As you know from reading Bloody Flicks, we love a good (and bad) shark film or two.
We caught up with author Andrew McNess to talk about his new book The Sharks Is Always There: Navigating Jaws: The Revenge, which takes an academic deep dive into the much maligned fourth film in the Jaws series.
Tell us when you first started writing about JTR?
I started writing, or jotting down thoughts, anyway, after re-watching the film in 2019, as part of a Jaws marathon. After watching and, to my surprise, greatly enjoying Jaws 3-D, I was dreading the “flights of fancy” of Jaws: The Revenge. As it turned out, the reservations were unnecessary: I not only enjoyed Jaws: The Revenge, I was reflecting on the film days later. I did not anticipate the former and I certainly didn’t anticipate the latter! Maybe it is just an avenging shark flick, but I found Jaws: The Revenge interesting in its ideas, or subtext: if Ellen doesn’t face her grief and fear at some point, she will continue to be haunted by sharks.
We have texts about the first 2 Jaws films, this one is much more maligned, how was the writing process?
I found the writing process had the same challenges as other writing projects I’ve worked on: finding the structure, finding the expression for what you’re trying to convey. In terms of committing to the writing process itself, I had some hesitation in this particular case as the level of negativity and ridicule directed towards the film has been ample. I wondered if, in giving this film any kind of extended contemplation, I was throwing myself to the lions. But I was really interested and keen to pursue this project, and I think you have to go where the interest lies.
You are approaching this from more of an academic perspective, was this always your intention?
As I have a research background, an academic perspective is perhaps inevitable. But, more to the point, I really enjoy the film analyses produced by the British Film Institute, as well as the Devil’s Advocates series. I envisaged The Shark is Always There as a variation on such, taking the focus to a film that is barely celebrated. I find there’s much truth to the assertion that the less successful films – and even the infamously regarded ones – can be just as interesting as celebrated films, whether it be for their history or how they’re crafted, or both.
Do you think JTR deserves its reputation as one of the worst films made?
I get the incredulity over the concept of a vengeful shark, even though I think the film plays with the concept more smartly than is given credit. Then, there are the signs of rush, most evidently in the jaggedness of the film’s climactic moments. But I don’t think it’s one of the worst films ever made. It’s well acted, shot and scored. It’s the concept that overwhelmingly attracts the bad notices.
What parts or characters do you enjoy in JTR?
I like that eerie chime motif of Michael Small’s whenever it is employed. I think the cast is terrific. I like the journey of doubt and disbelief that Michael takes, as well as Ellen’s journey of fear and paranoia. Although I was disappointed with the shark effects when I first saw the film, I accepted them in subsequent viewings, and rather like the bravado of the shark scenes. The aquamarine beauty of The Bahamas is well captured and I love revisiting Amity Island. Jake and Mike’s rapport is nicely written and played, as is Ellen and Hoagie’s.
How does this rank in terms of sequels for you?
For me, it’s a tie with Jaws 2. I think Jaws 2 has the more muscular shark scenes, and Roy Scheider is a plus, but Jaws: The Revenge has the more interesting ideas, even if they are very far-fetched. Jaws 3-D picks up the rear for me.
Do you think the film would have been better for introducing the voodoo element that was present in the novelisation?
I think people would still be saying, “This is a nutty film.” But the voodoo element would take away a significant degree of the ambiguity, and I think the lack of an explanation in the finished film – Is this shark a cousin of Jaws’s past? The original shark reincarnated? Etc. – has attracted another degree of frustration and animosity. But, personally, I prefer the ambiguity: I like how the focus is, in effect, more on Michael and Ellen – how they respond to the surreality of a shark appearing in the Bahamas.
Where can people find your book?
They can find it via avenues such as Amazon and Book Depository.
Do you have plans to write about other films in the future?
I don’t have any present plans to write another book. Admittedly, I did say much the same thing when I completed A Close Look at ‘A View to a Kill’. Essays are another matter. I have written a variety of essays on films – mostly 007-related, but also other genre films like instalments in the Psycho and Indiana Jones series – and I often have essay-related thoughts percolating away in my mind. I don’t always have the time I might wish to put pen to paper. Such is life!
Would you consider a similar approach to a book about Jaws 3?
I enjoy the third film, but it doesn’t interest me in the same way Jaws: The Revenge does. I like my characters to be haunted by sharks!