Tuesday, June 21, 2016

THE UNSINKABLE MOLLY BROWN: Blu-ray (MGM 1964) Warner Archive

In 1912, the ill-fated maiden voyage of the RMS Titanic created two cultural touchstones that have resonated with the world ever since. Undeniably, the first is the actual sinking; an awe-inspiring maritime calamity, likely to echo throughout the annals of human history – and folly – for many centuries yet to come. On that fateful April 15th, Titanic instantly departed the realm of fact and became the stuff of incomprehensible legend and tragedy.  But the second icon to emerge from this disaster would rise like a phoenix from its watery grave, perhaps, in part because she survived the hell and, unlike contemporaries of her sex, took it upon herself to instill faithful confidence, hope and courage in the other survivors of Lifeboat No. 6, when all three were in exceptionally short supply. That woman was Margaret Tobin Brown, sometimes called ‘Maggie’, but affectionately known as ‘Molly’. She would enter the history books as ‘The Unsinkable Molly Brown’; thanks in large part to the musical genius of Meredith Wilson who, together with Richard Morris, launched a successful musical revue on Broadway in 1960, glamorizing the life and times of this relatively unknown Denver socialite and philanthropist.
It is important to note the legend of Molly Brown would have been nothing at all if Margaret were not something of a tomboy; born to extremely modest beginnings in Denkler’s Alley, near the Mississippi River in Hannibal, Missouri, but fortuitously moving to Leadville, Colorado when she was just eighteen. The musical Molly is arguably more uncouth than her counterpart from history – at least, at the beginning; thus, making her transition into ‘polite society’ more of a contrast while adding spit, instead of polish, to the eye of Denver’s Sacred Thirty-Six. The stage’s Molly starts as a foul-mouthed scrapper and, at least in the movie version, is shown to have survived a devastating Colorado flood at the tender age of six months: interesting fiction, except for the timeline, as the flood referenced in the movie occurred in 1890, which would have made Molly only twenty-two at the time she heroically urged her fellow passengers to vigorously row in search of survivors from the Titanic. The real Molly Brown was pushing forty-five. Nevertheless, the artistic license taken by Wilson is effective at foreshadowing the real-life catastrophe Brown would survive.
What a smite to the bluebloods and nosegays Molly Brown must have been then; nouveau riche to boot and lacking the pedigree of a good family name, or even more distinctly, the proper social graces necessary to satisfy, former Southern belle, Louise Sneed and her hoity-toity sect, known as the ‘Sacred Thirty-Six’. In the movie, a compassionate cleric, Monsignor Ryan (George Mitchell) explains to a wounded Molly (Debbie Reynolds), “Denver is not New York or Chicago. The veneer is thin. You are a painful reminder of where these people come from.” Indeed, Denver then was a haven for a few established families, more renowned for their ancestral lineage of inheritance transplanted from elsewhere. Perhaps to avoid a lawsuit, or merely to muddle the integrity of history a little further for the sake of a good yarn, both the play and the movie concoct a counterpart to Sneed as Molly’s nemesis; Sneed once referred to by the real Molly Brown as “the snobbiest gal in Denver”: her fictionalized stand-in, Mrs. Gladys McGraw (played with austere upper-crustiness by Audrey Christie).
At least the fiction gets Molly’s marriage right…well, mostly. Despite her protestations and plans to marry a rich man, Molly would fall madly in love with impoverished miner, James Joseph Brown; rechristened Jonny for the fiction and played both on stage and in the film by brawny baritone, Harve Presnell. In one of those ‘happy ironies’ that always gels with Hollywood’s need for the proverbial ‘happy ending’; Molly and J.J. came into great wealth in 1893 after Brown’s engineering of the ‘Little Jonny Mine’ for his employers, Ibex Mining Co. yielded one of the richest strikes in history. Elevated to a seat on the board, and, enriched by 12,500 shares of company stock (a formidable sum), J.J. and Molly became the Beverly Hillbillies of their generation; moving uptown to ‘swell central’ in 1894, into an ostentatiously decorated, $30,000 Victorian manor on Pennsylvania Avenue. To say the Browns were immediately welcomed into Denver Society is more than a tad overreaching. The Sacred Thirty-Six (a society to which Molly aspired, but would never be allowed to join) thumbed their noses at her various entreats to join their influential social circle. Undaunted, the stubborn Molly instead dug in her heels, becoming a charter member of Denver’s Woman’s Club. Not merely contented to simply throw money toward a good cause, Molly would entrench herself even further in a crash course of the social graces; becoming well-immersed in the arts and fluent in no less than five languages – a very ambitious lady, indeed. If she nevertheless ‘improved’ her mind, it was not at a sacrifice or expense to her clear-cut duty to humanity or her sense of humor. On stage and in the movie, Molly’s determination to reinvent her husband’s life creates a temporary rift in their marriage; a plausible excuse for Molly to sail to Europe and revisit friends she had made during their first trip abroad in 1904. In reality, Molly and J.J. would not reconcile after 1909 although there is evidence to suggest their separation was amicable. Yet, Molly had conquered both sides of the Atlantic with her charitable works by then, even taking a run at the U.S. Senate in 1914; a campaign ended when she made the about-face decision to return to France and work with the American Committee for Devastated France during WWI.
As a Broadway show, The Unsinkable Molly Brown enjoyed a two year run at the Winter Garden Theater, starring Tammy Grimes in her Tony-Award winning role as this irrepressible maven. In Hollywood, Debbie Reynolds aggressively campaigned to play the title role, despite early press from gossip columnist, Hedda Hopper intimating Doris Day was all but set to star in the big screen adaptation. In truth, the lead had already been slated for Shirley MacLaine. But no sooner had she signed on the dotted line, then independent producer, Hal Wallis, claimed MacLaine was still under contract to him and thus, unable to make her own decisions on the matter. Legality having thus intervened, producer, Lawrence Weingarten thought better of the rumors and also, much more of Debbie Reynolds. At the age of 32, Reynolds, while far too young and pretty to play the matronly Mrs. Brown, nevertheless, took the play’s more bawdy affectations a step beyond mere caricature, toggling back the ‘larger-than-life’ legacy into a manageable creature of flesh and blood. Regrettably, MacLaine took the loss personally, publicly blaming Reynolds for undercutting her price. While it is nevertheless certain Debbie Reynolds was paid far less to play the part, MacLaine’s real stumbling block was Wallis – not Reynolds – and a potential lawsuit MGM could not afford to face. In hindsight, Reynolds would avoid MacLaine’s more formidable wrath, reserved for The Hollywood Reporter’s columnist, Mike Connolly. Having reported MacLaine’s loss in print before anyone had had the opportunity to inform the star first, MacLaine hauled off and slugged Connolly.
It might have been smooth sailing for Debbie Reynolds thereafter, except that director, Charles Walters had his heart set on directing Shirley MacLaine. Even after negotiations with Wallis stalled and fell through, and, the ink on Reynold’s contract to replace her had dried, Walters went to bat for MacLaine, doing everything in his power to convince Reynolds to back out of the project. When Reynolds called Walters out on his deliberate stalling, he suggested, “You’re much too short for this role” to which Reynolds pertly replied, “Why? How short is the part?” As cast and crew prepared to go on location in Colorado, Walters’ reluctance regarding Reynolds persisted. “He really was unhappy with me at the start,” Reynolds later mused, “Just did not want me at all. He offered me no direction, no insight into the character or how I should play her. After a few weeks of this I took my problems to Lillian Burns (the acting coach). She was a great help.”
Returning to the relative safety of Culver City, Walters made an even more disastrous decision: to cut the movie’s big production number, ‘He’s My Friend’ – claiming MGM’s cost overruns on Doctor Zhivago (1965) had irrevocably forced him to trim the fat off his production.  Reynolds fought for the number’s inclusion – and won, learning the necessary dance steps in record time and shooting the entire 7 ½ minute spirited routine in only two takes; the action captured simultaneously by two separate camera set-ups; a common practice when shooting television programs – not movies – at the end of which one of her dancing partners, Grover Dale, collapsed from exhaustion. When the film had its’ premiere, Time Magazine gave Reynolds a well-deserved rave, “All charm. All bounce. All spirit and all fun! It is impossible not to admire her!”  In hindsight, The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964) is likely the last great musical to emerge from MGM during a tumultuous decade in which the studio was steadily sinking under the weight of its own elephantiasis. Musicals in general had all but fallen out of fashion with most critics and audiences, rare megahits like My Fair Lady (1964) or The Sound of Music (1965) keeping hope alive another blockbuster was waiting just around the corner to invigorate the genre. Sadly, more often than not, musicals sank like stones at the box office.  
And, at least in hindsight, The Unsinkable Molly Brown distinctly bears the cross of Metro’s cost-cutting desperation.  E. Preston Ames and George W. Davis’ art direction for Molly and Johnny’s Denver mansion, gaudily decked out in varying shades of red, is a veritable art gallery of oddities borrowed from the studio’s vast warehouse of props; sumptuously photographed by Daniel L. Fapp. Exteriors for Denver were shot mostly on the back lot ‘St. Louis’ street, built for MGM’s Meet Me In St. Louis (1944); with its gingerbread architecture and familiar facades plainly visible. But even more damaging sacrifices were made when staging Johnny and Molly’s trip to Europe; the couple seen doing a spirited two-step across matte-painted promenades depicting London, Paris and Rome. Flawed too is the actual sinking of the Titanic, borrowing stock shots, tinted in Metrocolor from 1958’s A Night To Remember; the model work even more transparent in Panavision; the cutaways to close-ups of a horrified Molly, clinging to the ship’s upper decks as a cascade of ice from the ill-timed berg sheers away, landing only a few feet from her toes, not altogether convincing and, in fact, making short shrift of one of the movie’s pivotal plot points.  None of this seemed to matter back in 1964, The Unsinkable Molly Brown becoming the third highest grossing picture of the year, nominated for six Academy Awards, including a Best Actress nod to Reynolds.  
Immediately following the iconic MGM trademark roar of Leo the Lion, we open on the Colorado prologue; a runaway cradle, carrying the infant Molly down rapids: the child seemingly oblivious to the dangers involved before being jostled from her seat and momentarily struggling to pull herself from the waters. An segue into the ebullient main title and then a jump cut to Molly Brown (Debbie Reynolds) eighteen years later; scruffy, tomboyish and riding on the back of a wagon with her two boyhood friends, Jam (Grover Dale) and Joe (Gus Trikonis); her father, Shamus (Ed Bagley), punting the horses alongside his good friend, Murphy (Brendan Dillon). Joe playfully shoots Molly in the buttocks with a stone from his slingshot, inciting a minor riot that turns into an all-out brawl. Afterward, Shamus confides that perhaps he did Molly an injustice, raising her as self-sufficient as any man. For now, a maid of eligible marrying age, she is more a competitor than a potential mate for any boy who might have her. Empathetically, Molly quells her father’s fears. He did alright. She isn’t muddle-headed or boy crazy. And she is determined to do more than dream of the day she will leave the squalor of this farm life to marry a rich man. Shamus knows what can come of wishing for things too hard, especially when ambition drives strongly. “Serve the Lord,” he encourages Molly, “…and a hot breakfast. Then you can look for your Irish Catholic man with the roof that don't leak.” When Molly suggests the man who will win her will have to be more than Catholic, Shamus bewilderingly inquires what more there could possibly be to satisfy her. “Well, if he’s goin’ to crawl in next to me, he’d better be the richest Irish Catholic next to the Pope!” she emphatically replies.
