Sunday, August 28, 2011

B to Z Movies/Franchises: Jaws. Jaws: The Revenge (1987)

First thing I have to say is that I don't understand how this movie got made. I know Jaws 3 did pretty well, despite its enormous flaws, but did the series still have enough clout by this point for the studio to greenlight another sequel? It's truly mind-boggling. Anyway, this film is often regarded as the true nadir of the series and is considered one of the worst movies ever made. I can understand why people feel that way. This film really is bad but, call me crazy, I enjoy it a lot more than the previous movie in the series. If I have choice on watching either of the films after Jaws 2, I'll always go with this one. It's hard for me to explain but I'll try my best. Before I begin, I must say that this one is special to me because it was the first DVD I ever watched. When I got my first player for my sixteenth birthday, this was one of the four DVDs I got with it and it was the first one I watched so go figure.

This movie basically ignores the events of its predecessor, creating a new continuity for its returning main characters. It begins with Sean Brody living on Amity with his mother Ellen, whose husband Martin has died some time before from a heart attack. A few nights before Christmas, Sean, who is the deputy sheriff on the island, is sent out to remove a piece of driftwood from a buoy. While doing so, he's attacked and killed by a large great white shark. Ellen is now convinced that the shark killed Sean on purpose and is now stalking her family for what happened to the sharks in the previous films. To try to take her mind off things, she travels with her other son, Mike, and his wife and daughter to the Bahamas to spend Christmas there. While there, Ellen meets up with a carefree airplane pilot named Hoagie, who helps take her mind off the tragedy. However at the same time, Mike and his friend Jake, who work as marine biologists, encounter the great white shark, who has apparently followed Ellen to the Bahamas to kill her and her family. While trying to study the shark, Mike begins to think his mother's fears may have come true.

Okay, I must say that I do agree with those who complain that giving the shark a motive is ridiculous because it is. The sharks in the previous films were just being the big predators of the sea that they were, nothing personal. Giving the shark a motive goes into supernatural territory which cheapens the impact of the first film. Ironically, the seeds of this movie were sewn in a brief exchange in Jaws 2, where Brody is thinking that the shark in that film could be prowling around Amity for what happened to the original one and the biologist tells him, "Sharks don't take things personally, Mr. Brody." Granted, Brody's thinking in that film was no doubt motivated by fear but here, it's clear from the get-go that this shark does have a method to its madness. So, yes, I do agree with that complaint.

The director this time is Joseph Sargent, who worked with Lorraine Gary before on a TV, which is no doubt how he got her to do this film. That's one thing this movie had going for it, that its director had actual directing experience, unlike Joe Alves in Jaws 3. Unfortunately, that doesn't help the film overcome its shortcomings. Sargent is pretty good at directing the character moments in this film but when it comes to the suspense and action scenes involving the shark and underwater photography, he has no idea what he's doing.

I think some of the acting is good in this film whereas others aren't so much. Lorraine Gary reprises her role as Ellen Brody, making her the veteran of this series. The take on Ellen in this film is interesting, with her being as paranoid about sharks as her husband became in the second film. Sometimes it does work, like when she's worried about Mike having a job that has him in the ocean a lot and as she starts to lighten up when she strikes up a romance with Hoagie. However, there are other times where it comes across as melodramatic. Her rant in the kitchen after Sean's death when she is telling Mike to quit his job comes across as silly. During Sean's funeral, she's remembering the moment in the original when Sean imitated his father at the dinner table and she smiles, making some people at the funeral wonder why she's doing so. At another point, she tries to pick her granddaughter up but has to give her back to her daughter-in-law because she's too weak and starts crying for some reason. I'm guessing it has something to do with when Sean was a little kid but it just comes across as random. Also, as anyone who's seen the film knows, she has flashbacks to scenes from the first film and to stuff earlier in this one. One has to wonder how she remembers stuff that she didn't witness in the first place. Granted, she was there for the aforementioned scene in the original and the scene in this film where her granddaughter is attacked by the shark while on a banana boat but how does she remember her son getting killed when she didn't actually see it and how her husband killed the original shark? You could rationalize that Martin probably told her about what happened during the final battle in the original but the stuff with Sean? No, that's a goof.

Lance Guest plays Mike Brody and I thought he did a pretty decent job. He may not win any Academy Awards but I thought he came across as likable, particularly in the scenes with his mother, his family, and Jake. They could have done more with the notion that his mother's fears about the shark to creep in on him when he encounters it but it doesn't go anywhere. Still, I thought Guest was passable. And no discussion about Jaws: The Revenge would be complete without talking about Mario Van Peebles' infamous role as Jake, Mike's Jamaican buddy. I'll just come out and say it: I love Jake. Yes, I know Van Peebles is playing him as a typical stereotype but I always found him to be funny and likable. The scenes where he and Mike are ribbing each other does come across as two good friends to me. But I do agree that the bit at the end with him showing up after he was clearly eaten by the shark is bull. Did the shark swallow him whole and he came up after it was killed or what? If it just spat him out, where was he during the rest of the final battle? No excuse. Even Mike when he helps him says what we're all thinking: "The hell are you doing alive?"

Michael Caine plays Hoagie, the charismatic pilot. You really have to wonder what Caine is doing in this film. True, it was a sequel to the classic Jaws but I think if he'd seen the others, he would have known that this probably wasn't going to be a film he would be proud of. Caine claims to this day that he's never seen the film and the main reason he did it was for the money so he could build a house. He also was unable to personally collect an Oscar he received for another movie because he was filming this but he seems to look back on it with a tongue-in-cheek attitude. As for his performance, I liked the way Caine played Hoagie. As with Van Peebles as Jake, Hoagie is a likable, charming, easy-going guy with a good sense of humor, even when he's about to get eaten by the shark: "Oh, shit!" I do like that he survived, although how he swam from his destroyed plane to the ship and barely even got wet is something I don't understand at all.

Karen Young plays Mike's wife, Carla, who's an artist that creates sculptures for the island tourism trade. Not much to say about her. She's sexy and is a caring enough wife and daughter-in-law to Ellen, as well as gives Mike hell when she realizes that he knew about the shark all along and didn't tell them. Judith Barsi plays Mike and Carla's young daughter, Thea. Not much to say about her other than she's cute and really didn't annoy me. One dumb thing she does is what she says to someone as soon as she and her parents visit Ellen after Sean's death: "Uncle Sean is dead, you know. Will he come back?" Carla says, "We'll talk about that later, Thea." I think you should have talked to her about that earlier! (On a sad side-note, I found out that Barsi was murdered, along with her mother, by her insane father a year after this movie was made, which is really tragic.) Finally, Mitchell Anderson plays the brief role of Sean Brody. The one thing I have to say about him is that I do think his death is disturbing. The way the shark first bites his left arm off before killing is bad enough but the way he's screaming and that there are kids singing The First Noel nearby is quite disturbing to me. I actually saw this scene when I was a kid on TV and it really messed me up.

This film does suffer from some melodramatic and corny moments. There's a scene that recreates the dinner table from the original with Sean imitating Martin, only this time done with Mike and Thea. It is kind of touching but may succeed only in making viewers wish they were watching the original Jaws. Another weird part is the first scene between Mike and Jake. Jake gets really angry at him for taking off to Amity and leaving him with the workload, causing Mike to yell at him. Jake then very calmly says, "I'm sorry about your brother, man." That was a sporadic change of emotion! The most laughable melodramatic moment is when Jake "supposedly" gets killed by the shark. The entire moment is in slow-motion with no sound except the music and when the shark disappears beneath the water, Mike yells, "JAAAAAAAAAAKE!", which even echoes. I know it's supposed to be tragic but it comes off as just plain silly and overplayed. Plus, the guy's not dead so it was pointless.

The shark looks the worst in this film. It's so fake and lifeless that it's not even funny. As much as I bashed the shark in Jaws 3, I bought that one more than this (and that should tell you something). It looks like one of those shark toys I used to play with in the bathtub when I was a kid. When Jake first encounters the shark while operating the mini-sub, it literally seems as if the damn thing just floated instead of swam towards him and bumped him. Even when the shark is chewing on the side of the boat or coming up to attack people it looks fake. There are scenes where it's so far out of the water that it has to be balancing its tail on something right below the surface! A scene where the shark chases Mike while he's scuba-diving is particularly silly looking because Mike takes cover inside a shipwreck on the ocean floor and the shark still manages to squeeze inside of it. The sight of that big-ass shark swimming down corridors in that wreck (barely doing so, by the way) just makes me smirk. Oh, and the shark roars as well. During the finale, Mike and Jake put an electric device in its mouth that Mike uses to shock it to death. When he does so, the shark actually sticks its head out of the water and makes a T-Rex style roar. I'm pretty sure I've heard that roar in other movies, including the original Jaws after the shark is destroyed.

The most baffling part is the shark's death. As Mike continues to electrocute the shark, Ellen steers the boat right into it. When the bowsprit jabs into the shark, it blows up for some reason. To this day, I'm sure many wonder what the hell that was about. Some try to rationalize that the shark exploded because the bowsprit hit the device Jake put down its throat but I'm pretty sure that thing wasn't a bomb. From what I can gather, the ending was originally shot to depict the shark getting gutted by the boat and tearing it apart with its contortions, with Mike, Ellen, and Hoagie having to jump off the boat to avoid getting killed. Test audiences apparently didn't like this ending for some reason and it was reedited to produce the confusing ending that exists now. Interestingly, I think I've seen that original ending on some TV airings of the movie but the explosion is the one on the DVD. Also, right before the boat rams the shark, we get a sepia-toned shot of Roy Scheider saying, "Smile, you son of a bitch!" from the original (in Ellen's mind) and the shot of the decapitated shark sinking to the bottom afterward is from the original as well.

