How many beloved film franchises manage to maintain the same level of quality after reaching their fourth film? This is the main question posed by author Mark Edlitz (The Lost Adventures of James Bond) in his new book Movies go fourth, which dives deep into the kind of box office disasters you get when studios try to expand a cinematic narrative beyond the confines of a trilogy.
“Trilogies were the best measure of success,” Edlitz tells SYFY WIRE via email. “The trilogy is also a perfect form of storytelling; it has a beginning, middle and end. But what happens when the story ends and the studios and directors want to continue the story? And what happens when the artist and the studio come into conflict? Movies Go Fourth is my attempt to explore how popular franchises keep those franchises fresh, relevant and new. So to find out, I interviewed a lot of writers and directors from our favorite franchises.”
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While Steven Spielberg’s Jawsthe film that literally invented the concept of the summer blockbuster didn’t need a sequel, it was just too successful for its own good. Between 1978 and 1987, Universal released three sequels to the nautical thriller, each bringing in less money and favorable reviews than the last.
Jaws 4 — with subtitles The revenge and boasts the much-derided slogan “This Time It’s Personal” — is the most famous of the bunch. Even Spielberg himself couldn’t resist acknowledging how far the series had strayed from his original masterpiece when he approved Jaws 19 tent (“This time it is REALLY personally”), seen during Marty’s trip to 2015 Back to the Future Part II.
“Jaws 4 has become shorthand for “bad movie.” But look at the talent—Michael Caine, who couldn’t accept his Best Supporting Actor award because he was shooting the movie—and Joseph Sargent, director of The Taking of Pelham One Two Three,” continues Edlitz. “It didn’t come together the way the filmmakers wanted, but the film was a serious attempt to make an exciting and dramatic film.” In the end, it was hard to get past the premise of a shark seeking revenge against a family that killed a completely different shark.”
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Head below for an exclusive excerpt from the author’s interview with The Last Starfighter‘s Lance Guest, who took over the role of Michael “Mike” Brody in Jaws: The Revenge (Amity Island boss Martin Brody’s son was portrayed by Mark Gruner and Dennis Quaid in the first two sequels). As you’ll learn, the cast didn’t have to worry about any killer sharks to settle. The same cannot be said for giant battery packs capable of electrocuting an elderly person.
Interviews by author Mark Edlitz Jaws: The Revenge actor Lance Guest in this exclusive excerpt from his new book, Movies go fourth:
What do you prefer, Jaws 4 Scary story?
I always say that Michael Caine saved my life. And this is a completely dramatic and exaggerated version of something that could have been disastrous. We were doing a scene at the climax of the film where my character is afraid that my mother will kill herself by facing the shark alone. So Michael Caine, Mario Van Peebles and I are in a tiny little boat chasing her. I’m at the back of the boat and they’re at the front. But I weighed about 160 pounds and they are on the other side of the boat. So what do you think happened? We start to cross and the whole front of the boat is just submerged in the water. The battery powering the boat was huge, about the size of a chessboard. As the boat descends, the operator throws the camera onto the barge, which is about five feet away, and someone grabs the camera. Mario jumps overboard and the boat fills with water. So I’m sitting in a bathtub with a toaster. I feel this hand behind me and I heard Michael yell, “Get the hell out of the boat.” He pulls me out of the boat with one hand and puts me on board because he didn’t want to electrocute me. So that’s my awesome Jaws: The Revenge story.
[Playing along.] He totally saved your life.
Here it is. I have Michael Caine to thank for my life. But like I said, it wasn’t dangerous working conditions or anything like that. It might have been a twelve volt battery pack and covered in plastic, I have no idea why, but it’s kind of funny.
Part of my motivation for talking about this film isn’t to pretend it’s an overlooked masterpiece, but rather to understand why smart, thoughtful people who make good movies can make one that goes a little off the rails.
They’ve made films based on flimsier premises. I keep going back to the original script because Michael De Guzman concentrates on the relationships between the family. There was blood and gore, but we wanted to make a film about something else. It had a bit of a TV movie feel to it in its structure, and maybe it’s a little sentimental, but he delivered it in a believable way. So when it happened, I felt like I kind of saw it.
But really, what’s at the heart of why this movie didn’t do so well is that I think they had a hard time selling the idea that the shark would travel all the way across the ocean to the Bahamas and follow this family. That was a bit far-fetched.
It wasn’t the same shark from the previous movies, those sharks are dead. So what motivates revenge?
true It’s just a family that has bad luck with white sharks. But in the 80s many films were made in such insubstantial premises. But Michael de Guzman managed to weave a story to fit the premise, de-emphasize the shark and place it in the family. But then they realized that if they couldn’t get the shark sequences right, then the audience would be disappointed and the film would be lame. So they focused on making sure the shark stuff was shocking, violent, and scary enough to appeal to people who watch the Jaws movies. But there were a lot of things that had nothing to do with killer shark that were nice but didn’t get the attention they needed because they had to prioritize and focus on why people would watch this movie.
Are you feeling a little tickled by the fact that you were in a scandalous movie?
At the time, my biggest fear was being in something that would fall apart like that. But every actor has that fear. But it didn’t affect me as much as I thought. Filmmakers who grew up with The Last Starfighter appreciate it. I’d rather be in a cult movie than be a big deal. I’d rather be in a movie where people have to find it. It makes it feel special when people discover it.
Movies go fourth goes on sale Monday, May 22. Click here to grab a copy.
Jaws (and its three sequels) are available for purchase through Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.