(Directed by Steven Spielberg)
(Written by Carl Gottlieb and Peter Benchley)
(Starring Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw)
Plot: The beaches of Amity are terrorized by a vicious Great White shark and when it becomes apparent that it wont go away, a Police Chief (Roy Scheider), a Shark hunter (Robert Shaw) and a marine scientist (Richard Dreyfuss) unite to stop it.
When someone asks me what I consider to be the best movie of all time, or at least my personal favorite, I will always immediately respond with “Jaws: The Revenge“…because I’m trolling them…But then I will laugh and clarify that the original “Jaws” deserves that spot in my eyes. To me, everything about it is perfect and I an such a raging fanboy that I doubt I can even critique it objectively. There is just too much history between us, as “Jaws” was my first horror experience and defined my expectations of greatness. I can probably just end this review by stating that the direction, writing, acting, cinematography, editing and music is flawless, although that would not be the right word to describe the production itself. But I am told by myself that I am apparently supposed to be a critic and that it would be far too lazy to just end it there, so I will try to break down both the successes and uber-successes of this movie with clarify and objectivity. It should be noted that for this review, I FINALLY was able to watch “Jaws” on the big screen, thanks to Harkins Theaters releasing a classic every week throughout the month of June. I’ve been waiting for this for a lifetime, so thank you very much. One of my dreams has been fulfilled!
So by the time you’ve read this sentence, know that I’ve spent nearly an hour trying to come up with something to say. I thought I’d begin with the character writing, but that seems like an odd beginning for a movie that emphasizes thrills and chills over character development. Only a hack rookie would start things like that and I’m no rookie. Yet at the same time, I’d argue that the thrills and chills owe a lot to the characters, because we like them and don’t want them to die. There were a lot of interesting ways of building suspense, such as the use of John Williams’ iconic score or the (now infamous) ways of keeping the shark off-screen. “Jaws” shows just enough to deliver an impactful pay-off, but leaves a lot to our imagination and that leads to some very unsettling moments. I did notice something new during my most recent viewing: Anyone could die, but that doesn’t mean everyone will die. When a kid gets killed during the first act of your movie, you’re obviously telling your audience that no one is safe. Yet at the same time, minor characters designed to be shark fodder will somehow survive their encounter with the beast. Contrast this with your average horror flick, where the question is less “who?” and more “when?” and you will realize how unpredictable “Jaws” is- ignoring it’s cultural impact. The first half of the flick is more horror based, with the attacks being consistently scary. There are some amazingly effective jump scares and it was gratifying to hear my fellow audience members crying out in distress whenever they were supposed to, disproving the belief that older movies aren’t scary. The jump scares are always perfectly timed, not over-used and are placed in the perfect spots for maximum impact. The actors- and I’m including the extras- do a phenomenal job at conveying fear. The first Beach attack is not only intense because of the shark, but also because of how everyone reacts in panic. People are stampeding over each-other to get to safety and the wails and shrieks feel genuine. The second half of the picture balances scares with action and adventure. When the protagonists go hunting for the shark, the music is more rousing and light hearted and there is some good fun to be had in the chase. The human tactics and the sharks’ apparent counter measures provide lots of entertainment and excitement. But you never forget how dangerous it is and when the finale takes a darker turn, it feels natural and arguably has topped itself in its delivery of sheer terror. I’ve seen “Jaws” probably 100 times and it still manages to make me chew my nails in anticipation, jolt in my seat and change the colors of my underpants.
Additional Note- Strangely, do you know what I consider to be the freakiest moment? No one else seems to agree with me, but it’s when Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) and Brody (Roy Scheider) are searching for the shark at night. The lighting is very atmospheric and spooky, contrasting their almost comical banter. Eventually the sonar picks up ‘something’ and Hooper dismisses it as a school of fish, only to pause and say “No, there’s something else out there“. Cue ominous musical cue. Every time I watch that scene, my blood turns cold and it’s still only leading into what would become the most popular scare in the film! But that one moment hit me harder than anything else.
