This weekend I got the chance to revisit a classic and amazing film, up on the big screen for my first time. Jaws! And I suppose I’m here to tell you that it’s till amazing, and you should go see it. Shocker. But it really is still an amazing watch. It holds up great, is still legitimately thrilling, despite the fact I’ve seen it like a dozen times, and man was it great to see in a theater full of people who would scream and cheer at the film along with me. It’s a blast.
We all know the plot, but it’s still a great story. Our hero is Chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider), a police officer who has recently moved from New York City to the sleepy Amity Island and become their chief of police. It’s a boring little town that gets all of their money from the summer months and all the tourists who spill in to enjoy their beaches. And then a shark shows up and eats a poor hippie girl, and things go to hell. Once they find the body, Brody tries his damndest to close the beaches before the shark kills again, but the crazy mayor with his weird blazer covered in little anchors refuses, saying that the town cares more about the tourists money than their lives. But things get a little hard to cover up when the shark attacks again in the middle of the day when dozens of people are on the beach, enjoying the ocean. And it results in the death of a little boy, and a dog I guess. We also get a crazy but great zoom in on Chief Brody.
Once the little boy is eaten, the town flips out, especially after the distraught mother offers a $3,000 bounty to whoever catches the shark. We then get a town meeting where they try to decide what to do about the shark, and what they’re going to do about the beaches. Plus we get introduced to the amazing character Quint (Robert Shaw). Quint is amazing. He’s this grizzled old sea captain and professional shark hunter who sings a lot of sea shanties, and I would say you understand about 75% of the things he says. Plus I love that he apparently drew a picture of a shark eating a stick figure on the chalkboard before he scratches it to get everyone’s attention. He offers to kill the shark, but for $10,000, and then leaves. Then our other lead, Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), shows up. Hooper is a rich marine biologist who specializes in sharks, and is here to study the shark.
The mayor tries to make everybody remain calm in the town while everybody goes nuts trying to find the shark and get the reward. The end up catching a shark that Hooper ensures them isn’t the right one, but the town gets a little more calm when it’s caught. That is until the real shark shows up again on a busy day and eats a weird dude on a boat, and could have eaten Brody’s son. At that point Brody forces the mayor to hire Quint, and we get to the best part of the movie. Quint, Brody, and Hooper head out into the ocean to find the shark, and kill it. Things don’t go super well at first. Hooper and Brody get along pretty much from the get-go, but Quint doesn’t respect either of them. But they slowly start to bond as they hunt the shark, with little luck. That is until it decides to pop up and look at Brody, giving us our first look at the monstrosity.
After Brody finally sees the shark, and announces the classic line “we’re gonna need a bigger boat,” the real hunt begins. They start harpooning the monster, and attaching kegs of air to keep it from diving in an attempt to wear it out, and they start chasing the shark around the ocean. And yet, the shark does manage to dive, and gets away from them, because it’s a freaking monster. They then call it a night, and spend the evening getting drunk and bonding, in what is possibly the best scene of the movie. Hooper and Quint finally start to like each other as they get drunker and drunker, and start comparing scars. They try to one-up each other by telling crazier and crazier stories, until Brody spots a scar on Quint’s arm that he admits is from a removed tattoo. Things then get intense as Quint tells the story of how he was aboard the USS Indianapolis during World War II, an actual ship that delivered the Atomic Bombs, but was then torpedoed. Quint tells the two men, and us, about sinking in the ship, and being left stranded in the ocean for four days while sharks began eating all the crewmen. It’s an amazing scene, incredibly dramatic and intense, and Robert Shaw knocks it out of the goddamn park with his performance. And then it segues right into them drunkenly singing sea shanties, and we kind of move along from that darkness.
Then in the middle of their frivolities the shark attacks the boat, and causes some engine problems that they spend the rest of the dawn fixing. And then it is on like Donkey Kong. The shark begins aggressively attacking the boat over and over again while Quint keeps firing harpoons at it that just seem to be doing nothing. Finally he agrees to let Hooper try and poison it from inside an underwater cage, but that doesn’t go to well and Hooper drops the poison, and gets attacked the the cage. He survives, but has to swim off to save himself. Then the shark decides that it needs to become a supervillain, and just eats the back of the ship, causing the Orca to start sinking. Quint then assumes his destiny and falls into the gaping jaws of the shark, joining all his fellow sailors in shark heaven. Brody then saves the day by shoving a canister of compressed air that was established earlier in the shark’s mouth. And since they talked about the canister earlier, you knew that Checkov’s Scuba Tank was going to come into play, and Brody shoots the canister, blowing the shark to pieces. Then he and Hooper swim back to shore, laughing the whole way, barely mentioning that Quint was just bitten in half.
This movie is just so great. The acting is terrific, and it’s genuinely terrifying. I know the story is that the shark doesn’t show up in the movie that much because they couldn’t get the robotic shark Bruce to function right, so they had to keep it off screen as much as possible, but man does it work. I feel like that’s a secret for good horror that modern movies are missing more often than not. Films like Jaws or Alien are so damn terrifying because we don’t see the monster that much, and the reason we didn’t see it that much was that the practical effects weren’t working that well. Now in the time of CGI it’s easy to make some monster out of pixels, so they do and then show it constantly, to the point where it loses it’s mystique and menace. We don’t see the actual shark until almost the end. Throughout the movie we see more and more of it, but it’s really only fleeting glimpses until we see the big reveal. Hell, most of the menace comes from the amazing theme John Williams composed and the fact that we spend a lot of the movie in the shark’s perspective in a move that usually gets called “Killer Cam,” where we see the shark swimming around and picking it’s prey from it’s own eyes. This movie is just amazing, and while it was the nail in the coffin of the New Hollywood movement that Star Wars would hammer in a couple years later, it’s still an excellently made film, and a real piece of auteur cinema. Spielberg is a master at film, and this movie really set up what was to come. It ushered in the Age of the Blockbuster, and man did it come in swinging.
Jaws was written by Peter Benchley and Carl Gottlieb and was directed by Steven Spielberg and was released by Universal, 1975
Categories: Reel Talk