Every story has a cast of characters that we follow and watch and come to love… but what about the background characters? The nameless masses who rarely get our attention? This column examines my favorite background characters who deserve a moment in the spotlight.
‘Wolfenstein II – The New Colossus’
A tip-toeing Nazi soldier.
Why He Deserves A Moment In The Spotlight
In the opening of 2017’s, ‘Wolfenstein: The New Colossus,’ the player’s enormous U-boat hideout is boarded by dozens of Nazi commandos intent on killing him and his allies. At one point, the player meets up with Set, a Jewish scientist, who defends both of them with the use of a microwave-lined hallway, which obliterates multiple Nazis as they blindly run through it. But near the end, one soldier realizes that something’s not right about the hallway and stops to consider his next course of action, which is to carefully – and hilariously – tippy-toe through the hallway… only to be blown up like everyone else.
The common Nazi in ‘The New Colossus’ exists (as they rightfully should) to be mowed down by the hundreds. Players expect them to be little more than cannon fodder, which makes moments like these great because it gives individual soldiers a little personality and makes them stand out in a crowd of characters we’re conditioned not to care about… but because this soldier’s still part of the most monstrous regime ever to exist in human history, we laugh at his explosive death instead of mourning him, because f*** Nazis.
NOTE: Although they are quoted and discussed in an academic manner, this article contains both written and video examples of vulgar language and is not safe for work.
Can swearing ever be funny? When played for drama, the Precision F-Strike can easily be one of the more shocking and memorable moments of a film, but when played for comedy, it’s often the funniest, as comedy Legend John Cleese would attest. To quote TvTropes:
“John Cleese… once described this trope in an interview, by explaining that the art of making swear words funny is to avoid using them… until the exact moment in the script when it will be most effective. A comedy with gratuitous swearing ends up desensitizing the audience to the words in question, meaning they lose a lot of their amusement. But if you go for fifty minutes without a single swear word, then suddenly have a character say “shit”, the swear word becomes instantly more amusing because the audience has been conditioned not to expect it up to that point.”
After thinking about this, I’ve come to the realization that Mr. Cleese is correct; after all, some of the most memorable swear words in cinema happen because you don’t expect them. Thus, to celebrate the times where vulgar language can add so much to a scene, I thought it’d be fun to share my amusing uses of swear words in films. Some were done intentionally, others less so, and some are the result of goofy writing or hilarious acting, and some may be the result of mondegreen (a phenomena where a word or phrase is misheard or misunderstood and interpreted as something else), but they are all memorable and good for a chuckle.
Honorable Mention 1: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
It’s not a swear word, but if you listen closely at 2:48, you can hear what sounds like Voldermort’s otherworldly voice whispering, ‘Screw you, Harry!’ It pretty much ruins the drama of what is otherwise one of the most dramatic and satisfying moments of the entire Harry Potter saga, but it’s pretty dang funny to imagine that as the most powerful dark wizard alive dissipates into the afterlife, a fragment of his spirit takes one last opportunity to insult Harry, but in a polite, non-vulgar way. How thoughtful!
The climactic chapter of the live action Transformers film series (until two sequels and a quasi-reboot came along) pulled no punches in upping the stakes, with a full-on invasion of Earth by the Decepticons, having the Autobots be grossly outnumbered, and having the Autobot’s most revered leader turn out to be a Decepticon turncoat who will enslave the human race without a second’s thought. It’s only fitting then, that he’s executed at the end without any mercy by his successor and former admirer Optimus Prime.
But while Sentinel’s official last words are an anguished, ‘No, Optimus!’ if you listen closely at the 1:00 mark, you can hear him groan, ‘Oh, fuck!’ before he dies and goes to Transformer hell. There’s just something amusing about the most famous, noble Autobot in Cybertron’s history going out not with a plea or a whimper, but with the sudden realization that he had screwed up so badly that the best way to express his regret was with an all-too human expression.
6. Transformers: The Movie
Yep, there are two entries about profanity in a series about shape-shifting robots that’s targeted for young kids. The first film about these robots from beyond the stars was notable for many things: the death of Optimus Prime, the introduction of Unicron, a robot capable of eating entire worlds, killing off almost all of the original cartoon’s cast, and being the very first time profanity was used in the series.
In this scene, Spike the human and his robot buddy Bumblebee have their moonbase self-destruct in an attempt to destroy Unicron as he eats said base, only for the plan to fail utterly. In response, a flabbergasted Spike calmly asks his robotic companion what the best course of action is to resolve their rather unfortunate predicament. Just kidding; he memorably says, ‘Oh shit, what are we gonna do now?!’
Can you imagine that? Someone swearing in a cartoon for kids? Outside of this example, I can’t think of any other show or movie that’s done so, and not only is it shocking, but funny, too because of how relatable and understandable Spike’s reaction is.
5. Superhero Movie
Released near the end of the era of big-budget movie parodies, ‘Superhero Movie’ is a funny send-up of superhero films released up to that date, the most famous being Sony’s Spider-Man trilogy, but with affectionate jabs towards the X-Men and Fantastic Four as well, complete with juvenile humor throughout. But my pick for the most memorable moment of the film comes at the climax, where the nefarious villain Hourglass – on the verge of gaining immortality – instead meets the Grim Reaper via Dragonfly plopping a crotch-bomb right in front of his face. And how does this dastardly villain, possessing a genius intellect, a fiendish plan, and every advantage imaginable, react? He gives the film’s only use of the word, ‘Fuck.’
Much like Sentinel in ‘Dark of the Moon,’ there’s just something funny at seeing a story’s villain so gobsmacked or horrified that they have to resort to cursing, and ‘Superhero Movie’ does it well.
4. Star Wars: Return of the Jedi
The Star Wars movies may pack stylized violence galore, but are by and large G-rated when it comes to talking… except in 1987’s, Return of the Jedi, where, when watching a super star destroyer plunge towards the second Death Star, you can hear someone on Admiral Ackbar’s flagship yell, ‘Die, dickheads!’ at 0:38.
For years, Star Wars fans have been wondering if we’re really hearing someone swear, or just something that sounds like it. Personally, I like to think that it is real, as it’s perfectly reasonable that someone fighting against an evil empire would celebrate and let loose with the strongest insult they could think of at realizing that said empire is finally about to be destroyed after decades of terror, suffering, and misery. Who among us wouldn’t do the same?
3. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
In the pantheon of major Hollywood blockbusters, New Line Cinema’s The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies are quite odd when compared to their peers: Aside from the decapitations, arms getting lopped off, armies being slaughtered by the thousands, and Sean Bean being turned into a pincushion, all six films are surprisingly tame, with no sex and no vulgar language that we can understand (aside from untranslated dwarvish). Much fun has been poked at this phenomena over the years, but as it turns out, there is exactly one audible curse word in the saga, one that’s hidden very well.
