Jaws Review

Title: Jaws
Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Roy Scheider,
Robert Shaw,
Richard Dreyfuss
Genre: Thriller
Runtime: 2 Hours 04 mins
Music: John Williams
Studio: Universal Pictures
Certificate: US: PG
UK: 12
Release Date: US: Jun 20 1975
UK: Dec 26 1975
See If You Like: Deep Blue Sea,

You know, I’ve watched Jaws once or twice before but I don’t think I ever really got it; why people thought it was so good, and why it’s had so much critical acclaim shovelled onto it; so with the excuse of Universal Studios re-releasing this supposed classic (remastered as part of it’s 100th year anniversary), I went along to re-analyse it, and see if it really is that good.

For those unfamiliar, we see put upon ex-New York City cop Martin Brody (Roy Scheider, The French Connection), now running Amity Island Police, investigate a series of odd shark attacks. In upstate north east United States? No. It can’t be? Can it? A real life man-eating shark? He wants to close the beaches to the public right before the start of the tourist summer season to prevent more attacks, but the local town council have other ideas and keep the sandy death-traps open. After more tragedy, Brody enlists the help of oceanographer Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss, The Goodbye Girl) and shark hunter Quint (in the role of a lifetime Robert Shaw, The Sting) to hunt for the alleged Great White beast.

The three main characters really do drive this movie. You feel more than sorry for Brody throughout the film thanks to Scheider’s fantastic job; cursed with a fear of the water, his awkwardness shines through whenever scenes involving water are involved, and in the, quite frankly hick, island of Amity he has to deal with so many idiots and dead-end things on a daily basis (like a corrupt mayor and kids karate chopping fenceposts at the local bike shop) it’s surprising he didn’t leap into the shark’s mouth at the first chance he got, just to escape his miserable existence. Hooper’s interesting because he’s a scientist, but not too intelligent to make him unlikable, and Shaw’s fantastic portrayal of Quint (as the grizzled old sea-dog shark-hunter) has become the archetype for that character; he’s like the clean version of Captain Pugwash, for adults. The chemistry between the three men, especially on the boat towards the end, is both mesmerising and captivating, and it’s all the better because everyone else on the island is a thick hick or a bumbling idiot (probably reflecting what people on the North Eastern seaboard corner of the states are like).

Problems during the production made director Steven Spielberg (The War Horse) go for a more suggestive approach about the beast, leaving composer John Williams plenty of room to create a fantastic score full of little evocative tones, and one of the things that stood out in Jaws was the really good music; iconic theme tune aside, there’s really neat little musical pieces that fit the tone and mood on screen perfectly; a personal favourite coming when Brody is taking shots at the shark on top of the sinking hunting boat (the Orca), and as the boat sinks and the shark gets closer, the music builds to a fantastic crescendo and an explosive finale.

Speaking of the problems, it was a surprise to learn that Jaws had a bad time during the making of it and went over budget, because it’s such a damn finely made film! As well as the music being top notch, Spielberg’s cinematography and vision shines through; clearly something which can be attributed to his perfectionist attitude. With the difficulty came the choice to keep the shark sighting to a minimum; a choice which makes the whole movie work so much better; there’s no way the same little bit of magic could be replicated if the shark was shown every time it attacked someone. It’s in the style of an old Alfred Hitchcock “less is more” approach which we don’t see enough of nowadays, and what was really interesting is the artistic choice of not having any red in the locations or costumes; adding to the blood when it appears in the water in the film; it’s not the first thing you think of when making a thriller/horror film, but it pays off massively.

What you might not realise until rewatching is just how much of the dialogue, characters and actions have been basically stolen from, and/or lovingly referenced, in other movies; for example, I’ve always loved Kevin Smith’s Chasing Amy and one of the standout moments of that was when two characters were comparing sexual injuries and scars, and I’ve always been fond of that scene for the one-up-manship over the more gruesome injury until I rewatched Jaws. I never noticed Hooper and Quint’s “war” before, so whilst paying tribute to that scene, I lost out on some credibility for Smith. When you have the surprisingly ad-libbed “you’re gunna need a bigger boat” line, the chorus of “show me the way to go home” and Brody double taking as the Shark surfaces behind him as well, there are so many moments that stick to the back of your mind a day or two after watching such a quality film.

What came across my mind is how much Jaws actually gave the general population a knowledge of sharks; there’s not a lot of technobabble or boring science dialogue which gives audiences a ‘beginner’s guide’ to sharks in a way; there’s a scene with Hooper arguing with the mayor of Amity about how the shark they’re hunting is different from the one the mayor’s minions captured, and when quizzed about if he knows what a Great White is, the mayor looks stunned and stutters, lacking the knowledge of said shark. I sat gobsmacked at the cinema screen and thought “Come on man! You must know what a Great White Shark is! Have you never seen the movie Ja… Oh.”

If there was one minor critique to make, it’s that Jaws is a little flabby time wise. They could have cut a few bits and bobs when they’re on the Orca near the end of the movie, but the constant accidents and harpooning air barrels to the shark does build the tension up to finally seeing the beast in all it’s glory. That actually worked quite well. You don’t fully see the shark until a good 90 minutes in, and thanks to the limitations of a troubled production, Spielberg made the choice to build the shark up rather than showing it from the start. This worked out much better, since more suspense is built up, and the reveal of the Great White villain is stunning.

Since it’s a restoration, a quick word on how I cannot help but praise the job that has been done to clean up the footage and sound; it’s crisp and clear all round with no faults whatsoever. Universal’s given this truly great movie the treatment it deserved and restored it for a new generation and audience.

Consider me converted. Fantastic everything really. Even more of an excuse to go and rewatch a true classic on the big screen with the fab remastering and all the little touch-ups they’ve done. Because of how great it is, never mind the near 40 years it has been since release, Jaws is still relevant today.

Terry Lewis@lewisonlife.

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