The next day, Molly sets out for her dream – to find the town of Leadville. Meanwhile, in another part of Colorado, miner, Johnny Brown is ‘hollering in the mountain’, enjoying the sound of his reverberating echoes throughout the canyons. He comes upon Molly bathing in a nearby river. At first oblivious to his presence, she emerges nude from the sump to dry off, only then realizing she is not alone. “How long you been standing there?” Molly curtly inquires. “Long enough,” Johnny flippantly replies. After a brief series of loaded exchanges, Johnny offers Molly some stew and a place to rest at his cabin. She is standoffish, but hungry and eventually follows Johnny home, showing him a postcard written by her good friend, Katie Spinner; a girl since risen to prominence and living on Pennsylvania Ave. in Denver. “That’s where the rich folks live,” Johnny points out. This ignites Molly’s courage to hurry along to Leadville, the first stop on her journey.  Alas, Leadville is no Denver, but a squalid little mining village with a saloon run by the congenial Christmas Morgan (Jack Kruschen). Morgan desperately needs a piano player to liven up his place and lure some of the paying clientele away from the Golden Nugget brothel across the street.
Professing to know how to play the piano, Molly is hired by Morgan on the spot; then, spends the rest of the afternoon and night learning to play the basic chords. Her rambunctiousness earns her the respect and admiration of the thirsty menfolk whom she encourages to belly-up to the bar. Johnny arrives and offers to teach Molly how to read. A romance begins to blossom; Molly resisting Johnny’s charms because he is a no-account miner who lazily takes what he needs from his claim, but does not aspire to come into any great wealth. To please Molly, Johnny builds a brand new cabin on his land, fulfilling all of her limited, if fanciful daydreams about ‘being rich’. She is touched by his sentiment and the two are married. But almost immediately, Molly begins to have her doubts. These lead Johnny to wild distraction. He sells his claim for a sizable $300,000. Again, in figuring out the best place to hide the money from potential thieves, Molly chooses the stove in the kitchen as the last place anyone would look. Tragically, her hunch proves right on the money – literally – as Johnny returns from his bath, slightly chilled, and lights a fire in the stove to warm himself. Their fortune gone up in smoke, Johnny heads right back into the wilderness with pickaxe in hand to find another claim. Quite by accident, he stumbles upon a rich gold reserve he christens ‘The Little Jonny’; the millions netted from it affording the Browns the opportunity to leave Leadville and move into a fashionable – if ostentatiously decorated – Pennsylvania Ave. mansion.
Alas, Molly is unprepared for her debut into high society – and vice versa – alienating Gladys McGraw (Audrey Christie) – the head of Denver’s Sacred Thirty-Six – with her frank good humor. Recognizing her desperate need to belong, Monsignor Ryan (George Mitchell) takes an interest in Molly. She has spirit and heart. Moreover, she is sincere and kind – qualities lost on Gladys who is even ashamed of her own mother, Buttercup Grogan (Hermione Baddeley), soon to develop a romantic yen for Shamus. Unable to persuade Denver society of her honorable intensions, on Monsignor Ryan’s advice, Molly takes Johnny on a whirlwind tour of Europe; subjecting them both to art history and elocution lessons – a crash course in a smattering of culture that leaves Johnny flat, but invigorates Molly to befriend some of the crown heads of Europe, including Baron Karl Ludwig von Ettenburg (Fred Essler), Prince Louis de Laniere (Vassili Lambrinos) and Grand Duchess Elise Lupavinova (Martita Hunt). Unlike Denver’s stuffy socialites, these heads of state embrace Molly and Johnny for their unspoiled vivaciousness. Johnny begins to suspect Prince Louis has a crush on his wife. Moreover, he is homesick. Molly decides for them both. They will return to Denver, but bringing along their new friends to show off.
Gladys, accompanied by Denver newspaper society columnist, Malcolm Broderick (Hayden Rorke) attends the party, shocked to discover her former manservant, Roberts (Anthony Eustrel) now working for the Browns. The party is a smashing success – at first; Molly subtly snubbing Gladys by exercising her grasp of several languages; also, her newly acquired artistic skills. Too bad Johnny has invited all of their old friends from Leadville; Christmas Morgan striking up a spirited barroom number that encourages Molly to take to the floor with Jam and Joe. The crown heads are enchanted by the joyousness of it all. But Gladys’ offhanded comment, smugly thinking the moment more suited to a brothel, and Broderick’s equally glib retort, “My dear, that’s how she made her living!” causes Morgan to assault Broderick. A brawl breaks out between the society swells and Molly and Johnny’s Leadville crowd; the crown heads partaking in Molly’s defense. Afterward, the Brown’s residence is a shambles. “Molly sure knew what she was doing when she had the place painted red,” Shamus proudly declares, “The blood don’t show!”
Broderick’s column smears the Brown’s good name in the tabloids. Molly, more determined than ever to succeed, elects to return to Europe. But Johnny has had quite enough of turning himself inside out for people he wisely deduces have no interest or respect for him. Refusing to accompany Molly across the Atlantic, she makes the journey alone. Months pass and Molly, now, has become the paramour of Prince Louis. Yet, she cannot reconcile what she has gained, in terms of wealth of culture, with what she has lost – the love of a good man without whom none of this would have been possible in the first place. During an anniversary gathering, surrounded by her European friends, Molly is driven to humiliate the Prince and confront Gladys, who is on vacation. Gladys is unresponsive, forcing Molly to admit – if only to herself- that in her bid to become a lady she has very much gone down in her aspirations to remain a good person.  A short while later, Molly books her fateful transatlantic crossing on the RMS Titanic. The ship sinks, but Molly mobilizes the crew of her lifeboat, keeping up everyone’s spirits with colorful stories from her youth. Returning to Denver, she is hailed ‘the unsinkable Molly Brown’; Gladys finally coming around to declare, “You’re quite a woman.” Entering the mansion she once shared with Johnny, Molly casually peruses the empty rooms, climbing the stairs to her bedroom to change, but surprised to discover the old brass bed from her unassuming cottage in Leadville installed in place of the stately mahogany monstrosity that once filled the room. Suddenly, a familiar hat lands on the bedspread. Molly pulls back the door, discovering a repentant John Brown waiting for her behind it. The couple embraces and the screen fades to black.
The Unsinkable Molly Brown is so obviously a star vehicle for Debbie Reynolds. Only one other movie in Reynold’s repertoire – 1957’s Tammy and the Bachelor – allows her such latitude to completely dominate the screen with fresh-faced effervescence and unapologetic spunk. Interestingly, both movies are about a backwards babe in the woods determined to improve their prospects with the love of a good man. Where The Unsinkable Molly Brown differs is in its third act; Reynolds made up to appear harsher – physically; lit to accentuate her tightly pulled back hair; sheathed in sumptuous period gowns designed by Morton Haack, somehow made ugly, or perhaps subservient to Molly’s entrenched resolve; a damning effect on the character as it goes against the grain of the Debbie Reynolds we all know and love. Yet, Reynolds plays this key moment for all its worth, unafraid not to be liked; seizing a torchiere from the corner, placing its lamp shade upon her head and proclaiming herself ‘Queen of the lard bucket’; a very embittered figure of fun, catering to a roaring crowd of uber-chic sycophants. She emasculates Prince Louis, ordering him to bow in her presence. He does so, perhaps partly out of shock and disbelief at being asked to do so, but moreover to placate her anger. Molly is neither assuaged nor amused. She does, however, find an unlikely soft spot for Gladys, the woman who disparaged her arrival in Denver, and, in this same scene, still looks upon her as an uncouth little bug to be vigorously squashed.  Refusing to appease the show off, Gladys’ stubbornness is something Molly can recognize in herself and, in fact, admire. The epiphany, she has become the person she once despised, shatters her art of make-believe. In retrospect, it is impossible to imagine any other actress capably pulling off this moment of conceit; then, resurrecting the old Molly from its ashes; the gal with a genuine heart and blind faith in all human frailty.
It should also be pointed out Reynolds – while undeniably the focus – is nevertheless, not the ‘whole show’; ably abetted by the sadly underestimated Harve Presnell. Presnell ought to have become one of Hollywood’s brightest musical talents. Certainly, he possessed the looks and charisma of a leading man. Alas, his timing was all wrong – the last gasps of the musical as a viable genre leaving no place for his particular brand of overtly masculinized eloquence. He is, I think, unbearably excellent as the perfect counterpoint to Reynold’s boisterous Molly; his Johnny, a man in love, though not impugned by his wife’s desire to ‘make good’; intuitively knowing from whence he has come and acknowledge there is no shame in it - something Molly only realizes after faced with a thought-numbing crisis – one real (the Titanic); the other, of conscience, mirroring the wreck itself. And Presnell is enigmatic in this part besides; unafraid to poke holes in his impossibly butch he-man; bright enough as an actor to know his own mind, but smart enough to translate these complex emotions into his characterization.
The Unsinkable Molly Brown was a colossal hit for MGM; arguably, the last of their ‘golden era’ musicals, long after the age itself had dwindled. Critics and novices alike often ponder whatever became of this ancient ghost flower in American picture-making, when raw talent, readily prized and put on display, required no distractions in chop-shop editing and/or glittery digital effects to sell its wares. The answer is rather complex; owing to changing times and tastes, the introduction of television (depriving the studios of nearly half their viewing audience) and the falling off of Hollywood’s founding fathers – men, who by sheer willpower, the strength of their convictions; also, an intuitive knack for repeatedly picking a winner, dominated as purveyors of the popular entertainments of their day. Employing raw intimidation to keep stars in check, these moguls wielded unprecedented authority. Such individuals do not exist in Hollywood today, replaced by the MBA graduate and bean-counter, interested exclusively in immediate profits and relying almost exclusively on clever marketing to dictate choices being made. What has happened to Hollywood today is a rather sad homogenization of its product and people; movies looking like other movies, and, celebrities aping the iconography popularized by a handful of legends. The perennially youthful and optimistic Debbie Reynolds is, at the writing of this review, 83 years young. But when she passes from this world into the next, the void left behind as an iconic and easily identifiable ‘star’ of the first magnitude will unlikely be replaced by anyone even remotely able to resemble this great lady. No, Hollywood today is rife with copycats. Originality is rare.  As an interesting aside, Reynold and MacLaine patched up their differences, MacLaine, with Debbie’s blessing, playing a part loosely based on Reynolds for 1990’s Postcards from the Edge; a celebratory tale of mother/daughter friction penned by Reynold’s daughter, Carrie ‘Princess Leia’ Fisher.
The Warner Archive Blu-ray of The Unsinkable Molly Brown is exactly what you would expect – in a word: superb. Shot in glorious Panavision, the image is an exquisite reference quality offering with deep, rich and fully saturated colors. The lush outdoorsy greenery and blood reds employed to decorate Molly Brown’s Denver mansion in particular, are lush and very vibrant. Flesh tones – pitch perfect. Contrast is solid and fine details pop in a way that make it easy to appreciate E. Preston Ames and George W. Davis’ production design; ditto, for Morton Haack’s absolutely gorgeous costumes. The whole affair is luminously photographed by Daniel L. Fapp, whose artistry is beyond reproach. Despite MGM’s cost-cutting efforts, The Unsinkable Molly Brown looks every bit the A-list grand and gargantuan Panavision spectacle you would expect from the studio that practically invented, and quite easily perfected the Hollywood musical in its heyday, and, in 1080p it is a sheer wonderment to behold. What a joy to see the film looking like this again. Hey, we ain’t down yet!  The Warner Archive’s remastered DTS 5.1 is breathtaking, capturing the opening night splendor of the movie’s original magnetic stereo audio. Bass tonality is greatly advanced and the score will leave you tapping your toes as never before. Extras are limited. We get the vintage featurette: The Story of a Dress – promoting Morton Haack’s costuming and a vintage trailer. Bottom line: one of the greatest of all movie musicals, and a tour de force for Debbie Reynolds, now comes to exhilaratingly to life as never before. This is what Blu-ray mastering is all about and once again, we doff our caps to the Warner Archive for preserving their 20th century’s cultural heritage for decades yet to follow. A no-brainer/must have purchase. Buy today. Treasure forever.