In the opening prologue of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Smaug the dragon attacks the city of Dale, burning it to the ground and inflicting death and destruction beyond comprehension. Naturally, it makes sense that people would be scared out of their minds at having their peaceful life destroyed in mere minutes, and nowhere is that more audible than someone yelling, “Oh God, what the fuck?!” at 1:59 in the clip above.
What I love about this swear is that it’s the perfect embodiment of John Cleese’s description of funny swears: After three movies of people, elves, and dwarves talking in G-rated language, having a ‘fuck!’ come out of nowhere is darkly hilarious, and a very understandable reaction to a dragon destroying everything you know and love. But even this vulgar word serves a purpose, as it helps to humanize the people of Dale; It’s one thing to see fictional characters panic, but when they let lose with curses and expletives that we all use from time to time, it makes them more human and shows that they feel the anger, frustration, and rage that we all do in a world that sucks at times.
2. The Wicker Man
2006’s ‘The Wicker Man’ quickly became a laughing stock as one of the cherished, ‘So bad it’s good’ films of the decade, even being described as the year’s best comedy, and all of that is due to the infinitely-entertaining Nicholas Cage, who does everything from running around and punching old women in a bear suit, to demanding how something got burned, and yelling about bees. But for my money, the film’s most hilarious moment is him yelling about how his death isn’t going to bring back the islander’s honey. It’s a line that – when taken out of context – is THE definition of ‘so stupid, it’s awesome,’ and you wonder how Mr. Cage managed to yell it without cracking up. I have no idea how, but I’m so glad he did it.
1. Epic Movie
What would happen if Superman suddenly no longer had bulletproof skin? He’d be in for a world of hurt, as demonstrated brilliantly in ‘Epic Movie.’
‘Epic Movie,’ despite it’s disastrous reception by audiences and critics alike, and it’s subpar performance as a spoof film, does have one truly brilliant scene: a parody of the sequence from ‘Superman Returns’ where Superman gets shot in the eye. But here, we see what would happen if the Man of Steel didn’t have indestructible eyeballs.
Everything about this scene is great: the music is appropriately bombastic, the build up is flawless, the effects of a slow-motion bullet are well done for a low-budget parody… and then the bullet sinks into Superman’s eyeball with a cartoonish squishing sound, and he shrieks in absolute agony, topped off with a very understandable shriek of how he’s been shot in the fucking eye. While the film may not be the best example of a parody, this scene is absolute gold, and my favorite use of the word ‘fuck’ in any film.
It’s October once again, and our annual celebration of all things spooky: Vampires, skeletons, ghosts, witches, political lobbyists, and everything else that lurks in the shadows under the midnight moon. But there’s nothing to celebrate about the troubled times we live in: democracy is under siege worldwide, the climate is changing for the worse, and a virus is running rampant that causes some people to go mad and attack others for the most trivial of reasons. In light of all these troubles, I thought, in spirit of the season, why not take some time to unwind by watching a movie series about a virus running rampant that causes people to go mad and attack others, eventually destroying civilization and bringing humanity to its knees? The series of which I speak is the long-running, seemingly undead saga of ‘Resident Evil.’
Ever since the introduction of the original Resident Evil on the Playstation in 1995, the series has gone on to encompass 28 games (!), several novels, action figures, and even a freaking restaurant. It’s not surprising that a movie adaptation would eventually come along, and we got such an adaptation with the Paul W.S. Anderson series that ran from 2002 to 2016. While a critical failure, the series was a financial success (they remain the highest-grossing zombie movie series in history), which means that they must have been doing something well. That’s why we’re going to dive into all six films and see if we can discover just what those things are.
Much like my previous analysis of Friday the 13th, the Matrix fight scenes, and the Jaws series, we’ll be taking a look at each movie and seeing what they do well, and what could have used some improvement. And once we reach the end, we’ll see what the series accomplished and what lessons it can offer writers. So without further ado, let’s dive into the world of movies about video game zombies. We’ll start at the beginning, with the simply-named, ‘Resident Evil.’
Released in 2002, the movie follows a group of heavily armed Umbrella soldiers and a lady in skimpy clothes as they infiltrate the Hive, an underground research facility where a killer virus has broken loose and turned the people inside into bloodthirsty zombies, hideous monsters, and other icky horrors that our heroes must fight in order to escape.
What does the film do well?
It has an effective horror location
Any self-respecting horror story has its characters eventually stuck in an isolated, out-of-the-way location where it’s difficult, if not impossible, to get help, forcing the characters to rely on their wits and each other. ‘Resident Evil’ is an interesting variation of this: the film takes place almost entirely within the Hive, an underground research facility located beneath a major metropolitan area. This serves a dual purpose: It makes it so that the characters are so close to help, but are still cut off, and since the facility is deep underground, they can’t just jump out of a window, run out through the main door, or otherwise easily escape. Worse still, if the virus breaks free, everyone the surface will suffer the same fate as the poor souls who have been transformed into undead ghouls.
It has an effective ticking clock
One of the best ways to keep a story moving is to have a ticking clock, something bad that will occur if the protagonists don’t accomplish their goals in time. ‘Resident Evil’ features a particularly effective one: Alice and the other security forces heading into the Hive have to get back out or they’ll be trapped inside when the Hive is permanently sealed. That’s a good incentive to keep moving and ensure that the story does, too.
It has a great psychological death scene
‘Resident Evil’ gets off to a good start by having a bunch of innocent workers die during the initial virus outbreak, most by being gassed, some by being dropped to their death in an elevator, and one poor lady getting her head smashed into goo. It’s all suitably unnerving, but I think the most effective part takes place in a sealed lab.
There, three workers realize that, because the lab is sealed, the water pouring in has nowhere to go. If they don’t find a way out, they’ll drown. Later, when Alice and the soldiers pass through the lab area, we learn that the workers did indeed drown.
The other deaths in the opening may be more graphic, visceral, and direct, but for my money this is the most unnerving death scene of the film. It taps into the fear of facing a horrible, painful death and not being able to do anything about it. Worse still, it’s not a quick death: you would have plenty of time to watch the water slowly rise, covering your knees, then your waist, then your chest, and shoulders, until there’s only a few inches of space left for you to breathe… and then there would be nothing. And all the while you’re trying to cut your way out with an axe, only to realize that there’s no way out. You’re going to drown, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it. It’s a terrifying thought, and a perfect example of how horror is more than just decapitations and buckets of blood being thrown all over the screen: It’s about suffering and being helpless to stop it.
It has an awesome deathtrap
If the James Bond and SAW series have proven anything over the years, it’s that people get a kick out of elaborate deathtraps, and ‘Resident Evil’ features a particularly infamous one: the laser hallway.
This scene is a doozy because it’s so simple, yet devastatingly effective: our operatives are trapped inside a tight, confined space with nowhere to hide, and their only hope to survive is to dodge the lasers until the system is shut down. But the lasers’ path is unpredictable and constantly changing, culminating with an inescapable grid that chops One into bite-sized pieces.