My favorite thing about Jaws: The Revenge is the music. Michael Small did the music here and it's pretty good. My favorite part of the score is the main title, which is a fairly tense piece of music with bits of John Williams' score for the original thrown in for good measure. It makes the opening title sequence (which is presumably from the shark's point of view as it prowls around Amity harbor) quite thrilling. I also like the new twist on the infamous shark theme that Small creates for this movie and the rest of the score is pretty good as well. This may be why I actually like the film despite its faults because the music makes it feel better than it really is. The only complaint I have with the music is that, as with the other two sequels, they use the shark theme too much and it gives away the shark's presence, ruining what suspense could have been created from it.

Since I've spent the majority of this review picking on the flaws of Jaws: The Revenge, you're probably wondering why I said I like it. Like I said, it's hard to explain. It could be because I saw it when I was young and I thought it was great then. Or could it be that I get enjoyment out of its flaws, being a lover of bad movies, and the fact that, despite those flaws, it feels like Sargent's heart was in the right place for the most part. I really don't know. All I do know is that I can watch this a whole lot more than Jaws 3, even though this is technically a worse film. But, a lot of other people didn't feel that way. This movie bombed, putting the final nail in the coffin for the franchise. Even though I do get enjoyment out of this, I am glad it was the last one because any further sequels would have probably been even more unspeakably bad than this film every dreamed of being.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Movies That Suck/Franchises: Jaws. Jaws 3 (1983)

When I came across this on the Sci-Fi Channel one day, I didn't even know at first that this was a Jaws movie. I just assumed it was some random horror movie about a shark terrorizing a water park. I think I'd seen the first two films as well as Jaws: The Revenge before I saw this one and since this is the only one that has no scenes on Amity or any cast members from the original, it didn't look like a Jaws movie to me. If I hadn't heard the legendary shark theme play, I would have never known. I didn't even know that it was originally in 3-D until I did a little research on it after seeing it. My opinion of it the first time I saw it has remained unchanged to today: while the movie is not out and out horrible, it remains my least favorite film of the franchise.

A new SeaWorld park is preparing to open in Florida, its main attraction being a series of underwater tunnels that snake throughout a man-made lagoon. However, a mechanic disappears while fixing a gate into the ocean that came off the rails for some reason. Mike Brody, the now adult son of Chief Martin Brody from the first two films, is the chief engineer at the park and the senior marine biologist, Katherine Morgan, is his girlfriend. While searching for mechanic in the lagoon, the two are attacked by a ten-foot great white shark. While the park's owner, Calvin Bouchard, and a visiting big game hunter, Phillip FitzRoyce, at first intend to kill the animal, Kay suggests that if they manage to catch it and keep it alive, they'd be famous for being the only facility in the world with a captive great white shark. They eventually manage to capture the shark but it dies after being put on display. When the mangled body of the missing mechanic turns up, everyone discovers from the state of the corpse that the shark they caught was a baby and the real killer, its 35-foot long mother, is inside the park. Before long, the enormous creature goes on a rampage throughout the park, injuring many people and causing a malfunction that traps a bunch of tourists inside the underwater tunnels. Now Brody and the others must save the trapped people as well as kill the shark.

Jaws 3 was originally meant to be a comedy spoof called Jaws 3, People 0, with the script written by John Hughes and Todd Carroll, who had just written Animal House, and Joe Dante was going to be the director. However, Universal didn't like the idea of a spoof and, along with new producer Alan Landsburg replacing the original ones, Richard Zanuck and David Brown, set out to make another serious film. Famed sci-fi writer Richard Matheson wrote the script and while he still gets credit, Carl Gottlieb, who revised the scripts for the first two films, also gets screenplay credit along with a guy named Guerdon Trueblood for the story. The director ended up being Joe Alves, the production designer on the first two films. This is the only film he's ever directed and when you see it, it's not hard to understand why. Matheson himself hates the finished film and even blasted Alves, saying he's a good art director but can't direct to save his life. I can't help but agree with Mr. Matheson.

Remember back in my Jaws 2 review when I said that even though I like that film, there's no tension whatsoever. That principle holds true for this one as well, only it's ten times worse. Not only is this movie not scary in the slightest but I've always found it to be kind of dull. You'd think a movie about a gigantic shark terrorizing SeaWorld would make for a hokey but entertaining monster movie. Sadly, no. Except for a fair sequence where the mother shark, just recently discovered, wreaks havoc on the park and injures a lot of people, none of the action sequences are interesting. When the actors are underwater interacting with the shark, it's even more boring for reasons I'll get into bottom line. So, that's the first fact that I must begin this review with: this movie is a dud.

The acting, while not the best, is decent for the most part. Dennis Quaid plays Mike Brody and he does a fairly good job at making him likable. He's a typical, blue-collar guy who's dedicated to his work as chief engineer of SeaWorld as well as keeping the tourists safe when the shark is discovered, putting himself in real danger to help the ones trapped in the undersea kingdom portion of the park. Bess Armstrong is also fairly likable as Katherine "Kay" Morgan, senior marine biologist and Mike's girlfriend. The interplay between the two of them as a couple is believable and there's even a dilemma where Mike is about to be transferred to Venezuela and Kay is not sure what to do about their relationship. Too bad it's solved so quickly and matter-of-factly that its being there in the first place was pointless to say the least. Still, I do like Kay for how dedicated she is to her job and Mike because even though he feels a bit neglected by her because of her duties, is never a jerk about it.

Simon MacCorkindale plays hunter Phillip FitzRoyce, who comes across as full of hot air and yet is kind of charming as well. Even though is gun-ho about killing the baby shark at first, he is good enough to go along with the plan of capturing and actually helps to save people when the mother shark goes on a rampage instead of just sitting around, doing nothing. His death is also the only thing part of this movie that makes me cringe in a good way. The way he gets trapped inside the shark's mouth and is eventually crushed to death (presumably by the pressure since he was far away from the teeth) is pretty nightmarish to me, made even more so by his muffled screams. I didn't care for his assistant Jack (P.H. Moriarty). The guy just came across an ass-kisser to his boss and acted like a douche to everyone else. Also, his accent is so thick that I can't understand more than half of what he's saying. When FitzRoyce doesn't surface after they finish trapping the shark inside a filtration pipe and climbs down a shaft into it and yells for him, I didn't understand anything he said. I also think he just flat-out disappeared from the film after that (if he got killed, I honestly don't remember).

Louis Gossett Jr. plays Calvin Bouchard, the manager of the park. While he's not quite as dickish as Mayor Vaughn, he's still a douchebag who only cares about making money. After Kay and FitzRoyce tranquilize the baby shark and nearly get killed in the process, all he cares about is whether the film of the event is okay. He orders the baby shark to be put in an exhibition tank without Kay's permission, resulting in its death. Also, after the mother shark is trapped inside the filtration pipe, he orders his engineers to shut the pumps down just so he won't lose any money in the process, which results in the shark being able to escape. Granted, he does seem concerned about the people trapped in the underwater tunnels and is good enough to help one of his technicians escape when the shark smashes into the control room but he does nothing to help his nephew and leaves him to be eaten. Bastard. Rounding out the cast is John Putch as the younger brother Sean Brody, who seems likable enough and the chemistry between him and Quaid is solid enough that you believe they're brothers. Like his father, he's now terrified of water because of the shark attacks in the first two films but that never goes anywhere. Finally, Lea Thompson plays Sean's water-skier girlfriend, Kelly, who's pretty spunky and fun but after she gets injured by the shark, both she and Sean disappear for the rest of the movie.

The shark effects in this film are poor. The baby shark doesn't look real and the mother shark DEFINITELY doesn't look real. There's real shark footage mixed with the model of the baby but there's no such technique used for the mother, making her believability suffer ever more. The biggest problem with the mother is that she lumbers around so slowly and has no life except when she opens her mouth and growls. As I've said before, the mechanical shark in the original did look fake a couple of times but was photographed so well that you believed it for the most part. Here, the camera holds on the shark too long and the lack of movement doesn't make her come across as anything more than what she really is: a big plastic sculpture. Also, sharks need to keep moving in order to keep oxygen flowing into their gills. This shark moves so slow that she would suffocate in less than seconds! But I haven't gotten to the worst shot of the shark in the entire film. After Mike and Kay finish repairing the underwater tunnels, they see the shark swimming towards them through the window in the control room. It looks as if someone took a still photograph of the shark and moved it slowly towards the camera because there's no fine movements, no tail movements, no breathing, nothing! The effect of the shark smashing through the window is even worse. That is just inexcusable for a movie that had a fairly good sized budget at the time of $18 million.

The 3-D effects are the worst aspect of the movie for me, even though I can't see them. Granted, I don't have the 3-D version of Friday the 13th Part 3 either but in that film, the 3-D is so simple, with objects mainly just coming close to the camera, that it doesn't bother me. Here, there are so many bad optical and matte effects with the underwater 3-D stuff that it's just nauseating. When Mike and Kay are investigating the lagoon in a little mini-sub, there are painfully obvious moments where the edge of the sub becomes transparent. The dismembered fish-head and arm that float towards the screen also look hokey and the shark's death is ruined by her jawbones flying towards the screen and just floating there after she's destroyed. I also think the film itself just looks bad. I don't know if it's the 3-D cameras they used or what but the film, especially the underwater scenes, just looks murky and ugly. (Funny thing about the 3-D opening titles. in the VHS releases of the film, the titles were replaced with generic, flat red titles and the 3-D ones didn't appear again until the DVD release.)

Another subplot in the film has to do with the two dolphins, Cindy and Sandy, who instantly sense the shark's presence at the beginning of the film. They pop up time and time again throughout the film, I guess trying to warn people about the shark. Honestly, they come across as just annoying. There's an instance where the shark seems to eat one of them (which should have happened), leading to the ending scene where Mike and Kay call for them after the shark's destroyed. It looks like Cindy made it but Sandy didn't... until she jumps out of the water, with Kay cheering. The last shot is a corny still of both actors framed in-between the jumping dolphins, with Kay yelling "All right!" Yeah, some people got killed but as long as the dolphins are okay, everything's just dandy! I so don't care about those damn dolphins.