FILM RATING (out of 5 – 5 being the best)


Sunday, June 19, 2016

JAWS 3: Blu-ray (Universal, 1983) Universal Home Video

Right off the bat, I sincerely warn the reader of this piece my blood pressure is presently boiling. I am not going to spend a lot of time on Jaws 3 (1983) in 3-D (or 2D for that matter), if for no other reason than Universal Home Video’s complete lack of appreciation for remastering catalog has reached a new all-time low with this Blu-ray, absent in any sort of quality control that would make me even remotely want to recommend this disc to my readership. Abject disgust is the best way I can officially describe what I am seeing here; digitized film grain, so harsh and unappealing, it all but renders practically every scene photographed at night virtually unwatchable. If you are viewing Jaws 3 in 3D, then the amplification of this digitized grain is absurdly and inexplicably more pronounced in the right eye than the left. But if you are viewing the flat version, then the all-around image quality is an unmitigated mess. This anomaly – I repeat – ‘this anomaly’ IS NOT the result of the over-and-under 3D system employed; the standard 35mm film frame split down the middle to create two separate and slightly misaligned images, reconfigured during projection in theaters to mimic the illusion of a ‘third dimension in terror’. Rather, Universal Home Video has been horrendously remiss in their remastering efforts. What a crock and a sham – advertising ‘Jaws 3 in 3D’, and, in HD with theater quality sound without adding the word ‘bad’ in front of it.  
To repeat yet again, if ad nauseam, it is NOT in the nature of any film-based elements to so inexplicably alternate between normal ‘obvious’ grain patterns to dense as sand grit imagery; especially as both the left and right images are presumably culled from a single ‘split’ frame of exposed camera negative. But herein, it is as though the left eye elements went through some sort of digital clean-up, while the right eye’s were all but ignored and/or given no consideration. Even more lethal, is the vertical misalignment of the two images when viewing the 3D version, causing disturbing – and headache-inducing halos of color. The question then remains, why release Jaws 3 – either in 3D or 2D – if time, attention and moneys were not to be allocated to ensure even a base level of quality control. Few Blu-ray releases of this past decade have so completely outraged me. And Jaws 3, for all its wonderment and woes, is hardly the idiotic turkey most critics have come to regard it over the last few generations. Unquestionably, the production suffers from some tedious special effects. I mean, the palsy-stricken shark, approaching SeaWorld’s central command post during the climactic showdown, is not even wagging its dorsal or tail fins; the moment taken to the height of absurdity by a slow-mo reaction shot of the principal cast attempting to flee, seconds before shards of window pane glass and a flood come hurtling at the audience. Virtually every stereoscopic shot of the great white gives immediate recognition to some very sloppy model and matte work.  Point blank: it’s impossible to take any of it seriously.
That said, at least by 1983 standards, the cheese – laid rather thick from end to end – is salvageable; the tone of the piece suggesting a good time was had by most of the cast, even if story elements are a wafer-thin retread of everything that has transpired in the first two movies. Indeed, David Brown and Richard Zanuck, the apparent custodians of this franchise, had absolutely no part in this mangled third bite at the box office; Brown and Zanuck each proposing to Universal they gird their creative loins to make a riotous satire rather than another serious movie to scare the hell out of their audiences. In hindsight, Brown and Zanuck unintentionally got their wish; director, John Alves quite unable to do anything more or better than occasionally fill the screen with some truly grotesque bloodletting. While Jaws and Jaws 2 could effectively be classified as PG-rated ‘suspense’ movies, with a little bit of horror seeping in from the peripheries, Jaws 3D is an unabashed feeding frenzy, delving deep into every horror movie cliché run amuck. Still, as transparently realized ‘camp’, it’s not all that bad and, on occasion, still manages to entertain.  
No, I am not one of those who continue to attest to ‘the greatness’ of the picture, citing such things as the shark’s deliberately calculated propensity, manifested with the psychological complexity of a serial killer. Rather than simply attacking its victims to feed its insatiable base hunger, this great white systematically picks off its prey in new and truly horrifying ways. It skins one man alive, severs another in two and to the bare bone, and, precisely chews on another it has only just swallowed whole until the victim is crushed to death and simultaneously drowned, left lying in half-bloodied repose on the big fish’s soft palette, clearly visible by another targeted victim who narrowly escapes a similar wrath. The great white threat in Jaws 3D is diabolically villainous; a trait generally not ascribed to…well…fishies in the sea; although expertly inculcated in humanity’s overall impressions as well as nature’s design of the beast itself; those dead ‘doll’s head’ eyes pointing left and right; that massive line of crooked, razor-sharp teeth; its cadaver grey outer skin with silent breathing gills to make it virtually undetectable beneath the surface of the water until it is much too late to do anything except scream, have an accident in one’s swimming trunks and ruthlessly perish. Within the human psyche there are few perils to so completely haunt and upset as effectively as the thought of being devoured by a thirty-five foot really ugly sea monster. Now, juxtapose this elemental fear with a location of sheer tranquility and escapism, a place where we are meant to assume nothing bad could ever happen, and you have some idea as to where the makers of Jaws 3 are prepared to take their audience. Think Disney World and alligators. Or don’t, if you would rather not lose any more sleep over the possibilities. 
We could almost forgive Jaws 3 its innumerable artistic foibles; except, a few are just too awful to recall without a mild chuckle. Paramount among these delectable misfires is Dennis Quaid’s delirious meltdown after being called in to examine the gruesome remains of Sea World’s muscleman, Shelby Overman (Harry Grant), severed, gutted, wormy and missing an eyeball; generally mutilated in all other manners befitting a homicidal maniac. Quaid is cast as Mike Brody, despite the fact he in no way resembles the physical contents of character actor, Mark Gruner, who assumed the role of Chief Brody’s eldest in Jaws 2. Nevertheless, it is Quaid we have to contend with; almost tossing his cookies before commandeering a popcorn go-cart and hurtling like a diarrhea-stricken mad man desperately in search of the loo, whizzing past thoroughly confused bystanders, tearing up a stage platform and wrestling the microphone away from an MC playing host to a garishly staged hoedown; screaming at the top of his lungs for the water skiers sailing past the platform to get out of lagoon before it is too late. I suppose we must cut dear ole Dennis some slack here, because he is, after all, playing a guy thoroughly shell-shocked by the events preceding this movie; quite enough to leave most anyone as clammy as a mackerel tossed from the surf and left to bake and suffocate in the noonday sun.
Until the release of this Blu-ray, Jaws 3 was something of a hallucinogenic anomaly on home video; its various sequences specifically crafted to take full advantage of the stereoscopic process, never able to be fully appreciated in the comfort of one’s living room.  And Alves, knowing full and well he is making a 3D movie, is perversely determined to give the audience what they have paid good money to see – a screen filled with projectile objects, some more inanimate than others – careering from the screen, or, even more disturbingly, trapped and looming in this ethereal third-dimension, like the disemboweled head of a catfish, barely a minute into the main titles, the fish itself snapped in two by the unseen shark, the head left floating in a bloody pool of guts with its reflexive motor functions still opening and closing its mouth. Without the benefit of 3D, Jaws 3 is a 90 minute odyssey into the gaping, and cadaver encrusted mouth of madness. With it, one can better see – or perhaps even appreciate – the proverbial forest for its kelp, the entire movie preying upon a cacophony of human fears: confinement in tight spaces, drowning, being eaten alive, and quite transparently, death – premature or otherwise, and, in whatever manner the reaper may choose to hasten us into an early grave.
Alas, all of the existentialist nonsense in Richard Matheson and Carl Gottlieb’s screenplay, cribbing from an atrocious story idea by Guerdon Trueblood, and with ineffectual dialogue added by Michael Kane (that could have equally come from inspiration gleaned while sitting on the toilet as exercising his creative muscles via real concentration), is obfuscated by shoddy hi-def mastering on Universal’s new Blu-ray. Even so, Matheson was hardly pleased with the results back in 1983; Jaws 3 incongruously shot mostly at SeaWorld Orlando, a landlocked water park, with the illusion cobbled together from inserts of Florida’s Navarre Beach, to suggest a more coastal locale, thus allowing the great white direct access from the ocean to the theme park without having to take the shuttle bus. Universal imposed restrictions upon Matheson; first, that Jaws 3 would continue as the saga of the Brody boys - Michael and Sean (John Puth), now all grown up and ready to become entangled in even ‘fishier’ romances; Michael with forthright marine biologist, Dr. Kathryn ‘Kay’ Morgan (Bess Armstrong), and Sean, brought out of his shell (so to speak) by Kelly Ann Bukowski (Lea Thompson) – a water-skiing tart, all fizz and bounce, with zero substance. Matheson was also ‘requested’ to write a custom-tailored part for Mickey Rooney. This proved utterly pointless after it was discovered Rooney was unavailable to partake. Assessing Jaws 3 shortly after its debut, Matheson had practically nothing good to say. “I’m a good storyteller…if they had done it right and if it had been directed by somebody who knew how to direct, I think it would have been an excellent movie. Jaws 3-D was the only thing Joe Alves ever directed… a very skilled production designer, but as a director - no. It was a waste of time!”
Production notes indicate Jaws 3 began shooting in StereoVision (traditional 3D since the fifties), but then switched over to using ArriVision lenses, virtually untested and therefore unreliable. The difficulties of shooting in 3D were compounded by the heavy use of green screen matte work, the decision to shoot Jaws 3 anamorphically, and, also by special considerations for its underwater photography, necessitating endless retakes. At the time of production, Alves employed two 3D consultants; Chris Condon and Stan Loth, each promoting their own system of 3D. In the trades, Alves went about endorsing Arrivision as the superior 3D; the process employing a special twin-lens adapter fitted to the camera, thus splitting each standard 35mm film frame down the middle; one half capturing the left-eye image, the other, the right-eye. This allowed the studio to keep costs down, as traditional 3D employed a two-camera/two projector setup, each running the left and right eye exposures independently, though perfectly synced to create the stereoscopic illusion. Alas, because the image captured for Jaws 3 was only half the traditional width of standard 35mm; its grain structure was amplified in direct correlation to a loss in overall picture resolution; creating roughly the equivalent image integrity found on an 18mm print master. 
StereoVision’s lenses may have been more fragile than Arrivision, but they produced a more refined image on the whole. Throughout Jaws 3 image quality toggles between a few very crisp and impressive shots inserted here and there, while most of the movie regrettably registers less than, and, on occasion, of a ridiculously poor grade, also slightly out of focus. It is impossible to know for sure (without access to Universal’s private archives) which scenes were shot in StereoVision vs. Arrivision. But there is little to doubt the visual discrepancies, transparently on display throughout Jaws 3. The most disconcerting aspect of Jaws 3 in 3D when projected from its current Blu-ray source is an untoward magnification of onscreen parallax. Actors in extreme foreground have substantial negative parallax, their upper bodies suspended far out into the theater space; while people and objects behind them have virtually none at all and extreme background information has wide positive parallax separation. The effect is both uncanny and unnatural and, I am not entirely certain, inherent to the original source elements. The Blu-ray mastering amplifies these convergence issues. Bottom line: the result is a highly unattractive and artificial-looking 3D image with ringing to the extreme left and right of center; frequently, with the added hindrance of ever so slight misalignment, resulting in messy halos of color. Want a headache? Watch Jaws 3 in 3D. But get your Tylenols out first!
