RETRO REVIEW – ‘Jaws’

Steven Spielberg's thriller is still as captivating as ever!

Review by J.T. Johnson

ORIGINAL RELEASE DATE: June 20, 1975
DIRECTOR: Steven Spielberg
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Bill Butler
WRITERS: Peter Benchley, Carl Gottlieb
MUSIC: John Williams

A young woman decides to go for a night swim in order to seduce a rather drunk suitor. She takes off her clothes, dives into the ocean and swims out into the open water. Suddenly, something grabs her and what should have been a romantic evening turns into a night of terror.

This is the beginning of “Jaws”, the film that put director Steven Spielberg on the map and pretty much invented the Summer blockbuster! Even if, by chance, you’ve never seen “Jaws”, you’ve seen it parodied in several other films and television shows. You also know John Williams’ iconic score that justifiably won the composer an Academy Award.

What some of you may not know is the story of the production. For any self-proclaimed film geek, the production of “Jaws” is almost as legendary as the film itself. The movie was noted at the time for Spielberg’s utilization of suggestion over actually showing you the shark. You only know the presence of the shark due to things such as when Williams’ score kicks in or the barrels that are shot into the shark later in the film.

The truth is that Spielberg made these choices more out of necessity than anything else. The mechanical shark that was built for the production almost never worked and when it did, it didn’t work entirely right. This forced the production to go over schedule and over budget. Still, the inventive filmmakers led by Spielberg and a brilliant cast pulled together what is one of the best films ever created.

The movie begins with the death of the young lady at the top of the film. We are then introduced to Chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider), a former New York cop who has moved his family to Amity Island. He obviously moved there for the peace it provided, but soon he’ll be fighting the townspeople who don’t want to close the beaches for the Summer and a beast that he never imagined going up against.

Thankfully for Brody, he is not alone. He is eventually joined by oceanographer Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) and an old shark hunter named Quint (Robert Shaw). During the second half of the film, Brody, Hooper and Quint are trying to track down the shark aboard Quint’s ship, the Orca.

The movie’s first half sets up the town and the mysterious shark that is terrorizing the beach. This is where we get most of our exposition for what Brody is dealing with, but it is the second half of the film where things really kick off and the tension never lets up. You see stunning shots of the Orca out in the open water with no land around and you realize how isolated these three men really are.

After tangling with the shark a few times, the three men get to know each other. This is where we see just how good all three actors are with one another. Scheider is the perfect leading man while Hooper provides a bit of comic relief and Shaw is the standout supporting character. The absolute best scene in the film doesn’t have to do with any of the film’s multiple action sequences.

It is a scene where both Brody and Hooper learn that Quint was onboard the U.S.S. Indianapolis during World War II. Shaw helped write the scene and it is one of the best monologues ever featured in a film. Of course, that’s not to say that the action is not good or anything.

For the first half of the film, you are truly on the edge of your seat when you hear the music and you know the shark is about to attack. During the second half of the film, that tension builds as Brody, Hooper and Quint try to track down their prey without becoming the hunted.

The movie is filled with iconic scenes, such as when Brody is throwing chum in the water and the shark makes its first full appearance with Scheider famously improvising, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.” This effectively reminds the audience that even if all things appear quiet, these men are not alone.

“Jaws” is a film that has been analyzed to death by so many other people and I don’t really want to dive into that here. All I wanted to do was add my voice to many others who love this film to this very day. It is one of the best examples of imaginative filmmaking tied together to one hell of a story with fine performances from its ultra talented cast. For me personally, it is easily one of my top five films and it still holds up 43 years after its initial release.

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