There aren’t many films that you can watch over and over and feel the same wide-eyed rush of adrenaline every time. Somehow, Jaws has that special quality and Steven Spielberg became a master. I’ve been watching this movie as long as I can remember, I know exactly what happens and when, yet I feel my pupils dilate and little hairs start to stand every time that music starts up.
duuu dun….duuuu dun. du-dun du-dun du-dun…
It all starts with a late night sna- I mean swim. That first scene in the calm, just before sunrise, is one of the scariest things ever captured on film. One second, the girl is just jerked like a fishing bobber, next she’s being thrashed around in the water screaming and then she’s gone. No bubbles and hardly a ripple. The world was back to that calm at dawn.
I’ve heard today’s all-knowing teenagers complain that “Jaws isn’t scary” “there’s not enough gore” and “you never see the shark.” Well la-te-da, why don’t you just blow a shark whistle and have it fly up on land and hump kids to death. That would make a great movie, right? Sadly, it would make millions.
You see, Jaws is the kind of scary movie that relies on psychological aspects, rather than shoving fresh guts in your face. What’s better than a day swimming at the beach on the 4th of July? The water’s nice, and everything seems fine so you go out deeper where the shark is under full cover and then it’s too late. Take that little piece of vacation and turn it into shark bait and you’ve scared everyone out of the water for decades.
Of course, there is more to this film than an ominous cello, red water and beach panic. You see, this is Chief Brody’s (Roy Scheider) first summer on Amity Island since his family moved from New York. To the islanders, he’s still an outsider, so when he wants to close the beaches over the shark, they worry how they’re going to make money. Summer is the season that keeps them afloat. To make Brody look even more conspicuous, he doesn’t even like the water. “It doesn’t make much sense for a guy who hates the water to live on an island.”
When the shark business heats up, Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) a young shark guy, arrives in town to bring his expertise on their shark problem. He discovers that the shark they’re looking for is probably a huge great white. After another grizzly scene with all the tourists as witnesses, the Mayor finally closes the beach and sends Brody and Hooper to help the salty fisherman, Quint (Robert Shaw), go capture and kill the bloodthirsty shark. Quint is one of my favorite characters from any movie. He’s got the slurred swagger and big fish tails to rival any fisherman. From his hardened hands, his sunbaked mind and the terrifying tale of his time on the USS Indianapolis he’s the crazy old pirate of Amity Island, and bringing home that shark would be his greatest story. Three men on the open water against a giant man eating shark, movies don’t get much better than that.
Jaws is the reason I hate to swim and love to fish. It is why I have a set of bleached little shark jaws in my box of treasures. And it is one of the first films that got me hooked on movies. And I know it is one of the best films ever made. If you or a loved one (including children) have not seen Jaws, just drop whatever you’re doing and watch it. We’re just heading into summer, so it’s the perfect time for Jaws. Just remember: “This shark, swallow you whole. ”
***Well, of course I’m picking Jaws for 1975. Cuckoo’s Nest is fantastic but there’s not much ever made that can beat Jaws. ’75 was a wonderful year.***