Jaws 3 is basically an extended press junket for the then newly designed SeaWorld theme park, with its underwater caverns playing host to the film’s climactic showdown between man and leviathan. There is not a whole lot of exposition to sink one’s teeth into, but our story begins as yet another great white follows a team of water skiers from their dress rehearsal in the open waters back into the artificially controlled conditions of the park’s man-made lagoon. Distracted by the brawny grace of musclebound scuba diver, Shelby Overman, skier Kelly Ann Bukowski inadvertently causes their water-skiing pyramid to collapse; flailing arms and legs cast downward into the sea. The great white is nearby, but unable to catch up as the skiers are rescued and taken back to the relative safety of SeaWorld. Nevertheless, the shark manages to enter the paddock moments before its security gates are closed, resulting in some minor damage, but otherwise virtually undetected. The construction of this impressive water park has been overseen by Mike Brody, an engineer desperately in love with marine biologist, Dr. Kathryn Morgan. Mike’s just been offered a new gig overseas, Kathryn troubled by the prospect of losing him for eighteen months abroad – later, electing to give up her career instead. 
The park’s president, Calvin Bouchard (Louis Gossett Jr.) is too self-involved with the debut of SeaWorld's latest attraction, a series of glass-enclosed underwater tunnels, to be concerned with minor ‘safety’ issues.  Besides, he has hired high-profile photographer, Philip FitzRoyce (Simon MacCorkindale) – something of a spare-time mercenary precursor to the Crocodile Hunter – to preserve the occasion for posterity.  Hence, Bouchard all but ignores the warning signs his tourist destination is about to become a very fertile feeding ground for a great white shark. First of the victims is Shelby, ordered by Mike to repair a loose-fitting safety mesh below the water line. Aside: is it just me, or are an awful lot of such repairs and other extracurricular activities vital to the park’s operation inexplicably conducted after dark at SeaWorld when visibility beneath the water’s surface is low to impossibly murky? But I digress. Shelby suits up and dives in for closer inspection. But before he can deduce the cause of the mesh’s malfunction, Shelby is made a midnight snack by the shark. The next day, Shelby’s gal pal, Charlene Tutt (Dolores Starling) demands to know the whereabouts of her stud, suspecting he has run off with Kelly Ann. Mike and Kay are perplexed and more than a little concerned. After all, Shelby did not show up for work. So, they elect to take a submersible to the last place where Shelby was seen. While they find no trace of Shelby, the pair is assaulted near the wreck of the Spanish galleon by the great white, narrowly escaping with the aid of Kay’s benevolent and well-trained dolphins, Cindy and Sandy.
Meanwhile, what’s left of Shelby Overman’s brutalized, half-eaten and rotting remains are loosened from the shark’s hiding place, drifting past the windows of the underwater cavern and causing a general panic from the unsuspecting audience to ensue. The grotesquely mangled corpse is brought to the surface for inspection. Bouchard elects to allow FitzRoyce and his second in command, Jack Tate (P.H. Moriarty) a crack at this contemptuous sea monster; FitzRoyce, preparing himself with some homemade grenades. Mike intervenes. He is not about to let FitzRoyce turn his architectural achievement into a demolition site, simply to kill a very large fish. FitzRoyce reluctantly obliges. After some harrying moments underwater, the shark is subdued with a crossbow and tranquilizers. Kay hopes to make it SeaWorld’s proudest attraction – the only great white in captivity in the world. Mike is dead set against it, but gradually comes around, though mostly, to placate his girlfriend. Alas, Bouchard cannot wait for the fish to become properly acclimated to its new surroundings. He orders it moved to a new observation tank. Without proper care, the great white suddenly turns over on its belly and dies. Meanwhile, Shelby’s autopsy confirms some rather disturbing truths. The captured shark could not have killed Shelby Overman. The bite radius is too small. Instead, Kay reasons, its mother did. Before the point can be debated, the great white materializes; larger and meaner than Bouchard had anticipated.
Reacting more out of panic than reason, Mike sprints across the concourse towards the lagoon where the water skiers’ program is already in progress.  One of the skiers swerves to avoid the shark’s dorsal fin, creating a chain reaction that topples all the skiers into the water. Miraculously, no lives are lost. But the shark now turns its attentions on the underwater caverns, striking at their glass suspension bridges and rupturing the watertight compartments. A small group of tourists becomes trapped inside one of these observation hubs, forcing Mike to order immediate repairs to the compromised structure. FitzRoyce and Jack attempt to lure the great white into one of the drainage sewers, trapping it inside. Alas, FitzRoyce’s plan backfires. He is swallowed whole by the vicious creature, crushed inside its soft pallet before he can detonate his hand grenade. Now, the shark turns on SeaWorld’s central command post; Bouchard unable to fathom the audacity of this perfect killing machine as it breaks through the glass, flooding the room and killing his nephew, Fred (Alonzo Ward). Narrowly escaping the deluge, Bouchard and an assistant flee for their lives, leaving Kay and Mike to play a dangerous game of chicken with the shark. As the monster opens its mouth, Kay sees FitzRoyce’s remains loosely bobbing about inside; his arm still clutching the hand grenade. Using a metal hook, after several failed attempts Mike manages to pull out its pin. Kay and Mike take cover under a sunken desk moments before the shark is blown to bits. Unharmed by their ordeal, Kay and Mike swim to the surface, accompanied by Cindy and Sandy.
Jaws 3D is a benign actioner at best with some truly hokey bits inserted to anesthetize the senses. As a serious third installment to the franchise, but especially as a 'horror movie', it miserably flops and flounders. However, as minor camp with some truly horrific examples of blue-screen/matte process work as inarticulately stitched together with stereoscopic SFX, it has both its place and pleasures to be had. One can find a soft spot – either in the heart or head – for such truly awful movies, chiefly because all the participants are pulling together rather desperately to make everything work. Louis Gossett Jr.’s performance is so dim-wittedly over-the-top, one can easily forget that here was an actor destined to win an Oscar for his role as the crusty drill sergeant in 1982’s An Officer and a Gentleman. Oh, how the mighty have fallen! From a purely narrative perspective, Jaws 3 is a total washout. The brotherly bond between the Brody boys is rendered moot midway through the movie. In fact, the Matheson/Gottlieb screenplay rather unceremoniously tosses Sean back into the sea, or rather, beached off to the sidelines, as the arc of tension shifts to Mike and FitzRoyce’s various booby-hatched plots to put an end to this underwater killer.
After only a few bromantic sequences, a cute meet with Kelly Ann, and, one moonlit swim and make-out session in his underwear, the movie completely forgets this younger Brody even exists. It’s probably just as well; John Puth isn’t much of an actor or even a presence. The least successful is Dennis Quaid; suffering an attack of the ‘stud factor’; attempting to harness the reins of his supposed ‘authority figure’ as Jaws 3’s ‘big man on campus’; arguably, misguided in believing his own PR as the picture’s (choke!) leading man. Silly boy – it’s the shark they have come to see! I honestly do not get why Quaid has had a career. He never rises above a rank and very bland incarnation of himself in anything I have ever seen him in; Jaws 3 about par for the course of his proficiency – or lack thereof – as an actor. Stardom is often built on far less, but in Quaid’s case I will make the exception. He is nothing like a good actor or a memorable movie star. The most underrated in this piece is Bess Armstrong; an all but forgotten and discarded actress, despite a steady list of credits, relegated mostly to cameo parts; she showed infinitely more promise in Jaws 3 than almost any of her stilted male counterparts. Badly scripted, ill-conceived, and utterly relying on the gimmick of 3D as a crutch to draw in the audience and generate its thrills, Jaws 3D is sickeningly bad with very few redeemable qualities to recommend it. Oddly enough, I still fondly recall the movie as a highlight of my own Saturday matinee experiences growing up; then, as an impressionable eleven year old, exactly the sort of navel-gazing rube for which such drivel was designed and would marginally appeal as diverting fluff, if a very – very - poor excuse to go into the theater.
It is criminal what Universal has done to this Blu-ray transfer. Just when you thought it was safe to buy Blu-rays from Universal Home Video again comes this monumentally atrocious effort; so completely bungled, I am obliged to offer up the following advice – do not waste your moneyperiod! For all of the aforementioned reasons discussed, Jaws 3D is a painful experience to muddle through. The plot is excusable. The quality issues are not. Graininess aside, it is the over-processed image, suffering from hideous amounts of pixelization, and encumbered by some genuinely flawed misalignment, further marred by age-related artifacts and other anomalies not inherent in the original film elements that lead me to so completely reject this disc as anything better than a Frisbee. Fling – into the ash can with you. The 5.1 DTS audio is average and passable. But the image quality, either in 3D or 2D, is so overly processed, so utterly digitized and so woefully substandard to anything I have seen in a very long while, I simply cannot recommend it. DO NOT BUY THIS DISC! Enough said.
FILM RATING (out of 5 – 5 being the best)

JAWS 2: Blu-ray (Universal 1978) Universal Home Video

“Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the (theater)…”  It is difficult, if not impossible to imagine a time when summer blockbusters did not rule the roost in Hollywood. But prior to Steven Spielberg’s Jaws (1975), the industry had pretty much parceled out its winners, along with its losers, in a fairly non-discriminate and evenly timed spread throughout the year, hoping against hope every picture they made would turn a handsome profit to keep them afloat. The 1970’s were generally a time of great uncertainty for anyone working in the movies. The venerable MGM – the biggest, brightest and most powerful studio in the biz had fallen to Las Vegas financier, Kirk Kerkorian, who wasted no time pillaging its vast warehouses, bulldozing its back lots and effectively dismantling its production facilities. 2oth Century-Fox experienced several seismic shifts in its boardroom, effectively ousting both Darryl F. and Richard Zanuck from their coveted perches; Fox, no more the pop n’ son run studio. Most of the big empires of yesteryear were taken over by companies whose executive brain trust possessed neither the wherewithal nor the interest to ‘run’ a movie studio (except, maybe into the ground), though very much interested in the ‘real estate’ that went along with it; thus, Gulf + Western acquired Paramount – ever-threatening to shudder its facilities for good (a fate narrowly averted by an impassioned plea and string of successful pictures put into production by newly appointed V.P. Robert Evans). Warner Bros. was acquired by Kinney – a mortuary conglomerate! Some would argue this latter acquisition rather fitting, given the perilous state of the movie-making business then, already collectively put on life support and in very real danger of expiring before the decade was through. Pundits in Variety – the showbiz Bible - began to eulogize the end of an era. ‘Movies’ so it was foretold, would be a fondly recalled pastime in the American experience, like riding in a horse and buggy or having fresh milk daily delivered to the front stoop. Ah, but the industry was far from dead and about to experience one of its most miraculous reprieves.
In this era before ‘clever’ market research took over (and frankly, utterly decimated the chances for originality to proliferate in the marketplace) Hollywood in general – and Universal Studios in particular, judged movies on a picture-by-picture basis. Franchises were a rarity. Even so, the truly epic grosses on Spielberg’s Jaws (it made a whopping $470 million on a $9m budget) necessitated a follow-up, if for no other reason, than to see if ‘the fluke’ could be duplicated, and later, turned into a hat trick. Alas, Spielberg wanted absolutely no part of it, adding, “making a sequel to anything is just a cheap carny trick.” Given Spielberg’s later about-face on the prospect, perhaps he had merely been rash in recalling the hellacious setbacks befallen him while hand-crafting his masterpiece (constant studio interference, daily threats to cancel the shoot, a mechanical shark that would not behave as designed, inclement weather, and chronic bouts of sea sickness, etc. et al). Besides, Spielberg was still in the ‘creation’ phase of his career, with bigger, brighter and decidedly better stories yet to tell. Thus, even the word ‘sequel’ seemed hateful and, decidedly, not in his lexicon. Yet, if a sequel ‘had’ to be made, then executive producers, David Brown and Richard Zanuck were unwilling to allowing anyone else to do it. And so, came director, Jeannot Szwarc’s Jaws 2 (1978) like the proverbial ‘fish out of water’, schlepping all the way back to Amity, U.S.A. (or rather, Martha’s Vineyard and Navarre Beach in Florida, with a few underwater inserts shot along the coral reefs near Catalina Island).
