Just a random thought: It would be nice if Ebertfest one day programmed a double feature of JAWS (1975) and JAWS: THE REVENGE (1987). Roger Ebert’s reviews for these two films, taken together, give you the breadth of his film writing. He was great at meeting a movie at its own level. He met JAWS* with open arms:
The story, as I guess everyone knows by now, involves a series of attacks on swimmers by a great white shark, the response of the threatened resort island to its loss of tourist business, and, finally, the epic attempt by three men to track the shark and kill it. There are no doubt supposed to be all sorts of levels of meanings in such an archetypal story, but Spielberg wisely decides not to underline any of them. This is an action film content to stay entirely within the perimeters of its story, and none of the characters has to wade through speeches expounding on the significance of it all. Spielberg is very good, though, at presenting those characters in a way that makes them individuals.
He met JAWS: THE REVENGE with a harpoon:
Since we see so much of the shark in the movie, you’d think they would have built some good ones. They’ve had three earlier pictures for practice. But in some scenes the shark’s skin looks like canvas with acne, and in others all we see is an obviously fake shark head with lots of teeth.
The shark models have so little movement that at times they seem to be supporting themselves on boats, instead of attacking them. Up until the ludicrous final sequence of the movie, the scariest creature in the film is an eel.
Including a movie Roger hated in a festival devoted to films he adored would be kind of perverse, but after you’ve read his hilarious review of J:TR, it’s impossible not to enjoy its horrific awfulness.
Speaking of perverse, this year the fest screens an acclaimed movie that’s about a thrill ride gone horribly, sometimes obscenely, wrong, ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW. I’ve been looking forward to this Disneyland-set fantasy-horror film since Far Flung Correspondent Michał Oleszczyk raved about it from Sundance: “Ultimately, the film is about the terror of ubiquitous entertainment.” The critic Anthony Lane once said, of relentless showbiz ploys to keep consumers riveted, “There is nothing so boring in life, let alone in cinema, as the boredom of being excited all the time.” I suspect that ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW explores that idea to some extent.
I also suspect that the corporate desperation to constantly thrill the dollars out of you is the only reason something like JAWS: THE REVENGE got made. And thank God it did. We would never have been able to read the following, from Roger:
What happens at the end? Ellen Brody has become convinced that the shark is following her. It wants revenge against her entire family. Her friends pooh-pooh the notion that a shark could identify, follow or even care about one individual human being, but I am willing to grant the point, for the benefit of the plot.
I believe that the shark wants revenge against Mrs. Brody. I do. I really do believe it. After all, her husband was one of the men who hunted this shark and killed it, blowing it to bits. And what shark wouldn’t want revenge against the survivors of the men who killed it?
*Also covered in his Great Movies series.