“The terrifying motion picture from the terrifying No. 1 best seller.”
Well, it’s Jaws. Who hasn’t seen Jaws? Really? Oh, alright. The small New England community of Amity Island is set upon by a very large great white shark who has inexplicably chosen their beaches as his feeding ground. The local mayor, concerned about the disastrous effect this could have on the much needed tourist season, is reluctant to admit there’s a problem despite the growing amount of gory evidence. It’s only after the very public death of a small boy that he finally authorizes the local sheriff to hire an expert shark catcher. Armed with both old school fishing tackle and the latest in diving equipment, the sheriff and the fisherman, along with a concerned oceanographer, set sail to to track and kill the beast. Much to their chagrin, however, the trio soon find that they are up against no ordinary shark, and they just might need a bigger boat.
Have you ever walked out of a movie and thought to yourself, “That would have been great if only they [insert your complaint here]?” Well, that’s the whole purpose of a fanedit, to try and change a movie so that it fixes [insert your complaint here]. To be a little more concise, a fanedit is “a fan-made alternative version of an existing film, created by the insertion, deletion or re-ordering of scenes within the movie.” It can also include things like changing the soundtrack, manipulating dialog, and/or digitally altering scenes. For example, you say you’d like to see Batman & Robin without all those vinyl covered butt and crotch shots? Well, there’s a fanedit for that. Or maybe you’d like to watch a version of the Matrix sequels that isn’t all incoherent and sucky? There’s a few fanedits for that. Or how about The Phantom Menace with as little Jar Jar in it as humanly possible? I’ve lost count of how many fanedits there are for that.
Basically, fanedits are intended to make good movies a little better and bad movies a bit more watchable. Which raises an obvious question, why even bother with a fanedit of Jaws? I mean, it’s Jaws for crying out loud. You know, 8.3 out of 10 on IMDb, 100% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, #48 on the AFI’s list of greatest movies of all time (#2 on it’s list of greatest thrillers), THAT Jaws. Why tamper with what most people see as a nearly perfect movie to begin with? Well, to answer that, you’d have to ask the creator of Jaws: The Sharksploitation Edit, a nice fellow who goes by the nomenclature of The Man Behind The Mask (Where do people get these silly Internet names?). According to him, the whole point was “to give JAWS a kind of grindhouse feel and make the movie fun to watch for those who are not afraid to see this masterpiece being turned into something else (but it’s still JAWS, I did not turn the plot upside down). But most of all I did it for my own enjoyment. I hope it’ll work for you.”
Well, I gotta say, it worked for me. And for a lot of other people as well, winning not only the “Best True Fanedit In June 2009″ award with a 100% undisputed vote, but also the “Best True Fanedit of the year 2009” period. Why all the acclaim for what is basically a chopped up version of Jaws, you ask? Well, what Jaws: The Sharksploitation Edit does so well is not to try and improve Jaws (for that would only invite wrath), but to change it stylistically so it becomes more like one of the countless Jaws rip-offs which flooded drive-in screens during the 1970s and 80s. As you might remember us discussing, those so-called “sharksploitation” movies could never match Jaws in quality (didn’t even try really), so instead they enticed moviegoers into buying tickets by ramping up the exploitative elements, doing stuff like increasing the amount of bloody shark attacks, decreasing the amount of clothing worn by the actors, and throwing in arbitrary subplots requiring lots of guns and explosives. Jaws: The Sharksploitation Edit is a love letter to those kinds of movies, the ones you’d never vote to put on any AFI list, but ones you’d more than happily sit through anyway with a bucket of buttered popcorn and a barrel sized cola.
The way The Man Behind The Mask transforms the original Jaws into a bonafide sharksploitation film is by trimming over 40 minutes from the original movie (you know, all that boring stuff like character development) and adding in almost 30 minutes of new material gleaned from various sources including the Jaws DVD bonus material, shark and naval documentaries, and scenes nabbed from other movies. It’s an undertaking that could easily have ended up being a hatchet job, but thanks to some excellent editing and a meticulous attention to detail, Jaws: The Sharksploitation Edit is one of the best, most seamless fanedits you’ll ever see. And more importantly than the technical aspects, it accomplishes exactly what it set out to do, turning an American classic into something that is still recognizably Jaws, but a Jaws which can sit comfortably on the shelf alongside your prized copies of Orca, Barracuda, and Piranha.
