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Friday 25 September 2015

“Gums 2” or “Why a Jaws Remake will Probably Suck!”

Jaws (franchise)
Jaws (franchise) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Following on from my article regarding reboots, my attention was recently drawn to the threat that a remake of “Jaws” was in the works. Forgive me for being out of the loop on this one, as it’s been in the public forum since at least April this year. Even more horrifying than this prospect is the fact that it appears to be more than a slight ripple in the rumour tank. The auteur director of the original classic, Steven Spielberg, officially announced this proposal to the executives at Universal.  According to INSC Magazine, Spielberg has been “vehemently” campaigning for super-geek Kevin Smith to direct the picture due to Smith’s clear love of the original. This all seems like more of the cynical geek-chum we have come to expect from remade/rebooted/readapted blockbusters I mentioned in my article about reboots. 

When asked about making a sequel to his original film, Spielberg said that "making a sequel to anything is just a cheap carny trick". However, he did consider taking on “Jaw 2”. This was before he would direct sequels to “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, “Jurassic Park” and would even make an original sequel to J.M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan” in the form of “Hook”. Now, Spielberg believes the time is right to remake “Jaws” taking advantage of the CGI effects available to us. The director was known for his frustrations with the temperamental mechanical sharks used in the original, which were all called “Bruce”. The same INSC Magazine also mentions Spielberg’s interest in such ideas as having an internal monologue for the shark being provided by Ben Affleck, showing that the fish had larger motivations than pure instinct. It gets worse! 

Here are few reasons why a “Jaws” remake, going on the wealth of evidence provided by the film’s legacy might be beyond redemption. 

Jaws was Never an SFX Film 

When you see a list of the greatest special effects movies of all time, on an idiot would put “Jaws” in there. Despite the painstaking work done on the ill-fated mechanical sharks, there were no massive cinematic breakthroughs in this particular department. In fact, by the time I first became mesmerized by the film as a child growing up in the 1980s people were already laughing at the “rubber shark”. However, that wasn’t to say they weren’t still jumping out of their seats and feeling the tension with the film’s mounting suspense. That was the enduring strength of “Jaws” and 40 years on it still grips audiences. 

A few years ago it was on TV and I was casually watching it. The famous chum scene where the shark comes out of the water still took my surprise. A long enough gap had occurred between then and my previous watching and I was truly quite amazed at how well I could be set up by the scene. Years later I witnessed a shock reaction given by a jaded 20 something horror fan upon their first viewing. Again, the film just happened to be on television and they stopped to watch a scene. “Fucking hell” she said in awe as the film, for the first time in the picture, the outline of the shark pass under a boat. It wasn’t the effect that generated the desired response in either of our cases. It was all the other factors, including the direction of a then ambitious, visionary and gifted young Steven Spielberg. 

The “Jaws” Legacy is Big Enough

Far be it for me to say that a franchise has been exhausted. Boil anything down in the world of fiction and you can say it has all been done before. The art is often found in how something is redone. This is why I don’t have a problem with remakes in principle and I don’t really see why anyone should. However, the legacy of “Jaws” is so vast now that a remake is destined to be drowned as yet another weak pretender. 

The essence of the voyeuristic and unseen terror of “Jaws” can be seen in both “Predator” and “Alien”. The concept of the shark having a vendetta is explored in “Orca”, which did a far better and more plausible job than the ludicrous “Jaws the Revenge”. As for gore and more visual stimulation we have only to look at “Deep Blue Sea”, “Piranha”, “Dinoshark”, “Crocodile”, “Lake Placid”, “Grizzly” and over four decades worth of Jaws copies to see that this exploitation ocean of possibility has been dredged. 

“Jaws” the movie is a triumph of cinematic simplicity. Spielberg used test screenings to perfectly time his two jump moments. The cinematography both in and out of the water is excellent in juxtaposing human perceptions of paradise against the primal brutality of nature. Applying voyeurism to the shark on its hunt by filming from its perspective brought shades of brilliance that made “Peeping Tom”, “Psycho” and “Black Christmas” so effective in inducing fear. It would become a staple of the slasher movie, but with “Jaws” it offered something far larger. This wasn’t just an individual maniac stalking its prey in their own world. In “Jaws” the same thing was happening but from a reverse perspective. The targets for the main antagonist’s indiscriminate violence those that were touch upon its world. By not showing the shark we were seeing much more. We were seeing the savage kingdom of the predator, which dwarfed all the petty politics and holidaymaking occurring above the surface of the water. 

John Williams’ music makes up more than half of the film’s effectiveness. The great composer has such an impact on the movies he touches that it is almost impossible to divorce any of them from their respective scores. “Superman”, which has had a strong and established continuous presence in media four decades before Williams scored “Superman: The Movie” and continued to do so, has been the only one to make a successful separation with the “Man of Steel” reboot. Even then, consider that there was one attempt to continue the “Superman: The Movie” series 19 years after the last sequel retaining Williams’ score in the ill-fated “Superman Returns”. When this didn’t work and the hard decision was made to start anew most of us couldn’t help feel a degree of sadness to not hear the memorable score over a live action film of America’s favourite boy scout. There is no doubt that a huge amount of what made “Jaws” great was its score.     