Yet, like all great traps, it is possible to survive. The people facing it have a chance if they’re fast, flexible, and have taken plenty of Zumba classes, but messing up just once means losing body parts if you’re lucky, or death if you’re not. It’s simple, effective, and memorable, so much so that even the Resident Evil video games featured a homage to it.
It has a villain doing the wrong thing for very justifiable reasons
The very best villains are the ones that make audiences ponder what they would do in their place, making them more memorable than the routine, ‘kill ‘em all for money/power/the evulz/etc.’ villains we see so often. It’s hard to beat a villain who relies on logic instead of malice and does horrific things for the right reasons (and is even willing to let Alice and the others escape if they kill the one infected member of their group).
It features a great cliffhanger ending
As is so often the case in action-horror movies, only a few people make it out alive at the end (Alice and Matt) before the Hive is finally sealed. But the movie doesn’t end there: the true ending finds Alice waking up in a hospital and emerging into an abandoned Raccoon City. There’s no help coming, no rescue party, and all Alice has is a single shotgun to face off against the unseen armies of the undead. Even worse is the knowledge that Matt is being put into the Nemesis program, a great tease for fans of the game as to who will appear in the next film. And while it’s always risky to end a movie on a cliffhanger (there’s no guarantee you’re going to get that sequel), this one is terrific, leaving viewers imagining what’s going to happen next in a world that’s on the brink of the apocalypse.
What could the story have done better?
It could have been much more faithful to the games
The biggest flaw with ‘Resident Evil’ is that it has almost nothing to do with the game it’s based off of. While the main elements are here (a team of trained operatives, a mansion, zombies, a licker, and the Umbrella Corporation), none of the characters from the game appear, and we have a plot that bears little resemblance to the source material, a massive disappointment for anyone who hoped to see Jill Valentine, Chris Redfield, and Barry Burton’s Jill Sandwich jokes.
When a book, a video game, or other property gets adapted into a film, fans of those properties expect to see the story and characters brought to life on the big screen, and ‘Resident Evil’s lack of faithfulness to the source material leaves it feeling like a In-Name-Only adaptation designed to deprive fans of their cash without giving them what they were expecting.
There are too many side characters
‘Resident Evil’ features the undead horse-trope of ‘large group of individuals go through a horror movie where 80% of them exist to die horribly.’ While there are plenty of deaths to satisfy horror fans, those deaths would have much more impact if we got time to know more of the soldiers, giving their deaths more emotional weight. As with so many other films of this type, it might have been better to have only a handful of characters instead of a lot.
It has a cliffhanger ending
The biggest risk of having a cliffhanger ending is that, unless you’re doing an installment of a major, pre-established franchise or already filming the sequel, a sequel is not guaranteed. People may just not go see the movie, the hoped-for profits never come, and a followup is never made, leaving a cliffhanger eternally unresolved. While ‘Resident Evil’s gamble paid off, it could have also left fans angry at never seeing the coming zombie apocalypse or Nemesis stomping about while yelling about stars.
Cliffhangers, while effective, should be used carefully, both in case a project never gets a followup, or if the followup itself is… well, we’ll get to that later. But we’ve still got five movies to go through, so tune in next time where we’ll see Alice jump out of the frying pan and into the zombie-infected fire in ‘Resident Evil: Apocalypse.’
No matter how careful or methodical a director or writer may be, mistakes and plot holes will always sneak into movies and books, and 1997’s ‘Titanic’ is no exception; despite being the most historically accurate film about the famed ship at the time, fans and viewers have long pointed out about how Jack describes Lake Wissota before it was created, about extras bouncing off foam capstans as the stern rises into the sky , and have gone on and on about how Jack could have fit on that hunk of wood after the Titanic sank, letting him and Rose survive the freezing waters of the Atlantic.
Yet, despite being out for over twenty years, one plot hole seems to have escaped notice, one that, if taken to its logical conclusion, would make the events of the film impossible.
In ‘Titanic’s opening scene, treasure hunter Brock Lovett and his motley crew retrieve a safe from the ship and bring it to the surface in search of the Heart of the Ocean, but find only random artifacts, including Jack’s drawings of Rose, which eventually leads to her coming out to the salvage ship and captivating them (and us) with her tale of love, loss, and survival. It’s a great start to the story, but there’s just one problem:
How did the salvage crew get the safe to the surface?
Now, this question seem silly, but the longer you think about it, the more apparent it becomes that getting the safe out of the ship is nearly impossible because of two factors:
1. The weight of the safe.
2. The safe’s location.
Let’s begin with the weight issue: I was unable to find any information online about the safe’s weight, the manufacturer, or the model used in the film, but a search on other safes of similar size from the early 1900’s revealed that they typically weigh around two to three hundred pounds, so we can assume the safe in the film has roughly the same weight (it’s telling that the only time we see the safe being moved in 1912 is when it’s been wheeled into Cal’s suite on a dolly).
Next, let’s look at the safe’s location: The safe is still inside of Cal’s suite on B deck, and within a fairly short distance to the remains of the grand staircase. To get to it, Brock has to dispatch his rover down two decks, go down a hallway, then go through two doors to reach the safe and then pull it out the same way.
Now, at first glance, that sounds difficult, but not insurmountable. But remember that Brock is trying to retrieve a safe that weighs a minimum of two hundred pounds. And unlike in real life, where a safe was retrieved from Titanic’s debris field, Brock can’t just attach the safe to a cable and pull the safe straight up. He has to somehow drag that heavy safe out of the suite, across B deck, and get it to the stairwell. Complicating matters further is that the only tool he has at his disposal is a rover that is not capable of moving heavy objects, much less a two hundred pound safe.
A potential solution to this problem might be to have the control ship Keldysh attach a net to the tow cable on the stern, lower it directly into the stairwell, and then have the rover maneuver the net into the cabin, put said net over the safe, and then winch it out of the ship. But this wouldn’t work: First of all, the end of the cable looks like this:
How is that big, bulky thing supposed to be dragged into B deck and through two staterooms by a tiny robot?
Second, imagine a helicopter hovering five hundred feet above a rotting two story house; it lowers a thick, bulky hook on a cable down the chimney and uses a tiny drone to try and maneuver that hook into a bedroom twenty feet away from the chimney, and then into a closet, then have the rover drape the net over a safe. What do you think will happen when the helicopter tries to winch the safe out of the closet? That’s right: the hook’s housing is going to get caught on the roof, the door frame, or any other number of obstacles. Applying more pressure will just damage the house, make the cable get caught on something else, or even fray it to the point of snapping, and that’s also assuming the net would even stay on the safe and not just slide off.
