I tried telling my classmate that Jaws was PG. She shouldn't be scared of a PG movie. What I failed to mention is that this movie starts off with a naked lady swimming. You could argue that the nudity is obscured. It may have been obscured before the invention of Blu-Ray because that's straight up nudity. Also, the movie is about a man-eating shark. It shows some pretty gross stuff. But I'm going to ride the high and say that I'm reviewing a PG movie that isn't for kids! PG...technically.
DIRECTOR: Steven Spielberg
My theory about the modern classic is, unfortunately, coming true. There were movies that were considered absolutely essential to our culture. I'm talking about The Godfather Parts I and II, Easy Rider, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Jaws. These were movies that everyone had seen. They were part of our vernacular. But these movies aren't going to be as important coming up. Now, I'm not the guy who will stand on a soapbox and say that my generation's movies are more important than your generation's movies. I don't believe that for a second. But the idea that people actually go back to watch movies that could change their lives is odd to me. Jaws isn't an inspirational tale (but what if it was!), but there's a lot to take away from Jaws. I constantly forget how good this movie really is, especially in an era that has "Shark Week".
I was wondering why no one makes Jaws sequels anymore. Sure, I've never seen ANY of the Jaws sequels. I hear that they are terrible. But CGI may have killed the shark film. I mean, I'm not against seeing The Meg. That movie looks playful as heck. But Jaws (I'm just going to call the shark "Jaws". Everyone else does.) is huge, but not unimaginably huge. Okay, he's very very big. I only get how big he is when he's attacking the boat, but that's how big sharks are in my head. When I was a kid, I failed my YMCA swimming test because I thought that Jaws might have been in the pool when I was doing the backstroke. That's how much this movie impacted me. But the creepiest thing about this movie is that it has a practical shark. I know. There is a running commentary on how fake the shark looks in Jaws. There are times when Jaws doesn't look up to snuff. But you know what else is true. There are times that he looks more real than any uncanny valley nonsense you'll see today. CG has its place. I actually love digital effects when used effectively. But when the shark is swimming around the boat, obscured by water, it is scary and realistic. Most of the movie has the most intense practical effects I've ever seen. Like, I'm more alarmed by Jaws than I am for a lot of Jurassic Park, and I think Jurassic Park is one of the greatest blockbuster films ever. There is something marvelously unsettling about seeing the monster, but not quite getting a good look at it. I know that practically every other monster / horror movie has played with this trope. You have to show the creature eventually, but it is never scarier than when it is out of sight. What I love about Jaws is that it is one of the originators of this trope, but it did it best in sunlight. There's two scary night scenes in Jaws. The shark doesn't appear in either one of these scenes. You can only really see the shark in the daylight sequences just below the surface. And holy crap, does that thing move. It's disturbing. But Spielberg doesn't just make an effective shark. I don't care if people think that thing looks fake because I disagree mostly. He plays up the gore pretty intensely. The first corpse isn't necessarily bloody, but it is gross. (Also, does Jaws hunt for sport because, for a shark that size, shouldn't he be eating the whole body?) Similarly, I remembered that a lot of grossness was played off camera. That's not necessarily true. The movie does get really gory. The hole in the boat scene got me really good this time.