Now if you’re enough of a movie nut to track down fanedits to begin with, then I certainly don’t want to give away too many of the surprises to be found in Jaws: The Sharksploitation Edit before you see it. Instead, I’ll just touch on a couple of the more obvious things one would expect to find in order to give you a feel of just how the movie was altered. For instance, there’s quite a bit more shark action going on. What was a false alarm in the original Jaws becomes in the fanedit a ridiculous exercise in overkill as a good half dozen of the most ludicrous shark attacks from other movies are edited in to create a veritable surf and turf smorgasbord for Bruce. Things are ramped up likewise on the human side, as in the part where hunters and fisherman from all around the northeast converge on Amity in hopes of securing the $10,000 bounty placed on the shark. In the original Jaws, the chaos in the harbor is only briefly shown. In the fanedit, it becomes a long drawn out sequence filled with rednecks and rough-housers tearing through the waters with guns ablaze, riddling anything with fins full of holes.
But Jaws: The Sharksploitation Edit has much more going for it than just a bit of added blood and bullets. There are also some excellent musical choices made, including pitch perfect uses of the Beach Boy’s Surfer Girl and Lalo Schifrin's infamous disco Jaws theme (alas, some of the harder rock tunes from the 80s feel out of place). There are also oh so slight edits to individual scenes which completely change their intent (Just what is Sherriff Brody really looking at on the beach that has him so disturbed?). And the new ending, which is set up half way through the film but still comes as a complete surprise, may just have you jumping out of your seat with joy. Or disbelief. Either way, it’s absolutely absurd, but perfectly in tone with the off the wall nonsense one typically finds in sharksploitation movies.
So all in all, if you’re a fan of bad Jaws rip offs and you get a chance to see Jaws: the Sharksploitation Edit, then go for it, you won’t be disappointed. But if you’re wanting the real Jaws, then stay far, far away, because this ain’t it. And therein lies the rub of fanedits when you get down to it. Since they are entirely dependent on the editor’s personal opinion of what works and what doesn’t, viewers are only going to find the new edit successful if their tastes line up with that of the editor’s. In the case of Jaws: The Sharksploitation Edit, even diehard fans of the original had enough of an appreciation of drive-in aesthetics to make the new version an award winner. Unfortunately, some fanedits are just too specific to find a wide audience. Take the No Respect edit of Caddyshack, for example, wherein an editor with an irrational loathing of Rodney Dangerfield excised most of the comedian’s scenes from the movie. Voting on that particular edit was, to say the least, a bit harsh. And then there are fanedits in which you understand the editor’s intentions, but you find them sorely misguided anyway, like with Thomas Jefferson’s recut of the Bible…
What’s that? You say you didn’t know the principal author of the Declaration of Independence was into fanediting? Oh, you better believe it. Smack dab in the middle of his presidency (you would think helping found a new country would have been enough to keep a person’s mind occupied), Thomas Jefferson hit upon the idea of producing his own version of the New Testament. In a letter to John Adams he explained that he was going to rescue the Philosophy of Jesus and the "pure principles which he taught," from the "artificial vestments in which they have been muffled by priests, who have travestied them into various forms as instruments of riches and power for themselves." He finally got around to the project in 1820. Using scissors and paste Jefferson clipped out and assembled texts from the Gospels, keeping what he believed to be authentic and leaving out what he thought were later additions and corruptions. Among those things Jefferson rejected were any reference to the Divinity of Christ, Baptism, and the Eucharist, and all mentions of miracles. What Jefferson claimed to have kept were "the very words only of Jesus," where one would find "the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man." It was an interesting experiment, but as you might expect, the end result was radically different from the Gospels as they had been known for centuries. Flipping through the Jefferson Bible, you won’t find a Jesus who acknowledges too many things supernatural, but you will find one who promotes democratic ideals and service to his fellow countrymen. In other words, Thomas Jefferson’s Jesus sounds an awful lot like Thomas Jefferson. And while there’s certainly a lot to admire about our third president, methinks he knocked up one too many of his slaves to qualify as the messiah.
