The new Jaws Blu-ray is out today, and here’s a trivia fact that may or may not be contained on its ocean of extras: When Universal first started to consider a sequel to Jaws, the original plan was to dramatize Quint’s monologue about the sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis and the subsequent shark attacks on the survivors. In the end, however, the suits decided to play it safe and return to the beaches of Amity.
It’s kind of hard to believe there’s never been a lavish, blockbuster version of the U.S.S. Indianapolis story. After all, it’s essentially Titanic meets Jaws, set against a dramatic World War II backdrop. Maybe if some enterprising screenwriter could figure out a way to get Batman aboard the ship, the big-budget version could actually get made, but until then, we’ll have to settle for this 1991 TV-movie.
Stacy Keach stars as Captain McVay, tasked by the Navy with delivering a secret piece of cargo to a military base on a small Pacific island. Spoiler alert! It’s the atomic bomb that will be dropped on Hiroshima. His crew is made up of stock characters straight out of the moldy World War II storeroom: the humorless hardass Marine (David Caruso), the kindly doc (Richard “John Boy” Thomas), the guy who loves the Brooklyn Dodgers, the sad sack writing a letter to his shipmate’s sister. After successfully delivering the bomb, the ship is hit by torpedoes fired from a Japanese submarine and begins to sink. Those not killed by the blast abandon ship, including the captain.
Now we learn why the story of the Indianapolis sinking isn’t necessarily the blockbuster material it at first seems. It’s a challenge to make a bunch of guys bobbing around in the ocean waiting to be eaten into compelling viewing, and director Robert Iscove (From Justin to Kelly) and writer Alan Sharp (The Osterman Weekend) aren’t quite up to the task. There are a few effective moments, such as when a few thirsty crew members gulp down sea water and lose their marbles, but overall the dialogue is too dry and the action too repetitive.
Mission of the Shark ends on a strangely anticlimactic note, as the survivors are rescued with about 20 minutes left to go. The rest of the movie is a mini-Caine Mutiny, as McVay is court-martialed for his failure to “zig-zag” while in the Pacific, and becomes the Navy’s scapegoat for the incident. This might have worked better as a framing device, but that still wouldn’t have made Mission more than a run-of-the-mill TV-movie. The tale was far more compelling and alive in Quint’s telling than it ever is here.
– Scott Von Doviak