“Well, this is not a boat accident! And it wasn’t any propeller; and it wasn’t any coral reef; and it wasn’t Jack the Ripper! It was a shark.”
Beaches are still feeling the lessened revenue of the summer of 1975 after this one. Amity Island is the setting in Jaws, a place where only the summer brings increased population and increased revenue from tourists. The beautiful beachfront is the hotspot, especially during the Fourth of July period.
However, there is something lurking underneath the waters. Something that may have claimed the life of a young boy and a young lady. Police chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) is the only one to believe these deaths are not a result of common accidents, but of a killer shark. Despite the signs pointing to the latter, there is too much income involved to shut down the island.
After more unfortunate events occur, there is no doubting that a Great White is the cause of all of this mayhem. Knowing he can’t take down “Jaws” alone, Brody teams with marine scientist Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), and crazed shark hunter Quint (Robert Shaw), to eradicate the terror. Only certainty? They’ll need a bigger boat to take this bad guy down.
There are some films that are very good but not much of an experience, and there are films that are a great experience but leave a little something to be desired on a substance level. On the rarest of fronts, there are films that offer an amazing watching experience with solid substance, and the ability to transform cinema history and even impact pop culture. Under the guidance of director Steven Spielberg, Jaws is one of those films, really redefining what a spectacle is in the world of motion pictures.
Jaws takes its inspiration from the 1974 novel by the same name. While the novel apparently has many subplots that have nothing to do with the man-eater, the movie itself is purely focused on the shark and the all-in hunt for it. It is definitely straightforward, with a collision course all but set between the protagonists and antagonist. That doesn’t mean it is any less engrossing though. There is a focus that the script has and it really never wavers from it. It may be a simplistic one (though it has sparked some intriguing analysis thematically), but it has direction. Really, the only slight to be had pertains to the fact that it may be just a tad too long. Certain scenes really could have been shortened in my belief, but it is a very, very minor complaint.
Part of the reason the basic script works so well is due to what Spielberg and company are able to do with the protagonists. Usually, big-budget movies are derided for the lack of strong characters. Brody, Hooper, and Quint are all distinct personalities who may not have been able to carry this on their own, but as a collaborative effort, their performances meld efficiently. As Brody, Scheider is the common man, the one that audiences relate to most, more grounded in reality than the others. For what it is, Scheider is very adequate.
It is Dreyfuss and Shaw, however, who give the movie some edge. Dreyfuss’ character gives scientific knowledge to the movie mixed with eccentricity, while the man Shaw plays is wrapped in mystery and a distinct drawl. While all three do a pretty wonderful job, kudos again goes to Spielberg for making us care about all three. There is just enough backstory given to each that fleshes out the characters, especially during a superb scene right before the final third of the movie. This attention pays off when the three heroes find themselves in harrowing situations. Their survival is something we want to see.
In only his second full length film, Spielberg hits on all of the right notes. From the initial shot on the sea, I knew this was going to be a unforgettable experience (this was my first viewing, shockingly!). With a multitude of the key scenes being at or near water, Spielberg almost gives it an ethereal and mystical kind of feeling. This simply augments the tension when it is feeding time. Partly due to the troubles of the animatronic shark, and partly due to Steven just not wanting to show the true star right away, the big reveal is held off for a very long time. But, the intensity doesn’t suffer, and in fact it benefits from this decision. Showing the world in the eyes of the great white is an extremely well-done, horror-like POV shot. Even almost 40 years later, the fact that there are still moments that are truly jaw dropping with practical effects is a testament to Spielberg and his skill.
Even with the stellar cinematography, fleshed-out characters, and man vs. beast story, for many, Jaws is known as the movie with the recognizable orchestral piece featuring the steady crescendo and fury of an impending shark attack. In many ways, that piece is more famous now than the movie itself, being parodied and utilized so much to represent danger in any facet. While it it one of the best themes ever, the whole score itself is wonderfully done by John Williams. Whenever music is found here, it never feels out of place and only further aids whatever is happening in that particular moment.
Again, not many films can claim to be a game-changer, but Jaws is one of the few that can stake claim to that distinction. How a studio promotes a feature, when it comes out on the calendar, and what defines a blockbuster are all things that Jaws either directly or indirectly contributed to. It is not only a wonderful film, but an important one in pop culture history.
Photo credits go to totalfilm.com, impawards.com, and filmfreakcentral.net
Follow the MovieMan @MovieManJackson