The music for the movie is bad because it's so repetitive. John Williams had no involvement with this film and the music was instead scored by Alan Parker. The shark theme is, of course, part of the music but most of it is really generic music that seems to loop again and again. The theme that plays over the ending credits, as well as throughout the movie, drives me especially bonkers because it's so unoriginal and, as I said, loops. So bad.

Jaws 3 is the epitome of boring to me. Despite some fair acting, the movie is dragged down by an unconvincing shark, piss-poor 3-D and optical effects, unimaginative direction, and repetitive generic music. While I've seen much worse movies, this is what I call the Great White Turd, as Steven Spielberg described the troublesome mechanical shark in the original movie. This is a movie I only watch if I'm really (and I mean REALLY) desperate for something to watch and even then it's far from my first choice.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Franchises: Jaws. Jaws 2 (1978)

Jaws was one of those rare movies where, despite all the problems during production, everything fell into place and a classic was born. In fact, Universal regarded it so highly that even before the film became the biggest movie of all time at that time, they demanded a sequel. Three years later, Jaws 2 was released in the summer of 1978. This was the first of three sequels to Steven Spielberg's blockbuster that many fans and critics consider vastly inferior to the original. While the third and fourth films in the series are definitely not up to snuff, I've always had a soft spot for Jaws 2, having actually seen a good majority of it before I saw the original. While there was no way for this film to live up to the legacy of the original and it does indeed have its shortcomings, I still think it's a worthy sequel and a nice companion piece to Spielberg's classic.

It's been four years since the events of Jaws and life on Amity has gone on. Martin Brody is still the chief of police and still lives on the island with his wife Ellen and his sons Mike and Sean, who are now sixteen and eleven-ish respectively. However, a rash of mysterious incidents such as the disappearance of two divers, a mysterious water-skiing accident, and the mangled carcass of a killer whale lead Brody to believe that another large great white shark is stalking the waters around the island but, as before, Mayor Vaughn and the local government officials refuse to believe him. Brody's paranoia about sharks after the events of the first film lead him to do something rash enough to get him fired from his job. As if that wasn't bad enough, his two sons head out on a sailing trip with their friends and become targets for the shark.

Steven Spielberg wanted no part of a sequel to Jaws because he felt he'd already made the definitive shark movie and that doing sequels was a "cheap carny trick." However, seeing as how Spielberg would go on to direct all the Indiana Jones movies as well as one of the sequels to Jurassic Park, I personally think he didn't want to do it because he didn't intend to go through the torture he went through on the first film again. John Hancock was originally hired as director but due to his inexperience in making big budget movies like this and Universal's disliking of the dark tone he was going to bring to it, he was eventually fired. The guy who eventually took over was a French director named Jeannot Szwarc, who honestly didn't have many credentials at that time but got the job because he was friends with production designer Joe Alves. In an interview with Szwarc on the DVD, he said he felt the script focused too much on the action and some of the characters were not well developed and asked writer Carl Gottlieb to fix that (which I don't think he did but we'll get to that presently). Szwarc may not have been as talented as Spielberg when it came to characters but the action scenes in this movie are very well filmed in my opinion. I also feel that he did a good job in keeping the movie in tone with the original: while it's a serious horror/thriller, it also has a feel of fun and adventure to it rather than being all dark and dreary, as Hancock probably would have made it.

The main aspect of the film that keeps it in line with the original is that many of the actors return in their roles. Chief among them is Roy Scheider as Chief Martin Brody. Scheider did not want to do the movie, feeling that there was nothing new to do with it, but Universal used a contractual obligation he'd failed to live up to, as well as a big paycheck, to get him to do it. Scheider then reluctantly returned and decided to do the best he could. Despite his misgivings and constant fights on the set with Szwarc, I think Scheider turned in another good performance. Brody is exactly as he was in the first film and more: he's still a likable, charming chief of police, tough when he needs to be but fair. There's also an added layer to his character in this film that wasn't there in the original. After what he went through in the first film, you can see the concern and terror in his eyes when evidence that there's another shark prowling the waters around Amity begins to mount. He kind of becomes as paranoid and as obsessed with killing the shark as Quint was in the original. It comes to a head when he mistakes the shadow that a school of fish create for a shark and, without thinking, orders everyone out of the water and even shoots at the shadow. This leads to him being fired from his job and he feels like an idiot for what he did. But the next day, when a commotion comes up in the town, his need to check it out despite the fact that he's been fired leads him to discover that his sons are in danger and, being the dutiful and courageous guy he is, he takes it upon himself to save them and once again destroy the marauding shark.

Lorraine Gary returns as Brody's wife Ellen. While she doesn't have much to do, as in the original, she remains ever loyal to her husband, going as far as to defend what he did at the beach. In this film, Brody has a kind of rival when it comes to his wife in the form of Len Peterson (Joseph Mascolo), a businessman who's built a new resort on Amity and happens to be Ellen's boss. While it never becomes a big thing, Peterson seems to have a thing for Ellen and may resent that Brody is married to her. Again, this is never explicitly stated, (although there are some deleted scenes that would have made it a bit more upfront) but it is a kind of undercurrent to the way Peterson resents Brody's shark paranoia, going as far as to keep Ellen away from him after the panic on the beach he starts. This, coupled with the mere fact that his actions could ruin Amity's tourist trade, could have definitely encouraged Peterson to get Brody fired. Speaking of this, one thing I like about Ellen in this film is her last scene, after it's confirmed that there is another shark lurking near Amity. Peterson tries to make Ellen understand his position but she berates him for firing her husband, stating, "I don't give a damn what about your position. All I know is that a boy is dead and my son and husband are still out there!" I just loved seeing Ellen stick it to that bastard!

Murray Hamilton reprises his role as selfish Mayor Vaughn, who, to me, comes across not only as an even bigger jerk but as a complete idiot in this film. The fact that this guy once again refuses to believe Brody when he says that there's a large shark in the waters around the island makes him look like the most selfish idiot to enter politics (and that's saying something). He even says to Brody, "Don't press it this time." You mean like he pressed it last time... and was right? And what about all those people before that were killed... because of you? You're going to let that happen again? It's such a shame that the people of Amity apparently never find out what an asshole their mayor is because of they did, not only would he be fired but he'd probably be deported! (Again, there was a deleted scene that showed Vaughn in a better light. After the scene where Brody shows the town council the picture of the shark and they decide to have a private meeting about what to do about him, there was going to be a scene where the council votes about where they should fire Brody or not. Everyone except Vaughn votes for firing Brody, making it look like Vaughn really does believe Brody and is being pressured by the council and Peterson to go along with them. If it had been kept in, I do think this scene would have helped make Vaughn a little more sympathetic instead of a selfish jerk who learned nothing from the events of the original film.)

Jeffrey Kramer also reprises his role as Deputy Hendricks, who has a bigger role here than before. He remains ever faithful and loyal to the chief, even when he could easily think that he's lost his mind. I like the scene where Brody comes home after he's been fired and he tries to promote Hendricks as the new chief. Hendricks, ever the loyal deputy, tells Brody that he doesn't want his job and says he's the greatest. Really makes Hendricks a likable character. I also like how he at first tries to stop Brody and Ellen from taking the police boat out on the water but eventually decides to help them, stating, "What the hell, they can't fire both of us. Someone's gotta be in charge." In his last scene, I like the less than positive look he gives Peterson after Ellen scolds him for firing Brody. He's the kind of deputy you'd want to have if you were in charge.

Where the film falls flat for me characterwise is the teenagers who become prey for the shark in the film's last half. Remember when I said that Szwarc asked Carl Gottlieb to help flesh out the teenagers? Well, they failed big time because when it comes to most of these kids, I don't remember who's who. It's never a good sign when I remember the majority of the names of the kids from slasher movies but I remember hardly any from the sequel to one of the best films of all time. The main one is Mike Brody (Mark Gruner), the oldest son of Martin and Ellen. There's some character there, like the arguments that he and his father have about him getting a job for the summer and his father ordering him to stay out of the water. Still, it doesn't really amount to much in the long run. Also, how in the world can he be sixteen when he seemed to be only like nine or ten in the original, which takes place four years before? The younger brother, Sean (Marc Gilpin), has even less to his character, mainly just being the little brother who wants to tag along and is a pest to Mike. There is one nice moment with him where he helps his father pick up the gun-shells after he causes the panic on the beach and Brody is clearly touched by it. Other than that, one good thing I can say about him is that I didn't find annoying, although the part where he blackmails Mike into taking him with him on his sailing trip is a bit douchey.

Now, I will try to name the other teenagers but I know I won't get all of them. I definitely know and liked Tina Wilcox (Ann Dusenberry), who seemed like a fun, spunky girl and I felt bad for her when she sees her boyfriend get eaten by the shark and is hysterically frightened when Brody, Ellen, and Hendricks find her. Not much to say about her boyfriend Eddie (Gary Dubin) other than he and Tina seem to have a nice relationship and his death scene is memorable. Amongst the other teens who end up stranded by the shark, the one I remember the most is Andy (Gary Springer), Mike's big, curly-haired friend. I can't help but like him since he seems like the type of person you'd want to hang out with it. The only scene with him I don't like is when they're trying to save Sean after a girl named Marge (Martha Swatek) has been eaten right in front of him but Sean is too scared to tie the line around the boat he's stuck on. Andy gets tough on him to get his attention and threatens him. Okay, I know they're trying to help him but the poor kid is scared to death and you're threatening him? Andy does make it clear when they finally get him across that he really does care about him but I just found it to be a little extreme. I definitely remember Donna Wilkes as Jackie, a cousin of a friend of Mike's named Brooke (Gigi Vorgan) (I think), mainly because once they're stranded by the shark, she becomes very hysterical and screams a lot. That leads me to Larry (David Elliott), Vaughn's son, who comes across a major dick, blowing up at other teenagers once they're stuck, especially Jackie when she becomes hysterical. Like father, like son, huh? I definitely know Keith Gordon as Doug, but that's only because I remember him from Christine. He has one funny moment where he over-inflates a part of his boat and it pops right after he's been acting all melodramatic, making him look like a dork. G. Thomas Dunlop is memorable as Timmy mainly because he's so mopey and sure he's not going to get a girl, although he does end up with one. And I remember Cynthia Glover as Lucy because at one point when things look their bleakest, she says a prayer. I know there were some other teenagers but I can't for the life of me remember their names. I'm surprised I remembered as many of them as I did (I had to look at a credits list for half of them anyway).