Now, Jefferson’s slicing and dicing of the New Testament wasn’t really a new thing (Martin Luther tried unsuccessfully to fanedit out the books of James and Revelation), but is was indicative of the errors which were slowly creeping into modern theology through the abuse of the historical-critical method of biblical studies. And “abuse” is the correct term here, as there’s nothing inherently wrong with the historical-critical method itself. In fact, the Catechism explicitly promotes this kind of bible study when it states that “in order to discover the sacred authors' intention, the reader must take into account the conditions of their time and culture, the literary genres in use at that time, and the modes of feeling, speaking and narrating then current. For the fact is that truth is differently presented and expressed in the various types of historical writing, in prophetical and poetical texts, and in other forms of literary expression.”
But as Jefferson’s misguided fanedit shows, things can go wrong with the historical-critical method, a fact which has become unavoidably noticeable since the advent of electronic mass media in the 20th century. If you don’t believe me, just try and turn on the Discovery or History Channels around Easter and Christmas. Do so and you’ll find the airwaves littered with crock-umentaries full of so-called experts (usually folks like ex-priest John Dominic Crossan or one of his Jesus Seminar cronies) offering up their pet theories on the history of the Church, who the “real” Jesus was, and what his words really meant. The problem, as Pope Benedict XVI notes in his book Jesus of Nazareth, is that “if you read a number of these reconstructions one after the other, you see at once that far from uncovering an icon that has become obscured over time, they are much like photographs of their authors and the ideals they hold.” So just as Jefferson produced a Jesus who would have called for revolution against England, so do the un-intelligentsia of the televised history of religion provide us with a Jesus who might actually have been the illegitimate son of a Roman soldier who raped Mary (because atheists know that whole Incarnation thing can never be scientifically verified, so it must be a lie), a Mary Magdalene who might actually have been an apostle who got the boot after Jesus died (because feminists KNOW the Church has always hated women), and even a speculative CSI-style reconstruction of the face of Jesus complete with short curly hair (because, screw the Shroud of Turin, EVERYBODY knows all those old depictions of Jesus were just attempts by Europeans to impose a white aesthetic on minorities). These experts have no actual proof to back up any of these assertions, but they can sure make a theory sound legitimate if enough of them repeat it ad nauseam.
You see, the truth isn’t really served when the goal of the person interpreting history is to promote a predetermined personal agenda. “The historical-critical method – specifically because of the intrinsic nature of theology and faith – is and remains an indispensable dimension of exegetical work.” explains Pope Benedict XVI, “For it is the very essence of biblical faith to be about real historical events… [But] if we push this history aside, Christian faith as such disappears and is recast as some other religion… what can faith in Jesus as the Christ possibly mean, in Jesus as the Son of the living God, if the man Jesus was so completely different from the picture that the Evangelists painted of him and that the Church, on the evidence of the Gospels, takes as the basis of her preaching?… All these attempts have produced a common result: the impression that we have very little certain knowledge of Jesus and that only at a later stage did faith in his divinity shape the image we have of him… This is a dramatic situation for faith, because its point of reference is being placed in doubt: Intimate friendship with Jesus, on which everything depends, is in danger of clutching at thin air.” That’s why, as another Lent and Easter season rapidly approaches, we must always take care to be discerning of the true intentions of the “experts” that television will be trotting out for their annual specials. Fanedits are perfectly fine in the world of movies because, let’s face it, no one’s soul is in mortal danger if someone decides to pull the old MISSING REEL gag in the middle of Jaws. But messing with true biblical history, even for reasons you consider noble, that can have eternal consequences for everyone involved.
In the documentary American Grindhouse, famed director John Landis proclaims Mel Gibson’s The Passion of The Christ as the best exploitation movie he’s seen in decades, mainly due to the sustained level of bloody violence the movie depicts. While I think there’s a bit of truth in that statement, I also think Gibson’s intent wasn’t solely to titillate as so many exploitation movies do, but also to depict visually the internal agony Christ endured by taking on the sins of the world. Still, I’m pretty sure that was more than 39 lashes we saw Christ receive in The Passion of The Christ. It’s always a good idea to remember that all biblical movies, even the ones we like, are fanedits of scripture to a certain degree.