Tourists on the menu.
The first time watching of a favourite film can be a particularly memorable event, and I will always recall my first viewing of Jaws when the family went to see it way back in the summer of 1976. It would have to rank as one of my top five most purely entertaining and enjoyable movie watching experiences in a cinema in my entire life. It’s also the 3rd film of the 3 great films from 1975 that I have recently been reviewing (the other two being Barry Lyndon and One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest)
Regarded as a watershed moment in motion picture history, Jaws was the prototypical summer blockbuster and before the days of the internet, audiences were not pre-conditioned as to what to expect and although Jaws had been on release in the USA for just over 6 months, by the time it hit New Zealand in January 1976 the anticipation and excitement it generated was something you simply just don’t see anymore with a release of a film. With expectations so high would the film actually deliver on them? Yes it did . . . in spades.
The audience was hooked from the very start.
In terms of its reputation, Jaws will forever be known for two things: director Steven Spielberg’s unique shark-eye view camera work and the building of suspense, and composer John Williams’ two note attack motif that became as quintessential as any piece of film music ever created. Perhaps those two aspects alone would have been enough to make Jaws an iconic film – who knows. But the fact is, this 1975 effort is about so much more than just suspense/horror. It is one of the most well-rounded, complete movies ever made.
For a very basic overview, Jaws, based on the novel by Peter Benchley, tells the story of the coastal town of Amity, which suddenly and inexplicably becomes the hunting grounds for a rogue Great White shark. Sheriff Brody (Roy Scheider) wants to close down the beaches until further notice, but is opposed every step of the way by city official Vaughn (Murray Hamilton), who worries about the potential loss of tourist business. When the attacks continue, however, Brody enlists the help of shark expert Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) and grizzled boatsman Quint (Robert Shaw) to help hunt down the giant predator.
The juxtaposition of acting, editing, camerawork, humour and music helped create one of cinema’s most celebrated jump scares, which is quickly followed by one of the greatest ad-libs in movie history and then followed by one of cinema’s most exciting sequences – all in less than 6 minutes. I should also add that when the family first saw it my mum jumped first which set off a chain reaction across the entire cinema row which was then followed by laughter as to what happened followed by more laughter with Brody’s wonderful, and quite apt, suggestion to Quint.
As stated, the general premise and music here are well-known. But what always strikes me with each Jaws re-watch is how much it is a human drama as opposed to a horror piece driven by a villain (the shark, in this case).
The first half of Jaws takes place almost entirely on land which focuses more on the politics of fear and commerce than anything supernatural or scary. It seems to play out as a modern day version of Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy Of The People.
The second half leans more towards adventure sea chase, and is buoyed by ocean scenes that, despite being filmed nearly 50 years ago now, do not seen old or outdated in the least. There’s definitely a touch of Moby Dick in the way the second half plays out.
The masterful cinematography always holds up, and Spielberg’s behind-the-camera decisions certainly do here as well. Even then though, in the midst of a brutal and thrilling chase, Spielberg stops the action for a touching scene in which the three seaman bond over song and shared experiences, culminating in the famous monologue by Quint about the USS Indianapolis.
In order to fully exhibit such depth of character, great acting is required, and it’s given here in spades. Jaws features a collection of unique characters that are always a joy to revisit. Scheider as the “why-won’t- anyone-listen-to-me!” sheriff lets viewers relate to the story in a much more personal aspect, while Dreyfuss’ Hooper is insightful, hilarious, and provides some of the best dialogue of the whole show. Of course, Shaw as Quint is singularly iconic, juxtaposing jocularity and complexity perfectly within his single character.
Such a great film deserved a fitting thrilling climax which it delivered.
Perhaps the greatest compliment I can give Jaws is that every time I see it, I can’t help but be swept away in all its winning aspects. Whether it be the drama, emotion, humour, music, thrills, adventure, visuals, acting, or just the overall heart of the piece, there is not a single scene wasted or under-utilised. I have absolutely no doubt that it will remain just as visceral of an experience going forward as it was for those sitting in the theatres in 1975 and 1976.
And the tease for next week post . . . The Return of the Great Adventure.
I will also add my wonderful mum in Auckland messages me every Thursday morning telling me what the film is for next week from the tease – and she’s always right (and she’ll know this weeks one for sure).
I owe my love of movies and the cinema to my both my parents, but particularly to my mum; so this post is dedicated to her.