So what can be said about Jaws that hasn’t already been said? To be honest probably not that much but here are my thoughts as I am (Shock! Horror!) that rare thing of a film fan who had yet to see Steven Spielberg’s little movie about a killer shark.
The film is very much divided into two as we have a first half that is a full on, crowd scene based, monster movie and a second that sets up a sense of cabin fever and hunt while throughout cranking up the tension like no one since Hitchcock.
And it is a Hitchcock film that Jaws most reminds me as it combines all out horror with the feeling of a high tension thriller much like Psycho, and anyone who knows me will know that me comparing a film to Psycho is about the highest praise I am capable of giving.
From the start of the movie Spielberg and his team (most notably composer John Williams) crank up the suspense in Amity as the beaches fill up and, while we know what may be lurking under the waves, many don’t and Roy Scheider’s Brody becomes our real hero not only fighting his own fear of the water but also the powers-that-be of the town who seem to care more about their economy than the well-being of tourists.
This sequence also features a brilliant “Lewton Bus” type moment that I won’t spoil here but that serves to demonstrate that Spielberg clearly knows what he’s dealing with when it comes to horror and thriller cinema.
It is the first half of the movie where we also get to see another Spielberg’s classic motifs as much of Brody’s motivation that sets up the second half of the film comes from his relationship with his family. While use of family is a traditional part of all Spielberg films here it is dealt with in a much better way than in many of his later films where it often become labored and obvious.
If the first half of Jaws is the b-movie monster feature writ large, the second is where the characters really come to life as we spend nigh-on a whole hour in the company of three men; Brody, Hooper and Quint.
Here we get to see a very different side of the director’s work as while the tension continues to build as they hunt the shark, we also get the now-classic scene with the three men in the boat, basically, just chatting, before Quint’s USS Indianapolis monologue which reveals his character, that previously been somewhat two-dimensional, in a way that in lesser hands may have seemed clunky but here is a supreme example of how to tell a story and is delivered impeccably by Robert Shaw.
I won’t spoil the ending of the film but, its safe to say, that the dénouement is suitably satisfying and, unlike many modern blockbusters, knows when it is finished and goes to the credits in a manner reminiscent of again Psycho but also many other films of the pre-blockbuster era.
While it has been oft-recorded that the shark was notoriously hard to handle as its mechanisms seized in the salt water and it became an unwieldy lump of rubber, to me it looked surprisingly nimble and, save for one sequence towards the end, at no point did its obvious ‘fakeness’ detract from the tension and action of the film, and even when it became obvious, by that point I was so engaged it would have taken a lot more than that to rip me from the world of Amity.
So, as I said earlier, much has already been said of Jaws, but its safe to say that this is an undeniable classic that sits as a fine junction point between the traditional Hollywood of Hitchcock, the new Hollywood of Hopper, Peckinpah et al and the modern blockbuster Hollywood of, well, Spielberg.
I guess the only bad thing I could find about Jaws is that it maybe led to the world of tent-pole release blockbuster cinema we have today where films like Transformers 2 and its ilk get the chance to grace out screens.
But that is a small price to pay for the existence of a film as good as this.