Almost immediately Brown and Zanuck were faced with a series of stalemates that threatened to cancel the sequel for good. Their original choice of director after Spielberg refused to partake, John D. Hancock, had been enticed to the project by a thin outline, later fleshed out by Arthur C. Clarke (of 2001 celebrity); a narrative meant to explore a mysterious object implanted at the bottom of the sea, providing artificial intelligence to the great white sharks, and, drawing on the speech given by Robert Shaw in the original movie, about the sinking of the Indianapolis and subsequent ordeal of its survivors at sea – a thousand men, picked off to three hundred by repeated and ravenous shark attacks.  Shaw’s monologue may have been one of the most memorable moments in Jaws, but it seemed poor fodder for a sequel – at least to Brown and Zanuck, electing to take their audiences back to more familiar territory. Hence, Jaws 2 would return to the fictional town of Amity and more familiar faces: Roy Scheider, Lorraine Gary and Murray Hamilton among them. Ironically, it was this paralleling of events first explored in the original movie that began to weigh on Scheider, who frequently clashed with third choice of director, Jeannot Szwarc on the set; the screenplay by Carl Gottlieb and Howard Sackler not so much of a continuation as a retread. Nevertheless, the informality proved a comfort to audiences in between those otherwise nail-biting moments of tension Szwarc managed to create in the vein and style of Spielberg’s classic.
The best that can be said of Szwarc’s direction is that it convincingly apes Spielberg’s finessed nuances in the original Jaws; capturing his cadence if not entirely his flair, but equally providing an overriding arc of visual continuity between both movies. It is, in fact, quite possible to watch Jaws and Jaws 2 back to back and feel as if never having left the beach; Roy Scheider, looking as though he has only just come from the water, having survived the previous confrontation with the great white; still Amity’s amiable sheriff, Martin Brody, still married to the ever-devoted Ellen (Gary), still hamstrung by Mayor Larry Vaughn’s (Hamilton) blind ignorance of the overwhelming facts and micromanagement of the pending tourist season; Vaughn’s thirst for the all-mighty buck preceding any and all common sense until, of course, it’s too late.  Jaws 2 has enough of the original elemental jabs of pleasure – and terror – stolen from its predecessor to overcome and/or mask any major misgivings in its artistic ennui; the central performances solid and appealing, backed by some convincing cameos. Yes, the picture relies a tad too heavily on the infusion of ‘teen culture’ to appeal to the ‘youth market’; Brody’s boysMike (Mark Gruner) and Sean (Marc Gilpin) sufficiently aged, placed in imminent peril along with a host of other taut young flesh, some surviving the carnage; others, not so lucky.  And yes, the likes of a Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfus are sorely missed – the latter, having survived in Jaws but, like Spielberg, refusing to return to the scene, replaced by the only so-so Collin Wilcox Paxton in a pitilessly brief cameo as Dr. Lureen Elkins.  On the whole, Jaws 2 is not as lethally leaden or turgid as many critics then and now continue to suggest.
After original director, John D. Hancock’s aforementioned concept for Jaws 2 was rejected by Universal President Sidney Sheinberg, the newly revised screenplay began with a return to Amity, now something of a ghost-town; the tourist trade killed off by the events established in the first movie. Developer, Len Peterson (Joseph Mascolo) and Mayor Vaughn are desperate to see their new joint venture into condo and resort development succeed, partly to revitalize the local economy, but moreover, because their investments have come from mob money they are, as yet, unable to pay back. Depending on the source, Hancock was either fired for this darker introduction to the picture, his proposed plans to shoot a sequence where Ellen Brody goes out in a boat to rescue her children, for ongoing malfunctions with the mechanical shark – resulting in costly delays – or, for his firing of another actress in a minor role who also turned out to be the girlfriend of one of Universal’s more prominent executives.  It took eighteen months for Universal to tire of Hancock. In the interim, Spielberg was rumored to have had a change of heart regarding ‘sequels’; in fact, having ironed out the details of a screenplay based on Quint’s Indianapolis speech, submitted to Universal for further consideration. Whether or not Universal ever entertained either this script or recalling Spielberg back into the fold is moot, since his commitments on Close Encounters of the Third Kind would have delayed production on Jaws 2 by more than a year – a span of time the studio could not afford to squander waiting around for anybody.  Instead, they brought back Carl Gottlieb to revise Hancock’s script, lightening the mood and trimming down the violence to ensure a PG rating. It was Gottlieb who brought back Brody’s ineffectual Deputy Sheriff (Jeffrey Kramer); a superb comic foil. Gottlieb also added carefully placed pithy one liners, elevating the sarcasm to better compliment the tension, rather than defuse it. When all was said and done, Gottlieb could be proud of his efforts on Jaws 2. But it is rumored his stipend for these rewrites cost Universal more than if they had simply hired him to write the screenplay from scratch.
The still rudderless project was then pitched to Universal to be co-directed by Production Designer Joe Alves (later to helm Jaws 3-D) and Verna Fields (recently promoted to VP); a proposal shot down by the Directors Guild of America. With time critical to meet the release date, Universal offered the captain’s wheel to Jeannot Szwarc, a director of limited film and TV experience, brought in haste, who elected to stage the complex water-skiing sequences first, thus giving Gottlieb more time to massage out the dramatic kinks in the rest of the story. Szwarc was adamant Jaws 2 give audiences what they had come to see – the shark. In the original film, Spielberg delayed this ‘big reveal’ out of necessity – the mechanical shark designed for Jaws never working to his satisfaction. Hence, Spielberg used his imagination to convey its menace; relying heavily on John Williams’ score to heighten its foreboding. This would not do for a sequel, however, the audience already primed by what they had seen in the first movie. Thus, while Szwarc busied himself off the coast of Florida cooking up new ways to show just enough of the shark to keep audiences sweaty-palmed in their seats, SFX Mechanical Supervisors, Robert Mattey and Roy Arbogast set about building three new sharks for Jaws 2; adding a scar across its rubberized right cheek, presumably a wound incurred by a boat explosion. The pair was also responsible for designing Cable Junction; the fictional power station built as a rescue port for the movie’s climactic showdown. In reality, Cable Junction was little more than a floating barge covered in fiberglass rocks.
As before, shooting Jaws 2 off coastal waters proved a trial by fire; cast and crew repeatedly tested by restlessly shifting tides and winds, also by jellyfish, real sharks, waterspouts and several hurricane warnings. Szwarc was to discover to his chagrin the salt water corroded the metal mechanical workings of his sharks, causing their complicated hydraulics to repeatedly seize. One evening, the director was also notified Cable Junction had broken loose from its moorings and was already drifting, heading toward Cuba. Patience was further strained by Roy Scheider’s absolute contempt for Szwarc. At one point a physical altercation broke out between the two, resulting in David Brown and Verna Field having to intervene to restore the peace. Scheider had, in fact, resisted partaking of this exercise, cajoled by Sidney Sheinberg who promised to absolve the actor from his prior 3-picture commitment to Universal if he agreed to do Jaws 2.  To further sweeten the deal, Sheinberg quadrupled Scheider’s base salary, adding a percentage of the profits to their agreement. Reportedly, Scheider collected a cool $500,000 for a mere 12 weeks work, plus $35,000 for each additional week of overruns. Estimates differ, but costly delays and minor mishaps aside, Szwarc and his crew would continue to patronize local businesses for constant repairs to the tune of $400,000. By some accounts, over $80,000 per day was spent in Florida; the picture’s final budget topping out at a then staggering $30 million; three times what it had cost to make the original movie and making Jaws 2 the most expensive movie ever produced by Universal to date. Arguably, the results were worth it; Jaws 2 grossing somewhere between $187 and 209 million at the box office – a colossal hit and the highest grossing sequel of all time up to that point.   
Our story begins at the bottom of the waters just off Amity Island; two non-descript novice scuba divers in search of the infamous wreck of the Orca. They find the sunken ship and prepare to take several photographs with their underwater camera. Alas, the sudden appearance of a great white startles both men, each almost immediately devoured as the automatic shutter on their camera continues to snap photos of the bloody carnage taking place. We surface top-side; Chief Martin Brody hurrying by ferry to Amity Island; late for the ribbon-cutting ceremony to inaugurate Len Peterson’s new seaside resort. Ellen Brody is doing Len’s publicity. While Mayor Vaughn delivers a speech with his usual flair for pontification, Martin quietly observes as his wife is somewhat manhandled by her boss. This doesn’t sit well with Martin, although he is big enough to realize Ellen can fight her own battles without his intervention. The couple’s two sons, Mike and Sean are islanders with a passion for sailing; particularly Mike, whose teen entourage of friends would much rather wallow away their afternoons than get part-time jobs; something Martin wants Mike to do this year to start saving money for college. Meanwhile the great white strikes a second time, devouring Terri (Christine Freeman), a water skier being dragged behind a speed boat driven by her mother, Diane (Jean Coulter). At first Diane does not realize her daughter has slipped beneath the waves. However, as she circles back in search of Terri, Diane’s boat is nearly capsized by the shark. In fear for her life, Diane attempts to douse it in gasoline, spilling more on herself in the process and, in full panic mode, firing a flare gun to repel the attack. The flammable liquid ignites and the boat is incinerated in a hellish explosion, witnessed by two of Mike’s friends, Tina Wilcox (Ann Dusenberry) and Eddie Marchand (Gary Dubin), who are making out on the beach, and, an old woman (Susan French), who telephones the incident in to Brody’s office.
The explosion has severely scarred the great white, though hardly deterred it from pursuing an ambitious campaign of terror. A day later, Tina and her friends stumble upon the rotting remains of a killer whale washed ashore near a lighthouse. The mammal has several prominent bite marks. Suspecting the worse, Brody alerts Mayor Vaughn they may have another shark problem on their hands; a hypothesis concurred by Dr. Elkins who has measured the bite radius. Vaughn is, as before, extremely apprehensive about revealing these findings to the community at large. After all, he has the welfare of the community – also, his own pocket book – to consider. Besides, he is quite willing to chalk up the explosion as a ‘boating accident’ and nothing more, despite the fact Brody has managed to recover Diane’s grotesquely charred remains from the surf, still clinging to a piece of driftwood from the wreck. Brody is mildly disgusted by Vaughn’s callousness, electing to act as a lookout with a pair of binoculars atop the beach’s observation deck. Vaughn is very nervous, especially since he and Len have brought a bevy of reporters to the beach that very afternoon to announce ‘Phase Two’ of their development project – upscale condos. Too bad for everyone, Brody becomes distracted by a school of bluefish fast approaching the shore, Mistaking them for a great white about to turn the afternoon bathers into a feeding frenzy, Brody begins shouting orders in a panic from his perch, hurrying to ground level, pistols drawn as both Sean and Michael look on. The crowd is terrorized, but more so by Brody’s erratic behavior; the scene witnessed by the reporters too, who suspect someone in Amity is not telling the whole truth. Enraged by this display, Vaughn calls an emergency town council meeting and, with the other members, votes Brody out of a job, appointing his ineffectual Deputy, Hendricks the new purveyor of the law.