One complaint that's always thrown towards Jeannot Szwarc's direction of the film was his decision to show the shark clearly from the first attack to the end, instead of going the Hitchcock route and not showing it for most of the film like Spielberg did. His reason for doing so was because he felt the legendary chumming scene from the original could never be duplicated so they might as well just show the shark. Me, personally, I've always felt that when you're making a sequel like this, you should know what the fans want to see and what they wanted to see, in this case, was the shark. The route that Spielberg took in keeping it hidden for the most part was cool but by the time you get to a sequel, the audience knows what's going to happen and they know what they're paying money for: to see the monster do its thing. So I think you should just give them what they want and I agree with Szwarc's decision. Now that said, I do think he could have filmed the shark a lot more skillfully. When Spielberg finally showed the shark in the original, he almost never held on it so long that you could tell it was fake. Granted, there are a couple of times in the original where the shark does look a little iffy but for the most part, I think it still holds up. However, in Jaws 2, there are plenty of shots where the shark is clearly fake. One is where the shark first kills a water-skier and then attacks the woman who was driving the boat. You can clearly tell that the shark is made of rubber because they hold on it for too long. The shot where it looks the most artificial is a scene where Mike is floating in the water unconscious and his friends just barely manage to pull him onto the raft before the shark swallows him whole. As the shark passes by the boat with its big mouth open, you can see the mechanisms down its throat. It's brief but it's noticeable.

I did like that they gave this shark a distinct look with him getting burned very early on, disappearing for most of the film and then when he reappears, he's got a big ugly scar on the left side of his head. However, I don't feel that they ever got it to look real. I know that they were basically painting a scar on the side of a big mechanical shark but honestly, that's what it looks like. It doesn't look natural and it just looks painted on. Having said that, I honestly can't think of a way they could have fixed it because that's tricky: making something look real on something that's already artificial. While it was cool, it just never looked all that real to me. And plus, like they did in the original, they use real shark footage intermixed with the mechanical one and every once in a while, it doesn't match because there's no burn. Speaking of which, there's a moment where the shark almost gets a guy who's para-sailing and when it cuts back to an above water shot, the shark's fin or tail is briefly seen and he just looks small. I've always felt he looked small at that moment. My final thought about the shark is that I love the way he's destroyed at the end. Some people may think it's a little farfetched but the spectacle of the shark biting that cable, getting the crap shocked out of him, getting set on fire and sinking down into the water is a sight I saw as a kid and thought was amazing then and I still do now. Like the climactic destruction of the shark in the first film, I like the buildup to it where the shark is racing towards Brody and I like the line he says: "Open wide!" Nothing can top, "Smile, you son of a bitch!" but I liked that as well. And I you still think that the death of the shark here was farfetched, watch the death of the shark at the end of Jaws: The Revenge for comparison (I'll get to that later!)

The death of the shark brings up a gripe about the film that I agree with: Jaws 2 is way too derivative of scenes from the original. While I like the similar buildup to the death of the shark here, I agree with those who say that this film copies too many scenes from the original. Since it's a sequel, it's nice that they kept the same general spirit and tone of the original but doesn't mean they had to out and out plagiarize stuff from it. Some of it includes more scenes with Brody having to deal with the inane troubles of the townspeople (first it was karate students chopping picket fences; here it's noisy police scanners and teasing women), a dead body convinces Brody that there's a shark in the waters (it's a dead whale this time instead of the remains of a victim but still), and then there's the reused plot device of the mayor refusing to believe Brody, which, again, makes Vaughn look even more selfish and stupid than he was before. There are also some scenes that are just blatant rip-offs of some of the original rather than just being similar. One is a beach montage that looks awfully similar to those in the original to me. Even though I like this movie, the first time I actually saw it I was thinking, "Really?" But the one that really gets me is the ripoff of the infamous head scene with Richard Dreyfuss from the original, this time involving Brody investigating a big piece of driftwood and being startled when the remains of a shark victim come right up in his face. That was so blatant and it didn't work at all, unlike the scene in the original. That one really does disgust me whenever I watch the movie. Bottom line, while it doesn't completely ruin the movie for me, it is kind of disappointing that recycled so much from the original when writing the script for this one.

I don't think Jaws 2 has the level of suspense that the original had. That's a given, naturally, but when you watch the two films back to back, it's clear that Szwarc doesn't have the talent in creating and maintaining suspense that Spielberg has. Even though Szwarc decided to show the shark completely, I think you can still show the monster and make the suspense work. I think this movie's biggest problem is that they use theme too much which instantly gives away the shark's presence. While the original is famous for that music, if you watch it again, you'll notice that the music always did a slow build whenever the shark was stalking someone from nearby and never hit you full force with the "da-dum, da-dum" until the shark either appeared or full on attacked someone. Here, you hear that theme full on whenever it's even hinted that the shark is nearby so no tension builds. There are also some moments where it's quiet music wise and then suddenly the shark pops up but I don't know if it's just because I've seen so many horror films or what but I don't think they work here. They only one that got me was when the shark comes out of the water to attack the helicopter and even that didn't get me as much as a scene in the original where Hooper and Quint are pulling in a rope and the shark suddenly pops up.

With what I've said about the music, you probably think I hate it but I don't. I think they could have used the iconic theme better but most of the music that John Williams wrote for this film is really good. The opening music is absolutely beautiful, especially when it swells as the title comes up in front of a school of fish. I also really like the music that plays during the moments where Brody is looking out at the ocean when he suspects that there's another shark out there. I also like the music that plays when Brody has caused the panic on the beach and Sean is helping him pick up the bullet shells. The music that plays over the ending credits is a nice one and a good compliment to the similar music in the original. All in all, it may not be as memorable as the score from the original (how could it?) but I do like this film's music score.

Jaws 2 is definitely not a perfect film. A good majority of the characters are forgettable, the shark is not as skillfully filmed as before, and there are too many scenes that copy from the original. Still, it's a fun two hours. The returning cast members are still on form, the film feels very in line with the original, and the new music score by Williams is very well done. Even Roy Scheider said once that, despite how much he didn't want to do it and the arguments he had with Szwarc, he thought it was a pretty good sequel and that's how I feel. Was it necessary for it to have been made? No, but since money talks and a sequel was going to be made no matter what, it's lucky that we got one that doesn't tarnish the reputation of the classic original. Unfortunately, that luck wouldn't hold out for long.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Franchises: Jaws. Jaws (1975)

You know how I first became aware of Jaws? When I was a very little kid, I saw an ad for Universal Studios in Orlando. It was a painted ad in some magazine and it had a picture of King Kong and the shark on it. Obviously, I knew King Kong but I asked my Mom, "What's that shark?" She said, "That's Jaws." She then proceeded to tell me a little bit about the film and the infamous, "Da-dum, da-dum" that accompanies the shark whenever he's stalking his prey. From that point on, I went through life knowing the basic story of the film and seeing bits of it on TV every now and then, even seeing a Dateline show about the real USS Indianapolis but I never actually saw Jaws until my sister got me the two-tape special edition of the movie as a Christmas present in 2000. The first tape had the movie whereas the second one had a 75-minute documentary along with deleted scenes and outtakes (not having a DVD player at that time, I didn't know what this was) as well as some trailers.

That set also made me aware of something that I didn't comprehend beforehand: how beloved and influential a film Jaws is. I knew that it was well known, obviously, but I had no idea that it was the highest grossing movie ever at the time of its release and is regarded as a classic not just in its genre but among movies period. I soon found out, however. Everyone knows this film and many also know of its influence. It created the summer movie season and gave Steven Spielberg his career. It also ruined beach-owners' business for years, as well as cemented sharks' reputation as terrifying animals. You ask anybody who's afraid of the ocean and sharks in particular why that's so and they'll usually blame Jaws. Also, anybody who's read about the making of the film knows that it almost never came to be because of the ridiculous amounts of production problems, particularly how the large mechanical shark they built was a major pain and almost never worked (so much so that Spielberg says that he often called it "the Great White Turd"). But that's neither here nor there. I'm here to give you my impressions of the film. The question is: do I think the movie is good and does it deserve its reputation. Well, I can't really answer the second part of the question because I wasn't around to personally experience the phenomenon the film was when it was released but as for the first part, yes, I do think this is a good movie. Damn good, in fact.

Everyone knows the story: after a young woman is found mutilated after she disappeared while swimming, the small island community of Amity discovers that there's an enormous great white shark prowling the nearby ocean. Police Chief Martin Brody is determined to keep the townspeople and the beaches safe but is undermined by the greedy mayor, who wants to keep the beaches open for the profitable Fourth of July weekend. After more people are killed, Brody joins up with shark expert Matt Hooper and eccentric captain Quint to hunt down the shark. But what starts out as a simple hunt turns into a fight for survival as the enormous shark proves to be a formidable enemy and puts the team's lives in danger.

Jaws is actually kind of like two movies in one. The first hour is a slow-paced thriller involving Brody having to deal with the mayor and his attempts to keep the public safe, which end up failing. It's here that we're introduced to Matt Hooper and he and Brody quickly become friends. Quint is also introduced here but he remains mainly in the background for most of this half. It's also here that Brody and Hooper learn just what they're up against when the body of the first victim is examined and they find the remains of a boat that the shark attacked. After a devastating attack on the beach on the Fourth of July, the mayor agrees to hire Quint to kill the shark. Brody and Hooper join Quint on his small boat the Orca in their hunt for the shark, beginning the second hour and where things really get good. From there on, the movie is a rousing action-adventure film, with a lot of great character moments and skillful suspense thrown in. To sum it up: the first half is a movie that I like and the second half is a movie that I love.

