In the advent of Universal's 100th Anniversary, a selection of it's films have been restored digitally for blu ray releases and some cases as here also re-released on the big screen in a new 4K rendered print for audiences in 2012 to witness what made people so terrified and thrilled back in 1975 when Jaws was first released. Jaws literally invented the term summer blockbuster and opened the Hollywood studios good or bad to the opportunities of releasing a picture in the sunny season. Jaws went onto smash box office records and became a phenomenon that would not be beat till Spielberg's friend George Lucas introduced the world to some space fantasy opera 2 years later in 1977.
Having been too young to catch Jaws on the big screen the first time round, my first initial experience was at the age of 9 on British TV when it premiered October 9th 1981. With a chance to catch this in the format it was meant to be seen in was too much to of an opportunity to miss out on. From my first viewing all those years ago I was immediately hooked, transfixed, terrified and thrilled at this story and it has remained one of my favourite films of all time ever since.
Peter Benchley's best selling novel was picked up by David Brown and Richard Zanuck and after first choice Dick Richards didn't work out they turned to new kid on the block Spielberg to direct, who had one theatrical film Sugarland Express under his belt. Although it is the incredibly well received TV film Duel, Zanuck and Brown obviously seeing the parallels between that story of an every man confronting a faceless nemesis in the shape of a big truck and seeing the potential this young director could bring to this project. They couldn't have been more right, although things didn't go along swimmingly (scuse the pun) straight away. Spielberg was not too impressed with the screenplay provided by the author Benchley and bought Pulitzer winning play write Howard Sackler to do a re-write. Also wanting some humour asked friend Carl Gottlieb to offer some help as well as offering a role, Gottlieb choosing the politically motivated editor Meadows aligned with Hamilton's Mayor Vaughn.
Gottlieb went onto do a complete re-write after only been employed to do a polish, John Milius would also contribute. Arguably the films most classic scene the USS Indianapolis speech where Quint recounts his experience as a crew man on board the ship which delivered the Hiroshima/Nagasaki atomic bomb which was then subsequently torpedoed and sunk with the crew been left at the mercy of the sea and thousands of sharks. A true story, this was said to have been worked on by both Sackler & Milius although Shaw a gifted writer himself rewrote the scene after researching the incident .
One of the reasons that the subsequent sequels have never captured the magic of the original has been that although Jaws 2 might have had some exciting if not preposterous moments on sea it never was as half as compelling on land as the original. Jaws is obviously well know for the action that plays out on the water but it also is invested with hugely enjoyable interactions on land, witness the moments of tenderness the beautifully played sequence between Brody and his young son Sean as the young toddler sits at the dinner table mirroring his Father's actions until he's noticed. Spielberg a director well known for working well with children shows at an early stage in his career how he elicits such performances from minors in one of the most touching scenes of his career.
Although the sea moments have never been bettered, the opening sequence when a unsuspecting skinny dipper (Susan Backlinie) becomes the first victim is utterly terrifying, as she whipped across the surface violently by the unseen terror. Much has been made of the mechanical shark and Spielberg himself has little love for it but the fact is the problems that allowed the effect to only be employed sparingly play to it's strength. It is more of what you don't see makes it work, that by the time we do see the shark properly in a scene that now goes down in legend with Schneider famously ad-libbing the most famous line of the film "We're gonna need a bigger boat" that the work has been done. Although that rubber shark may look somewhat lifeless in some sequences for all it's expensive ground breaking SFX Jurassic Park hasn't one scene to level the sheer thrill of Jaws.
The fact we don't actually get to see the shark until a good hour into the film is not a problem as the story is told so well by it's actors, Jaws is invested with some great supporting players, Lorraine Gary's supportive Wife and Murray Hamilton's Mayor but it is the three major players this film belongs to. Schneider off the back of an impressive turn alongside Gene Hackman's Oscar winning role in William Friedkin's French Connection, is simply magnificent as Brody, the every man, not an islander from New York afraid of the water. Brody representing the audience, relative unknown Dreyfuss provides much of the humour and seasoned actor Shaw commands the screen with his unsubtle but undoubtedly memorable turn.
When composer John Williams let Spielberg hear his idea for his academy winning score, the director initially laughed at Williams but attributes a large percentage of the success of Jaws to his score, not since Bernard Hermann's score for Psycho has the music become synonymous with a film. Williams work is so simplistic but devastatingly effective, choosing to use the music only when the real threat is present when it's not it's misdirection on the directors part as well as genius main theme the score delivers in all departments, thrilling, scary, sinister and touching. Rarely has music to a film been a character in itself, it may have been parodied and copied but that has never been robbed of it's ability to entertain. Verna Fields academy awarded editing has the film paced to perfection.
Many will cry the director has moved onto more powerful work but for all the importance of Spielberg's academy winning output, I would argue that other directors are capable of just as impressive or superior results. Whereas in the blockbuster arena no other director has matched the efforts displayed here. Jaws also sees the director break two cardinal rules in mainstream cinema, killing a child and although admittedly off screen a dog. The scene is that more impact full that he's lightened the mood with the bathing cap moment "that's some bad hat Harry". When we get that Hitchcock zoom moment as Brody realises he's helpless to prevent the scene right in front of his eyes. Spielberg being also greedy after getting great results from test audiences decides he could pack one more scare into the film and in his editors swimming pool shot the now famous Ben Gardner decapitated head sequence that made audiences around the world jump out of their skin. Benchley was appalled at Spielberg's intention to close the film, the author had the shark get tangle up in the ropes and drown. Though the director wanted something more explosive quite literally and in an ending which program Myth Busters devoted an entire special to prove if it was possible ( it was just). Remarked to Benchley that if I have their attention for the duration they'll buy it however preposterous, he was not wrong. Jaws literally is suspenseful film making at his best but enriched with a great script a superb cast and one of the most memorable scores of all time.