“Jaws” is also perfectly paced, thanks to the writers (Gottlieb, Benchley and other script doctors), Spielberg himself and his editor (Verna Fields). They kept just the right amount of content and never become distracted with misguided attempts at superfluous drama. Every scene is either building up to something amazing or allowing us a breather after witnessing that something amazing. Every scene is just as long as it needs to be and if anything was removed or added, it would throw off the films balance and it probably wouldn’t be as effective. You never have to wait long before something exciting occurs and those waits are entertaining because the characters are so compelling. I’m stunned how much characterization everyone has, despite the majority of the runningtime being dedicated to the aforementioned thrills and chills. By the time the end credits roll, you know quite a bit about everyone. Brody is an everyman, albeit one whom every man would want to be like. He has his strengths, such as being open minded, competent, dedicated and is a good husband/father. He also has his weaknesses, such being afraid of water, having no experience as a sailor and he can be pressured into reluctant submissiveness. He makes mistakes, but they’re understandable mistakes. I love how he gradually becomes more learned in the ways of sailing, without any dialogue forcing this fact down our throats. We can tell he has learned a lot based on his body language and actions. Quint (Robert Shaw) and Hooper are very much alike, but are also opposites in the worst possible ways. Both have a better grasp of the threat and both despise what the other represents- without this resentment being taken too far. Yet over time, they begin to respect each-other and we see this based on their interactions, whereas lesser filmmakers would spell this out for us through dialogue. Hooper is charming at first glance, but the more time you spend with him, the more you realize that he probably doesn’t have many friends. He can be rude and arrogant, albeit not to the extent where you dislike him. Quint seems like a prick at first, but the more you see of him, it becomes apparent that he is charismatic and reasonable…But the characterizations doesn’t stop there, as Quint’s reasonable side deteriorates as his obsession with the shark escalates. He becomes unhinged and risks the lives around him. Furthermore, Hooper expresses more concern for Brody’s well being and shows considerable bravery in the face of fear. I love it when characters change based on the events that happen to them. The shark brings out both the best and worst of everyone who encounters it- directly or indirectly- and this causes them to develop.
The dynamics of these characters are all very interesting and leads to plenty of intense and funny moments. “Jaws” has a good sense of humor, boasting memorable dialogue that never disrupts the tone. The famous “You’re going to need a bigger boat” statement was actually a tension breaker, following and being followed by some incredibly tense situations. Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss are amazing as our trio of protagonists, but their delivery is a major reason why so many lines have become iconic. I also loved the supporting cast. Ellen (Lorraine Gary) is very endearing and I enjoyed her interactions with…well, everyone- but Brody in particular. Mayor Vaughn (Murray Hamilton) is your prototype for the corrupt Mayor who acts out of greed, but he does bring up some good points and doesn’t seem like a bad guy. Like everyone else, he makes mistakes and unfortunately, these mistakes tend to be the costliest. It’s often forgotten that he had apparently agreed with Brody about closing down the beaches after the first confirmed shark attack, but was pressured by the locals into backing down. I like those little touches, as they keep characters like Vaughn from becoming caricatures.
Additional Note- I noticed something else. When the Tiger shark is caught, Brody immediately presumes that Ben Gardner was the one who killed it- implying that he was the most likely to catch the beast. Was he a shark hunter? Or just a very experienced fisher-man? It’s never revealed, but it speaks volumes that out of everyone going shark hunting, Brody thinks he was the one who got it done. Later on, we discover that Ben Gardner was probably dead by this point, killed by the real culprit. It’s a subtle, but interesting way of building up the Great White as an unusual threat. (Ben was also the guy who lead the mob of fisherman). I also noticed that when Brody irritably tries to get the attention of Deputy Hendricks (Jeffrey Kramer) by throwing peanuts at the window and motioning for him to come into the office, Hendricks cheerily waves back. It’s funny, but while it seems to suggest that Hendricks is a goof, he’s shown to be somewhat observant when he points out the license plates. What makes “Jaws” more than just a great horror movie is its attention to detail, somehow managing to flesh out even the minor players without cluttering the storyline.
But there is an elephant in the room and it is being eaten by a mechanic; shark that is often derided as ‘fake looking’. If one aspect of “Jaws” gets brought up in a negative light today, it’s the ‘dated’ special effects. Personally, I think Bruce (what the filmmakers called the mechanical shark) looks fine and if anything, has aged nicely when placed against the awful CGI used to create sharks these days. What makes Bruce easier to swallow (…) is that the shark seems to have a personality. He/She appears to be toying with the characters in an almost playful way, which disarms the audience long enough to make subsequent events far more shocking. I saw the shark more as a character than an effect. It’s common knowledge that part of the reason the shark had to remain off-screen for so long is that it kept breaking down during filming, but Spielberg adapted and made the fewer on-screen appearances of the beast more memorable. We usually get POV shots in place of the shark, but they’re very creepy and the creative use of barrels also made an excellent substitute for the animal. Spielberg’s sense of framing is incredible and there are plenty of striking visuals. My favorite shot is when we see the boat framed within the confines of a sharks skeletal ‘jaws’ because it’s both grimly foreboding and darkly humorous. But at the same time, Spielberg is not really showing off any kind of style. He’s just producing an immaculately crafted movie and his greatest success is the connection he makes with the viewer. Whenever Spielberg wanted to scare or amuse me, whether to warm my heart or steal my tears, he succeeded in doing so. He played me like a piano and I loved every minute of it. Of course, the music fits the mood so well that John Williams deserves another mention for amplifying every emotion I felt. Finally, the cinematography by Bill Butler deserves just as much praise as everything else in “Jaws” and part of the reason why I’m glancing over this is because I feel like I’ve explained all of his successes indirectly in other parts of this review. I adore the aesthetics, the larger than life feel of the setting and how he can make random shots of the ocean look spooky.