Chief Martin Brody, played by Roy Scheider, has to be one of my favorite heroic characters in horror and suspense films. From the moment you first see him, he's a likable, funny character who's devoted to his duty of keeping the townspeople safe but is forced not to say anything or he could possibly lose his job. When Mrs. Kitner, the mother of a kid who's killed by the shark, slaps Brody and then blames him for her son's death, it cuts to a scene of Brody sitting at his dinner table and you can tell he's really hurt by what happened, perhaps feeling guilty that he didn't stand up to the mayor and therefore, could have kept the little boy from being killed. He's also afraid of the water, which makes both for a sense of him having to overcome his fears when he goes out to kill the shark and for some comedy. I like the scene where he, his wife Ellen, and Hooper are talking and Ellen talks about his fear of water. When she asks if there's a scientific term for his condition, he simply says, "Drowning." The way he says that is so deadpan that, even to this day, it makes me smirk. He also, of course, has the famous line, "You're going to need a bigger boat" when he gets a good look at how big the shark is, a line that I think was a brilliant improv! Another thing about Brody is, despite his good intentions, he's kind of out of his depth, both being police chief in Amity as well as aboard the Orca. As police chief, when he's preoccupied with the idea that there's a shark in the nearby ocean, he's ignoring the trivial problems that the townspeople and has to be sort of wishy-washy with them. And when he's helping hunt the shark aboard the Orca, he's tying ropes the wrong way, pulling the wrong knot and causing compressed air bottles to spill all over the deck, and is clearly getting seasick when he has to throw chum out in the water. But what I like most about him is when he's come through as a real hero at the end of the film, putting himself right in the path of the shark as he tries to shoot the compressed air tank in its mouth. His line, "Smile, you son of a bitch!" and the way he says it is the epitome of badass in my opinion.

Matt Hooper, played by Richard Dreyfuss, is another instantly likable character. Dreyfuss plays him with a very gee-whiz quality, giving the impression of a young and dedicated shark expert who gets in over his head when it comes to the politics of the town and when he realizes the size of the animal he's trying to kill. If you've read the original Peter Benchley novel, as I have, you'd know that he's much more likable here than he was there, coming off as a slimy, unlikable character in the book. I really enjoy the relationship between him and Brody. The chemistry between Scheider and Dreyfuss is great. It's obvious that while both men have respect for each other, they're not above some good-natured ribbing, even though they've only known each other for a couple of days or so. One exchange between them that I like is, while searching for the shark one night, Brody finds out that Hooper is quite wealthy and he says, "It doesn't make any sense that they'd pay someone like you to watch sharks." Hooper says, "Well, it's also odd for someone who hates water to live on an island." Brody: "It's only an island if you look at from the water." Hooper looks at him and sarcastically says, "That make a lot of sense." Hooper, despite being likable, does have his limits and he becomes very irritated with the mayor when he's refusing to accept the fact that he has a major shark problem. When Brody almost blows the Orca up by untying a bunch of compressed air tanks, Hooper angrily yells, "Damn it, Martin!" By the end of the film, when their situation is becoming more and more dire, Hooper becomes very serious and high strung, snapping at Brody when he was just going to ask him a simple question. Hooper's terrifying battle with the shark in the underwater cage is another iconic moment and you can see the terror in his eyes. Finally, when he and Brody swim to shore together at the end of the film, it's made everything the two have gone through together worthwhile.

Rounding out the three main cast members is Robert Shaw as Quint, the grizzled shark hunter. His motivation is clear: he doesn't care anything about the town or the people but will kill the shark for them... for a price. He doesn't think much of the other fishermen on the island, scoffing when a bunch of them catch and kill a shark that couldn't possibly be the one they're after, and when Brody and Hooper offer to join him in the hunt, he makes it obvious that he doesn't respect Hooper, accusing him of being a pampered city boy who hasn't worked a day in his life. He also tells them that he's captain on his boat and they'll do whatever he says. He continues to refuse to listen to Hooper while pursuing the shark. And yet, there's a great scene between all three men when they're more than a little drunk after a hard day of hunting. I like how it starts off really funny and casual, with Hooper and Quint comparing injuries, Quint telling a funny anecdote about how a big Chinese arm-wrestler about broke his arm, but when Brody notices the scar of a removed tattoo on Quint's arm, that's when he tells them about the USS Indianapolis. This is when we find out about the source of Quint's eccentricities and his hatred of sharks, as he tells of the ordeal he and the other survivors went through stuck in the middle of the ocean with sharks threatening to kill them at every turn. He says that when a rescue helicopter eventually showed up to pick them up, that was when he was the most scared because he was sure a shark was going to kill him right before he could be rescued. This is hinted at later when the Orca is so badly damaged that it begins to sink and Quint glances at the life-jackets, calling back to when he said he'd never put one on again. He gives them both to Brody and Hooper, not putting one on himself. Quint's obsession to kill the shark apparently drives him temporarily mad (although some could argue that he wasn't quite right to begin with, judging from his peculiar actions and from what happened to him), as he pushes the engine of the Orca too far, causing it to blow out and making them sitting ducks for the shark. Ironically, his obsession is what ultimately leads to him experiencing exactly what he was afraid of: being eaten alive by the shark. I'm glad they changed his death from the novel (where he's simply pulled overboard by a harpoon rope) because this is much dramatic and ironic. It's also the goriest scene in the film and it's amazing this movie didn't get an R-rating for it.

The movie also benefits from a very good supporting cast. Lorraine Gary plays Brody's wife, Ellen. While she's not in the film that much, she comes across as a loving wife who supports her husband every step of the way and even becomes concerned when he starts to become obsessed with finding out everything he can about sharks. My favorite moment with her is when Brody is telling their kids to get out of the small sailboat they're sitting in on the water. Ellen at first tries to assure her husband that nothing is going to happen to them when they're sitting in shallow water... and then she sees a drawing in a book showing a shark biting through the bottom of a boat. She immediately pulls a 180 and yells at her kids to get out of the water, just as her husband was doing a few minutes ago. The look Brody gives her is priceless. Also on hand is Jeffrey Kramer as Brody's deputy, Leonard Hendricks. Again, this character doesn't have much screentime but he seems like a nice enough guy who dutifully follows Brody's directions (he would get much more to do in Jaws 2).

The most despicable character in the film is Mayor Vaughn, played by Murray Hamilton. This guy is an absolutely greedy asshole who's willing to risk the lives of the townspeople just so he can make a lot of money. He tells Brody after the major attack on the beach that he was acting in the town's best interest but I honestly believe he was just thinking about filling his own pockets. I just hate how smarmy he is towards Brody when he's telling him to keep quiet about the possibility that there's a dangerous shark roaming the waters off the island. You get the impression that he influenced a coroner to say that the first victim was possibly killed by a boat propeller, even though Brody says that's not what he first told him. He's the one responsible for young Alex Kintner getting killed and when his mother takes it out on Brody, that selfish jerk just stands by and doesn't say anything. Before that, even after the first beach attack, when Brody says that the beaches are going to be closed, Vaughn overrules him again and says they'll only be closed for twenty-four hours. It's also disgusting how he acts toward Hooper when he's trying to warn him about how enormous and dangerous the shark is, ending it by saying, "Love to prove that, wouldn't you? Get your name in the National Geographic?" Vaughn's the real villain of the movie, not the shark.

Steven Spielberg has said that his intention was for the shark to be the real star of the film. He intended to have the shark appear fully on camera for most of the movie, chomping on people left and right. However, when it became clear that the mechanical shark that they built wasn't going to work hardly at all, Spielberg had to severely overhaul his vision of the film, keeping the shark off-camera until the last third of the movie. Ironically, many people, like me, feel that this made the movie even better than it would have been had the shark worked well enough to show on-camera as much as he originally intended. Granted, there would have been nothing wrong with the shark appearing in every scene and, for someone like me who loves monster flicks, it would have been exciting and awesome but not showing the shark gave the film a Hitchcock-like class that it wouldn't have had otherwise. Because of that, Jaws became a great example of the less is more approach to horror films. For instance, the opening scene with Chrissie Watkins (Susan Backlinie) was supposed to show the shark actually come out of the water and swallow her whole. While that would have been undoubtedly cool, it's unlikely that the scene would have been as iconic as it is if it weren't for the fact that you don't see the shark but with her being dragged around and screaming, you get an idea of the shark's strength and can imagine him ripping her apart below the water. Scenes like the death of the Kintner boy or the two men who almost become food for the shark when they try to catch him may not have been as suspenseful had the shark just come out of the water and bitten them in half and the movie itself might not have been as well remembered.

In these types of horror flicks, not showing the monster for a good portion of the movie is a great build-up to when you finally do see it in all its glory. However, I feel that this is one instance where Jaws drops the ball a little bit. Everyone comments that the first time you see the shark is during that classic scene where Brody is chumming, makes a joke, and then the shark suddenly sticks his head out of the water. That's a great, classic moment no doubt but it's not the first time you get a good look at the shark. You actually see the shark for the first time when he attacks Brody's son Michael in an estuary and kills a man in a rowboat. Because it's not as classic as the chumming scene may be why many don't remember it but you very clearly see the shark chomping on the man and it's on the surface of the water no less. Now, the chumming scene is still classic, no doubt, but it just kind of puzzles me when everyone says that's the first time you really see the shark when it's not. As a result, I feel the power of the chumming scene is sort of diminished when you put it into that context, but it's still a great shock moment and classic nonetheless.