Now, if Brock wants to do something simpler, a more logical way would be to have the hook snaked in through the windows of the suite’s promenade deck and attach it to the safe, then drag it out through the window. The main advantage of this route is that the distance the safe needs to travel is much shorter, but I don’t think it would work, either; again, the end of the cable is much too big and can’t be maneuvered through the windows. Even if it was, it would get stuck on the window when it was being retracted. Secondly, considering how the metal has been rusting underwater for over 80 years, there’s a reasonable chance that it could break or shatter, creating sharp edges that could cut the cable, and that’s assuming that the safe doesn’t get stuck on debris on the suite’s floors while it’s being dragged about.
When we add in the factors of the safe’s weight, the distance it has to travel, the limited tools at Brock’s disposal, and the difficulty of getting such a heavy object out of a shipwreck, we are faced with one inescapable conclusion: there is no logical way to get the safe out of Titanic. And if there’s no safe, there’s no drawings, and there’s no movie. It would end with Brock being forced to give up his quest, Rose dying in her bed at home, and the movie being only eight minutes long.
And yet, even with all that in mind, this plot hole really doesn’t matter in the long run. At this point in the story, the point is to have the safe retrieved and Jack’s drawings be discovered. How that happens really isn’t important from a story perspective. And while that may sound like a cheat, consider other similar situations from other movies and TV shows:
1. King Kong: The crew of the Venture needs to get Kong from Skull Island to New York City. The story has two options:
Option A: Show Driscoll and the others constructing a raft, tying Kong to it, and sailing hundreds of miles while constantly trying to keep Kong unconscious and unable to break free.
Option B: Just cut to New York a week or two later.
2. Star Wars: A New Hope: Luke, Leia, Han, and Chewbacca are separated deep in the bowels of the Death Star, a moon-sized fortress they’ve never been in before and are unfamiliar with, and they have to get back to the Millennium Falcon to escape. The story has two options:
Option A: Show the four trying to find maps, read directions, and otherwise stumble around until they finally meet up again and find a way to the Falcon.
Option B: Just show them meeting up and seeing the Falcon.
3. The Last Ship: A small squad attacks a Russian warship that’s a long distance away from their own ship and need to be picked up.
Option A: Have the protagonist’s group mount a rescue operation and somehow retrieve the strike team from such a long distance without being blown up or captured by the Russians.
Option B: Cut to the protagonists sailing away from the battlezone with everyone onboard while discussing their next plan of action.
4. Godzilla vs Kong: Kong has to climb from the center of the Earth to the surface to fight Godzilla, a distance of over 12,000 miles, in less than ten minutes.
Option A: Have Kong struggle to reach the surface, taking frequent breaks to try and regain some of his strength from having to climb 1,200 miles a minute, finally reaching the surface so exhausted and so worn out that he has a heart attack and dies.
Option B: Ignore physics and have the giant gorilla get to the surface with no problem and with plenty of strength to fight the radioactive lizard.
In all of these examples, the problems they pose to the story are considerable, and in some cases logically impossible. And yet, they aren’t a problem because it isn’t necessary to see all the steps needed to move a story forward. With a limited runtime or amount of pages, a movie or book has to be choosy about what to focus on and what to show the audience (when was the last time you saw characters stopping to take a bathroom break?).
I think the ultimate takeaway from all this is that a plot hole can sometimes be ignored if it isn’t absolutely required to move the story forward. While writers can and should try to make a story as logical and airtight as possible, we should focus more on telling a good story with engaging characters, keep the momentum moving, and focusing on important details instead of explaining each and every detail. If we do our jobs well, our audiences will either be willing to overlook a problem, or not even notice them at all.
PS: If any readers have a good explanation about how the safe was pulled out of the wreck, please leave a comment and I’ll be happy to update this article with said information.
Every story has a cast of characters that we follow and watch and come to love… but what about the background characters? The nameless masses who rarely get our attention? This column examines my favorite background characters who deserve a moment in the spotlight.
‘The Matrix Revolutions’
A goon with radical backflipping skills.
(The guy in question appears at 2:03)
Why He Deserves A Moment In The Spotlight
You’ve probably heard the saying, ‘Don’t bring a gun to a knife fight.’ Another equal saying should be, ‘Don’t expect aerobatics to save you in a gun fight.’
The goon in this scene distinguishes himself when, after running out of ammo for his pistols, decides that the best course of action is to do backflips across the room. Then he’s shot and dies, complete with a ‘you failed!’ music cue on the soundtrack.
Much like one of Snoke’s guards, this goon stands out because his actions are so nonsenscial. Tactical backflips may look cool, but it’d have been more effective to take cover behind a pillar and survive to keep fighting. But with his sacrifice, Backflip Goon provides a valuable lesson to fighters in fiction: Unless you’re in a comedy where exaggerated actions are used for humorous effect, staying alive in a fight is more important than showing off how acrobatic you are.
2017 was an exciting year for Terminator fans. Not only was it announced that we would get a new film that would be a direct sequel to ‘Judgement Day,’ but it would feature Arnold Schwarzenegger returning as the T-800, and Linda Hamilton reprising her role as Sarah Connor on-screen for the first time since 1996’s, ‘T2-3D: Battle Across Time’. It was a Terminator fan’s dream come true; yet, as filming began and the first promotional material came out, I realized something.
Where was John Connor?
Like many fans, I was wondering why there were no casting announcements for John. Was he not in the film? Were they trying to keep his role a secret? It wasn’t until July of 2019 that James Cameron announced that Edward Furlong would indeed be returning as John, and I was ecstatic. After almost 30 years, we were finally going to have Arnold, Linda, and Edward on screen together again!
Then the movie came out.
Predictably, fans of the Terminator franchise were outraged at John’s death. We had followed John’s exploits, adventures, and growth in TV shows, books, video games, and comics for almost 30 years, only to see him be senselessly killed off. There was no historic last stand, inspiring final words, or seeing John sacrificing himself to save the human race. Instead, we got to see all the struggles and sacrifices to protect him in T1 and T2 be rendered meaningless. ‘Dark Fate’ was the ultimate slap in the face to John, mocking him and his fans.
But what if it isn’t?
Like most Terminator fans, I was angry at John being killed. I had hoped that we would get to see a grown-up John (played by Mr. Furlong) rising from an ordinary life to take up the mantle as humanity’s savior with his mother and a T-800 one last time. Instead, I left the theater disappointed at what could have been.
Yet, as the months have passed, and I’ve thought about the film, I’ve come to realize that, while John’s death was still a mistake, ‘Dark Fate’ shows that he’s still the most important character in both the film and the series. He’s so important that if he were removed from the movie entirely, the resulting consequences would have led to the extinction of the human race.
