Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Jaws (1975)

Seen: At the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge.

This was part two of our July 4th movie-theaters-have-air-conditioning saga, after Man of Steel. I hadn't seen Jaws since I was a kid and I used to hang out with an aspiring marine biologist who lived across the street, so really it was like seeing it for the first time, which was neat. I didn't even remember that it was an Independence Day film! Spielberg's classic monster horror follows the terror and excitement surrounding a small New England island's holiday weekend. First a young woman is found mauled to death on the beach, presumably by a large shark, but the town's mayor is desperate to cover up any unpleasantness at a peak tourist time. When a young boy is eaten by a shark in plain sight, the town sheriff, Brody (Roy Scheider), takes more deliberate action. Against the mayor's protests and machinations to keep the beaches open, he and marine biologist Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) work to take down a Great White with a taste for human blood, eventually teaming up with salty sea hunter Quint (Robert Shaw).

I know most of you are already aware of this, but it's something I keep forgetting: Spielberg is definitely famous for a reason. Looking at some of his earlier movies now, after I've come to identify him more with his recent spate of bombastic prestige pictures and so-so sci-fi, I'm really touched by how fun a movie like Jaws is. It's just a straightforward, well-made film, and I enjoyed the hell out of it. The script is sometimes silly, sometimes deadly serious, performing an impressive balancing act in order to make this ridiculous plot somewhat believable. My favorite thing was how everyone was always yelling over each other, which was somehow super endearing. The characters are really well-developed, and the central trio of Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, and Robert Shaw make for an excellent combo. They're alternately funny and intense, mean-spirited and adorably communal. Their relationships and conversations make Jaws more a kind of horror character study, while the shenanigans involving the greater population of the island raise it to a small-town satire about greed and desperation.

Not that it's all mai tais and Yahtzee out here (heh guess who just celebrated Con Air Day?), this is an effective horror-thriller too. The deft camerawork that keeps the monster hidden for much of the earlier sequences, along with the shark POV shots as he stalks his unsuspecting prey, makes for a compelling and downright scary experience. That, and the buckets of blood and dismembered body parts that pepper the first half of the film. The mechanical shark ("Bruce") is convincing enough to make me think twice about going in the water, which is silly since I know nothing about this movie is realistic. BUT IT FEELS SO REAL and I love it.


Pair This Movie With: Well I just wanted to revisit Close Encounters what with the Dreyfuss and the Spielberg and the 70's and all that. But thematically I think it'd be fun to follow this up with The Life Aquatic since that's also about hunting a shark but is totally different in tone and storytelling approach.


  1. Just for fun, here is my son on the film: https://vimeo.com/67127279

  2. I love this movie to death.
    That is all.

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