Well, let me start off by saying that it looks absolutely fantastic! Not that it didn't impress before, but the millions of dollars they've put into the restoration job really shows throughout, as the picture quality is phenomenally crisp and about as clean as a bottle of moonshine in Captain's Quint's private stash (that is to say, after he's downed it). Heck, it even looks better than most modern features I've ever bought for my collection. Grand improvements have also been made for the sound and music department - rendering its famous two-noted theme more haunting than ever.
Regardless of said polishments, however, it still beautifully stands the test of time. Already back in 1975, Spielberg was a visionary genius; conjuring up a level of magic that would forever put his name on the Hollywood map. For it is indeed a masterpiece that is yet to find its equal. And it's strange, because with all the CGI and advanced technology available at our disposal, you'd think the feat would be easily repeatable. But if there's anything Jaws gives testament to, it's that meticulously designed animatronics, in the hands of a skillful director, sweeps the floor with the digital alternative any day of the week.
Now, I've talked a lot about the technical bits here, but what truly cements this film into my movie-loving heart, is the spellbinding performances of its stunningly gifted cast. My particular favourite among which is Robert Shaw as Quint - a gruff, no-nonsense legend of a man, whose weathered expertise of the sea and its more fouler inhabitants, has you all ears for his story, which seem as real as to transcend beyond the very fabric of the film.
Besides the exquisitely portraited characters, there's, of course, the big bad monster himself. A great leviathan of the deep, that throughout the journey of the film, chills our blood into ice with the mere hint of its presence. And that is where we find yet another savvy accomplisment. For it is not what is displayed, but what is suggested that scares. That great dark chamber in our heads, that is left for our imagination to nervously fill in. A simple bit of psychology, that too often is lost in today's visually consumed world.
Tapping into our most primal fears, Jaws had such an incredible impact when it first hit the theatres, that it for a long time scared people away from setting foot near the ocean. Even in my own case, I can't approach a beach, without the image taking shape of those dark, soulless eyes scouting me out through the water. It's just one of the many things that makes it more than just an entertainment piece. Because this is the horror movie that all other horror movies desires to be, but seldom even come close to.
Now if only I had the money to build a home theatre worthy of its grandeur. Not that my 44" flat-screen TV isn't more than enough, but I can't help but wonder what it would be like - to experience the power of Spielberg's behemoth on a bigger screen and with some more proper surround sound. A tantalizing fantasy, no doubt, worth setting a goal for.
Or as Martin Brody might have said it: "I think I'm gonna need a bigger wallet".
The story takes place in a sunbaked little town called Amity Island, a town which lives for the summer because the tourists come to town. But things are thrown into disarray when new-to-town Police Chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) discovers the victim of a shark attack on one of the beaches. Unwilling to lose the influx of customers as a result of the tourist season, Mayor Vaughn decides to keep the beaches open. After the attacks continue, however, Chief Police Brody, icthyologist (read: shark nerd) Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) and local shark hunter Quint (Robert Shaw), unite to hunt the shark down.
Steven Spielberg is the man to be thanking for this masterpiece. Without him, the film could have turned into an uninteresting shark fest which would work for shock value but wouldn't have the devastating impact that it still has today. What could have been a string of disjointed set-pieces is put together brilliantly to make this film one of the greatest horrors of all time. The mystery and restraint shown by Spielberg throughout the film is reason enough to call him a genius, not to mention the expert characterisation which he cleverly weaves in here and there. Each of our characters are fleshed out and 3-dimensional, as well as being equal parts loveable and frustrating. The perfect use of music, the incredible camerawork, the nerve shredding moments of fear, all of it is put together seamlessly by a master at work. There are moments of pure shock and there are moments of extended tension which will have you tearing at the cushion which you hold for comfort. One thing's for certain, it keeps you on your toes.