As for the shark himself, does the look still hold up nowadays? For the most part, when you see the shark, the effects do still hold up. The main reason for that is because Spielberg doesn't let the camera linger too long on the shark and you see just enough of him to convince you that he's real (something that the sequels did not do, as we'll see later). For me, the only parts where the shark looks fake is near the end of the film after Quint has been killed and Brody is left to fend for himself. When the shark smashes through the sunken inside of the boat to attack Brody, I feel that the shark does look a little hokey right there and also when Brody climbs up into the crow's nest and stabs the shark repeatedly in the head with a spear, you can see little patches where the paint has fallen off the mechanical shark's head. Still, these are just instances of nitpicking and they don't ruin the movie at all. The believability of the shark is also helped by the real shark footage shot by Ron and Valerie Taylor that appears during the attack on Hooper in the underwater cage. The best part of the real footage is an instance where a shark got its nose caught in the cage and went crazy, thrashing around in an attempt to get loose. Because the cage they used was small, it's totally believable that this real shark is the enormous one we've been seeing throughout and scenes like this just make the illusion all the more believable.

One skill that I think Spielberg is underrated for is his ability to create suspense. If you've seen his made for TV thriller Duel, you'd know that when he wants to, Spielberg has a Hitchock-like ability to make you tense and he would use that in later films like Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Jurassic Park. Jaws in particular is a great showcase of his skill. As I said, the mechanical shark's refusal to work when needed forced Spielberg to resort to the "less is more" style and he makes great use of it. The underwater POV shots of the shark watching his victims are very well done, as well as when he closes in for the kill, like when he rushes toward the Kintner boy. Or take the scene before that when Brody is sitting on the beach, watching the water and sees a dark shape that he thinks may be a shark but turns out to be a dark diving cap on a man's head or when a swimming girl suddenly screams but it turns out that her boyfriend (at least I'm assuming it's her boyfriend) came up between her legs and picked her up on his shoulders. That's great use of suspense. But the scene that really nails it for me is the first scene where the men are on the Orca, hunting the shark. There's a closeup of Quint with his big fishing rod in the foreground that's completely casual with him taking a bite of a cracker and Brody is off-camera, trying to figure out how to tie a good knot... and suddenly, the rod moves with a soft clicking. Quint calmly glances down at it as it moves and clicks again. The music, as well, is menacing but is very soft and calm as Quint prepares to try to reel in whatever has grabbed the line. Brody and Hooper, all this time, are completely unaware until the reel starts going out like crazy with a loud screech and the scene is on. Great suspense.

One scene that never fails to scare my mom is the scene where Brody and Hooper discover Ben Gardner's wrecked boat in the middle of the ocean and Hooper investigates the hull in his scuba gear. While he's investigating a large hole in the hull, the head of Gardner suddenly floats down into view and the music does a long sting that is effectively startling. Mom always jumps at that, even when she knows it's coming. I also must admit that that scared me to death when I first saw it. It has to be the best shock moment in Spielberg's filmography. I think Spielberg kind of regrets putting that in to this day because he felt it diminished the scare of the chumming scene but I personally think both scenes still work very well.

You can't talk about Jaws without even mentioning John Williams' iconic score. That "da-dum, da-dum" has become forever tied to when you're swimming out in the middle of the ocean (or any body of water for that matter) and you wonder what might be lurking below you out of sight. Also, you can't swim with anyone else without that inevitable person acting like he or she is stalking you and humming that music. It's part of our culture and how could it not? It's the first thing you hear at the beginning of the film. You hear some odd sounds when the Universal logo comes up and after a few seconds, you hear that theme start slowly and build up. It's even ironic that it's the first thing you hear in the movie because when you bring up Jaws to anyone, the first thing they'll do more than likely is imitate the theme. It has a lot of variations to it in the ways it's used throughout the film. When the shark is swimming amongst the swimmers in the first beach scene, it starts off kind of serene but becomes tense and ever faster as he closes in on the Kintner boy. Or there are times where you don't hear the music at all and it suddenly comes out of nowhere, like when Hooper and Quint are trying to tie the rope attached to the shark to a cleat and the shark suddenly comes out of the water. Also, the theme is never used for a false alarm. During the scene where two boys cause a panic by swimming amongst some swimmers with a fake fin, you may notice that the theme doesn't play, which should be a hint that it's not the shark.

The shark theme is so famous that I feel that other parts of the score get overlooked as a result. My favorite part of the score is actually not even the theme but the music that plays when Quint tells the USS Indianapolis story. That is a very eerie piece of music and accentuates this man's fear and hatred of sharks. It's made all the more eerie because you hear a whale singing off in the distance afterward but at first, like Brody, you wonder, "What was that?" I also really like the soft parts of the score, like the slightly sad melody that plays during the scene where Brody is sitting at the dinner table, thinking about what Mrs. Kintner said to him, and notices that his young son Sean is imitating him. It's a nice piece of music. Also notable is the exciting crescendo in the finale as the shark races toward Brody as he tries to shoot the compressed air tank in its mouth, as well as the serene ending music as Brody and Hooper swim to shore together. It's a great closure to the film: the nightmare is over, the monster that terrorized Amity Island and killed many people has been destroyed, and the two heroes standing are going home for a much needed rest. You can't ask for a better closure to such an awesome flick.

I know it's typical for someone to say this but honestly, Jaws really is one of these rare movies where, despite some minor flaws here and there, everything comes together perfectly for me. The acting and characters are spot on all around, the suspense and real terror is palpable, the music is iconic and goes perfectly with the visuals, the special effects for the shark still hold up today for the most part, and the film, all told, is a fun and exciting two hours. My dad likes to tell the story of how he and his brothers saw the film when they were on vacation in Florida back in 1975 and afterward, his brothers constantly came up behind him and grabbed him in their attempts to scare him. The fact that this film had an effect on a member of my family who's not too keen on those types of movies for the most part should tell you how iconic it is. So, to answer the question I posed at the beginning of this review, to me Jaws deserves every pit of its enduring popularity and is in my top fifty (at least) favorite movies of all time.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Disney/Stuff I Grew Up With: The Three Caballeros (1944)

Unlike Saludos Amigos, The Three Caballeros was a film that I saw many times as a kid. I rented it a lot from my local video store and enjoyed it thoroughly. Looking at it now, it's odd that a young kid would have liked it because it's quite surreal in moments but for some reason, it just never bugged me. I guess it was because I had a character I liked, Donald Duck, as my anchor throughout all the craziness. It also may have been because it's mainly animation with live action thrown in at key points. If had been a nutty surreal live action flick like a David Lynch movie, I may not have liked it as a kid. Either way, I really loved this film as a kid and still do to this day. While it's a follow up to Saludos Amigos, I feel it's far superior to that film. Thinking about it, the main reason for that is that it's not as upfront a propaganda piece as its predecessor. Its connection to a political situation of the time isn't as strong and therefore, it doesn't feel as dated.

Like Saludos Amigos, the film has no real plot and is mainly a tour of South America, broken up into different segments. The story device that strings it all together is Donald Duck receiving a bunch of presents from his friends in Latin America. At 71 minutes, it's much longer than its predecessor, has more segments, and even though it does kind of lose its focus near the end, it never ceases being enjoyable. Once again, Donald is joined by his friend Jose Carioca, who has a much bigger role here than in Saludos Amigos, and the film also introduces a new character: a wild, pistol-toting rooster from Mexico named Panchito Pistoles.

The first segment consists of Donald opening the first present, which turns out to be a film projector, and watching a documentary about South American birds. The main focus is a cartoon about a penguin named Pablo who tires of the cold of the South Pole and journeys to warmer climates. Narrated by Sterling Holloway, this is a pretty well done little short. Pablo's half-hazard journey is amusing and a like how Holloway's narration starts off impartial but he gets involved in the story. (I know in my Saludos Amigos review, I criticized the narrator of that film for getting emotionally attached to the story of one segment but honestly, Holloway does it so much better that I actually like it.) We're then introduced to a few more birds, including the bizarre Aracuan, who sings a weird song to himself. While I do like the Aracuan, he only appears twice after this segment and then is forgotten altogether. You're led at first to believe you'll see him in the film a lot more but no, which makes me wonder why they bothered introducing him to begin with. This wouldn't be the only film he'd appear in either. Another cartoon is narrated by a gaucho from Uruguay, as we see him as a little boy who encounters a flying donkey and plans to use him to make a lot of money. This is also a good cartoon, even if the narrator shifts back and forth from rhyming and not rhyming.

The film really gets going when Donald opens his second present, a book from Jose Carioca, who shows up and proceeds to talk Donald on a tour of the beautiful city of Baia. First, there is a beautifully drawn montage of the city set to a rather soothing song. Afterward, Donald and Jose actually go to Baia and dance the samba with the locals, including a very lovely young lady by Aurora Miranda, Carmen Miranda's daughter. This is the first of many segments in the film that put the animated characters into live action footage and the effect works quite well even today. One truly amazing part is when the dance gets very surreal and two men mock fight. They become silhouettes of roosters dueling and slowly turn back into men and it's an amazing bit of animation. The music is also really good here and Donald and Jose singing along with the locals never fails to make me smile. After the segment is over, what follows is a routine that never fails to crack me up. After coming out of the book, Donald and Jose are very small but Jose shows him to get back to normal size by blowing into his finger. Jose does it without any trouble but of course when Donald tries, things go awry. His hands get inflated as well as head, his body becomes like a stretched out balloon, and the top of his head stretches out very far. The music and Jose's reactions make it even funnier.

Donald's opening of the third present is the introduction of Panchito and man, does he arrive with a bang! He comes out, firing his pistols, and yelling a madman. This is when the three of them are christened the Three Caballeros and they sing the title song. (I know it's immature but whenever the lyric, "We're three gay caballeros" is sung, I can't help but think of Brokeback Mountain and snicker.) After the song, Panchito shows Donald his present, a pinata, and tells him of the tradition behind it: Las Posadas, where a group of children reenact the journey of Mary and Joseph, going from house to house and asking for posada (shelter) until they reach a friendly house, where festivities take place. This is told in a slide show type of presentation of painted images. Afterward, Donald attempts to break his pinata and after a lot of frustration (not understanding the tradition as a kid, I always thought Jose and Panchito were being mean to Donald by yanking the pinata away from him), finally manages to break it.

