Amazingly enough despite the fact that I have watched thousands of movies over my life somehow I hadn’t seen Steven Spielberg’s (Schindler’s List, Catch Me If You Can) Jaws. Shocking really. It is the film that since its original release in 1975 has been most responsible for people being afraid of going into the water. Spielberg’s massive, evil, intelligent, and very hungry Great White shark was and is quite frightening. I was surprised that when I watched it that after 37 years and all kinds of technological advances in filmmaking it has held up pretty well.
Martin Brody (Roy Scheider – The French Connection, All That Jazz) has moved his family from New York City to a quiet seaside community. He has taken over as the Chief of Police of Amity. His quiet is viciously interrupted from the moment that the mauled body of a teenage girl is found washed up on the beach. Brody, on the basis of the coroner’s report that the girl was the victim of a shark attack, decides to close the beach. Now, this is not music to mayor (Murray Hamilton – The Graduate, The Hustler) of Amity’s ears as he is well aware that summer is when Amity makes plenty of tourist dollars.
Mayor Vaughn’s stubbornness and insistence that the beach in Amity remains open leads to the death of a young boy. It is now obvious that a shark is behind the two deaths. Realizing his mistake, Mayor Vaughn offers a reward of $3,000 for the shark’s head. At that meeting, grizzled shark hunter, Quint (Robert Shaw – The Sting, From Russia with Love), refuses to risk his life for anything under $10,000. The reward brings out all kinds of fishermen and yahoos who want what they think will be a quick and easy buck.
Quint, Brody and biologist Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss – American Graffiti, Close Encounters of the Third Kind) realize that the small shark that a group of fishermen have captured could not have done the damage they witnessed. So the three men head out on Quint’s boat after the monster this is terrorizing the seaside community.
When it was released this film quickly became a cult favourite and was the breakthrough film for Steven Spielberg. What does stand out most about the film for me is the crazy creepy score by John Williams (Fiddler on the Roof, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone). Before we even get to see the giant shark we are petrified due to the chilling two notes Williams used to signal his presence. As a result there was many a person watching the film with hands in front of their eyes before even seeing a shark. That equals success for a horror film.
While this is your basic horror film there are other elements to it as well. Offsetting the tension created by the killer shark is some comedic moments. Though the character of Quint is rather fierce and frightening himself he also is at the center of some of the funniest moments as well. Actor Robert Shaw does a good job playing both sides of that coin.
As I’ve said before film technology and special effects have advanced greatly since Jaws was released. Spielberg was smart enough to use real shark footage for all the underwater shots of the shark. When it came to out of water (oh, the beast does terrorize even when out of the water) or surface shots Steven Spielberg’s team built a giant robotic shark that they dubbed “Bruce”. Now, admittedly Bruce is fairly fake looking, but Spielberg films it in enough of a realistic way that our imaginations take over and the result is fright.
Spielberg does a great job as this could have easily been another cheesy horror film, but instead he has constructed an effective horror film that kept people out of the water and continues to scare almost four decades later.
-Deleted Scenes and Outtakes
-The Making of Jaws
-The Shark is Still Working: The Impact + Legacy of Jaws
-Jaws: The Restoration
-From the Set