Madness? The desperate grasps of a fan trying to make sense of a senseless and tragic event? Perhaps. But we’re told on the C-5 Galaxy in the third act that Dani led humanity to victory over Legion, the malevolent AI (‘we took our world back’). In order for that to take place, two things must happen:
1. Dani has to survive.
2. Dani has to learn how to become a leader.
‘Dark Fate’ spends most of its time fulfilling the first task. Dani initially is protected by augmented super-soldier Grace; yet, while Grace is a powerful warrior, she is unable to stop the REV-9 on her own, and would have been killed with Dani in Mexico without Sarah’s intervention. But even with Sarah, the group still wouldn’t have been able to destroy the REV-9. They need Carl – the T-800 who killed John – to finally defeat the REV-9 for good and ensure Dani’s survival.
Yet, Sarah and Carl wouldn’t have been able to help Dani if it wasn’t for John. If we imagine a future where he had lived, Sarah would not have known of Dani’s existence, and would not have come to her rescue on the bridge in Mexico. Dani and Grace would have been killed, and Legion would have won the second machine war.
Carl, too, would not have been present to protect Dani if John had lived. If, say, Sarah had managed to destroy him, then there would have been no T-800 to take on the REV-9. Carl was the one who ultimately had the necessary strength and endurance to destroy the REV-9, but he never would have done so had he not eventually realized what he had taken from Sarah, and then willingly sacrifice himself in the end.
‘Dark Fate’ ends with Sarah setting out to train Dani in how to become a leader and a warrior. Here, too, John also comes into play. Because of Sarah’s experience hunting terminators before and after John’s death, she is the only person on Earth who can train Dani how to fight and destroy them. Furthermore, Sarah still has all the tactical and leadership training she has from the first two films, which she will presumably pass on to Dani as well. With all three sets of skills given to her, Dani will have all she needs to fight – and ultimately destroy – Legion.
Though the mantra of the Terminator series is, ‘There is no fate but what we make for ourselves,’ it almost seems as if the opposite is true: Humanity is destined to fight malevolent AI at some point. It may be Skynet, it may be Legion, but a war is inevitable. Yet, it also seems that there will always be a figure who will rise up and lead humanity to victory. For years, we’ve believed that John was that leader, but ‘Dark Fate’ shows that there can be multiple leaders. When we step back and look at the broad picture, it seems – hard as it is to accept – that John’s death is necessary in the Terminator universe. John, Sarah, and Uncle Bob succeeded in destroying Skynet, and in the process, John had fulfilled his purpose of saving the human race. But would he have been able to do the same against Legion? While fans – myself included – would have loved to see a middle-aged John fighting and defeating an enemy neither he nor Sarah know anything about, I doubt he would have been able to pull it off.
To use a war analogy, let’s say John is the greatest Allied commander of World War 1. His knowledge and experience in trench warfare, chemical warfare, and the like are without compare, and he leads the Allied forces to victory. He’s hailed as a hero and the savior of the civilized world. But what if he suddenly had to lead the allies again in World War 2? While many principles of warfare would remain the same, John’s skills would be obsolete against opponents who have much better technology, weapons, and tactics than he went up against decades earlier. And while there’s a chance he can still win the war, having a younger person who learned from the lessons of the first, and is more familiar with the latest technology, has a better chance of victory.
If the story of the Terminator franchise is humanity’s ultimate victory against malevolent AI, then John can be seen as the commander who, having stopped the machine’s first offensive, ensures that his successor can see the war through to its completion. He is the spark that sets humanity’s ultimate victory in motion. Without John, neither Sarah or Carl would have saved Dani. Without him, Dani would have died.
Without John, humanity would have perished… But it didn’t happen.
Whatever you may think about the movie, in my opinion, ‘Dark Fate’ proves that even in death, John is still the savior of humanity.
Or, if you prefer, you can pretend that this is how the movie ended.
The year is 1975: ‘Jaws,’ the greatest shark movie ever made is released, a film with a perfect cast, expertly-crafted scares, an unforgettable soundtrack, and one of the most satisfying villain endings ever filmed. The film ushers in the age of the summer blockbuster, and propels Steven Spielberg into a career as one of the best filmmakers of his day.
Fast-forward to 1987. ‘Jaws the Revenge,’ one of the most reviled shark movies ever made, is released, a film starring Michael Caine as a man named after a sandwich, a shark who’s mechanical innards can frequently be seen as it lurches around the Bahamas seeking revenge on the Brody family, and an ending where a toy shark in a swimming pool explodes after being gently touched by a wooden bowsprit. The film ushers in the end of the Jaws franchise, and becomes a laughingstock among fans of cinema.
What on earth happened?
Lighting, as the old saying goes, never hits the same place twice. Although it only had three sequels, the Jaws series is one of the most infamous examples of a franchise that started out perfectly before ending with a dud. Although there are many lessons to be learned from the series on how not to handle sequels, one lesson stands above the rest:
When a story’s conflict has been resolved, it’s time for the story to end.
Perfect film that it is, ‘Jaws’ is not an epic that can be told as a trilogy in the vein of ‘Star Wars’ or ‘Lord of the Rings.’ It’s a small-scale, self-contained story centered around a single community with a clear beginning, middle, and end. It has a conflict (a shark terrorizing a coastal town) with a definitive ending (said shark is blown to pieces) in which Amity is saved, and the story has come to its logical end with no loose threads or ideas that could be explored in a sequel. ‘Jaws’ does not lend itself to further stories of Martin Brody fighting off shark after shark, year after year, and yet we got three more stories that now serve as poster children for unnecessary sequels.
Now, this is not to say that ‘Jaws 2,’ ‘3,’ and ‘The Revenge’ don’t have their merits. As previous installments in this series have shown, each one has moments, scenes, and ideas that are quite good.
But there’s a theme running through all the Jaws movies that I never noticed until re-watching them: coming to terms with trauma. The first film has Quint’s legendary recollection of surviving the sinking of the USS Indianapolis, ‘2’ has Martin dealing with the PTSD of going face to face with a shark, and ‘Revenge’ has Ellen dealing with losing both a son and her husband to the sharks. Much like Ellen Ripley in ‘Aliens,’ the original film, ‘2,’ and ‘Revenge’ are at their strongest when they focus on Quint, Martin and Ellen dealing with the trauma they’ve endured from the sharks, helping make them so much more memorable than cookie-cutter protagonists who exist to provide cheap thrills via their inevitable, bloody deaths.
But it’s not just trauma that was an unexpected find when re-watching the movies. I was surprised to find that, out of the three sequels, I actually enjoyed ‘Revenge’ the most. Not because it’s a good film (though it is a satisfying guilty pleasure), but because, out of all three sequels, it’s the one that tries the most to do something new while moving the story forward. ‘2’, while the best of the three, is still largely a copy of the first film, and ‘3’ has nothing in common with the rest of the series (aside from Sean, Michael, and a shark), but ‘Revenge’ doesn’t repeat the ‘shark attacks Amity’ plot. Though its new ideas weren’t that great (dooming it before a single shot was filmed), ‘Revenge’ at least tried to do its own thing and escape the shadow of its predecessor, and for that it deserves recognition.
