“You know that film Jaws? The one about the shark that plays the cello at the bottom of the ocean. I’ve seen it loads of times. Dead scary it is. And you see a naked woman in it. And it was done by that bloke who did ET.”
The above description of Jaws – told to me by a relative when I was a wee nipper – is something that still sticks with me to this day. It’s a shame that, as I watched the new Bluray release of the film, that I couldn’t switch on a DVD commentary (of which this is about the only thing that this release lacks) and listen to his inappropriate yet strangely compelling musings on the film. As a film familiar to many – thanks to countless screenings on TV and an inordinate amount of parodies – it’s often hard to view Jaws without a little tinge of weary nostalgia. But it’s easy to forget just how simply amazing Steven Spielberg’s film is. From a technical standpoint, it’s a whirlwind of creativity and clever ideas in the face of adversity. From an entertainment standpoint it’s an exhilarating and often terrifying thriller with the odd bit of grim humour thrown in for good measure.
With an origin that lay in an often compelling – yet rather soap opera like – book by Peter Benchley, Spielberg (for whom Jaws would be his second theatrical feature film) worked with the author to gut the story of its numerous sub-plots and create a taut and lean script. The final film is almost childlike in its simplicity (and, again, it now seems almost clichéd due to the amount of times it has been parodied): a small US fishing town is menaced by a giant shark and – after some attempts to convince the town’s mayor the danger is real - the town’s police chief, a shark expert and a grizzled veteran seaman find themselves on the hunt to destroy him. But it’s this simplicity that gives the film much of its power with Spielberg taking small and mundane moments (such as a midnight skinny dip, as seen in the film’s brilliant opening) and imbuing them with fear and tension. Spielberg’s debt to Hitchcock is apparent throughout (especially in the famous beach scene in which Brody’s [Roy Scheider] reaction to a shark attack is shown thrown the use of a ‘Dolly Zoom’ famously employed by Hitchcock in Vertigo) but there’s also an air of youthful enthusiasm and wild experimentation that still makes the film feel fresh and exciting. It’s become almost common knowledge that the appearances of the shark in the film were limited – and thus all the more effective - due to the fact that the original mechanics of the beast were an utter technical failure and it’s these moments of inspiration that are often a joy to behold. The simplicity also runs to John Williams’ now iconic (and Academy Award winning) score. Just two notes and a cello is all you need to be convinced that a dangerous shark is coming to get you.
Jaws was the prototype summer blockbuster, paving the way for The Avengers and Dark Knight’s of today
It’s slightly sobering to think that two out of the three main cast are no longer with us, but Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw are still wonderfully cast and powerful in their performances as the strange trio. They all play their roles perfectly: Scheider’s simmering anger at a shark that has threatened his town and his family, Dreyfuss’ slightly nebbish shark expert Hooper who has to step up to the plate when faced with nature in all tooth and claw (or should that be in tooth and even bigger tooth?) and Quint the grizzled veteran whose motivations are revealed in the still staggering monologue delivered by Shaw about the time he survived sharks after his boat sank during the war. They all complement each beautifully and their interplay is a large part of why the film still remains so good.
The legacy of the film is incomparable: aside from the imitators it created (and 3 not-very-good sequels) it was also the prototype summer blockbuster, paving the way for The Avengers and Dark Knight’s of today. Much of the film’s legacy is examined in the excellent ‘The Shark Is Still Working: The Impact & Legacy of Jaws’, a fan made documentary that manages to be really fascinating in its exploration of the film. Narrated by Scheider, the film includes interviews with all the main players and fans of the film including Bryan Singer and Robert Rodriguez. Even if you’ve bought the disc before (and the Bluray includes all the extras that have been included on releases in the past, including the official documentary The Making of Jaws) this extra almost makes it a worthy re-purchase. But what makes it even more worthy is the extensive and painstaking restoration job done on the film with each frame fully restored, and the Bluray presentation making the film look as it was released yesterday.
Jaws is the best shark film ever made (yes, even better that Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus). It’s also may be one of the greatest films ever made full stop.
Jaws is available now on Bluray from Universal
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