If you’ve just come out of a 45-year coma I’d like to introduce you to a film that was done right, just so very right - Steven Spielberg’s JAWS.
A cold opening presents us with a couple of promiscuous teens slipping away from a late night beach party for a bit of skinny dipping. Unfortunately this ends in the mauling of a young girl at the teeth of a monstrous shark. Cue Sheriff Brody (Roy Scheider), new to Amity Island, deciding to close down the beaches and being prevented by the towns sleaze-ball Mayor (Murray Hamilton) who demands it’s bad for business. As bodies start to pile up, a shark hunt is declared, the wrong animal is killed and Captain Quint (Robert Shaw) is hired. Along with Oceanographer Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), and Quint, Brody takes to the ocean to kill the shark himself.
Throughout the film it’s all to easy to invest yourself in one character or another, and equally as easy is taking a somewhat enjoyable stance against the Major. (Although the character itself is a straw man with a less than believable through line.) This effortless investment comes from the impeccable performances served up by Scheider and company. There is delicious chemistry and metaphorical head butting during the films meaty ‘three men on a boat’ segment. However, the stand out moment that will forever linger in my subconscious is delivered by Robert Shaw in the character of Quint. A monologue that sends shivers down the spine. The film's dialogue in general is consistently quotable, efficient, believable, and at its best, chilling.
Like most horrors or thrillers that came before, and many that have come after, JAWS is a little slow on getting to the real meat of its plot. Having said this, the time taken to reach the standoff is not spent dawdling but instead sprinkled with shining character moments, entertaining interactions, and scenes that don’t let up when it comes to either tension or suspense.
The film not only carved the way for storytelling, but also for special effects, and great filmmaking as a whole. In a couple of cases the obvious uses of stock footage undermines the movies tense intentions but practical effects as a whole adhere to a method of suggestion over big visuals, making for some great ‘Holy-Shit!’ moments that lower budget horrors of today truly lack with their over reliance on CGI.
JAWS is quite simply a diamond of a film, a highlight from Spielberg’s golden era that has not only stood the test of time, but also stands up to multiple viewings
A film that should be in the collection of any movie lover worth their salt, if you haven’t seen JAWS you’re missing out, and you definitely won’t regret busting it out come next movie night.
written by Kieran J. Smith.