JAWS 1975-(PG)-124 M
It saddens me to say, that we are at the back end of August, and with that, I thought I would revisit a film that was truly made for the hot summer months, and ask that if you haven’t seen it in a few years, you might want to view it again on blue ray, as it has never looked this good since it's theater run.
The setup is so simple and perfect: An island off the coast of New England, that is a huge summer tourist destination, is visited by a giant great white shark. When a girl swimmer goes missing, and her remains wash ashore, the island chief of police, who is told it was a shark at first, warns that they must close the beaches for the public’s safety. When the mayor and town officials refuse to do so for monetary reasons, and the coroner changes his report to say it was a boating accident, more people die.Left with no other options, the town counsel, hires a local hard nosed local fisherman, the reluctant chief who hates water, and a young shark expert brought in for guidance, to charter the fisherman’s boat to go and kill the shark.
This is JAWS, and it is a classic.
Steven Spielberg was in his mid twenties when he accepted the task of filming Peter Benchley’s novel (JAWS), which in reality, should have sent him running, as you will see on the documentary that is on the blue-ray. The shark, on it’s first day of filming, sank to the bottom of the ocean. This should have been a disaster, but the fact that the mechanical shark didn’t cooperate for much of the shoot, actually forced the young and talented Spielberg to improvise, and in the process, he created one of the very first blockbusters in movie history. He also caused quite a fear of going into the water at the beach for years to come for generations of ex swimmers.
This must be one of the greatest examples of a happy accident in filmmaking, because, since we don’t see the shark much in the first part of the movie, Spielberg uses the water line, as a sort of closet for our boogeyman, in that what we are thinking is below the water, is far more frightening than anything they could come up with. The water line, and anything that lies below, becomes the abyss of each persons personal id. The fact that Spielberg also is brilliantly talented as far as framing and presentation, only adds to the unease.
I dare say that there are very few people, who if they heard the two note motif, from this movie, would not instantly recognize what it is. It is a huge part of the character of (JAWS), and I think this would be a different experience without it. Its that important. There is a great moment in the documentary where Spielberg talks of the first time, he sat down with John Williams at the piano to hear his theme, and he thought Williams was joking that the two notes was all he had…awesome. Steven Spielberg and John William's filmmaking collaborations have to go down as one of the greatest in the history of filmmaking.
The other reason why this film is so brilliant is in the writing and the casting of it’s three main characters. (Roy Scheider) as: chief Martin Brody,(Richard Dreyfuss) as: shark expert Matt Hooper, and the wonderful (Robert Shaw) as: the boat captain Quint are all so pitch perfect in their roles. There are many stories of discourse and personality clashes on set, and they obviously transferred well onto the finished product, as the dynamic of the characters, and the way these fine actors play off of one and other heighten the drama that is unfolding. When these three men head out on that too small boat, you know them a bit, and you care and worry for all of them. When the shark starts hitting the boat, out in open ocean, you will be right there, wondering how they will get out of this.
There’s your 101 on how to build suspense. Before your put people into peril, give us some interaction, history, and motivation. Spielberg, even that young, knew that. Apparently, just about everyone but God himself, had a shot at rewriting the famous Quint Indianapolis speech in the movie, but it was Shaw who got the final notes right, and it is an unforgettable welcome, forboding lull, and moment from this classic film, that should be shown to all aspiring filmmakers, who want to know how to craft an adventure/thriller. Two of Steven Spielberg’s greatest films came out of the seventies, and this was a pretty incredible start.
In narration, presentation, tone, and mood, JAWS hits everything right.