Starring: Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss, Lorraine Gary
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Film length: 2hrs 10mins
Theatrical Release: June 20th, 1975
Blu-ray release: 2012
I was terrified of sharks when I was a kid. My fear wasn’t a direct result of the film, Jaws, but an indirect one. I hadn’t first watched it until I was in my twenties but the shark hype it spawned into pop culture during the late ’70s and early ’80s definitely fed into it. I wouldn’t even swim in the lake at my Nono and Nona’s camp no matter how much my parents insisted sharks did not live in fresh water. I wasn’t having any of it.
When I finally did watch Jaws, I thought it was pretty good but it didn’t hook me. The hype seemed to be about how scary the shark is and he looked like a big piece of floating rubber. I hadn’t watched it fully since then and I was curious to revisit it. So, I was happy to give it another watch when my wife, Sarah, fished it out of the collection for movie night.
The film (4/5)
“That’s some bad hat, Harry.”
Jaws takes place on the fictional New England island called Amity. The quaint town that bares the same name on it, thrives with activity during the summer season as it swells with tourists until it peaks during the 4th of July weekend. The rest of the time it is obsessed with its small town problems, like a group of kids ruining a white picket fence during karate practice.
In mid-June, a young woman’s body is found washed up on shore after an apparent shark attack. Amity’s Chief of Police, Martin Brody (Roy Scheider), reluctantly goes along with the town’s Mayor, Larry Vaughn (Murray Hamilton), with the more unlikely explanation of the woman’s death being the result of a boating accident. Officially putting a shark attack as the cause of death would not only create hysteria among the locals and tourists, but would also require the town to close down its beaches. This would place Amity’s economy at risk since it relies on the beach during the summer as its main source of income.
The story doesn’t last long, however, after a second attack from Jaws claims the life of a young boy in front of many witnesses. The island is then flooded with activity with both tourists leaving en masse and would-be shark hunters coming in for a chance at killing the great white shark.
The town is pacified for a short while when a tiger shark is captured, killed, and believed by many (including the Mayor) to be Jaws; but Ichthyologist Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) who came to the island among the chaos knows better. He informs Chief Brody the tiger shark’s mouth is too small to match the bite marks on the victim. Brody and Hooper then enlist the help of a grizzled local ship captain, Quint (Robert Shaw), who has experience with capturing sharks. They then set off to sea for a battle of cat and mouse with the great beast. It isn’t long, however, before Jaws proves to be a formidable opponent and the lines between who is the cat and who is the mouse becomes a lot less clear.
Noted for being Hollywood’s first summer blockbuster, and the film to put director Steven Spielberg on the map, Jaws blurs the line between thriller and horror film. It’s gory enough at times to fit in with the ’80s slasher films that followed it, but the characters and storytelling is more grounded in reality like Hitchcock’s Psycho. For me, no matter how you slice it, Jaws is a straight-up monster flick. And that is NOT a bad thing.
The three main characters (Brody, Hooper, and Quint) mesh together nicely with Quint being the standout. He does go off the deep end a wee bit too conveniently towards the latter half of the film, but he is quite entertaining otherwise. The scenes that make up a majority of the latter part of the film are of Jaws and Quint matching wits; and as Jaws slowly begins to take Quint’s boat apart, Quint’s mind seems to go along with it. This is some of the most well-paced and suspenseful moments in cinema. It’s good times.
Memorable Moments / What Stood Out to Me
Quint’s USS Indianapolis speech breaks a rule and works
Show, don’t tell. It is one of the first things that is taught to students in both television and film school. As they are both visual mediums, having a character on-screen in exposition or telling a long winded story is not ideal when you can show it instead. Seeing things is what the audience is paying for, after all. Thus, flashbacks and cut-aways were born.
Having Quint tell his story of his experiences with sharks as a young man in the navy to Brody and Hooper was a bit of a ballsy move since it was long and intricate. I imagine budget considerations factored into the decision to have Quint tell the story instead, but it was an example of how this direction can be more effective. Not only does the scene benefit Shaw’s ability to keep the audience captivated, the reactions from Scheider and Dreyfuss are effective too. It turns out a big rule breaker is one of the film’s most memorable moments. I wish more films took these kinds of risks today.
I think Quint’s story also sets up the fake-looking shark
Quint’s story takes place just before we get a good look at Jaws, and he explains how a shark’s eyes look when close up: “Y’know, the thing about a shark, he’s got lifeless eyes, black eyes, like a doll’s eyes. When he comes after ya, he doesn’t seem to be livin’ until he bites ya,” That line of dialogue stood out to me and I wonder if it was put there intentionally to set up how odd (or fake) Jaws can look at times.
The film has a Stephen King vibe
At least I think so. Amity is located in New England but feels like one of King’s fictional Maine towns like Castle Rock or Derry. Jaws is a big, murderous beast similar to King’s more deadly creations like Cujo or Christine; and lead protagonist Brody has some of the same struggles that King’s protagonists do. Brody is new to the setting of Amity (Pet Sematary), his family is there with him reluctantly (The Shining), and he has a phobia (drowning) which is directly related to the threat at hand. This helps elicit a bit of sympathy for the character from the audience/readers (pick a Stephen King book). Maybe Stephen King has just been re-writing Jaws since the ’70s!
The back cover boasts how this print is both “digitally remastered” AND “fully restored”. Yeah, I’m not sure why it needed TWO tags of techno babble enchantments, but I can’t argue with the results. Spielberg himself had a hand in the film’s restoration and it is an excellent-looking Blu-ray. The colours are rich and deep with just a hint of film grain. Just the way I like it.
The back of the package boasts all of the improvements made to the film’s video quality, but the audio is greatly enhanced as well. My sub woofer bounced along with John Williams’ famous “two note” bass violin main theme and the screams from the water cut through my speakers. And just in case you were wondering about the 7.1 sound but, I’m only hooked up with 5.1. Deal with it.
Special Features (5/5)
I thought about knocking off a point for having too little of any new material, but I’m handing it perfection considering this Blu-ray compiles nearly 5 hours of material from several different releases into one inexpensive package. First, we have a 2 hour documentary from the 2005 30th Anniversary DVD about the making of the film which includes Spielberg and Peter Benchley, the author of the book Jaws is based on. Second, from the 2007 Blu-ray release, a 1 hour 41 minute documentary about the technical challenges of making Jaws and its impact on modern film making. Both are in SD, but are compelling despite their length.
There is a mini-feature from 1975 with Spielberg on the set, a trailer, and a number of other bits and pieces. The only real new (and HD) item is a nine minute in-depth look at restoring the film for this release with some Universal techies and Spielberg himself. You think everything is done with computers these days (and most of it is) but there is some physical science involving the original negative!
Jaws is a reminder of what the summer blockbuster once was. It’s not like today, which is a result of a hive mind with a sole desire to make money; but the result of a desire to tell a big-scale story. Spielberg was great at it. He didn’t become a famous director for being a hack the way Michael Bay did. He made summer blockbusters that were deep with interesting characters, and long exposition that still packs in enough thrills to keep the audience entertained. Jaws shows Spielberg is a reel expert who can tackle anything.