JAWS (1975) – Four decades later, it still has bite

The following is my entry in The Out to Sea Blogathon, being hosted by Debbie at her blog Moon in Gemini from March 6-8, 2020. Click on the above banner, and read bloggers’ critiques of a variety of water-based movies!

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Three moronic sequels have not dimmed the power of Steven Spielberg’s Jaws. In fact, the sequels have only made the extraordinary qualities of the original more pointed. The shark was never the point; the characters were.

The movie’s plot sounds quite similar to the many rip-offs which followed. A beach is terrorized by a shark; the police chief (Roy Scheider) wants to close the beach down; but the tourist-conscious mayor (Murray Hamilton) won’t have it; tourists become so much appetizer while the mayor wallows in guilt; and finally, someone kills the sucker.

But again, it’s the way in which the shark is built up as a movie villain that had contemporary critics comparing Spielberg to Alfred Hitchcock. We never see the shark in full until movie’s end. More often, we get simply the shark’s actions. And they’re scary enough, as when the shark tears off the end of a pier where some bounty hunters were waiting to catch him.

Conflicting legends have grown up around the movie. One story has it that Spielberg, on the verge of establishing himself as a movie maverick, agreed to direct the movie only on the condition that the shark not been seen until the movie’s second half. The other story is that Spielberg intended to show the shark all along but had continual mechanical problems; as a result, the actors had plenty of time to improvise and get “into” their characters. Whatever the reason, the movie builds up as a model of suspense.

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And as a result, we get to know what makes the three primary shark-hunters tick. There’s Police Chief Brody, whose first view of the shark inspires the classic understatement, “I think you’re gonna need a bigger boat.” There’s macho Captain Quint (Robert Shaw), whose hardening was partially the result of his being on-board a ship that sunk into shark-infested waters (which he describes in the movie’s famous monologue). And there’s oceanographer Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), who quickly throws in the towel on Quint’s machismo contest by parodying it (when Quint crushes a steel can with his bare hand, Hooper crushes a styrofoam cup).

Ever since Spielberg hit it big 45 years (!) ago, Hollywood has gone mad with special-effects follies. But as moviegoers (and Spielberg) have always known, special effects are a success only if you care about the characters first. Jaws still serves a textbook example of special effects giving payoffs to well-developed characters.

I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. Spielberg!

5 thoughts on “JAWS (1975) – Four decades later, it still has bite

  1. Well, if we’re going out to sea, best to get the shark out of the way first. What you say is true, if we’re not interested in the characters we won’t stay around for the creature.

    Last weekend at the grocery store I bought lots of meat for a promised stew. Too much meat. Outloud in the butcher aisle I said: “We’re going to need a bigger pot.” I crack me up!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Jaws is one of Spielberg’s best. I’d pick it over nearly every other movie he ever made. Although I admit that I’d have a tough choice if i had to choose between either Jaws or Raiders…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. HI, Steve. Sorry it took so long to comment. I agree with you that Jaws has not diminished after all these decades later. Thanks so much for bringing Bruce to the blogathon!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Good review! You bring up an excellent point about putting characters first and then worrying about the special effects. I also participated in the Out of Sea blogathon, where I reviewed a Hallmark film called ‘Honeymoon for One’. I nominated you for the Sunshine Blogger Award as well! Here are the links to those posts:

    https://18cinemalane.wordpress.com/2020/03/06/take-3-honeymoon-for-one-review/

    https://18cinemalane.wordpress.com/2020/04/10/i-won-sunshine-blogger-award-number-four/

    Liked by 1 person

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