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Sunday, 4 October 2015

Book Review - Jaws 2: The Making Of The Hollywood Sequel by Louis R.Pisano and Michael A. Smith

My very own copy - all the way from the U S of A
You all know me by now, I know that you probably wish you didn't, but alas you do. Sorry about that. One of the things you will know about me is, to put it mildly,  that I have a general lack of fondness for movie sequels or, even worse, the abomination that goes by the name of 'Franchise'. I know, I know, I may well have  gone on (and on) about the unbending law of sequels and their consistent habit of diminishing returns. For example, one of the many rules that govern any number of seemingly never ending film series appears to be that as the movies continue thorough their mind numbing revisits, all the while the actors involved become steadily less well known and even less able to act, whilst becoming ever more prettier - same for the girls too.

Of course, there are exceptions to the sequel rule which any movie-bore will quickly advise you and me of; The Empire Strikes Back, Godfather 2 and Terminator 2: Judgement Day, amongst others which have well and truly circumvented their predecessors in terms of quality. Fair point. There is though in my world another list of sequel exceptions, namely those that on release may have seemingly eclipsed the original (or at least got very close) but in truth haven't successfully stood the test of time. One prime example in my personal list is that of 'Aliens', regarded by some at the time (myself included)as superior to the original - now I'm not so sure.

Jaws 2 is also on my list of sequels that I once loved, but now I'm not so sure whether I still love it, or merely like it. Readers of this blog (yes there are numerous readers and they get together with their crayons when let out of their padded cells once a month) will know of my obsession with Spielberg's original classic. In fact it forms one of the legendary (at least in my mind it's legendary) '5D Love letter to.....' series contained within this very blog. If you have a few moments before returning to your particular padded cell, you can read it RIGHT HERE

The fact is that on its release in the dim and distant year of 1978, I simply loved Jaws 2. It ticked most of the box's of my 12 year old heart; it still had the inimitable lead character, a seemingly even bigger shark, the return of the dastardly mayor and was set again (or so I thought) wholly in its original New England setting. I remember coming out of the cinema with my friends feeling psyched and emotionally exhausted by the exciting finale, and all to a man we agreed it was a worthy successor. If that wasn't enough, it had arguably one of the best ever movie poster tag-lines; "Just when you thought..........etc etc etc.

However, over the years my exalted opinion of the film as waned a little. Yes I still think that the movie has its worth, for example, the final third instalment where the kids then Brody face-off against the shark is genuinely thrilling and Roy Scheider is certainly as tremendous as he ever was in his reprised role. However on reflection over the years on each viewing I've found the film lacking, disjointed and ultimately far less satisfying than its illustrious predecessor. Perhaps the first films greatest asset was the chemistry that came from the stunning ensemble cast of Scheider, Dreyfuss and Shaw. I know that the comparison my be unfair, but this has always meant that the sequel remains a more hollow and unfillfilling experience. I still love it, but not quite as much as I used to

I had often wondered just what had contributed to the uneven quality of a film which at that point was arguably the most famous sequel ever to be produced. I remember watching a 'making of' documentary some years ago when Jaws 2 was released on DVD which provided some insight into the shambolic filming process. However I had read little more about the background to the film. 

So it was with great excitement that I heard some time ago of a plan to produce a book, Jaws 2: The Making of The Hollywood Sequel, which promised to shed more light in to the plethora problems and chaos that engulfed the making of the film. I was even more excited when the authors agreed to my pestering by promising to send my an early copy of the book. The details contained within not only enlightened me on what took place behind the camera, it also suggested what really could have been if things had happened differently during the film's production.

Authors Louis R. Pisano and Michael A. Smith have put together a wealth of interviews with cast and crew as well as 200 rarely seen behind-the-scenes photos taken by the people involved in the making of the film. Louis R. Pisano is the director of the very popular series of “JawsFEST” fan DVDs. Michael A. Smith is the co-founder of and is a long-serving officer of the Kansas City Film Critics Circle. In addition there are numerous footnotes and excerpts from the various screenplays and storyboards throughout the book. The one thing I was especially interested to read about was the account of the film's first director, John D. Hancock. Many people are now aware that Hancock, with a only a few minor productions under his directing belt, was initially hired to make a film with a distinctly different feel in terms of tone to the original.

However, almost immediately the filming ran into a plethora of troubles and strife as the studio bosses became increasingly panicked by the standard of daily rushes until eventually being replaced by Jeannot Szwarz. The book provides a nicely in-depth account from Hancock himself about the troubles from his point of view, the general consensus from the book is that he simply couldn't handle how to film the big set pieces. Though the exact details of just why he was sacked is never fully explained, and probably never will be from any source. The constant phrase from the interviews from those that experienced the initial filming experience was "He was fired and I'm not sure why". Even Hancock himself never divulges the actual reason, though he does seem keen to blame just about everyone else involved for the chaos of those early weeks in the life of filming JAWS 2, rather than take any personal blame at all.

What does come across in the early parts of Jaws 2: The Making of The Hollywood Sequel, via the accounts of Hancock et al is the very different film that would have seen the light of day if he had seen the production through. We are given an insight via excerpts from the original screenplay and personal accounts about the dark and bleak tone that the sequel could have had. In this alternate version, Chief Brody was a shade of his former self, haunted by what had happened to him previously. So too was Amity a pale imitation of its former self after the visitation of the first shark, fences were broken, houses were were left un-repaired and boast were un-sailed. The town and it's people had began to disintegrate after the events that had happened some years before. It all could have looked and felt very different to what the studio actually wanted, and got eventually from Szwarz. In all honesty, it could have been great - but we'll never know as very little seems to remain from the original Hancock footage and even less made it into the final cinematic version.

The other interviews with cast and crew are equally in-depth with the relationship between Scheider and some of the crew, particularly Szwarz being examined. The fact that Scheider was virtually 'tricked' into completing the film only as a way of ending his contractual dispute with Universal Pictures certainly didn't help his relationship with the film's director. It is testimony to Scheider's professionalism that he still turned in the level of performance that he did.

For many fans, it will be the behind-the-scenes photo's of the production that will be of interest - and certainly the book doesn't disappoint with its 200 photos. Personally, the collection of original story board art is the most exciting of all the visual excerpts in the book. Excellent stuff.

Yes there are still gaps in the story of the troubled making of this film, but after the wealth of interviews, pictures and insights from this nicely researched book I will admit that it's reignited my love affair with the movie. Jaws 2: The Making of The Hollywood Sequel is a must-have accompaniment to any lover of the Amity shark universe.

To find out more about the book and its authors then visit their Facebook page at

You can also find the book via Amazon at

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