While all four films offer many character moments, story ideas, and themes that are valuable to learn from, I believe that if we were to condense all those lessons down, these are the three most valuable:
1. When a story’s conflict has been resolved, it’s time for the story to end.
2. Having characters struggle to overcome traumatic events makes them more interesting to watch.
3. When writing a sequel to a self-contained story, try to follow the same spirit as the original, but avoid copying the story and conflict.
Valuable lessons, indeed, but ones that came at a high cost: Although it’s been over 30 years since ‘Revenge’ was released, it seems unlikely that we’ll see another Jaws film anytime soon, if ever. And you know what? Maybe that’s for the best (if nothing else, ‘Revenge’s poor showing prevented the series from eventually heading into outer space). If the Jaws series proves only one thing, it’s that if you really want to honor a story you love, leave it be. Let it stand on its own and not taint it with inferior and unnecessary followups. Let other stories in the same genre tell their tale without the burden of having to live up to a masterpiece.
Oh, and avoid having your sharks roar. That’s just silly.
Of all the bad sequels Hollywood has released over the years, few have reached the level of contempt and scorn as 1987’s ‘Jaws: The Revenge,’ a film so poorly received that Universal hasn’t tried to make another Jaws movie in over thirty years. If you go by its pop-culture reputation alone, you’d think that ‘Revenge’ could be used as a legal means of torture.
Judge: For the crime of blowing up several orphanages and passenger planes, this court finds you guilty.
Terrorist: Haha! Do your worst!
Judge: I sentence you watch ‘Jaws the Revenge’ twenty four hours a day for the rest of your life.
But is ‘Revenge’ really that bad?
When compared to the original ‘Jaws,’ ‘Revenge’ is an inferior followup with more than its fair share of problems (it can’t decide if Ellen or Michael is the protagonist, the premise of a shark seeking revenge is silly, the nonsensical ‘shark explodes’ ending, etc.). However, I wouldn’t say that ‘Revenge’ is one of the worst films Hollywood’s ever put out; there are many that are objectively worse, and dozens, if not hundreds of shark films that are far more inept. (linked video has language that’s NSFW)
I think one reason ‘Revenge’ gets knocked about so much is because the premise – of a shark that’s out for revenge – inevitably sounds goofy no matter how you try to sell it. But unlike a Sci-Fi original movie, ‘Revenge’ takes its premise seriously and tries to make it work. There’s no self-aware winks at the audience or inside jokes that say, ‘Yeah, we know this is dumb; just roll with it.’ And while the end result may not have been the blockbuster Universal was hoping for, there are many – myself included – who like ‘Revenge’ as a guilty pleasure: the cast makes their characters likable and enjoyable to watch (did you know that Ms. Kitner – Alex’s mother from the first film – makes a cameo in the Brody’s living room when Michael arrives after Sean’s death?), the tropical scenery is a refreshing change of pace from Amity, the pacing is quick, and the music is surprisingly good, managing to elevate otherwise mediocre material to watchable.
As with the previous ‘Jaws’ sequels, we’re not here to bash on ‘Revenge’ for what it does wrong, but to instead take a look at what it does well. So let’s dive in and show that even the worst-received movies have their merits.
9. Academy Award winner Michael Caine plays a man named after a hoagie sandwich.
8. Sean’s Death is appropriately disturbing
While the scene itself may be unpleasant, Sean’s death scene in the first act is surprisingly effective. Much like poor Chrissie in the first film, Sean’s alone and defenseless against a shark hell-bent on killing him, and worse yet, help is within reach, but no one can hear his calls for help over the sound of Christmas carols. Hearing such comforting music play while he screams and is eventually pulled down to his death is sobering. While the scene may come across as mean-spirited, there’s no denying how unsettling and attention-grabbing it is.
7. This chase scene
Easily the most engaging part of ‘Revenge’ is the underwater chase scene, where Michael has to outrace the shark as it chases him down.
While the technical merits of the scene are dubious (the shark’s inner machinery and gear are clearly visible multiple times), it’s still an engaging scene for three reasons:
Michael is out of his element: He’s a human in SCUBA gear in the ocean trying to outrace a shark that’s faster than him, is stronger, has more stamina, and doesn’t need air.
Michael has to head into the tight confines of a shipwreck to survive, but as any diver will tell you, entering an enclosed space underwater is extraordinarily dangerous, as there can be no quick way to get to safety if something happens. If Michael makes a wrong turn or a single mistake, he could end up trapped and either eaten by the shark or drown when his air inevitably runs out.
He has to take a huge risk to escape to safety. In order to outrace the shark and reach the surface, Michael risks getting the bends by rocketing to the surface so fast, risking an extremely painful death.
6. Both Ellen and Michael recognize their paranoia
These two moments are similar and quite short, but at different points in the film, Ellen recognizes her paranoia about sharks coming after her family, and Michael acknowledges his fear of being attacked whenever he goes into the water after being chased by the shark. They’re small moments, but it’s refreshing to see characters acknowledge their weaknesses and desire to overcome them instead of refusing to talk about them or pretending they’ll go away.
5. Ellen has a good reason to go after the shark at the climax
Perhaps the most frequent problem in horror/thriller sequels is the idea that survivors of one traumatic event willingly go back or get close to what caused them trauma in the first place. In real life, reasonable people do everything they can to stay away from what nearly killed them. ‘Revenge’’s third act begins with Ellen taking Michael and Jake’s boat and sailing out to face the shark by herself after watching her granddaughter nearly be killed by the shark. Thus, Ellen falls back on the two universal desires that everyone can relate to:
The desire for revenge.
The desire to protect our loved ones.
Thus, ‘Revenge’ finds a credible reason for Ellen to go out and face the shark instead of, say, getting the hell out of the Bahamas and moving to the deserts of Arizona. Much like Ellen Ripley in ‘Aliens’, both head out to face their demons to protect those they love, something that anyone can understand and get behind.
4. Jake is comic relief done right
Unlike most comic relief characters found in horror and thriller films, Jake is a rare example of such a character done right (in my opinion, at least. Your mileage may vary). Yes, he’s essentially a walking Jamaican cliché, but while he cracks jokes and plays up his accent, Jake is still an intelligent guy who immediately stops joking around when things get serious and is willing to risk himself to save others. Jake’s a great example of a comic relief character you can easily see yourself hanging around with for a drink at a nice restaurant. Could you say the same for Wesley Crusher or Jar Jar Binks?
3. The film puts a greater emphasis on characters
Although it doesn’t entirely succeed, ‘Revenge’ makes an effort to focus on its characters instead of focusing on non-stop shark action. The latter would have been more satisfying to the audience, but I appreciate that the movie takes the time to show Ellen starting a new relationship with Hoagie, or Michael and Jake arguing about finances. This makes the characters feel more like people than inevitable shark snacks, and ‘Revenge’ deserves credit for trying to give more depth to its characters instead of going for shallow thrills.
