director Steven Spielberg
I’d been holding off revisiting Jaws for some time mainly because I wanted to watch it with my kids. A couple of years ago, having ventured into content of questionable appropriateness (e.g. Poltergeist (1983)), waiting for them to get a bit older seemed the right thing to do. Finally, they were taking a trip to Australia this summer, so waiting for them to come back from that before potentially giving them the fear of the water that effected a huge portion of the population as a result of seeing Jaws in the 1970’s also seem apropos.
For a generation, Jaws has been one of “the” scary movies. Expertly crafted by the very young Steven Spielberg, it was a film that created its own zeitgeist, thrill ride cinema at its earliest and best. And the subsequent fear of the water, fear of sharks, and general misinformation that poured from the film and the Peter Benchley novel upon which it was based.
I was 6 when it came out. I have vivid memories of the time, though I wouldn’t see it until a re-release a few years later. It was, however, “the” film when my family got HBO finally. Back then, HBO only had a half dozen movies that it played over and over again. And through such a combination of elements, Jaws was one of those movies that I couldn’t tell you how many times I saw it.
It’s a brilliant film. The production may have been plagued and potentially disastrous but Spielberg managed not only the tension, drama, and adventure but actually got some quintessential performances as well. None more quintessential than Quint himself (Robert Shaw). This is one case of a character performance where it doesn’t seem like a performance at all. Quint seems like a real person, or maybe that Robert Shaw just plain is Quint. Certainly one of the best that I can bring to mind. Richard Dreyfuss is great too as Matt Hooper.
Like Spielberg’s other early films, Duel (1971) and The Sugarland Express (1974), the director shows a real interest in average Americans, using non-actors in a big part of crowd scenes and local flavor. While there are perhaps real parallels between Jaws and Duel, this is the film that made Spielberg Spielberg, or at least gave him the license to become the director that he would.
The kids really liked the movie a lot. Clara noted that she was only frightened when the music started up (John Williams’ iconic score featuring notable nods toward Bernard Herrmann). That and the surprise moments made to make you jump out of your seat.
The most imperfect element of the film is its shark biology. This may sound sort of obvious to state but the film created or enabled such an image of great white sharks that it’s literally taken decades of information to overturn. While the shark is sort of the perfect villain in the film, this perfect predator predating on people, the reality of a rogue shark isn’t something that seems as palpable now (though science still knows less about great whites than it would like to).
It’s a brilliant film, though. Iconic throughout, from lines delivered to reaction shots staged to the film’s great final section on the Orca. Quite satisfying, quite remarkable. Still.