The acting in this film is far over and above what you'd get in today's cookie-cutter horrors. Roy Scheider is great as Police Chief Martin Brody. He shows the incredible frustration which his character feels as he is overruled again and again by a man motivated by greed. He shows that he can do humour as well, with wry lines like "He's in the yard not too far from the car." But while he is great as our lead, It's Richard Dreyfuss who steals the show as the more-than-slightly hyperactive Matt Hooper. Like an over-caffinated obsessive-compulsive, Dreyfuss inhabits his character perfectly, showing his indignation, his frustration and his fear with a childlike exuberance which makes him such a likeable character. Robert Shaw plays the almost crazy shark hunter Quint and is fantastic in his role. He mumbles, working class hero-like through his lines "You go in the cage, cage goes in the water, you go in the water? Shark's in the water. Our shark." with a perfect condescending feel which suits his character to a tee. The comradery between these three characters is one of the best parts of the film, and as three initially different characters begin to accept and even embrace one another for their differences, you can almost forget that there is a monster shark on the loose. This is a tribute to not only Spielberg for luring us into a false sense of security, but the realistic relaxation by the actors onscreen which double the effect.
Every part of this brilliant film works together perfectly in order to create this incredible experience. Yes, accidents on set did make scary scenes even scarier and the experience made Spielberg vow to never film on open sea again, but there's not too many films which can boast that an audience ran out of the cinema, into the bathroom, threw up, and ran back inside to keep watching the test screening. It's a morbidly fascinating and pants-wettingly scary film which have you steering clear of beaches for some time, yet coming back for repeat viewings over and over again.
That brilliant first death sequence. The combination of John Williams infamous strings and Spielberg's fantastic direction makes this scene unforgettable.
"You're gonna need a bigger boat."
"That's some bad hat harry."
"Here's to swimming with bow-legged women."
"Farewell and adieu to you fair Spanish ladies. Farewell and adieu to you ladies of Spain."
"This was no boat accident."
"Here lies the body of Mary Lee; died at the age of a hundred and three. For fifteen years she kept her virginity; not a bad record for this vicinity."
"Smile you son of a bitch."
"I used to hate the water." "I can't imagine why."
A film can always be good when you watch it the first time, but for it to be really good, you've got to actually want to watch it again. Unless I'm mistaken I only ever saw Jaws once. I may soon watch it again, but other than that I haven't seen it much compared to other films.
I think one of the things with it that made me not watch it that much was the fact that it was a bit too long. The film itself was good, but is too long for what is only an average film on the whole when you look at it carefully enough.
The other main problem, as noted by Spielberg himself, was that it was Jaws that sparked a fear of sharks across the world, making Spielberg regret creating the Jaws films. Spielberg noted that sharks were not on a rampage to kill all humans, but are merely looking for food and mistake humans for dolphins.
What I'm trying to get at is that the film, although good, caused a large amount of unnecessary fear of sharks and was one of those films that should have been made a tiny bit shorter, just so I could be bothered to take it out of it's box!
Jaws is Spielberg doing what he does best: pure popcorn entertainment, with a school of memorable scenes, cracking dialogue and substance trickling through in amongst the thrills and spills. What seems on the surface to be a one-trick film drawn out over two hours gradually emerges as something which is not only scary but very well-made, with characters which are intelligently drawn and action scenes which communicate the themes rather than feeling like awkward set-pieces.
Like Star Wars after it, you could be forgiven for hating Jaws given the legacy it has left behind. Apart from the three inferior sequels and dozens of derivative knock-offs, it was the film which invented both the summer blockbuster and the high-concept movie -a film which you could sum up in 25 words or less, which would be translated by producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer into the aggressive money-driven ethos of modern Hollywood.
Jaws has been blamed for everything from the death of New Hollywood to the infantilisation of mainstream cinema, and that's not to mention the recent criticism of conservationists about falling shark numbers. But whatever one's attitude to Spielberg in light of his subsequent career choices, it's at best guesswork and at worst sour grapes to argue that he intended any of these things to happen. Had he gone the path of his colleague George Lucas, and milked his hit for everything it had, only then would it be fair to pose such questions.
With this in mind we have to re-assess Jaws as nothing more than a piece of entertainment. And on that level, it's undeniably brilliant. In adapting Peter Benchley's potboiler, Spielberg quickly dispensed of the melodramatic subplots involving extramarital affairs and power struggles on Amity Island. On this occasion, it was best to quite literally cut to the chase, with the shark becoming the centrepiece and fear being the driving force.