2. The film doesn’t try to copy the previous entries:
There comes a point in any franchise when the main conflict inevitably reaches its logical end. For franchises that elect to keep going in the hopes of raking in more money, it will inevitably start to copy moments from earlier movies to try and sustain the viewer’s interest. Surprisingly, ‘Revenge’ doesn’t fall into this trap. It’s story of a widow trying to emotionally heal from the loss of her husband and son while protecting her surviving family is quite different from the previous films. Furthermore, callbacks are used sparingly, with the biggest example being Michael’s daughter copying his movements as Sean did with Brody many years before. It’s a sweet little moment, and the film smartly doesn’t draw it out any longer than it should.
Regardless of how much its bashed, ‘Revenge’ has to be commended for trying to do new things with its story and not just copying what worked in the past.
1. The film makes its main character an older widow
It’s one of the most common cliches in sequels: Your main actor or actress doesn’t want to come back for the sequel to a hit movie? Make their kids the protagonist! But ‘Revenge’ tries something different: while both Sean and Michael Brody make appearances, Ellen – Brody’s now-widowed wife – takes center stage. How many movies can you recall where the main character in a horror/thriller sequel is a middle-aged widow instead of a young, hot 20something? Ellen’s not the physically strongest character, and she struggles to deal with grief, but seeing her working to overcome those problems is more engaging than seeing someone with chiseled abs and a beefy beach body who hasn’t been exposed to the traumas and challenges that come with a long life.
While I would have liked if Ellen took a more active role in taking on the shark (Michael has more direct interaction with it), I’m grateful that ‘Revenge’ took a chance on having an unconventional character be the lead. In a way, it was ahead of its time; 2018’s ‘Halloween’ and 2019’s ‘Terminator: Dark Fate’ proved that older women can take the lead role in films just as easily as their male counterparts, and Ellen Brody could be seen as one of the first to take up the mantle.
While ‘Revenge’ is undeniably flawed, and perhaps the least in the Jaws series, it still has its merits: It does try something new with the story, it takes a refreshing chance in giving the lead role to an older character, and has generally likable characters all around. While it is a subpar film, I personally don’t think it belongs on lists of the worst films of all time. It has its flaws, and it has the unenviable position of being the third unnecessary sequel to one of the best films in history, but it at least tries to create something unique instead of copying what came before, and for that, it should be commended.
Tune in next time, where we’ll take a look at the ‘Jaws’ franchise as a whole, and see what lessons all four films can impart to writers.
The 80’s were an interesting time for Hollywood: Synth music was becoming popular, the era of the muscle-bound hero was born, and we got a brief resurgence of the 3D fad that has poked its head up every few decades; while most of the resulting films have been consigned to obscurity, perhaps none have been both as immortalized and derided than ‘Jaws 3.’
Released in 1983, ‘Jaws 3’ marks a major turning point in the Jaws franchise: It’s the first not to star Roy Schenider and to not take place in Amity. It also marks the point when the series, having run out of a natural way to continue the ‘Jaws’ saga, resorted to gimmicks to keep viewers interested. Instead of a shark attacking a seaside down and threatening its residents and livelihood, we have a theme park in Florida being attacked by not one, but two sharks, as well as focusing on on the sequel trope of having a franchise’s main character’s children take over.
To this day, fans of the Jaws series remain divided on which sequel is worse: ‘3’, or ‘Revenge.’ But as stated earlier in this series, we’re not here to settle the argument, but to see what each film does well, and despite its rather tepid reception (and the fact that if you remove Michael and Sean, the film has nothing to do with the previous movies), ‘3’ is a guilty pleasure, with it’s so-bad-its-good visual effects, late 70’s and early 80’s design (just look at that fabulous underwater restaurant!), and an excellent soundtrack that has some of my favorite pieces in the series (Like this, this, and especially this). With that said, let’s take a look at the third dimension in terror to see what stands the test of time:
5. Sea World is a more visually interesting location than Amity:
Compared to the blues, grays, and whites of Amity, Sea World is refreshingly bright and colorful, and the undersea kingdom has a lot of potential for undersea mayhem, complete with a sunken ship that’s the location for a frantic escape from the shark, and an underwater complex where tourists are trapped and have to be rescued, as well as an underwater control room that is definitely resistant to sharks breaking the windows. Compared to the beaches and open water of Amity, ‘Jaws 3’ has a lot of opportunities for more interesting action at unique locations, and takes full advantage of it.
4. Michael and Sean’s relationships
One of the film’s biggest strengths isn’t the shark, the action, or the effects, but a grown-up Michael and Sean. I like how, unlike so many other horror movie sequels featuring kids who are now adults, their experiences with sharks in childhood haven’t emotionally crippled them: they get along just fine with each other, complete with playful, good-natured teasing and satisfying relationships with their girlfriends. It’s a refreshing change to see them not be nightmare-riddled adults who poop their pants at the mere sight of the ocean.
I also like how, while Sean and Michael are emotionally well-adjusted, there are still some mental scars left from their encounters with two killer sharks, especially Sean. He’s not fond of going in the water, and needs to be coaxed by his girlfriend, Kelly, to even go on a bumper-boat ride. I wish this phobia had been explored more (such as Sean having to overcome his fear of sharks and the ocean to save Kelly), but the film is to be commended for having Sean and Michael be mostly well-adjusted adults.
3. The Professionals are… well, professional
In monster movies, so-called professionals often end up being useless, bumbling idiots, or both. Thankfully, ‘Jaws 3’ averts that by having almost everyone in a position of authority be actually good at their jobs, or at least, not losing their heads when things go wrong. FitzRoyce and his assistant Jack initially come off as smug gloryhounds, but are often the first to drop the cameras and jump in to help when the sharks are swimming around, and their plan to capture the shark – by trapping it in a flow pipe – would have worked if it wasn’t for a safety rope that would have come undone through no fault of their own. Likewise, a tour guide in the undersea kingdom manages to keep guests calm and get them out when things get hairy instead of panicking like everyone else. That kind of professionalism is refreshing to see.
Calvin is a bit mixed: He has a greedy, impatient streak to him, but when he realizes how bad things get, he quickly works to try and make things right. Unlike Mayor Vaughn, when things get bad, he doesn’t try to pretend its not happening or to try and cover it up, and he gets a nice moment at the climax where he manages to save an unconscious worker and get her to safety when the shark attacks the control room (presumably; we never actually see the two get to safety, but let’s be optimistic and assume they did).
2. This unsettling death
Chrissie’s death at the beginning of ‘Jaws’ is rightfully regarded as one of the scariest deaths in horror cinema (sweet Zeus, those screams), but ‘Jaws 3’ has a pretty good one of its own with FitzRoyce’s demise: through a rather unfortunate series of circumstances, he ends up being sucked alive into the shark’s mouth. It’s unnerving to see him still alive in the shark’s throat and unable to get out. Much like the helicopter pilot in the previous film, FitzRoyce faces an awful choice: he can die either by drowning, being shredded by the shark’s teeth, or by blowing himself up with one of his grenades. All the options are horrible, and knowing that there’s no way he’s getting out alive only makes it worse.
