In the first budding months of The Best Picture Project, I reviewed Jaws. To date, I would consider that post the worst of all that I have written. This makes me especially sad, considering Jaws is one of my favorite films. I keep it here as a reminder to be humble. I have my share of lame excuses: I was a younger, less competent writer and was damn set to get something up on the blog that day, even if it was that chum bucket of shit. If you don’t mind, we can celebrate the end of Shark Week with a little rewrite for redemption. I know I can, and so desperately want to, give this film something so much better.
Jaws is considered the first summer blockbuster and one of the most culturally influential movies. No one had ever seen audiences react to a film like this before. There were people of all age, lining up to see it over and over again. As the film’s profit grew, so did its fans and influence. After Jaws, there was a sudden interest in the water. Fear was instilled in swimmers. I’m sure phantom fins caused unnecessary panic too often. Many fishermen took the film as a call to arms, and began killing a multitude of sharks. Arguably, the best result of Jaws was that almost overnight, kids wanted to become marine biologists.
Jaws is the story of how a lone, man-eating, great white shark terrorizes a the small island town of Amity. Chief Brody (Roy Scheider) is the new police chief, and not the biggest fan of water. While he’s a leader in the small town, he is still very much an outsider. After the first shark attack, Brody wants to close the beaches. However, with the fourth of July, the town’s most profitable weekend, coming up, the mayor coaxes him to keep the beaches open, for their economy’s sake. This decision turns tragic, and the town blames Brody. Now they want this shark dead. So Amity’s most notorious fisherman, Quint (Robert Shaw), and a young marine biologist, Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) set out to the water with Brody to kill or capture the beast.
People always comment on how scary Jaws is. With a shark attack movie, today you would expect a bunch of blood, gore and teeth sinking into soft flesh. Here, especially in the opening scene, it’s what you don’t see that is so frightening. Being above the water and witnessing the woman being physically drug around and screaming is much scarier than seeing the bite. Hiding under the cool, inviting water is the perfect cloak for this powerful killer. In fact, the more I see the shark, the less frightening it becomes, to me anyway. The one moment that always makes me jump doesn’t feature the shark at all. Hooper and I freak out in perfect synchronization there, every time.
One of my favorite scenes from the movie is when Quint talks about his experience after the sinking of the USS Indianapolis. On a dime, the mood changes from sharing scar stories and drinking to legs to Quint’s painful and horrifying story of being left for dead in the middle of the ocean. As Quint speaks, his eyes are a little glassy, a combination of drink and old memories. He looks both straight ahead to Brody, but through him as if looking far away to the past. The way he talks and the grisly descriptions draw me in everytime and if anyone dares to talk during his speech, I give them an intense shush.
The story of the making of Jaws is one of the most infamous in Hollywood history. It seems like everything the could go wrong, did, yet the film was a surprisingly huge success. Director Steven Spielberg had a huge mechanical shark created to portray the beast. It’s been said that while it worked fine when tested in a pool, the thing instantly sank and started dissolving in the salt water ocean. During the shark cage scene, shot with real sharks, things became very dangerous. The best shot from the crew’s work was the shark struggling on top of the cage. Problem was, no one was in it, so the plot had to veer from Peter Benchley’s novel a bit and let Hooper escape the cage and live.
Jaws is one of the few movies that I never get tired of seeing. Anytime I happen upon it on television, I cannot pull myself away. Though I know every minute, the suspense pulls me in perfectly. That scene showing Brody nervous on the beach with the perfect cuts between him and the water, gets me every time. Though the film nearing 40 years old, there is a timelessness feeling about it. This is how any fishing village should look and react to a killer shark.
“It’s all psychological. You yell barracuda, everybody says, “Huh? What?” You yell shark, we’ve got a panic on our hands on the Fourth of July.”
Thank you, readers, for sticking with me. I feel cleansed and happy to post a much better review of Jaws. When writing, there is rarely perfection, but improvements are something to cherish.
After reading the original review I think you did a good job on both posts…but I feel the same way about the stuff I wrote just a few months ago compared to what I’m writing now.
Jaws is definitely one of my favorites too. You couldn’t pay me enough to swim with sharks now.
Thank you so much, Andy. You know, the film has made me more curious about sharks and I would jump at the chance to take a very cautious swim with them. Crazy, I know.
I guess I might…if they were small. And maybe de-toothed. And maybe if I was wearing a ton of body armor.
I believe Mythbusters tried wearing armor to protect from sharks…not sure how you could swim though.
Are you writing this because you just picked up the Jaws blu-ray? And if you did…. doesn’t it look amazing?!
Oh, I wish, Ian! I’m a pretty frugal bargain blu-ray collector, but I’m dying to see Jaws on blu-ray. Mark my words, it will be on my shelf.
Its one of the best looking blu-rays I’ve ever seen.
This is one of my husband’s favorite films, and he bought the blu-ray the day it came out. About three weeks ago, we saw Jaws on the big screen with an original print from 1975. While “original print” sounds cool, it really wasn’t; the print LOOKED 37 years old, and chunks of scenes were missing. Awesome. Plus there was this poor six year old girl in front of us who was bored to death for the first hour of the movie, then scared to death in the last hour. As much I as I really love this movie, it was not the AMAZEBALLS theatrical experience I was hoping for. Oh well.
Nice writeup! And your first one was good too!!
Thank you! Sounds like your husband is quite the Jaws fan. Bummer that your experience in the theater wasn’t so great, I would have enjoyed watching that kid go from bored to terrified.
Alyson–missed your first review but enjoyed reading this one. I was one of the folks standing in a line which stretched around the block at 15th and Chestnut in Philly waiting to see the great event at the old Goldman Theater by the guy who directed DUEL on TV. A friend and I sat next to a guy who had brought in a pint of bourbon in a paper bag…when the shark jumped out of the water at Chief Brody, the bottle jumped out of the guy’s hands and smashed all over the place…everyone screamed (me too) and the smell of bourbon filled the air. It was just GREAT!!! With all respect to CUCKOO’s NEST, JAWS was my favorite flick of the year!
I agree with you as well about Quint’s speech about the Indianapolis–it literally sent a chill up my spine, and again, with due respect to George Burns, Robert Shaw deserved the Oscar that year for an absolutely stunning performance.! One other comment about the adaptation of Benchley’s novel was the deliberate change to remove the whole love affair bit between Hooper and Brody’s wife…Thank God for whomever made that decision (Spielberg, I’m guessing).
The aftermath was a terror of the ocean so abiding that it was years before I’d go in above the knee! and when a friend told me about “land sharks” walking along the beach one night and grabbed my leg…they heard me holler two blocks down! Anyone who can craft a film to involve someone to that extent, is a genius…from JAWS to WAR HORSE, Spielberg is the master!
Ken, that’s got to be one of the greatest theater experiences I have ever heard! The way Shaw carries that second half of the film is truly Oscar worthy.
BTW Ian, thanks for the comment about the blu-ray, shall check it out.
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