Martin returns home to find Ellen comforting as ever. She can see how the events he suffered through a few years ago are still ever-present even now. Nevertheless, Martin is self-deprecating. He gets properly pissed to drown his sorrows. However, before this, he permanently grounds Mike. No sailing from now on. This, however, puts a definite crimp in Mike’s plans to woo Jackie Peters (Donna Wilkes) the new girl in town. So, while Martin is sleeping off his hangover, Mike elects to steal the keys to his truck. The getaway is thwarted by Sean, who forces Mike to take him along.  At the docks, one of Mike’s friends, Marge (Martha Swatek) agrees to take custody of Sean, who just seems to be getting in Mike’s way. The sailing entourage is rounded out by Jackie, Eddie, Tina, Timmy (G. Thomas Dunlop), Brooke Peters (Gigi Vorgan), Bob (Billy Van Zandt) and Doug Fetterman (Keith Gordon). En route to their prearranged destination, the small collection of catamarans pass a team of divers, led by instructor, Tom Andrews (Barry Coe). But today, their deep sea expedition will prove anything but routine; Tom narrowly escaping his own encounter with the great white. Panicking, he rises to the surface too quickly and suffers an embolism as a result. 
Meanwhile Eddie and Tina elect to remain a ‘safe’ distance behind the rest of the group; Eddie, hoping to initiate a little romance on the side. Regrettably, love is not in the air. Without warning or provocation, their small boat is broadsided by the shark, causing Eddie to be tossed overboard. The great white drags the boat with Tina still inside it some thirty feet ahead before setting it adrift. Now, the shark circles back for Eddie, unable to swim for it before he is dragged under and devoured. Perhaps to add a bit of verisimilitude to this moment, actor Gary Dubin could not swim a stroke; his look of complete fear during this sequence genuinely felt, despite being surrounded by skilled divers just below the water’s surface. Tina is left shell-shocked and very much isolated in the middle of nowhere. Back on the mainland, Brody suspects Tom’s fear was hastened by an encounter with a shark. When the pictures from the recovered diver’s camera are developed they reveal a blurry image of the great white. Still, Len, Mayor Vaughn and others, sitting on town council fail to acknowledge it as such. Frustrated, Brody now learns Mike has disobeyed his direct orders. With Deputy Hendricks’ complicity, Brody and Ellen sail the police coast guard boat toward open waters, eventually happening upon Eddie’s boat, seemingly deserted. Mercifully, Brody discovers Tina huddled at the bow and wracked with fear. Her slurred declarations of “sh…shark!” tells Brody all he needs to know. Leaving, Tina in Ellen and Hendricks’ care, Martin now makes for the open waters alone.
Alas, Brody is too late to prevent the shark from cold-bloodedly attacking the teens. At one point, Mike is knocked unconscious and thrown into the water; narrowly pulled to safety by his friends. Marge is not so lucky. In attempting to rescue Sean, she is swallowed whole by the great white as the others look on. Experiencing a brief lull between attacks, Jackie leads everyone in a solemn prayer; a sequence directly inspired by Théodore Géricault’s famous French painting, Le Radeau de la Méduse (a.k.a. The Wreck of the Medusa 1818–1819). As the beleaguered troop float towards Cable Junction, they are spotted by a Coast Guard marine helicopter. The pilot (Jerry M. Baxter) successfully lands the copter on its pontoons, offering to toss the kids a towline. But then the shark emerges, as bloodthirsty as ever, sinking its teeth into one of the pontoons and dragging the entire craft beneath the surface of the ocean; the spinning blades suddenly flung from the centrifuge, the projectile remnants decapitating the catamarans’ sails. The teens are now left to drift, presumably out to sea or until the shark returns to finish them off.  Mike directs his father to Cable Junction where Brody is reunited with the rest of his son’s friends, understandably grateful to see him. However, before Brody can toss them a towline, the great white attacks. In the resulting chaos, the teens abandon their makeshift rafts to swim for the island; Brody enticing the shark to attack his vessel instead. His towline has snagged a heavy underwater electrical cable. To put an end to this man-eating leviathan once and for all, Brody uses himself as bait, goading the shark into its final approach with the electric cable held in front of him. The great white leaps out of the water and bites down hard on the cable, electrocuting itself in a fiery short circuit as everyone look on in horror, then elation. Their ordeal at an end, Brody collects the survivors into the Coast Guard boat and prepares to turn around for home.
In hindsight, Jaws 2 is an affecting and effective sequel in ways far too many sequels in any genre fail to fully realize. Director, Jeannot Szwarc really does not get enough love or respect for his sophistication in telling – or rather, retelling - this rather straight-forward ‘shark eats man’ horror movie; his last-minute inventiveness, salvaging the picture from going even more over budget than it ultimately did, but also, grounding its more fantastic elements and danger in a solidly handcrafted mélange that not only finds its peaks to scare, shock and revile, but gradually builds upon an exceptional tautness, whipped into a veritable – almost western genre-inspired showdown for the movie’s climax. Despite innumerable setbacks that might have caused another director to simply move on and finish the damn thing half-heartedly, Szwarc is giving us the very best he has to offer; his ingenuity on display in virtually every shot; finding new and highly intelligent visualizations to cover a lot of the same narrative territory. It is still a ‘shark eats man’ story – remember? But Szwarc comes up with some truly efficient moments that work both as homage to the original movie, but more importantly, as sheer thrills to excite anew this second time around. Jaws 2 is a standalone piece. It doffs its cap to Spielberg’s masterpiece, but does not fall all that short of becoming one in its own right. Critics of the day did not agree. But hey, what do the critics know anyway?!? 
Just when you thought it was safe to start buying Universal Blu-rays again, the studio has fallen back on providing us with substandard examples of how ‘not to’ master any movie, much less a deep catalog classic in hi-def. Honestly, folks; at this late stage in the game none of us should be shopping for Blu-rays that barely offer any improvement over the transfer quality we already own on DVD! Jaws 2 on Blu-ray is not quite the disaster Jaws 3 in 3D is; but more on this another time and in another review. Still, it will decidedly not win any awards for best mastered disc of the year. Universal cannot even work up a lather to spend the necessary funds to restore their own studio credit that precedes this movie; the vintage ‘spinning globe’ logo with advancing ‘Universal’ lettering utterly riddled in age-related dirt and debris, also hints of edge enhancement that continues to crop up sporadically throughout the rest of this 1080p presentation. Mercifully, the rest of the image is considerably cleaner than the logo; a few white specks floating around, and the occasional scratch. This begs the question, if so little more was required to make this Blu-ray perfect, why couldn’t Universal simply suck up the difference and do right by one of the crown jewels in their canon?
Jaws 2’s visuals are occasionally sharp. But more often they fall into a mid-register of less than film-like softness, suffering from an inexplicable haze. Colors are generally vibrant. A few of the underwater sequences are stunning, and most of the exterior shots exhibit warm, bright hues with sufficient contrast. Things become murky – something very murky indeed. We lose a lot of fine detail in dimly lit interiors and night scenes; the image not only softly focused but suffering from less than perfect contrast. Again, not a travesty, but hardly great – on occasion – not even ‘good’. Also, the new DTS 5.1 has its issues; bass levels during John Williams’ opening theme obscenely distorted at normal listening levels. Lowering the bass on a receiver or TV corrects this issue, but it also deprives us of virtually all low end frequencies thereafter. Universal has ported over all of the extras it afforded its DVD release; featurettes on the making of, John Williams’ score, and reflections provided by Keith Gordon, plus deleted scenes, stills gallery and a badly worn trailer. Virtually NONE of these extras have been remastered in 1080p, exhibiting heavy edge effects and other video-based noise and distortions. Honestly, I don’t know what I expected from Universal’s release of Jaws 2. I only know this disc did not live up to my expectations. The image quality for the movie is only a marginal improvement over the old DVD release. Judge and buy accordingly. But do not expect perfection or anything even close to it.  Regrets.
FILM RATING (out of 5 – 5 being the best)


Friday, June 17, 2016

AIRPORT: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION: Blu-ray (Universal 1970, '75, '77, 79) Universal Home Video

The granddaddy of all disaster in the air epics remains, George Seaton’s Airport (1970) – although personally I have never understood why the film wasn’t titled ‘Airplane’, since the perils faced by passengers aboard a Boeing 707 occur in the skies, not on the ground. Airport is an all-star extravaganza that really owes its heritage to all those glamorous melodramas of the 1930s, like Grand Hotel (1932) and Dinner At Eight (1933) than the ensemble disaster classics it so obviously, at least in retrospect, ushered in; The Poseidon Adventure (1972), The Towering Inferno (1974) and Earthquake (1974). Airport has more than a hint of frothiness for operatic melodrama best exemplified in films like MGM’s The VIP’s (1963) and The Yellow Rolls Royce (1964). Arguably, it is also a direct descendant of the John Wayne classic, The High and the Mighty (1954); the ‘original’ tale of looming ‘in-flight’ catastrophe. Airport is very loosely based on Arthur Hailey’s novel, heavily rewritten for the screen by Seaton and an unaccredited Henry Hathaway. The plot is pure, and occasionally magnificent, pulp, mostly focusing on a disgruntled and mentally unstable demolitions expert, D.O. Guerrero (Van Heflin in his last screen role) who has decided to spare his wife, Inez (Maureen Stapleton) the indignation of living their sad, lonely and impoverished existence any longer. To this end, Guerrero takes out a life insurance policy, then plots to kill himself so that Inez can collect. The wrinkle, of course, is that the company will not pay for a suicide. The only way for Inez to get her money’s worth is if the death looks like a terrible accident.
So, Guerrero devises a ridiculous scenario. He’ll use his last bit of savings to buy a ticket on The Golden Argosy – an intercontinental jet currently snowbound in Chicago, but scheduled for a flight to Rome. Once the plane is airborne over the Atlantic, Guerrero will detonate the homemade bomb he’s smuggled aboard in his suitcase, thereby blowing up the plane and everyone in it, with no chance of a proper investigation to reveal the true cause of the disaster. Of course, subplots abound. For starters, there is the very adversarial relationship between arrogant pilot, Capt. Vernon Demerest (Dean Martin) who is trying to depose his brother-in-law, Mel Bakersfeld (Burt Lancaster) as the general manager of Trans-Global Airways. Demerest is married to Mel’s sister, Sarah (Barbara Hale) but is also having a torrid romance with flight attendant, Gwen Meighen (Jacqueline Bisset) who has since become pregnant. Already decided to have her baby and then put it up for adoption, Gwen will spend the bulk of the narrative contemplating any future in their flawed relationship.
Meanwhile, Bakersfeld is under a heap of stress for what has been largely misperceived by Commissioner Ackerman (Larry Gates) as a mismanagement of the airport’s resources. Actually, Bakersfeld has sacrificed everything, including his marriage to Cindy (Dana Wynter), to be a hands on, 24/7 level-headed voice of experience for the ailing airline. Currently his woes are focused on Flight 45, a Boeing 707 run aground during a violent snowstorm. The beached plane requires immediate attention to clear it off the runway. Bakersfeld telephones his maintenance expert, Joe Patroni (George Kennedy) who was all set for a romantic evening with his wife, Marie (Jodean Russo) but willingly agrees to rush in to handle this latest debacle. On the home front, Bakersfeld has been having his own on again/off again affair with Trans-Global’s Customer Relations Manager, Tanya Livingston (Jean Seberg). She is mostly sympathetic to Bakersfeld’s marital situation, but has practically decided to take another job in San Francisco because she has wisely assessed their love affair is at a standstill.