1. The most unique climax of the series
If there’s one thing that ‘Jaws 3’ nails, it’s the climax, where the shark rams the underwater control room, floods it, and traps our heroes, who have to kill it by activating the grenade being gripped by FitzRoyce’s corpse, blowing it to smithereens. This is a really unique scenario: our heroes are trapped in an environment that will eventually kill them (they’re underwater and only have a limited amount of air), cornered by a beast that wants to eat them. They have no weapons and no way to defend themselves, and the only way to win is to risk being eaten by the beast to trigger a hard-to-reach weapon that can save them.
While the effects of this sequence are… not that great, the idea behind it is a really cool one, and in my opinion, it’s the most unique climax in the ‘Jaws’ series. The first is unquestionably the best, but in my opinion, ‘Jaws 3’ has a more interesting idea behind it.
While the below-average story, lack of cohesion with the previous two films, and subpar effects drag ‘Jaws 3’ down, it’s helped out with likable characters, a unique location, a pretty horrific death scenario, and the most unique climaxes in the series. But is that enough to make it better than its successor? The debate will no doubt rage for years to come, but tune in next time as we take a look at ‘Jaws: The Revenge’ and see if we can find some redeeming factors in one of the most legendary bombs in Hollywood history.
Back in 1975, Steven Spielberg made a little movie called ‘Jaws’, creating not only the era of the summer blockbuster, but also the best shark movie of all time. Even after 45 years, no other shark film has managed to surpass it, and Hollywood, recognizing what a gem they had on their hands, wisely and respectfully allowed the franchise to end with just one movie.
Just kidding. This is Hollywood we’re talking about, so we got three sequels of increasingly lower quality, ending with one so reviled that Universal hasn’t tried to make a new ‘Jaws’ sequel in over thirty years. Perhaps no other film franchise in history has suffered so badly from the law of diminishing returns, going from one of the greatest horror/thrillers ever made to one of the most mocked. Yet, are ‘Jaws 2,’ ‘3D,’ and ‘The Revenge’ really that bad? Are they actually better than pop culture would have us remember?
No. No, they’re not. But the greatest learning comes from the greatest failures, and what better way to learn how to do unnecessary sequels than to study the mistakes and missteps of Jaws’ unloved children? Thus, throughout January, we’ll be taking a look at all four Jaws films to see what lessons they can offer writers on how to do sequels. But unlike my Sharknado series, or the Friday the 13th comparisons, I’ll be doing something differently this time around: Instead of focusing on what the films did wrong (too many characters, bad visual effects, roaring sharks who want revenge on the Brodys, etc.), I’ll instead be focusing on what each film does well, because, despite their reputation, the three Jaws sequels do have their merits. Today, we’ll kick things off with the one that started it all: 1975’s, ‘Jaws’
Do I really need to describe just how good ‘Jaws’ is? It succeeds at every aspect, from characters, story, suspension, and casting, to cinematography and visual effects. So, in order to avoid a Stephen King-length analysis of what the film does right, I’ll stick with the four things I think it does best. (If you’re looking for a much more in-depth look at how good the film’s story and characters are, I suggest reading this excellent article by Jabootu.net).
4. The Story Is Self Contained
It seems like every movie made these days is written as the start of a trilogy, with studios hoping to create franchise after franchise they can come back to time and time again for decades to come. But despite being followed by three sequels, ‘Jaws’ is refreshingly self-contained with no loose ends or hints of a sequel. By the end of the film, the shark has been blown up, the threat to Amity Island is ended, and Brody and Hooper are free to pick daisies, frolic through the meadows, and live happily ever after. It’s the logical end to the story, one that doesn’t need any follow-ups or sequels, and doesn’t leave us feeling like we’ve only seen a full-length ad for the next installment.
3. The Isolation
Isolation is a critical part of the horror genre: What’s more frightening then being far from civilization and cut off from help while facing something wants to kill you, or worse? It might not be obvious at first, but ‘Jaws’ thrives on this isolation, taking place entirely on an island and a boat at sea. Yet, there are still multiple examples of characters being isolated and alone when attacked:
The opening attack, where poor Chrissie is alone and helpless in the water, her friends too far away (or too drunk) to hear her screaming for help as she dies.
The two guys on the pier have no time to call for help when the shark goes after their bait, and then comes after them.
Ben Gardner and his mate were alone when he was attacked, and Brody and Hooper are equally isolated when they come across his boat in the dead of night.
Brody, Hooper, and Quint are isolated on a slowly-sinking boat and unable to call for help or get to shore without being eaten, and their only chance is to build a shark cage in a last-chance attempt to kill the beast.
The common thread in all these moments is that the characters are in the ocean with few to no tools or weapons they can use to fight back. The shark has all the advantages (speed, killing power, size, etc.), while the humans have only their wits and intelligence.
2. Everything In The Film Revolves Around The Shark
One thing that I admire about ‘Jaws’ is something that sounds so simple, yet is so hard for so many movies to get right: Everything in the film (with the exception of Brody’s introduction) revolves around the shark. Even when it’s not on-screen or killing anyone, everything the characters do revolve around the shark: A town hall meeting is held because of the shark’s attack on Chrissie; Brody and Hooper have dinner to discuss cutting open the caught tiger shark, despite Hooper believing that the real shark is still out there; Quint talking about the Indianapolis on his boat that he, Brody, and Hooper are on because the want to kill the shark, and so on.
Virtually every scene in the film happens because of the shark, or is influenced by its actions. It’s holding the entire island hostage, and the story and the characters react accordingly. So many other monster movies have scenes or subplots that don’t revolve around their respective beasts that they take away from the film, but ‘Jaws’ wisely avoids such a mistake.
1. The Unseen Is Scarier Than What’s Seen
If there’s one thing ‘Jaws’ does perfectly, it’s that it relies on not seeing the shark so much, forcing our imaginations fill in the blanks every time its presence is felt, making inanimate objects like a broken pier, a stick in the surf, or a splintered piece of wood on Ben Gardner’s boat, bone-chilling. Not seeing the monster makes it so much more horrifying, and this extends to the first time we get a glimpse of it without seeing its whole body. But even better, the film doesn’t go overboard once the shark fully appears when Brody and Co. are hunting it; there are still plenty of times it’s hidden, and uses those moments to imply its intelligence and cunning, before finally having it take center stage at the climax.
Like salt, ‘Jaws’ masterfully uses the shark sparingly, letting it appear just enough to satisfy out curiosity, but letting it stay hidden most of the time, marinating our fear and making its inevitable appearances all the more satisfying.
Tune in next week, where we’ll take a look at Jaws 2, one of the most unnecessary sequels of all time, but not necessarily a bad one.