total Shipwreck

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'This Movie Was Hell': 4 Ways ‘Jaws’ Movies Were A Total Shipwreck

Universal Pictures

Steven Spielberg’s Jaws is unquestionably one of the greatest American movies of all time – maybe the greatest since Citizen Kane doesn’t contain even a single shark attack scene. But because Hollywood has a penchant for abusing deceased horses, Jaws also inspired several (mostly crappy) sequels, the productions of which, not unlike the first film, were about as problem-free as a drunken nude swim off the coast of Amity Island, such as how …

Jaws – One Of The Most Exciting Scenes Was A Dangerous Screw-Up

We’ve talked in the past about the troubled making of Jaws, like how the mechanical shark famously kept breaking down since it was tested in fresh water and used for filming in salt water (which corroded the animatronic beast). And that Spielberg insisted on filming in the actual ocean instead of a far less chaotic water tank. Or how about how much of the movie was made up on the fly by its scrambling screenwriter – who thankfully excised the source novel’s subplots about cat-murdering mobsters and sexual assault. 

Then there’s the scene in which Hooper, played by Richard Dreyfuss, lowers himself into the water in a shark-proof cage – only to have it rammed by the Great White and fall to the ocean floor while he swims to safety, presumably leaving a trail of urine behind him. 

Yeah, this wasn’t in the script. The underwater footage was shot by Ron and Valerie Taylor, and Dreyfuss’ double was a guy named Carl Rizzo, a little person who was hired to make the shark look appropriately huge. But while Rizzo was a professional stuntman, he had no diving experience, having “spent most of his life riding horses,which is … not the same thing at all. Understandably, Rizzo “panicked at being lowered in the cage.” 

Said panic was further validated by the fact that the crew reportedly gave him “miniature air tanks'' to breathe from, despite the fact that, as was later pointed out by the film’s production designer Joe Alves, ​​”small people breathe the same amount of air” as anyone else. This, unfortunately, led to Rizzo “choking for water when he came up.” Worse, during one take, the cage was unexpectedly “sideswiped” by the shark, and torn from its cable – which inadvertently made for a thrilling set piece when footage of the snafu was included in the film. 

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Jaws 2 Could Have Been A Prequel Set In World War II (Directed By Steven Spielberg)

Since Jaws was a massive hit – paving the way for future blockbusters like Star Wars and several hundred Minions movies – Universal wanted to rush out a sequel as quickly as possible. The writing gig first went to Howard Sackler, who came up with the idea of the iconic U.S.S. Indianapolis speech during an uncredited rewrite of Jaws.

Sackler’s initial idea for Jaws 2 wasn’t a sequel but rather a prequel about Quint and the sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis. When Spielberg was asked to return for Jaws 2, he too wanted to do the World War II-set story (which, in retrospect, seems like a no-brainer). But, according to Joe Alves he asked for “$1 million and 10%,” which the studio didn’t go for. Sackler was instructed to, instead, just write some crap about more Amity Island shark attacks, featuring as many teenagers as possible. At least we got that straight-to-video Nicolas Cage movie 40 years later.

Sackler and director John Hancock wanted Jaws 2 to be set in “a world where Amity was almost a ghost town,” and Chief Brody is “haunted by nightmares” of the first movie. Which is a little weird considering that the ending of Jaws served as an emotional catharsis that seemingly resolved a whole other past trauma for the character. After shooting began, Hancock mysteriously “left” the project and was replaced by a new writer (Jaws co-writer Carl Gottlieb) and a new director, Jeannot Szwarc, who did not get along with star Roy Scheider. As in, Schieder threw Szwarc up against the wall and literally started “wrestling” with him levels of not getting along.

Part of the problem was that Scheider really didn’t want to make the sequel but was compelled to by the studio. Scheider was so reluctant that he “tried to get out of Jaws 2,” and reportedly, he “pleaded insanity” by going “crazy in the Beverly Hills Hotel.” And while he still ended up making the film, he “hoped the public would forgive him.”

Jaws 3-D Was Almost A Comedy

For movie fans who loved the first two movies but longed to wear uncomfortable cardboard glasses, there was 1983’s Jaws 3-D, which moved the action to a SeaWorld-like park – which, in retrospect, was an extremely fitting place to set a horror movie. The film starred Dennis Quaid, who later admitted that it was one of his most cocaine-riddled performances (as in high in “every frame” of the movie). Which, um, checks out …

Originally though, the plan wasn’t to just improbably replicate the events of the first two movies and instead make the third entry a comedy. Titled Jaws 3, People 0, the threequel was set to be produced by National Lampoon publisher Matty Simmons and directed by Joe Dante, from a script co-written by John Hughes. In a meta twist that seems prescient in hindsight, the film would have been about the making of Jaws 3 and its filmmakers being terrorized by a real Great White shark. The screenplay actually opens with Jaws author Peter Benchley being killed by a shark in his own swimming pool.

Universal

And there are repeated jokes about how stupid the Jaws series was getting, with the fictional Jaws 3 concerning an alien that has “taken the form of a giant shark.”

Universal

The studio ended up rejecting the comedy angle and instead tasked Joe Alves with directing the third, less intentionally-goofy movie. It, too, was a box office hit, although oddly, the film was abruptly and inexplicably pulled from theater chains even in the midst of its widespread success. And speaking of the inexplicable …

Jaws: The Revenge Ran Out Of Ideas, And Turned To … Magic?

In 1987 came Jaws: The Revenge, which explored the idea that sharks have A) telepathic powers and B) are capable of personal beefs with humans who share the same lineage, even by marriage. It stars Lorraine Gary, who played Ellen Brody in the original (and who was married to Universal executive Sid Sheinberg), plus Mario Van Peebles (who was allowed to improvise his dialogue) and Michael Caine (who was paid a crapload of money).

In the world of the movie, word got around the ocean that the Brody family was responsible for several shark deaths, prompting a Great White to attempt to systematically eradicate the bloodline (even traveling more than a thousand miles to do so). Originally, the idea was to have Scheider reprise his role as Brody, only to be shockingly killed off in the film’s opening. Scheider turned down the … is opportunity the right word? So did Richard Dreyfuss, even though he was only asked to literally phone in his performance with a quick call to Mrs. Brody. 

The film was directed by Joseph Sargent, who had previously made legit classics like The Taking of Pelham One Two Three. While Sargent was reluctant, he was wooed by Sheinberg, who gave him an additional executive producer credit and total creative control – although Sheinberg was very concerned that they: “Find a way to kill the shark a different way that hasn’t been done before.” This perhaps explains why the movie ends with Ellen nautically shiving a Great White.

Sargent also moved the action to the Bahamas. Why? Because he was “allowed to choose any location” and figured “why not?” (Also known as the Adam Sandler philosophy of filmmaking.) The biggest hurdle for Sargent was figuring out something “fresh to do with the shark.” So out of “desperation” they decided to take a “mystical point of view and go for a little bit of … magic.” Really. The magical element was made even more explicit in the film’s novelization, which was likely drawn from earlier script drafts. The book reveals that the shark is being controlled by an evil witch doctor named Papa Jacques who has it out for the Brodys.

Berkley Publishing Group

Which is wildly unhinged, unnecessarily racist, and … kind of makes way more sense. There was also a subplot about cocaine smuggling, because of course there was. Making the movie was no day at the beach either; even more than a decade after the first movie, they still couldn’t get the goddamn shark to work properly. At least Michael Caine was able to buy his mom a house.

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