#269) Jaws (1975)
OR “Shark From Adversity”
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Written by Peter Benchley and Carl Gottlieb. Based on the novel by Benchley.
Class of 2001
The Plot: The sleepy New England town of Amity Island is suddenly a hive of activity when a great white shark (Bruce) starts eating people along the beach. The town’s new police chief, city-transplant Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) wants to close the beaches, but is overruled by Mayor Vaughn (Murray Hamilton) who fears a beach closure will damage Amity’s profitable summer tourism. With the help of oceanographer Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) and eccentric shark hunter Quint (Robert Shaw), Brody is determined to prove the shark’s existence, find it, and kill it. And behind the camera, a young director is second-guessing his decision to film on location.
Why It Matters: The NFR calls the film a “now-classic thriller”, and praises John Williams’ score. They do, however, go on to state that the film is “expertly, if manipulatively, crafted” by Spielberg. Did the NFR include “Jaws” just to get that dig in?
But Does It Really?: It may have ruined movies forever and killed New Hollywood, but “Jaws” is still one of the best crafted action movies ever made and a landmark in film history. Like Hitchcock before him, Spielberg knows that simplicity (whether intentional or not) is key. The film preys on a primal fear, strips the novel down to its core elements, and is presented in Spielberg’s trademark “simple-yet-effective” filmmaking style. In the hands of a lesser director, “Jaws” would have been cheesy and formulaic, but a young Spielberg showcases his masterful storytelling, as well as his ability to roll with the punches whenever Mother Nature fights back. You may find Spielberg and his movies overrated, but you cannot deny the long-lasting impact and sheer entertainment value of “Jaws”.
Shout Outs: I can’t confirm that this movie’s iconic dolly zoom shot is an intentional “Vertigo” reference, but I can’t not confirm it either.
Everybody Gets One: Actor Lorraine Gary (as well as the countless Martha’s Vineyard citizens cast in bit parts), screenwriters Benchley and Gottlieb, and of course, Bruce.
Wow, That’s Dated: This film as a whole has that mellow post-Vietnam, post-Watergate vibe of the mid-‘70s. Plus we’re in the era when you had to specify you wanted a “color TV”.
Take a Shot: No one says “jaws”, but everyone just assumes it’s the name of the shark.
Seriously, Oscars?: The biggest hit of 1975 (or any year up to that point), “Jaws” was nominated for four Oscars, including Best Picture -which ended up being the only category it didn’t win (This was the year of the “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” sweep). “Jaws” took home the prizes for its Score, Sound, and Editing, but Spielberg in particular was pissed that the film wasn’t nominated in any other categories.
- Let’s acknowledge the great white shark in the room: this film’s chaotic production is as legendary as the film itself. The script was constantly being re-written, Shaw and Dreyfuss were regularly butting heads, and Spielberg’s insistence on filming in the actual ocean caused delay after delay; to say nothing of how often the mechanical sharks broke down.
- Chrissie picked a lovely day-for-night to go skinny dipping.
- You know what never gets the praise it deserves in this film? The cinematography. There are some lovely compositions that never detract from the film. Hats off to Bill Butler, plus the live shark footage of Ron and Valerie Taylor.
- Shoutout to Robert Shaw, whose Quint not only gets one of the best intros of any film character, but also two of the best film monologues.
- This movie is a lot quieter than I remember it being. There are still plenty of “volume up, volume down” moments, but for the most part there’s a lot of silence. Nice restraint, Spielberg and Williams.
- What happened to the mayor’s anchor jacket? Does the Smithsonian have it?
- “Peter Benchley, Channel 5 News, Amity.”
- The production setbacks really were a blessing. You can’t imagine the shark appearing before it finally does.
- I knew it was coming, but that first overhead shot of the shark underwater always gives me chills. Seriously, during this viewing I went from the edge of my bed to the wall in a matter of seconds.
- The one shot that baffles me is the shot in the estuary where the camera glides towards Michael. Is it from the fin’s POV or is the shark flying?
- Typically when a movie spawns a famous line, everyone involved tries to take credit, but by all accounts, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat” belongs to Roy Scheider.
- How did the actual survivors of the USS Indianapolis feel about their tragedy being used in this movie? Especially considering how many of the facts Quint gets wrong, including the date of the actual sinking.
- Oooh, a shooting star! I bet everyone wished for production to wrap soon!
- Jeez, that ending is brutal. It’s a wonder the PG-13 rating wasn’t created right then and there.
- In a bold marketing strategy, “Jaws” opened on over 450 screens on opening day (films typically opened in a handful of major venues before “rolling out” to the rest of the country), and spent most of its advertising budget on TV ads (another unheard-of move). The gambit worked, “Jaws” was a smash, and thus the summer blockbuster was born.
- Sequels. So many sequels. But no matter how many they made, the shark still looked fake.
- Knock-offs. So many knock-offs. “Orca” and “Piranha” being the most notorious culprits.
- A “Jaws” inspired shark attack is still part of the Universal Studios Hollywood tram tour. The Orlando park expanded this sequence into a full ride, but encountered just as many technical difficulties as the original film. The ride still exists, however, at Universal Studios Japan.
- John Williams’ score is responsible for every jerk that’s ever hummed those two notes in a swimming pool. It’s not funny, Jeremy!
- “That’s some bad hat, Harry.”
- Jeffrey Voorhees and Lee Fierro (Alex and Mrs. Kintner, respectively) still live on Martha’s Vineyard. Voorhees manages a pub called “The Wharf”; try the Alex Kitner Burger!
- But perhaps the film’s largest influence: people are terrified of sharks, even though less than 1% of all sharks are actually harmful to humans. It makes the argument for their preservation as a species a lot harder.
Further Viewing: The other great recut trailer of the mid-‘00s: the romantic comedy “Must Love Jaws”.
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