We're then treated to another tour, this time of Mexico. Donald learns the dances of both Patzcuaro and Vera Cruz, the latter being my favorite of the two parts. Watching Donald do his nutty dances and the woman he's dancing with trying imitate it is a sight. Both of these episodes are live action with the characters planed in and so is the segment at Acapulco Beach. After seeing a bunch of lovely women in bathing suits by the seaside, Donald puts on his own old-fashioned suit and joins them. Donald's such a wolf in this part. He's chasing the women around, trying to kiss and hug them, even doing so blindfolded. (It'd be interesting to see what the reaction would be if Daisy saw this!) Jose and Panchito have to basically tear Donald away to get him back home. Next comes a portion taking place in the skies above Mexico City, with another lovely Mexican woman singing while Donald swoons over her. This is kind of slow part to the film, with Donald quacking the song while flying around the woman with flower petals around his neck, but, man, do things get crazy when Donald gets kissed!

The last segment up to the end is a surreal sequence of events similar to the infamous "Pink Elephants" scene from Dumbo. It's filled with crazy colors, flowers, Donald hallucinating about Jose and Panchito (Jose singing a helium-esque voice, which is quite funny) and such. The best part is when Donald winds up among a bunch of cacti and a woman in a sombrero uses a conductor's stick to bring the cacti to life and make them dance. Not only does Donald dance with the woman but a bunch of cacti become imitations of him, then grow into various large sizes while continuing to dance. It's crazy but once again, the animation here on the cacti on is very impressive. (Salvador Dali, who worked with Disney on some stuff, must have loved this.) The segment and movie wind down as Jose and Panchito reenter the film, with Donald ending up inside a bull outfit and Panchito "fighting" him. The outfit is full of firecrackers which are inevitably lit and explode for a whopper of a finale.

To sum it up, despite some minor flaws, The Three Caballeros is, at the end of the day, a very well made and enjoyable film. It's surreal, funny, charming, and informative about South American cultures without coming across as a propaganda piece. The animation is incredible, especially in the surreal segments; the combination of animated characters with live action people is pulled off very skillfully; it's a colorful, beautiful looking film; and the music is very memorable. It may not be one of Disney's classics but it's definitely a standout in the series of package films produced during the war.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Disney: Saludos Amigos (1942)

This is an interesting curiosity piece in the history of Walt Disney Studios. When I was a kid, I saw the follow up to this film, The Three Caballeros, quite a few times and thoroughly enjoyed it but I'd never even heard of this one until I was much older and saw it for the first time when I was 22. It's not that well known to the general public and only the most die-hard Disney fans have probably seen it. In order to understand why that is so, you have to put the film into context. This film falls into the war period of the studio, the time when the studio had  made its original classics Snow White, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, and Bambi but wouldn't get back into its stride until 1950 with Cinderella. It was put into production in early 1941 and was released in Argentina in 1942 and America in 1943. By that time, the attack on Pearl Harbor had led to the studio being taken over by the United States military in order to produce propaganda and training cartoons, which halted all of Disney's other planned features for the latter part of the decade.

The purpose of Saludos Amigos was to strengthen the relationship between the U.S. and South America as part of the Good Neighbor Policy. In order to do so, the U.S. Department of State commissioned a Disney goodwill tour that was intended to lead a film to that would be shown in both South American countries and the U.S. They chose Disney because several Latin America governments had ties to Germany and the purpose was to counteract those ties since Disney's characters and films were popular in those countries. Walt, acting as ambassador on the trip, and twenty members of his staff were given tours of countries such as Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and Peru in order to inspire the film.

Not that I've given you your history lesson, let's talk about the film itself. It acts as a documentary of South American life and tradition, with 16mm film footage of the actual Disney team touring, experiencing and drawing the various cities and local traditions, with four cartoon segments inspired by the artists' experiences. The first cartoon shows Donald Duck as an American tourist at Lake Titicaca, meeting the locals as well as dealing with a stubborn llama. The second portrays a small mail plane named Pedro in his first flight alone to pick up air mail in Mendoza, which turns out to be a very dangerous trip. Next, we have a segment involving Goofy planted in the pampas of Argentina in order to learn the ways of a gaucho. And the finale of the film features Donald once again and introduces the suave, sophisticated parrot Jose Carioca, who shows Donald the sights of Brazil, as well as the samba.

While it's not one of Disney's best films by far and it even feels really dated, Saludos Amigos is an interesting time-killer. It's only 41 minutes long, so you won't be sacrificing much of your time for one thing. The documentary footage of the Disney artists exploring South America can sort of be viewed as a precursor to the True Life Adventures that would come later. The real footage of the various cities and countryside is quite beautiful to look at. While the footage is, naturally, worn by time, there are still good, colorful prints of it that bring out the beauty of the countryside.

The cartoon segments range from ordinary to funny to inspired. As much as I love Donald Duck, the Lake Titicaca segment with him honestly brings nothing new to the table and is just made of hijinks that he gets into, none of I which I find as funny as the stuff in his theatrical shorts. The segment featuring Pedro the mail plane does have some impressive animation, particularly when Pedro becomes lost in a storm and fights furiously to get the mail through. (Interestingly, the segment proved to be a bit controversial in Latin America. Rene Rios Boettiger, a Chilean cartoonist, saw the character of Pedro as an insult to Chileans and created a popular comic character called Condorito as a sort of payback to Disney.) My personal favorite segment is watching Goofy trying to learn the ways of the gaucho. It has all the elements of his popular How to... theatrical shorts, specifically How to Ride a Horse, and is enjoyable. My favorite part is when he tries to lasso an ostrich with bolas and the slow-motion segment that results. Suddenly, the segment goes back to normal speed and then gets faster and faster, with the narrator's voice speeding up accordingly. When he begins to narrate the next part, the man's voice is still cracked and he has to recover from it, which I can't help but snicker at. I also like when Goofy gets caught lip-synching to a record of a gaucho triste song by the classic gag of the record skipping. Finally, the finale segment Aquarela do Brazil (Watercolor of Brazil), starts out with some very impressive animation as we see an artist paint the scenery with watercolors. There are some points where he draws one thing and then adds more detail to turn them into something else. For example, he draws what looks like a cluster of bananas but then adds black paint to it, morphing them into a bunch of toucans. He also draws what appears to be a flower but when a bee flies into the petals, it begins to shake and morphs into Donald Duck, who's then introduced to Jose Carioca. Jose was be put to much better use in The Three Caballeros later.

The only real complaint I have about the film is the narrator throughout. I know it was traditional back then for these types of documentaries and educational films to be narrated but my biggest problem is how stuffy and cheesy the narrations always were. The narrator isn't that bad during the live action segments since those required narration as well as the Gaucho Goofy segment but he got in my nerves during the Pedro cartoon. He feels way too involved in the story and characters for me, instead of being simply an impartial observer, as he is in the rest of the film, which I prefer when it comes to narrators. That probably sounds silly and it's just my personal preference to this kind of film but that's how I feel.

Saludos Amigos is entertaining and informative but it's simply not one of my favorite Disney films. It's just far too simple, bringing nothing to the table other than being an above average documentary with some amusing cartoons sprinkled throughout, and it's dated. It simply served its purpose and then faded away into obscurity. It's available on DVD but people other than hardcore Disney fans probably know of it. However, it was popular enough to lead to The Three Caballeros, which I feel is vastly superior and entertaining, as we'll see next.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Disney: The Jungle Book 2 (2003)

Since the early 90's, Disney, for some reason, has decided that a good majority of its classic animated features need one or two sequels. While the sequels to Aladdin and The Lion King were actually quite enjoyable and well made, most of them, while not out and out horrible, do nothing more than make you ask one simple question: what's the point? Not only are these sequels not needed seeing as how most of their parent films were perfect on their own, they almost always end up adding nothing to the story and by the end of each one, you're left wondering why this was necessary in the first place. And that leads us to our subject here, The Jungle Book 2, a sequel produced by Australia's Disney-Toon Studios thirty-five years after the release of the beloved original. The only difference is that this was actually released in theaters, even though it was originally planned to be straight to video. I actually first heard about when I picked up an issue of Disney Adventure magazine in the grocery store one night and saw an article about it. My reaction was surprise. The last thing I was thinking of was that there was going to be a sequel to a movie from my childhood. I was interested in seeing it, although that wasn't until a year later when it was on cable. My thoughts? Same as always with these sequels: it's okay but it's so generic that it's not even worth existing.

Taking place some time after the events of the original, this film shows Mowgli adapting to life in the man-village and with his adopted family. Although he's made friends with Shanti, the girl he followed into the village at the end of the original film, and her little brother Ranjan, Mowgli misses the freedom of the jungle and his animal friends, especially Baloo. At the same time, Baloo is not dealing well with the fact that Mowgli is no longer with him and he sneaks off to visit him. After he does so, a commotion causes him and Mowgli to run back into the jungle. Unbeknownst to Mowgli, who's resolved to live in the jungle for the rest of his life, Shanti and Ranjan, as well as most of the villagers, are in the jungle looking for him. Also, the evil Shere Khan, furious at Mowgli for what he did to him, is determined to have his revenge against the boy.

You can immediately tell that this film was originally meant to be direct to video. It has that low budget, generic look to it that all of Disney's direct to video sequels have. To be fair, the look of the movie is nice and colorful, but the animation and production design are nowhere near the level of the original. I don't know if it's the low budgets or what but this stuff just never has the same level of animation and design as their predecessors. A good thing is that the character designs are kept very true to those in the original, except for one: Kaa. For some reason, he's now green instead of brown. Why? Did someone just decide green was more snake-like in color or something? Other than that, though, the character designs are pretty much the same. But the technicality is the least of this film's problems.