Outside of these elements there is a great cast and the film is reasonably faithful to Benchley’s novel. However, their purpose is to appear miniscule compared to the horror that is surrounding them. Each of the three shark hunters are stretched beyond their limitations and the community they are defending seems to be at a complete loss in being able to handle the force of nature that has targeted their lives and livelihoods.  That is the power of the vision of “Jaws” the film. It’s a film about using the unknown to create fear. However, as with both “Alien” and “Predator”, once the monster was revealed the window was only so big to bring everything to a satisfactory conclusion. The only reason why “Alien” succeeded to come back with credible sequel was because the new director switched tactics and created an action movie. A similar move was executed well with “Terminator 2”. The same would not be the case for “Jaws”. The first sequel, which isn’t a bad film, gave us more of the shark and more dramatic death sequences with an even more explosive (and more ludicrous) finale, but there was nowhere good to go after it had finished. This was left to the “Jaws” imitators who have a freer rein to take whatever successful concepts they like to make films that are better than anything officially connected to the “Jaws” franchise. 

The base elements of the original film, so expertly designed and timed, are what makes any attempt to imitate it seem clichéd and silly. Consider Jaws’ only real equal in suspense filmmaking, “Psycho”, as an example of this similar principle. I think the two films share several parallels, which make them two of the best horror pictures ever made. Only Psycho’s first sequel (made 22 years later) has any degree of credibility as a film. Its next two instalments equalled Jaws’ subsequent third and fourth parts in their levels of descending awfulness. Observing the intimidating brilliance of the first film’s direction, score and cinematography, one director felt that the only way the film be could be remade and updated was to shoot it frame-for-frame. The result was terrible. The remake of “The Omen” was not as slavish, but by sticking too closely to the original film it also produced an unmemorable and unnecessary homage.   

Certain films become classics because of core fundamentals. Filmmakers, even those involved with creating the original, attempt to remake them at their own risk. I would rather see another honest “Jaws” imitation with a totally different storyline and concept on the big screen, such as “Meg”, which is still in production hell, to finally surface.

It’s Not Going to be a Re-Adaptation 

It would appear that everyone, including Spielberg, has forgotten that “Jaws” was an excellent piece of pulp fiction a year before it became the prototype for the summer blockbuster. The same sad truth can be said about “Psycho” and “The Godfather”. Spielberg had problems with the original novel and one of them was his dislike of the characters. This is what led to several rewrites of the script, including Peter Benchley being replaced. Although the characters of the film are excellent and well-cast, Benchley’s original versions were more flawed and the story is grittier. Given that the fashion with a lot of franchises these days is to make everything “darker”, it might not be the worst pitch to go back to the original Benchley characters that Spielberg so loathed. 

Rather than looking towards the special effects and adding in silly new gimmicks like anthropomorphising the shark, one thing that has changed in today’s audiences is the demand for more complex characters and patience for plot developments in genre pieces. Within the wake of shows like “Game of Thrones”, “Blacklist” and “True Detectives”, a television audience might be better drawn to a more character driven work. Television is currently beating movies hands down with bigger budgets and lengthier runs to expand upon character and plot development. “Bates Motel” has proven to be successful in its complete reinvention of “Psycho”. The series is far from perfect and is too far removed from its essence, but it is still far better than anything produced in the franchise since “Psycho II”. The “Hannibal” TV drama is the best example of reimagining a franchise by going back to the original works. Even Hannibal Lector creator, Thomas Harris seemed to have lost his way with the disappointing and implausible prequel, “Hannibal Rising” (in both novel and film), but the television series helped reinvent the character and his world by working hard to bring the psychology of Harris’s novels to the screen rather than just re-tread the plots. 

No Teeth

Back in the early ‘80s the only truly British comic-book I read was “Buster”. The only reason I read “Buster” was for the American inspired superhero, Leopard Man. However, I did read all the other strips and amongst them was an anthropomorphised marine menace known as “Gums”.[i] Gums was always on the look out to eat people but was never as successful as the shark that inspired his creation. This was down to the simple problem that he had a pair of false teeth that he often ended up losing. Targets of the “evil” Gums would, at first, fear the approaching menace. However, this would soon be changed to amusement at his failing. Such a metaphor befits the vast majority of the school of “Jaws” imitators. Sadly, going by the most likely direction it is headed, it would appear it’s a fate that awaits its remake.   

[i] It is worth noting that a common mistake for many people who have seen “Jaws” is to assume that the title is the name of the shark.  Not only did Gums get given a name, but “Action Comics” also titled the lead antagonist of their violent “Jaws” cash-in “Hook Jaw”.  Besides the aforementioned “Bruce” title given to the rubber sharks, the fish in the book and the film has no official name. In typical cynical fashion the title for the original novel came from Benchley’s publisher suggesting that it nicely fitted on the front cover. He was right and it makes a great movie logo too.

My other "Jaws" articles: 

The Lines Before the Score (review of the original novel)

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