“You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”
–Martin Brody (Roy Schneider)
“It’s about being bloody frightened of being eaten by a bloody great shark.”
–Kinglsey Amis, on the various metaphoric and sociological interpretations of Jaws
Ya had to know what it was like.
Back in the day, films got to your town when they got to your town. Film prints cost money. The studio released copies, typically to the larger centers and, when those places were done with them, the films toured. If a film proved particularly successful and was getting “held over,” the studio printed more copies. If you lived in Smallville, Kansas or Revelstoke, BC, it might be awhile before the latest film got to you.
All that started to change in the summer of 1975, when Steven Spielberg’s Jaws left previous hit movies in its wake and birthed the Summer Blockbuster. Thanks to this suspenseful ride (and a certain Lucas film, a couple years later), it wouldn’t be long before summer meant the heavy promotion of high concept, and hit films increasingly turned up everywhere at once.
Summer’s almost over, and so are 2012’s Summer Reviews. So, as Chrissie says, “come on into the water!” A bloody great shark awaits.
Cast, Crew, and Other Info:
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Written by Peter Benchley and Carl Gottlieb
“Indianapolis Monologue” by John Milius, Howard Sackler, and Robert Shaw.
Music by John Williams
Roy Schneider as Sheriff Martin Brody
Robert Shaw as Quint
Richard Dreyfuss as Matt Hooper
Lorraine Gary as Ellen Brody
Murray Hamilton as Major Larry Vaughn
Carl Gottlieb as Meadows
Jeffrey Kramer as Hendricks
Susan Backlinie and Denise Cheshire as Chrissie
Jonathan Filley as Cassidy
Chris Rebello as Michael Brody
Jay Mello as Sean Brody
Peter Benchley as Reporter
Steven Spielberg as Lifestation worker
Full Cast and Crew information is available at the imdb.
An outsized rogue great white shark makes a beach town its hunting ground. Wary of losing the tourist business, local politicians try to downplay the situation. When that option reaps disastrous consequences, the sheriff, a shark expert, and an old sailor join forces to stop the creature.
1. You know what doesn’t work? Mass slaughter of uninteresting fictional people. We don’t care about these characters. We get numbed very quickly by high body counts.
Jaws gives us people we actually care about. They’re believable and interesting and complex and even likeable. The second half of the movie features three guys on a boat hunting a shark. These three actors, under Spielberg’s direction, with a strong script, make that ending spell-binding.
2. Famously, notoriously, Spielberg wanted to show the shark more often. Special Effects were not what they can be today. He ordered up a mechanical shark (three, in fact). The thing broke down frequently and, when it worked at all, it rarely worked as promised.
So Spielberg opted to rarely show the shark. We get shark-eyed point-of-view shots, fleeting glimpses, dorsal fins, bloody water, and ominous music. The result was a far better film than likely would have been achieved through more direct means.
1. …Of course, when Bruce the Shark (nicknamed for Spielberg’s lawyer) finally does his full-frontal… Well, special effects have come a long way, and even in 1975, audiences had to be forgiving.
2. Some people have also noted that the film perpetuates a number of myths about sharks (and exploding air tanks). I don’t know if this presents a problem for most viewers, but it probably should be mentioned.
Originality: 3/6 Yes, the film has been adapted from a best-selling novel by Peter Benchley, and it keeps the central plot. However, the novel features a number of Peyton Placesque subplots and key character differences, and so it’s not a direct adaptation.
Jaws also contains numerous echoes, most notably of dragon-quest legends and Moby Dick.
Nevertheless, the film also gets a point for creating a kind of suspense film that had not been tried before, a realistic monster movie, set on sunny beaches and dark seas, with a depth of character, and for launching (for better or worse) the Summer Blockbuster.
Acting: 6/6 A strong cast turn in excellent performances.
Story: 6/6 The first half works as both an often-understated suspense film and a commentary on official corruption and self-interest. The second brings us face to face with the beast.
Fans of shock-a-minute thrill ride movies might not enjoy the pacing.
Emotional Response: 5/6
Overall: 6/6. Jaws captured the zeitgeist of 1975, but it remains highly watchable. Increasingly, summer blockbusters would become products. Spielberg created a pop work of art.
In total, Jaws receives 36/42.
Jaws became the original summer blockbuster and a long-lasting phenomenon. It ultimately birthed three sequels; only the first of these is worth watching at all, as a sort of Saturday Matinee version of the original. Jaws also spawned numerous rip-offs—- Orca, Grizzly, and The Deep, to name just a few. Ridley Scott, meanwhile, pitched Alien as “Jaws in space.”
Licensed merchandise and cash-ins included t-shirts, posters, a model kit, a kiddie game, a Universal Studios attraction and, eventually, a videogame. The 70s saw Jaws-inspired Saturday morning cartoons (Misterjaw and Jabberjaw), and a re-currant Saturday Night Live sketch (“Land Shark!”). Unlicensed novelty records include Dickie Goodman”s “Mr. Jaws” and Homemade Theatre’s “Santa Jaws.”
And the madness didn’t stop there….