Mowgli is voiced by Haley Joel Osment this time around. First off, Osment's performance isn't half bad with what they give him to work with but to me, Bruce Reitherman sounded more natural as a kid. The set-up for Mowgli's character in this film is acceptable: he misses the jungle and wants to experience the freedom of being wild again. But as soon as he gets into the jungle, he begins to miss Shanti and the other villagers, mainly after he hears they're looking for him. He's actually surprised that they're looking for him, since he'd been punished earlier for almost leading the village kids into the jungle. And that right there is something that gets me: because he was punished, he thought that everyone in the village hated him? All that time he was living with the wolf pack, did he never get punished for doing something wrong and learn that when adults are mad at you, that doesn't mean they hate you? I know Mowgli's just a kid but ten to eleven-year olds shouldn't be that naive. For another thing, the whole conflict between Mowgli wanting to stay in the jungle but also missing his village family could make for an interesting film but they never do anything with it other than have Mowgli mope around for each part of the problem and his ultimate decision as to where he's ultimately going to leave has no purpose since he and Shanti begin regularly visiting the jungle at the end of the film. So, there's no drama. Also, Mowgli's been living in the village for a good while now, right? Well, why is he still in just his underwear? Did they have no extra clothes for him or something? Give him some pants or a shirt, at least!

Baloo is voiced by John Goodman who, while being fairly good at emulating Phil Harris' personality, just doesn't have the same actual feel to him (maybe it's just because the voice is so much different but still). Baloo is fairly one-dimensional: he misses Mowgli, ends up accidentally kidnapping him from the jungle, the two of them go through the Bear Necessities and the same shtick as before, he tries to keep Shanti away from Mowgli, briefly tussles with Shere Khan again, and, in the end, makes the same decision he did in the middle of the original: Mowgli belongs in the man-village. And again, what was the point of Baloo's hard decision when he's going to see Mowgli every now and then? That happy ending really derails the implications of the major conflict of the story.

Bagheera is voiced by Bob Joles, who actually does an excellent job of capturing Sebastian Cabot's wisdom and authority figure personality. And he's barely in the film. Yeah, he's the returning main character from the original that has the least amount of screen-time. When he is onscreen, he's involved in ridiculous slapstick involving either Colonel Hathi, Baloo, or Ranjan. Such a shame that they get someone who has the same feel as the great actor who portrayed the original and yet they do little with him.

Jim Cummings plays a multitude of characters in this film and while he gets to show his range of voices, he fails to capture the spirit that the characters' original actors did. The character he plays who's onscreen the most is Kaa, back to haunt your dreams with his hypnotic powers and questionable morals towards his younger victims. Like Sterling Holloway, Cummings also often voices Winnie the Pooh but unlike his predecessor, he just can't seem to shake his Pooh voice when he's doing Kaa. I don't if it was because Holloway did Kaa just a tiny bit deeper in voice or what but Cummings just isn't as menacing and sounds like Pooh with a hiss. His hypnotic encounter with Shanti, while nowhere near as much as those in the original with Mowgli, does have some of the same sexual connotations as he actually brushes her hair while hypnotizing her, makes her follow his gaze wherever he turns, and leads her onto a rock so he can eat her (Ranjan saves his sister, however). It's weird how he didn't even try to hypnotize Mowgli this time. Cummings also plays Col. Hathi, using a pompous English voice I've heard him use many other times and he honestly doesn't sound much like J. Pat O'Malley. Other than voicing one of the vultures (I honestly can't remember which one), he also voices Flunkey, who turns out to be that monkey who annoyed King Louie during I Wanna Be Like You. I don't really have an opinion on this voice since Flunkey never spoke in the original. Oh, and by the way, King Louie isn't in this film. It was due to some sort of legal issues and they never explain his absence other than he just left. Way to go, above and beyond.

The best returning character in this film by far is Shere Khan. In this movie, he's voiced by the awesome actor Tony Jay, a British guy who had one of the deepest, most commanding voices ever. Jay sounds so much like George Sanders here that it's like he's risen from the grave. He brings the same kind of cool sophistication and menace to the character that his predecessor did and does it very well. Shere Khan's first appearance in the movie is awesome, with his paw crushing the coconut head of a makeshift Mowgli that Baloo had made and growling Mowgli's name in pure hatred. Since he's out for revenge, Khan is portrayed with a whole lot more rage than before, but he doesn't lose his droll sense of humor. Not only does Jay sound like Sanders but the animators did a good job of keeping the mannerisms Khan had in the original. He also lurks in the shadows for most of the film, making him all the more menacing. His best moment is when he finally finds Mowgli and tells him why he's going to kill him. The conflict between him and Mowgli should have been the focus of the entire movie, maybe with Khan kidnapping Shanti and having Mowgli venture into the jungle into a trap. (That's almost what he does to begin with.) Also, while Shere Khan isn't killed at the end of the movie, you still have to realize that he has no way to escape the trap he's imprisoned in and will probably starve to death eventually. Kind of dark when you think about it.

The girl whom Mowgli followed into the jungle at the end of the original film is revealed to be Shanti, a young village girl who lives with her parents and little brother Ranjan. Voiced by Mae Whitman, Shanti's personality isn't that interesting, to be honest. While she's not a bad character, there's not much to her. She denies liking Mowgli, even though she flirts with him; she has to babysit her little brother during their trek through the jungle; gets her feelings hurt and runs off when she finds out that Mowgli had Baloo intentionally scare her; helps Baloo somewhat to save Mowgli from Shere Khan; and in the end, goes with Mowgli in his little visits to the jungle. She at first thinks the jungle is dangerous but by the end, finds out that's not entirely the case. And that's it. She's just a blank slate. But she's not as bad as her little Ranjan, voiced by Connor Funk. This little guy is nothing but a handicap to Mowgli and Shanti while they're in the jungle. He causes trouble, tries to act all brave, and looks up to Mowgli as some big brother figure but they never do anything with it. He's just the typical rambunctious little kid that's supposed to make you go, "Aw!" I don't find him to be anything other than annoying. Also, he's apparently picked up some bad habits from Mowgli because he too wears nothing but underwear.

John Rhys-Davies voices Shanti and Ranjan's father. It pains me for Rhys-Davies to have be involved with this because he's a good actor. His character literally has nothing to do other than to be the jolly father with a strict rule system who feels bad for punishing Mowgli after he goes back to the jungle. One thing they could have made something out of is when he tells Mowgli that the jungle is dangerous and to prove it, shows him some scarred claw marks on his arm. Could those be the work of Shere Khan? Never touched on and it's too bad because that could have made for an interesting conflict with him meeting up with the animal that originally attacked him and is now after Mowgli. Instead, all he does is spend a good portion of the movie searching for Mowgli, Shanti, and Ranjan with the search party in the jungle. Such a waste. And as for the last new character, there's Lucky, a new vulture voiced by Phil Collins(!). This guy is entirely pointless. He's strictly comedy relief and not a very good one either, constantly taunting Shere Khan for how Mowgli humiliated him. At one point, Khan grabs him and evilly says, "Isn't it ironic that your name is Lucky?" before apparently killing him. I loved that moment when I first saw it because it seemed so dark for Disney nowadays... and then, Lucky shows up at the end to taunt the imprisoned Khan some more. That irritated me so much. What did Khan do to him instead of eating him? Did he just beat him up? That shouldn't have been the case. When you cross Shere Khan, your ass should be grass! I can't get across how disappointed I was in that turn of events.

Biggest problem with the film? The story or rather lack thereof. Granted, I said the story of the original film wasn't that strong either but the characters, animation, and songs picked up the slack there. As we've seen here, though, this movie's animation isn't up to snuff, the characters from the original as well as the new ones are one note for the most part, and most of the songs are just retreads of those from the original (I'll get to the actual new ones in a minute). In fact, this movie is like a half-hearted xerox of the original: Mowgli spends time with Baloo in the jungle, singing the Bear Necessities and going through the same shtick; Kaa hypnotizes someone; there's a scene at the ancient ruins minus King Louie; there's a final confrontation with Shere Khan, where Baloo tries to save Mowgli (why can't Bagheera battle Khan?); and Mowgli, although he does actually decide this time, follows Shanti to the village. This movie is doing nothing more than going through the motions that fans of the original remember. Instead of telling a new story, the filmmakers are just retreading the same old ground with some new characters thrown in and making Mowgli's return to the jungle an overnight sleepover more than anything else. There are hints of better stories to be hold here, as I described, but they do nothing with them. They also retread material from other Disney films. When Shanti's father scolds Mowgli for almost leading the kids into the jungle, he says lines such as, "I'm very disappointed in you" and, "You deliberately disobeyed me!" Sound familiar? (*cough* The Lion King *cough*) And by the way, "Yeah, man!" was awesome in the original but it's used way too much here.

Unlike the atmospheric and mysterious music score of the original, this movie's score by Patrick Griffin is completely forgettable. I don't remember a single tune from that generic score. Songs from the original like Bear Necessities, My Own Home, and I Wanna Be Like You are given new versions here. While I thought John Goodman and Haley Joel Osment's singing of Bear Necessities was okay, Smashmouth's I Wanna Be Like You was not up to par. It's like, "Yeah, King Louie's not in this film but his song was memorable so we're going to put in a less than acceptable version of it." As for the new songs, Osment sings Mowgli's song Jungle Rhythm. The song itself and Osment's singing aren't that bad but it's not memorable. As John Goodman singing Baloo's song W-I-L-D? Again, Goodman isn't bad but the song itself... are you kidding? Once again, generic! (Also, Timon and Pumbaa appear in that song. Why? Despite the continuity logistics that they live in Africa instead of India, all it does is make me wish I was watching The Lion King instead of this.)

The Jungle Book 2, like so many of these other Disney sequels, has no reason to exist. In its short running time of 69 minutes, it accomplishes precisely nothing other than giving us an uninspired retread of the original, only with the characters we love not as interesting and new characters that we don't give a crap about. But, this movie made over $135 million worldwide so I guess little kids who either liked the original or had never seen it but thought this looked cool won out. I have no problem with Disney making sequels to their classic films but the bottom line is that they seriously need to actually try and not treat their audience like morons when they do so.