Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Movie Review: Jaws

"What is special about 'Jaws' is that it hits, in everyone, a primal fear of the unknown that's in water.
-Roy Scheider (2001)

In 1975, a young, then-unknown, Steven Spielberg in only his second effort as director, released a thriller called Jaws, based off the bestselling novel by Peter Benchley. Throughout the years, most people recognize the movie more than the novel and if they did read the novel, they'd find it's the exception to the rule of, "The book is better than the movie."

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Know what this movie needs? A subplot where Brody's wife cheats on him with Hooper.

"The audience didn't know & didn't care what it took to make 'Jaws'. All they cared was, it was working for them."
-Steven Spielberg (2001)

When a killer shark starts attacking the residents of Amity Island, it's up to a former New York City cop turned local sheriff, a young oceanographer and a half-mad shark hunter to kill it. Of course, the shark doesn't plan on making things easy for the trio.

That last sentence was all too-true for Spielberg and the rest of the cast & crew because Jaws was a very troubled production. Bruce, the name of the prop shark, was often not working, filming underwater was equally difficult & Spielberg (for all his later accomplishments) was still inexperienced as a director.

The end result was phenomenal with Jaws becoming (at that time) the highest grossing film of all time.
You can tell that Spielberg had a bright future ahead of him with this movie. He did the very smart thing of changing a lot of things from the novel to make the audience root for our heroes. As he put it in one interview, "Everyone in the book was so awful I began rooting for the shark!"

One of the nice things about a movie like Jaws is that no one looks Hollywood-beautiful. Everyone in it looks like an everyday person you would run into when you live in a small town. If Jaws were made today, chances are Chief Brody would be played by Brad Pitt.
Everyone's perfect in this movie but the real stars are Schieder, Dreyfuss & Shaw. Even Lorraine Gray, who we don't see once our trio head out to see, does a good job as Brody's wife.

And because of it's small budget ($9 million, which would be about $43 million today), somethings are left to your imagination. You don't see every kill the shark makes, you don't see the death of Ben Gardner and perhaps the best part is there's no grainy flashback when Quint tells the story of the USS Indianapolis.

Great Scene: “Jaws”. It's the antithesis of 'show it, don't… | by ...
This is one of my favorite monologues in all of film.


The story is simple but how Spielberg tells it shows his true powers as a director. He deserves a lot of credit for making this film work despite all the setbacks during production but special attention must be given to John Williams for his classic score which he won an Oscar. And while she isn't as remembered as Spielberg or Williams, editor Verna Fields, who also won as Oscar for her work on the film, deserves credit for some of the uneasiness that can be felt when watching this.

I sometimes get the feeling that Spielberg has mixed feelings about Jaws. One hand the production was hell but on the other hand it helped put him on the map as major player in Hollywood. One hand it was nominated for Oscars like Best Picture...but on the other hand Spielberg didn't even get a nomination for Best Director. I think that snub from the Academy always bothered him, as you can see in what is probably the first "Reaction Video", made several decades before the internet.

Regardless of what it won or didn't win, Jaws remains a classic, showing how sometimes less is more and when you have the right actors, the right filmmaker and the right story, you can turn a $9 million dollar movie into a $403 million blockbuster (That'd be close to $2 billion today). This was a movie I always wanted to see in theaters and thanks to COVID-19, you can probably find it at your local movie theater (Provided what stage of recovery you're in).
There were some loud teenagers in the theater when I arrived but thankfully they pissed off before Alex Kitner became an appetizer. If you get a chance, check it out. And if you're worried that this will scare you away from beaches if/when they reopen, just remember "it's only a movie".

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Just when you thought it was safe to go back into theaters...

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