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.