Character-wise, the movie cements some of these tropes hard. Chief Brody might be a bit extra for me. I know, it adds to the drama to have a character trait that must be overcome to complete the task. But a police chief who lives on an island, but is afraid of water? That's a bit much. Dreyfuss's character even calls him out on it. He has a clever answer that doesn't really answer the question, but Spielberg had to be aware that it was kind of malarky. I've never read the Peter Benchley novel, but this feels like it was part of the novel and had to be woven into the movie. I might be reading that wrong (pun intended). But Roy Scheider just crushes it. For those not aware of Roy Scheider because you've steered clear of his waters (pun intended), he's really the prototypical actor to fill these kinds of roles. He does loving dad who has an intense side to him. Yeah, he's extra, but that's also super charming. I mean, look at him on the boat. He's completely overwhelmed with everything (I avoided the pun here). Brody's real character arc comes in conflict with the mayor of the town. Murray Hamilton's Larry Vaughn is a bit over the top for me. I mean, he wears a sport coat adorned with little anchors. C'mon, that's a bit much. Also, there's the fine line between financially responsible and just offering chum to the shark. For the scenes with Vaughn, I couldn't stop thinking about Ibsen's An Enemy of the People, only way more absurd. Vaughn does have a point. His little island is dependent on tourist dollars. I mean, everyone on the island would die (financially) if people are afraid of sharks. But then it just gets absurd. If a director decided to dress his mayor character in An Enemy of the People like Larry Vaughn, it would lose all credibility. (But if it also dressed up its scientist character like Chief Brody, I'd watch the heck out of that.) I have to establish that this movie is full of bros and is far from woke, but I really like the relationships in this shark horror movie. Richard Dreyfuss is on the list of gross people today. But man alive, he's charming as a young dude. Hopefully he wasn't gross back then. I guess I can only respond to what I watch in this movie. I love how much backstory that Spielberg attaches to his script with Matt Hooper. There's no need to give that much backstory, movie. Matt Hooper gets grilled about being this rich kid who is obsessed with the ocean. The more I think about it, the more silly it is that they take the Orca at the end instead of Matt's boat, but whatever. I get the logic of the film, so I'm going to keep going. But there's this weird stray thread where Hooper is criticized for being a rich kid who doesn't get his hands dirty. What makes it really weird is that it makes the dynamic between the three male leads work. Adding Quint, played by the flawless Robert Shaw, as a juxtaposition to Hooper's rich boy background makes their bickering so amazing. Quint is also super extra. Man, I swear this movie is great and everyone should watch it, but I'm also aware that almost every character is a disaster movie archetype. But these archetypes work so well. There are these little moments where a character just narrates their backstories. I know that the message is always "show, don't tell." But the telling in this movie almost works better. These characters have these histories that Spielberg is weaving into the story, but because we don't get flashbacks or convoluted excuses to show off their backgrounds, we're always on the shark hunt in this movie. But we also get to enjoy that they are relationships on this boat. Sometimes, we are going to need a bigger boat...to hold all the love. I just hope that if I ever go on a shark hunt, I'd love to be mismatched enough to make friends.
If I had to have a criticism, it's the third act. Jaws has the most minor third act problem, but it is there. The first two thirds of the film are breakneck pace. Honestly, the movie starts off with a death, which is not that weird. It establishes the tone pretty quickly. But usually, there's a little meandering that happens after this in most movies. There's the fake outs and the protagonist is usually embarrassed by his belief that there is a threat. Forget that. Jaws goes from one death to an even more intense kid death. Then there's people trying to attack the shark and just failing miserably. Chief Brody gets accused of allowing a kid to die and he just takes it. Then there are shark fakeouts only to be trumped by shark attacks. This movie gets bananas. But then there's the actual almost second movie that is the final act. Also, the final act of the movie is a bit long. I was waxing poetic about how good the protagonists are in this movie. They are great and that's why the third act works despite having structural problems. But the last act, the hunting of the shark, is way slower than the rest of the movie. That last act almost belongs in a different movie because that stuff is really good, but it is really weird that the movie just slows way down for the part that actually should be ramping up. Really, it is only the victim of how tight the first two thirds of the movie really are. I mean, there's a lot of stuff that happens in the first part of the movie. The stuff in Amity is just a kill fest and then it's a bunch of drunk guys on a boat waiting for the shark to attack them. The confrontation is actually pretty intense though. I know. I don't want to see the shark either. It's not as powerful as under-the-water shark, but it is still effective. What's funny is that one of the worst special effects actually scares me. Jaws coming through the window looks ridiculous in retrospect, but I still kind of jump.
How are people not watching Jaws? I mean, it started the summer blockbuster movie craze. While Jaws might not be one of the most important movies to watch, it was part of our cultural literacy. It holds up and is still a super good time. Honestly, if a movie of that caliber came out during the year, it might still be the movie that people really talk about. Just do me a favor: keep film alive. Is that so much to ask?
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.