Finally, there’s Ada Quonsett (Helen Hayes); a pensioned widow and loveably resourceful con artist, caught stowing away on another Trans-Global flight. The wily old lady freely admits to Bakersfeld and Livingston in her own inimitably devil-may-care way that she has been taking free flights for years to visit her daughter in New York. Bakersfeld finds Ada charming. But Livingston lowers the boom on the dowager, assigning clerk, Peter Coakley (John Findlater) to see Ada safely sent home. Of course, the clever con finds ways to escape her naïve escort, this time by faking illness that necessitates Peter going in search of a doctor. Ada then exploits an old trick of telling the counter personnel her son has already boarded the Golden Argosy without his wallet and asks if she can return it to him. Meanwhile, well on his way to a complete nervous breakdown, Guerrero arrives at the airport and takes out extra insurance for the flight, mailing the voucher to Inez before boarding the plane. But Gurrero’s suspicious refusal to allow anyone else to handle his briefcase, and, his rather panged expression raises the dander of U.S. Customs Officer Harry Standish (Lloyd Nolan). After all, he has just caught Mrs. Harriet Du Barry Mossman (Jessie Royce Landis) endeavoring to smuggle a diamond bracelet in the collar of her dog. Standish alerts Livingston about Guerrero, who tells Bakerfeld, who opts to do nothing for fear of a liable suit. That is, until all of them learn of Guerrero’s intensions from a very distraught and nearly catatonic Inez.
But by then it is too late. The Golden Argosy is in flight. Bakersfeld alerts Demerest to the fact he has a stowaway and possible suicide bomber aboard. Amidst all this turmoil, Demerest has a heart-to-heart with his co-pilot, Anson Harris (Barry Nelson) about the prospect of becoming a first-time father. Harris, a family man with seven children, tells Demerest his brood has been a richly rewarding stabilizer in his life, leaving Demerest to contemplate divorcing Sarah in order to marry Gwen. Learning Ada is in the seat next to Guerrero, Demerest summons her to the cockpit for a plan of action to get Guerrero away from his suitcase. Upon returning to her seat, Ada fakes a panic attack and snatches Guerrero’s suitcase from him, supposedly to throw it at Gwen. Unfortunately, Guerrero regains possession of the suitcase, alerting the rest of the passengers he has a bomb inside it. Demerest attempts to diffuse the situation by informing Guerrero his plan has already been exposed to ground control. As a result, his insurance claim is null and void.
For a brief moment it appears as though Guerrero will surrender to Demerest. But when a panicked passenger screams, a frightened Guerrero barricades himself in the washroom and detonates the bomb. The explosion tears a gaping hole in the fuselage, seriously wounding Gwen. Demerest and Harris struggle to maintain control over the plane’s plummeting altitude, before attempting an emergency landing mere moments after Patroni has managed to clear Flight 45 off the runway. Having narrowly averted catastrophe, Demerest decides his future is with Gwen. As he accompanies her to the hospital, Sarah realizes she has lost her husband forever. Bakersfeld and Cindy come to an understanding and decide to divorce, leaving the weary manager free to pursue his relationship with Livingston. Only this time he is determined to do things right by balancing his professional and private life.  
Despite its’ glittery all-star assemblage, stylish accoutrements, a killer score by impresario, Alfred Newman, and its’ overwhelming box office success (it cleared over $100 million on a $10 million dollar budget) - nominated for 10 Academy Awards including Best Picture - it’s very easy not to like Airport. For one thing, the ensemble acting is uniformly melodramatic. Burt Lancaster and George Kennedy spout off dialogue as though every moment were an emotional crisis with international ramifications. Van Heflin, looking sad-eyed, disoriented and slightly bloated, is an unimpressive villain, and yet a rather unsympathetic every-man who has become a shell of his former self. Helen Hayes, in Oscar-winning support no less, gives the most credible – though hardly perfect – performance. She is gentle and yet direct; a seemingly fragile and slightly pixelated dowager, her piece de résistance, her impeccable lampoon of a claustrophobic meltdown. Regrettably, such eminence is not mirrored in the Seaton/Hathaway screenplay, or in the rather laissez faire staging of the ‘action’ set pieces. Seaton interjects an oddly moralizing pro-life agenda into the Demerest/Meighen relationship that blindly eschews the illicitness of their love affair. These morally problematic implications are allowed to fester rather than growing richer or more revealing about the future of the couple as our story wears on. 
Viewed today, Airport is quaintly archaic at best; chocked full of all-star vintage glamour, but without the necessary oomph or even generalized excitement to carry it off. The narrative threads are rather awkwardly stitched together, but rarely intertwined, ricocheting from one inconsequential vignette to the next, benign soap opera-inspired theatrics that gradually built into one gigantic snore. Nevertheless, it stood to reason no picture this successful at the box office could go quietly into the night. Today, sequels are so commonplace their proliferation is a foregone conclusion. But in 1970, the concept was still relatively new and extremely rare. Certainly, nothing like a ‘franchise’ had been launched since Hollywood’s golden era of Tarzan, Andy Hardy, Dr. Kildare, Sherlock Holmes, Flash Gordon B-serials of their ilk. Yet, this is precisely where Universal would ultimately take the Airport franchise afterward; a respite of barely five years before the second installment – Airport ’75 (released in 1975…how precious and unoriginal is that?).
Once again, relying on an uninspired mélange borrowed from TV soap operas, tricked out in all the trappings $3 million could buy, Airport ‘75 took another bumper crop of Hollywood heavy-hitters and has beens for an utterly ridiculous outing in the skies. This time, the plot zeroed in on an eclectic passenger list boarding Columbia Air Lines' Flight 409; a Boeing 747-100 on a red-eye from Washington’s Dulles International to LAX. Top-billed is Charlton Heston as Capt. Alan Murdock – the heroic Burt Lancaster-ish figure who will ultimately draw clarity from the chaos.  However, this time the catastrophe soon to befall everyone is practically unintentional; inadvertently perpetuated by New Mexico entrepreneur, Scott Freeman (Dana Andrews), navigating his  private Beechcraft Baron to an urgent sales meeting in Boise, Idaho. As fate would have it, an occluded front creates zero visibility, diverting both Columbia 409 and Freeman's Beechcraft on a collision course near Salt Lake City International Airport. A queer vibration in the cockpit causes First Officer Urias (Roy Thinnes) to unfasten his restrains and investigate; a decision he will almost immediately – if very briefly ‘live’ to regret.
For Freeman, who has been ordered by the tower to circle until 409’s landing, now suffers a massive heart attack and dives his plane headlong into the Boeing cockpit, rocking the commercial airliner with a massive mid-air explosion that ejects Urias, kills Flight Engineer Julio (Erik Estrada) and blinds Captain Stacy (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.) leaving the fate of everyone in the hands of First Stewardess, Nancy Pryor (Karen Black). Reprising his role as Joe Patroni, George Kennedy’s burly and no-nonsense instructor, feet firmly on the ground, is once again the first to get news of the severity of the situation. 409’s flight deck is severely damaged and most of the instrument gauges have been rendered completely useless. For no apparent reason, other than to engage our ‘star’ in this mishmash, and perhaps, create a parallel – or rather rip off – with one of the pivotal plot points from the original movie - Patroni seeks counsel from Murdock, Columbia's chief flight instructor, who also happens to be Nancy’s boyfriend.
Patroni and Murdock take an executive jet to Salt Lake. Through their constant communication Nancy is able to stabilize 409’s altitude. Alas, she cannot maneuver the plane in any direction but full speed ahead. Problem: 409 is heading straight for the Wasatch Mountains.  Murdock thinks he can instruct Nancy on how to manually turn 409 around. But suddenly their radio communications are interrupted; Salt Lake’s tower unable to restore contact. With no other recourse, an air-to-air rescue is undertaken from a jet-powered HH-53 helicopter. Murdock accompanies the mission. However, as the tethered ‘replacement pilot’ is lowered into 409’s gaping hole something goes terribly wrong and the man plummets to his death, leaving Murdock to make the fortuitous decision to make a second – and mercifully, successful descend. After the prerequisite amount of ‘it can’t be done/we’re all going to die’ scenarios, Murdock and Nancy manage to land the plane successfully at Salt Lake City Airport; their on-again/off-again love affair reconciled, presumably, on the fast track to a wedding chapel.
Airport ’75 is not so much a bad movie as a terribly unremarkable one. Deprived of the key-lit glamour of the original, Philip H. Lathrop’s cinematography goes for a grittier realism. But the picture now becomes more telescopically focused on its SFX perils in the sky without ever really getting to know any of its celebrity talent on board. Murdock and Nancy are the most cardboard cutout pair of ‘lovers’ and yet they are – by far – the most detailed character studies. George Kennedy is utterly wasted in a thoroughly thankless reprise, I suspect, inserted by Universal’s executive brain trust for continuity’s sake. It became something of ‘a thing’ in the 70’s to stockpile disaster epics with big ticket stars and up and comers. Airport ’75 certainly has some high profile names to recommend it; Gloria Swanson (playing herself), Helen Reddy (as a singing nun), Myrna Loy (the hoity-toity Mrs. Devaney) and Sid Caesar (doing nine minutes of comedy shtick as the grotesquely unlovable, Barney) among them. But they are all sacrificed to an ineffectual screenplay by Don Ingalls – a real hodgepodge with no audience engagement to carry over from one to the next. Evidently, none of this seemed to matter to audiences in 1975. Despite critic, Pauline Kael’s astute summarizing as ‘cut-rate swill…produced on a TV movie budget by a mercenary businessman’, Airport ’75 earned a whopping $47,285,152 on a budget one/third the original film, and…you guessed it…another sequel was decidedly in order.
Thus, Airport ’77 (in 1977, directed by Jerry Jameson) took flight. And while, like its predecessors, it could never be confused as aspiring to the aesthetics of ‘high art’, it was nevertheless an improvement over Airport ’75. This time, the plot is set into motion by wealthy philanthropist, Philip Stevens (James Stewart) who, in inviting his grandchildren and a glittering assemblage of art critics and old friends to his fashionable Palm Beach Florida home for a highly publicized weekend retreat and exhibition of his priceless paintings (also on board), inadvertently garners the attention of a bumbling group of would-be art thieves cum hijackers, led by co-pilot, Bob Chambers (Robert Foxworthy). Once high in the sky, Chambers manages to drug Capt. Don Gallagher (Jack Lemmon) and anesthetize the rest of the crew and passengers with an aerosol anesthetic administered through the vents, taking the Boeing 747 a hundred miles off course, flying under the radar to a remote island where he and his conspirators will steal Stevens’ priceless collection comfortably resting in the cargo hold. Too bad for Chambers, in the thick haze and darkness of night he is unaware of an offshore oil rig.  Flight 23 clips its derrick, thus setting the plane's wing on fire. Chambers panics and accidentally activating the stall alarm. Power to the engines is cut and the plane skims across the ocean’s surface, stirring its passengers from their drug-induced slumber. Because of the hard impact, the pressurized cabin seal is slightly damaged. Now, as the plane sinks beneath the water’s surface, its cargo hold quickly fills up with salt water, drowning Chambers’ accomplices. Awakening with a hangover, Capt. Gallagher immediately recognizes the immensity of the situation. As Flight 23 was way off course when it crashed, the search and rescue operations immediately launched by Stevens and Joe Patroni are looking for the wreck in the wrong place.
