Jaws. A man eating shark is terrorising the holiday island of Amity. Police chief Martin Brody, shark hunter Quint and marine biologist Matt Hooper set sail in the hope of killing the great white monster. Jaws is responsible for many things, it's responsible for propelling director Steven Spielberg's career into the stratosphere, it was responsible for a downturn in the package holiday trade, and it was responsible for shaping the summer blockbuster release practice's. There are many other things which one doesn't need to bore you with, it's just true to say that Jaws is firmly ensconced in movie history, if one hasn't seen it then one surely knows about it, it is, even today, part of popular culture. But is it any good? Is it worthy of a long standing reputation as one of the greatest monster movies of all time? Hell yes it is, one or two easily overlooked flaws aside, it busted the box office (world wide) and tapped into a primal fear that resides in the majority of mankind, the unseen that resides in the sea. Jaws sets out its marker right from the start with a truly shocking and attention grabbing opening sequence, from then on in Spielberg (learning from Hitchcock for sure) tweaks the tension to have the audience living on their nerves, even as character building (by way of Brody's family arc) sedates the pace, we just know that it's all relative to an extension of fear and terror that is around the next corner. After the first victims' remains are found, Brody glances out at the ocean, Spielberg perfectly framing the shot to say so much about what we are about to be witness' to. Jolts and shocks pop up from time to time to help build the unease, whilst Spielberg makes the audience wait before we even see what it is that so coldly and efficiently destroys man. Then it's the claustrophobic switch as our brave protagonists are out at sea on Quint's boat, unaware that the giant menace is now hunting them, eyes as black as death itself. So many great scenes linger for all time in the memory, the entrance of Quint is a hum dinger, a mournful widow reducing Brody to a stunned realism, the Indianappolis monologue, the bigger boat! Just some of the reasons why I personally love cinema so much. The score from John Williams is as effective as any for the genre and Robert Hoyt's sound team's work furthers the unfolding dread. The cast are superb and uniformly excellent, managing to cast aside technical problems (and genuine resentments at times) to portray this story with verve and a genuine depth of feeling. Yet Roy Scheider (Brody), Robert Shaw (Quint) and Richard Dreyfuss (Hooper) were far from from original choices, Charlton Heston was wanted for the role of Brody, Sterling Hayden and Lee Marvin were both mooted for Quint, and John Voight was Spielberg's preferred choice for Hooper. Whilst Jaws author (and co screen writer here) Peter Benchley was heading for the top by asking for Newman, Redford and McQueen!! Imagine that! Still it all turned out well in the end because Jaws stands the test of time as one of the best films of its type. No amount of complaining about continuity and a rough looking mechanical shark will ever dim its appeal, even as I revisited it recently for the hundredth time I still got tingles all over my body. So file it alongside King Kong in the pantheon of Monster Movie Masterpieces. 10/10 always, now go enjoy your dip in the ocean.
Is it safe to go back in the water? ... Steven Spielberg got ahold of the incredible Peter Benchley-penned novel about a giant, carnivorous Great White (dubbed "Jaws") who swims the ocean waters off a fictional resort town, preying on both the Island's locals and its visitors alike, and adaptated, for the silver screen, what would become one of the most terrifying American made thrillers to ever be released in the worldwide cinema. Exceptional filmmaking! And members of Spielberg's crew had the nerve to maliciously "mock" Jaws, by referring to it as "Flaws", during the filming process? All because of a few "glitches" in the mechanical shark? Ha! Who's laughing now? Great screenwriting by Benchley and Gottlieb. Great composition by the legendary John Williams. Great direction by Spielberg. Phenomenal performances by Scheider, Shaw, and Dreyfuss. Great supporting cast. Just...magnificent. Jaws is a magnificent film. A true classic.
Much like the shark itself, the movie starts slowly, deep down in the depths before coming to the surface to explode in pure sensationalism. Jaws is one of those rare exceptions where high-brow art meets fun entertainment. At the time of its making, however, simply keeping its head above water was the most the cast and crew were hoping for. But Spielberg had created something special. During production, no one saw it--I'm not sure Spielberg himself saw it, but it was there. I think it was really editor Verna Fields who saw it and put it together. Jaws begins the way most primal fears begin: someone is alone, in the dark, in an alien environment, and is being attacked from some unknown entity. People remark today how Jaws worked so well, that it's kept them afraid of the ocean for years. I disagree. I think it's because we are scared of the ocean is why Jaws works so well. The opening scene of the young girl being savaged in the black nothingness that is the night ocean is terrifying because it preys on primal fears; it doesn't create them. Next we're introduced to our cast of characters: There's Police Chief Martin Brody--an everyman with a fear of the water--and his wife, Ellen. There's Brody's loyal deputy Len Hendricks (mysteriously named "Jeff" in the sequel). Then, of course, there's the other side. There is the crooked mayor Larry Vaughan, and his two toadies newspaper editor Harry Meadows and coroner Carl Santos. After Brody and Hendricks find evidence of a hungry shark off the coast of the resort town of Amity, they do the sensible thing and start closing up the beaches. The mayor, seeing dwindling dollar signs, convinces Meadows and Santos to back him, and together they confront Brody and put the kibosh on his beach closing plan. In an era where the primitive special effects technology gave us a shark that looked like a pool toy, it became essential that the shark not be the focal point of the film. And while a fin here and a barrel there do work wonders, it's only because the shark is far from the only villain in the movie. To have credibility, we have to have a human villain. And that is where Vaughan comes in. After Vaughan's cavalier "it-can't-happen-again" attitude blows up in his face, Brody brings in the book smart, but decidedly out-of-his-element marine biologist Matt Hooper. Hooper tells Brody everything he and we, the audience, already know: The shark is out there; it's hungry; it's eating people; and it will continue to do so unless it is killed. After a disastrous Fourth of July celebration that should have gotten Vaughan impeached, Brody and Hooper join forces with Quint, a grizzled fisherman with a personal vendetta against sharks. The movie then switches from its horror and drama elements and becomes something of an adventure, foreshadowing Spielberg's work on films like Raiders of the Lost Ark. Even John Williams' score begins to conjure up images of Errol Flynn-style swashbuckling. The adventure almost seems fun. And that is when the shark, previously only a shadow, fin, or plot point referenced by dialogue, takes center stage. The movie shifts gears further near the end, going from adventure to a full on monster movie. The build up is slow, relying on showing us the results of the shark's presence rather than the shark itself. This creates enough fear and credibility so that by the time the big, rubbery toy shark is commanding the screen, we're afraid of it. It's already been established as a monster. The movie's pacing, dialogue and acting are all perfect, creating a strong enough foundation on which a silly, albeit terrifying, plot rests. By the time the shark is sinking boats and eating shark cages, Spielberg has made us by into it that he could have had the shark blasting off for the moon and we would have accepted it. And that is how and why Jaws works.
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