Additional Note- I once listened to the main “Jaws” theme when driving to my Mothers house for dinner.
I’ve read the book that the movie was adapted from and…it’s pretty good. “Jaws” is one of those rarities where the film is almost universally regarded as superior to the source material and I feel no differently. It used all of the good content from the book, while making all the right changes and additions. The movie was so hugely successful that it spawned 3 sequels, 2 unofficial sequels, an army of knock-offs and began what is now known as the Summer Blockbuster trend. I was practically raised by all the sequels, so even though they did get pretty bad, I can’t bring myself to hate them for nostalgic reasons. “Great White” was credited as “Jaws 3” in some territories before the actual “Jaws 3” came out. “Jaws 5: Cruel Jaws” actually steals footage from the official sequels and “Great White“. It’s terrible, but sometimes fun to laugh at. It is a shame that the “Jaws” namesake has become synonymous with a dead franchise, embodying the ‘step by step’ degradation that everyone expects out of every franchise. Yet the original is and will always be regarded as a masterpiece and I will fondly remember finally being able to watch it at Harkins Theaters. I was surrounded mostly by people younger than myself and the theater was so packed that I was forced to sit in the front row. I smiled, not only because I was watching “Jaws“, but also because of how everyone was reacting to the movie. When they were suppose to laugh, they laughed. When they were supposed to cry, you could hear sniffling. When they were supposed to scream, I actually flinched at the intensity of their screams. When the end credits rolled, everyone enthusiastically applauded.
40 years later, the shark is still working.
Violence: It’s officially rated PG, but there are some shockingly vicious attack sequences. I’d say the violence is enough to warrant a PG-13 rating today, maybe even an R.
Nudity: Implied, as the first victim is swimming naked.
Additional Note- On the big screen, you can practically see her ‘parts’.
Overall: “Jaws” is my favorite movie of all time. It does everything right. DO NOT REMAKE IT…although I’m all for an official “Jaws 5“.
DISCARDED MATERIAL (original Review)
-This was one of my early reviews that was lost in the freewebs purging. It sucks, so should only be read for curiosity sake.
Forgive me, but I might be a little biased towards this film. It was the first horror film I had ever seen, when I was about three years old, and it scared the crap out of me. I became obsessed with horror movies, so I guess I owe “Jaws” for this website. Anyway, this is a note to all potential filmmakers who intend to create a horror of suspense flick. What made movies like “Jaws” and “Dawn of the Dead” so great. The first aspect was the characters.
The Characters: The characters are all very realistic and interesting. They are given witty and believable dialogue. They are flawed, but human. It also helps that they are all portrayed by wonderful actors. Roy Scheider(Chief Brody) is AWESOME! He’s your everyday kind of guy, and that makes him even cooler. Richard Dreyfuss(Hooper) is charming and likable. Robert Shaw(Quint) is charismatic and created an iconic role. Lorraine Gary(Ellen) has wonderful chemistry with Scheider. Murray Hamilton(Mayor Vaughn) also created an iconic role and has a certain type of charisma that makes him interesting.
The arc: I read somewhere that “Jaws” was about peoples reaction to a shark attack. “Jaws 2” is about a shark attacking people. Most of these types of movies tend to be about something attacking people. Sometimes it can be great, such as with “Night of the Living Dead”. But mostly they end up like “Jaws: The Revenge”. So when the movie focuses on the characters, we want to watch them, even if they are just doing mundane stuff. This makes the terror more real when the shark strikes.
The rest of the stuff about this movie is asking too much. I heard that a lot of people think that the editing was what saved this movie, and that might be more-or-less true. I may come across as naive in how films are made, but I tend to base everything on the director. The photography, the score, the editing, etc. are all things I tend to attribute to the director. I only do this because it’s easier than naming off everyone. Regardless, everyone does their job in “Jaws” perfectly. The score? Memorable. The editing? Superb. The photography? Awesome. While the movie had some serious production issues, they worked out in the films favor. Not constantly showing the shark made it scarier, and scary this movie is.
I don’t have any real problems with the movie. It’s long, but goes by really quickly. Some complain that the shark is fake, but I personally bought its presence and never thought it looked that fake. Hell, it somehow had its own personality and became a character itself. I guess there are some typical Spielberg logical fallacies, such as the opening scene. The girl is grabbed and tugged around, when she would be torn apart pretty quickly. Also, would a shark that big be able to get so close to land? Regardless, I’m used to Spielberg ignoring these issues for the sake of entertainment, so I can easily forgive them.
Violence: Pretty violent for a PG movie. Some of the shark attacks and leftovers are pretty gross.
Nudity: A girl gets naked in the water early on, but it’s so dark that it’s difficult to see anything.
Overall: To me, “Jaws” is the ideal film. It’s long, and it leaves you wanting more. It’s scary, but adventurous. I actually want there to be more “Jaws” sequels, just to see a slight hint of the greatness that this movie had. It’s my personal favorite movie of all time.