Mercifully, the fuselage settles on the edge of a coral shelf, perilously perched beneath the waves, and, in constant threat of sinking to a depth where surely no rescue effort could take place. Gallagher informs his passengers of a raft aboard with a homing beacon. He will attempt to enter the rear of the plane, release the pressure lock and, float to the surface with the raft, thus activating its beacon to alert rescuers of their whereabouts. Passenger, Martin Wallace (Christopher Lee) – a one-time expert diver – pleads with Gallagher to partake of this mission, against strenuous objections from his neurotic and self-serving wife, Karen (Lee Grant). Alas, just as Karen has predicted, fate is not on her husband’s side. Wallace is crushed in the escape hatch and Karen witnesses his unconscious body as it floats past the porthole windows. Miraculously, Gallagher, makes it to the surface, climbs into the inflatable dinghy and activates the homing beacon. Not long thereafter, an S-3 Viking locates Gallagher and alerts Stevens, who wastes no time chartering a U.S. Navy sub-recovery ship to the location. Meanwhile, beneath the waves, water continues to fill the cabin. Several of the passengers, including wealthy dowager, Emily Livingston’s (Olivia de Havilland) personal assistant, Dorothy (Maidie Norman) quietly succumb to injuries sustained during the initial crash.
Above the waterline, Patroni works out an ingenious, if highly implausible scenario, to have frogmen from the USS Cayuga (LST-1186) and the destroyer, USS Agerholm (DD-826) attach inflatable pontoons all across Flight 23’s fuselage, thus raising the plane to the surface for an evacuation of its passengers. The scheme comes with risks, but Stevens agrees these far outweigh the alternative: letting everyone drown as the plane continues to fill with water. Alas, increasing pressure in the pontoons causes several of them to fail. It also creates a pressure lock within the cabin too great to bear. The rear cabin door, thus far keeping most of the sea water out of the main passenger deck, bursts open. Water pours in, inciting general panic. In this chaos, Chambers is pinned against a sofa. Both he and Karen drowning in this deluge. Gallagher manages to rescue his loyal assistant, Eve Clayton (Brenda Vaccaro) moments before Flight 23 slips beneath the ocean once more, this time with no hope or plans for another salvage operation.
Despite another round of scathing reviews, the New York Times pointing out that the picture “looks less like the work of a director and writers than like a corporate decision”, Airport ’77 went on to gross an impressive $30 million on only a $6 million budget. And so, not above scraping the very bottom of the barrel, Universal put into production what would ultimately become the very last installment in this franchise; Airport ’79: the Concorde, directed by David Lowell Rich. Universal might have gone on indefinitely churning out these in-flight perilous potboilers, accept for Airport ‘79’s colossal failure; unable to recoup even its initial $14 million outlay at the box office. In retrospect, it is fairly easy to see why the picture flopped. Airport ’79 is a clunker; the formula, utterly transparent and predictable. Worst of all, the miniatures and matte work are woefully second-rate and wholly unconvincing. But timing was also not on '79's side. By 1979, audiences had generally grown restless with disaster epics; the proliferation by superior and inferior examples of our capacity for unearthing terror and fear, seemingly from the most innocuous of situations; partying on a cruise ship (The Poseidon Adventure) or atop a high rise (The Towering Inferno) or just being a resident of Los Angeles (Earthquake).  Airport ’79 preys upon the threat of organized terrorism, then front and center in the newspapers, but as yet an angle unexplored in this franchise. 
Thus, the plot this time focuses on Dr. Kevin Harrison (Robert Wagner), a corrupt arms dealer who insidiously plots to down the American-owned Concorde on its maiden flight to silence reporter, Maggie Whelan (Susan Blakely) who is aboard and preparing an exposé on his illegal trades with communist countries during the Cold War. The Concorde takes to the skies from Paris’ Charles de Gaulle with Capt. Paul Metrand (Alain Delon) and purser, Isabelle (Sylvia Kristel); the first length of their journey, fairly unprepossessing. The Concorde lands in Dulles without incident and Maggie does her reporter’s spot, inadvertently unearthing Harrison’s illegal arms trade in Buzzard surface-to-air missiles after mystery man - Carl Parker (Macon McCalman) interrupts her broadcast, claiming he has definite proof of Harrison’s corruptions. Before he can divulge his source or provide Maggie with this 'evidence', Parker is fatally shot; another passerby triggering the fire alarm, thus creating further chaos allowing for his assailant's getaway. Harrison cockily makes light of these allegation and suggests someone is trying to frame an ‘honest businessman’ out of spite and jealousy. Maggie really does not believe him; her probing mind now whirling with the possibilities of a really big scoop on which to make her bones.
Meanwhile, Capt. Joe Patroni joins Metrand aboard the Concorde, a disquieting rivalry forming between the two. Also aboard is 2nd Officer Peter O'Neill (David Warner) who is desperately trying to rid himself of an overly possessive girlfriend (shades of the Karen Black/Chuck Heston relationship from Airport ’75).  Determined to maintain an outward appearance of above-board activities, Harrison surprises Maggie at the check-in desk. Bobbing for clues, Harrison smugly asks Maggie if Parker’s documents have turned up and Maggie confesses, with some embarrassment, they have not. Alas, fate intervenes when Parker’s wife, Mary (Kathleen Maguire) arrives with a sealed envelope for Maggie’s eyes only. Parker was not lying to her; Harrison is, and now Maggie realizes it too. 
There is only one thing to do. Kill Maggie. But how? The Concorde has already taken off. Unbeknownst to its flight crew, an off-course surface-to-air missile is deliberately launched to intercept them. Back at headquarters, Harrison orders his controllers to alert the government. In a mad dash to save the plane, the USAF assembles a fleet of F-15 fighter jets to intercept the airborne missile before it can inflict its damage. After several failed attempts, the missile is detonated mid-air before it can reach its target. The passengers breathe a sigh of relief. But the Concorde is hardly out of harm’s way. As it approaches the European coastline, Harrison sends an F-4 Phantom II to down the plane; the French Air Force engaging it with their highly-efficient Mirages. While the Concorde once more avoids a direct hit, the blow back from one of their mid-air explosions causes its hydraulic system to fail. The F-4 is downed. Despite being crippled, the Concorde limps into Le Bourget for repairs. Another near death mishap averted, Metrand and Isabelle invite Patroni to dine with them. Slick as ever, Harrison promises Maggie to go public with the evidence. She, however, remains thoroughly unconvinced as per his sincerity. To hedge his bets, Harrison bribes mechanic, Froelich (Jon Cedar) to install a device hidden inside the door panel, causing the Concorde's cargo door to automatically open in mid-flight.
However, as passengers begin to board the Concorde, now bound for Moscow, Froelich, perhaps harboring twinges of sincere guilt over his complicity in their pending doom, now gets exceedingly nervous during his screening at the airport’s X-ray security booth: a few smuggled bills from his payoff money falling down his pant leg. Unaware anything is out of order (it is, after all – just money), the X-ray technician tries to return the wayward cash to its owner. But Froelich, eager to get out of there without delay, now panics and sprints onto the tarmac where the Concorde is already preparing for takeoff. The heated exhaust incinerates Froelich, scattering his blood money everywhere. En route to Moscow, the hidden device implanted by Froelich opens the Concorde’s cargo doors. A tear in the carpet alerts Metrand to the incredible strain placed on the fuselage. Moments later, the door is ripped from its hinges, creating considerable damage. Mercifully, a seat torn during the explosion acts as a plug, preventing absolute decompression inside the cabin. Metrand immediately plans to make an emergency landing in Innsbruck but suddenly realizes there is not enough fuel for the journey. Another plan is quickly hatched to land the Concorde on a makeshift runway at a nearby ski resort in the Alps. With a little bit of luck, Metrand brings down the plane successfully. Determined to expose the truth about Harrison, Maggie makes her report to a local newscaster with a hint of a major bombshell immediately to follow. Realizing he has nowhere left to hide, Harrison commits suicide rather than face the inquest surely to follow. As the last of the passengers disembark the Concorde, its severely compromised fuselage bursts into flames from a leaky fuel line.
In some ways, Airport ’79 is the most ambitiously mounted production in the franchise. Certainly, from a budgetary consideration, it represents something of the gold standard bearer. And yet, the moneys are utterly squandered as the picture miserably fails to hold our attention in anything more of better than fits and sparks almost from the start.  Part of the problem is decidedly Eric Roth’s screenplay, cribbed from an original story by Jennings Lang. The initial introduction of the threat and near mishaps that follow it are repeatedly thwarted, then delayed by melodramatic tidbits tossed into the mix sporadically, though ultimately – and repeatedly – diffusing the overall arc of tension. Robert Wagner’s moody arms dealer is a rather idiotic - if suave and worldly – goon, skulking with a 'smoke and mirrors' egotism that is less and less confidently realized. He could have so easily done away with Maggie, or at the very least, had Parker’s documentation destroyed under the guise of ‘an accident’ after the Concorde landed in Le Bourget. There is really no point to his psychotic decision to kill everyone on board and even less cleverly-realized thought given to engaging a total stranger, Froelich to instigate his home-grown sabotage.
Worse, the characters populating Airport ’79 are among the most one-dimensional of any disaster movie schlock peddled on the market; stock nobodies, known more by profession or rank than name or motives, and, a very tired, careworn regurgitation of archetypes we have seen far too many times, occasionally used to far greater effect in other - better - disaster classics. Some, like dog-smuggling Margurita (Charo) have absolutely no point or purpose except to create momentary diversions, offering misdirection away from the central narrative – such as it is – while others, like George Kennedy’s long-suffering Patroni, are exploited merely as token reference in a franchise that has long outstayed its welcome. Evidently, audiences agreed with this assessment. Unintentionally eliciting laughter, Airport ’79 was an unmitigated disaster at the box office, effectively ending Universal’s love affair with these haphazardly staged perils in the sky.    
Universal Home Video has fallen back on releasing substandard hi-def Blu-ray. Honestly, I thought we were done with shoddy craftsmanship after their 100th anniversary. But no, only the original Airport (1970) has been given its due in 1080p; released as part of that celebration some years ago. The rest of the transfers featured herein are a real mixed bag to say the least; ranging from adequate, to decidedly below par. As before, the original movie looks spectacular, with rich, solid colors, superb contrast, a light smattering of film grain accurately represented, and, an exquisite amount of fine detail throughout. The image is razor sharp without being digitally harsh and virtually free of age-related artifacts. And the DTS 5.1 audio is the perfect complement: just wonderful. Less so is the care – or lack thereof – afforded the three remaining transfers in this combo pack. NOTHING has been done, not even the most basic digital clean-up, to ensure the best possible quality control has been observed. While Universal continues to advertise ‘HD picture and theater quality sound’, (without any references to ‘restored’ and/or ‘remastered’) they have equally left off the word ‘flawed’ from the beginning of their back jacket advert.
Color fidelity on these remaining movies is all over the place; often, with ruddy flesh tones leaning toward pumpkin orange or jaundice yellow. Colors do not pop, although I wouldn’t exactly refer to them as faded either; just non-descript and dull. I suspect more than a hint of DNR has been applied to homogenize the grain, counterbalanced by some even more egregiously applied edge sharpening. It’s not super terrible, but it does render the presentation unlike anything even remotely endeavoring to emulate ‘film quality’. Airport ’77 has weathered the abuse somewhat better than ’75 or ’79; the latter, easily the worst looking transfer in this batch; suffering from inconsistent grain, marginal crispness and unanticipated soft focus to obscure fine details in long shot. Contrast also seems weaker on 79 than on the rest. No real blacks, and some marginal crush ever-present throughout. Extras are, as anticipated, nonexistent; except for the rather scant inclusion of trailers; badly worn and not even presented in true HD.  Bottom line: pass, and be glad that you did.
FILM RATING (out of 5 – 5 being the best)
Airport - 3
Airport ’75       - 2
Airport ’77       - 3
Airport ’79       - 1

Airport - 4.5
Airport ’75       - 3
Airport ’77       - 3.5
Airport ’79       - 2.5