Let’s get the facts out of the way first: Jaws: The Revenge (1987), the third sequel to one of the best horror films of all time, is terrible. It is quite possibly the worst movie ever made. It is so bad that I once watched the film with a friend and we ended up taking a break (with the film, not with our friendship, though that could have just as easily happened).
The plot is ludicrous: Ellen Brody (Lorraine Gary), the widow of Roy Scheider’s heroic police chief from the first two Jaws films, is convinced that another killer great white is pursuing her family after her younger son is seemingly killed by one before Christmas. She departs Amity Island for the Bahamas, where her elder son studies sea life, to find that – gasp! – the shark has followed her from one idyllic island to another.
The execution is miserable, too: the cast is clearly acting between paychecks (particularly the dashing pilot played by Michael Caine, having just won an Oscar for Hannah and Her Sisters) and the filmmakers do away with Jaws director Steven Spielberg’s ability to compensate for the lack of working shark model (where he kept the malfunctioning shark mostly hidden, owing the terror to either Verna Fields’ editing or John Williams’ iconic score, both of which won Oscars). The shark gets an embarrassing amount of face time, and it looks like a plastic and rubber mockery.
There are so many things wrong with Jaws: The Revenge. So why is it today’s Friday Feature? Well, there is the whole Fourth of July thing going on this weekend. But mostly it’s because there’s one thing not wrong with the movie – and it’s Michael Small’s excellent film score.
In 1975, Williams’ score for Jaws was a revelation, scaring moviegoers into submission with an unforgettable theme built on just two notes (an E and an F, if you’re curious). Combined with the Maestro’s other motifs for the film (a light shanty-esque tune representing the human element of Amity, a darker, fugue-like piece heard as the heroes pursue the shark in the final act), it deserved every accolade it got (not to mention the two releases it enjoyed on CD – Williams’ original re-recording, first released by MCA in 1975 and then on CD in the early 1990s, then the complete score released by Decca for the film’s 25th anniversary in 2000).
Williams returned to record the score to Jaws 2 in 1978, but it seemed to lack the gravitas of the original (although many Williams fans adore it and await an expanded release, likely from Varese Sarabande, who released the original soundtrack on CD). Alan Parker’s score to 1983’s Jaws 3-D (regrettably, you are reading that right – it was in 3-D) was even more generic, underusing the shark theme and simplifying it the few times it was on screen. But even that got a CD release when Intrada transferred the original MCA LP onto disc a few years back (and it sold out, too).
What Jaws: The Revenge gets right is its respectful treatment of the original theme, which is arranged as lushly as Williams likely intended it. It also uses some almost-forgotten motifs from the original Jaws score, including a soaring, string-dominated B-section of the main theme better known for its appearance on concert arrangements of the music than for its actual presence in the original film. But Small isn’t content to merely ape the best of the original soundtrack; he adds some great turns for brass in the score, including an urgent “revenge” motif that counters the traditional shark theme nicely.
Despite even the name recognition of the franchise, the music of Jaws: The Revenge has yet to receive a commercial release. Although rumors persist that the score was mixed for an LP release, a soundtrack was never commissioned (perhaps MCA knew the bomb they had on their hands), and the only thing that has surfaced was a brief, non-commercial promo commissioned by Intrada in 2000. (Fortunately, someone has uploaded the entire thing to YouTube, so you can hear the score for yourself.) Fans of great film scoring and the Jaws franchise – and there are many of both, enough to justify such a release – would be greatly rewarded should this music get a wider release.
Michael Small, Jaws: The Revenge (Intrada MSML 1001, 2000 – original film released 1987)
- Main Title – 2:28
- Underwater – 4:01
- The Bahamas – 2:21
- Premonition – 1:02
- Moray Eel – 1:00
- Alive or Dead – 2:21
- The Shark – 6:00
- Revenge and Finale – 8:07