Spielberg once described Jaws as an aquatic version of Duel, his made-for-TV film from four year earlier about a man being chased by a truck. The comparison is very close both in Spielberg's knack for creating tension and in the characterisation of the villain. Both the truck and the shark are irrational forces of nature: they have no backstory, no character origin and no discernable motivation other than a relentless desire to kill. As a further connection, the deaths of both truck and shark are overdubbed with the sound of Godzilla dying from the 1954 original - an indication of Spielberg's affinity for B-movies and that he understands that monster movies can have a deeper significance.
As with Duel, it doesn't matter that the monster in Jaws doesn't make a lot of sense. There was and is precious little to suggest that sharks prey on humans for sport; more people die every year from falling coconuts than being eaten by sharks. But the film is not so much about killer sharks as it is about characters being confronted by an unstoppable force which they never faced before and cannot hope to understand. It could almost be called the father of Hallowe'en in its contrast of peaceful, boring middle-class life with a ruthless, blood-hungry predator.
This contrast is best observed in the opening section of the film. Having given us a great early jump with the death of the skinny-dipper, Spielberg withholds the shark to build up the relationships between the townsfolk. We see Roy Scheider's sleepy world slowly descend into panic and really feel his frustration when the town council and the press ignore his demands about closing the beach. As the children enter the water to swim and the attack begins, the dramatic irony kicks in and what was once a perfectly ordinary and rational community is torn apart forever.
Much has been written about the production problems which Spielberg faced on Jaws which meant he could not shoot as much of the shark as he wanted. Three full-scale mechanical sharks were built for the production, and all three regularly failed due to everything from short circuits to corroding skin and getting caught in seaweed. Such failures were one of the main reasons the film went so far over-schedule and over-budget: what started as a $4m movie shooting for 55 days ended up as a $9m movie that shot for 159 days.
In the end, the problems with the shark were not merely serendipitous: they helped to create one of the defining features of the film. Because he could not show the monster as he wanted, Spielberg had to improvise with different techniques which could hint at what the shark was capable of doing. It's testament to his ability as a filmmaker that he could achieve so much threat and suspense from little more than a dorsal fin and a few barrels - enhanced by his use of the former to comedic effect early in the film. Through these techniques, the shark takes on a quality of amorphous evil whose only real equal at the time was Rover from The Prisoner.
But as before, Jaws is less about the shark than the characters reacting to it, and no matter how much of the action revolves around 'Bruce', we keep coming back to the people. In its second hour, where most of the action takes places on the Orca, we genuinely bond with this foolhardy trio and soak up all the conflicts within their personalities. Brody's determination to protect his family is contrasted by Quint's obsessive streak and Hooper's feeling of being - no pun intended - a fish out of water.
As with The Sting, Robert Shaw dominates every scene that he is in. His accent may be a little harder to pin down this time, but his piercing intensity and unkempt manner give him unrivalled screen presence. Although much of his early lines are played for comedy, to set him up as a loose cannon against the uptight Brody and Hooper, he gradually takes on a more intense, obsessive quality which lead you to wonder whether or not the shark has driven him mad.
The best scene in Jaws comes when the three men are sitting in the boat at night and Quint begins talking about the sinking of the USS Indianapolis. In a speech co-written by John Milius (who scripted Apocalypse Now), he talks about his experience with sharks in the same way that Colonel Kurtz talked about horror - as something to be somehow embraced and understood, even at the cost of one's sanity or soul. The dialogue in this section is reminiscent of Ernest Hemingway's work in The Old Man and the Sea, with man and nature locked in battle, both mentally and physically, while all around there is only silence.
Jaws remains a high-water mark in Spielberg's career and in those of all the performers. It isn't as relentless as Hallowe'en in its ability to sustain fear, and Spielberg's work on the Indiana Jones series would eventually surpass it. But that is mere nit-picking in the face of a film of great craft and vision, a film which proves that simple entertainment can be smart and that, under the right circumstances, people enjoy being scared.
The performances are all top notch and the movie feels very full without seeming crowded. The suspense is there and that's all we could really ask for but he delivered more.