Jaws [retro review]

“You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

The Scoop: 1975 PG, directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, and Robert Shaw

Tagline: Don’t go in the water

Summary Capsule: Super-sized shark terrorizes beach community

Andie’s Rating: ba-DUMP, ba-DUMP, ba-DUMP

Andie’s Review: Jaws manages to be a horror movie and effectively scary while not even showing the monster until you are half way through the film. You know the shark is present, though, by the masterful camera work and the now-famous music. (ba-DUMP, ba-DUMP.) You ARE the shark when it is about to strike. The camera goes underwater, looking up at the unsuspecting legs of the victims. The camera then switches to the top of the water and shows the poor person being dragged under and a fountain of blood squirts up. Pretty cool, if you ask me.

Another interesting camera shot (and one of my favorite scenes) is the shot of Chief Brody (Roy Scheider) on the beach when he sees Alex Kintner get eaten by the shark. The camera does a close-up on Brody while pulling the background away from him. The effect is one of a person going into shock or gasping with horror. The viewer feels what Brody must be feeling while seeing a shark attack.

Jaws is divided up into three acts. The first being when stupid drunk Chrissy gets chomped while her passed out drunk boyfriend lays on the beach. No one will believe Brody that it was a shark attack. Brody is disrupting this peaceful little town by trying to tell everyone it was a shark. This lays the groundwork for the town to be terrorized by the monster. They won’t let Brody close the beaches and tourists resume swimming in the water.

In a scene very much like the Odessa steps sequence in Potemkin, we see shots of the beach: happy swimmers, a boy and his dog, people on towels. These are all interlaced with quick cuts to shots of Brody, nervously scanning the beach. After numerous false alarms, Alex Kintner is attacked and killed by the shark.

Act two begins when a reward is offered for the capture and killing of this shark. Men from all over flock to ‘tame the beast.’ It is here when we are introduced to Hooper and Quint. Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) is a spunky young marine biologist. Quint (Robert Shaw) is a salty old seaman who offers to go after the shark for $10,000. There are other men, though, who will do it for less and Quint is turned down. The other men do catch A shark, but Hooper tells us it is not THE shark that killed Chrissy or Alex Kintner. The mayor reopens the beaches for the Fourth of July. There is a fake shark attack on the beach while another real one happens in the lagoon. Brody’s son is injured and another man is killed. You finally get to see the shark, half-way through the film, and so begins Act three.

Act three begins when the town hires Quint to kill the shark. He takes Brody and Hooper with him. The shots in the rest of the film alternate between long, lulling, boring shots when there isn’t a shark around and fast, choppy, exciting shots when there is a shark. The shots in particular that set the mood are when there are long shots of Quint’s boat, out on the water all by itself. Just the tiny boat and tons of water. It really gives the feeling of complete isolation. The three men have to face this shark alone. And if Quint’s monologue about the sinking of the USS Indianapolis doesn’t give you chills, I don’t know what will.

Jaws is a masterfully directed film. It combines all elements of film making and produces a spectacular experience. Not until another Spielberg classic, Jurassic Park, has a movie been so entertaining yet still a piece of technical genius.

Kyle’s Rating: too many shark teeth to count

Kyle’s Review: Jaws suffers just a little bit from years of re-viewing, but only in one spot: horror. I can imagine in a purer and more innocent world, the idea of this relentless killer shark chomping up helpless swimmers (kids, even!) was, like, the scariest thing ever. Today, post-Hellraiser, post-school violence, post-Roseanne Barr anything, sharks are the least of our problems. So it’s hard to watch this nowadays and think ‘oh, no! No more beach trips for me!’

Fortunately, thanks to the expert direction of Steven Spielberg, Jaws functions not only as a horror tale, but also (and more satisfyingly) as an adventure tale. Man vs. beast, with lots of watery excitement and cool macho stuff as our heroes (the brainy nerd, the weary cop, the insane fisherman) try to survive the shark and each other, and compare scars in one of the coolest ‘hey, we’re men!’ scenes ever.

Here’s what you need to know: Amity is a small island that depends heavily on holiday business for its economy, and with a killer shark on the loose it’s up to Police Chief Brody (Roy Scheider) to keep the peace and figure out how to make the water safe again. He’ll need the help of shark expert Richard Dreyfuss to figure out what they’ve got to deal with, and ultimately it will take help from aforementioned crazed fisherman Quint (perfectly manic Robert Shaw) to find this darn shark and politely tell him that eating humans is a big no-no.

Don’t fret that this movie is too old to still be cool, because its strengths lie in the performances of the actors and the smooth story telling. Don’t worry that it won’t as scary as you would like, because it isn’t; it’s very suspenseful instead, and sometimes suspense is even better than straight-out gross-out horror. Trust me on that one, Scream-heads. Since there aren’t nearly enough modern movies about killer sharks as there should be, you need to add Jaws to your viewing experience. You won’t regret it.

Justin’s Rating: Sure, the shark still looks fake… but who cares?

Justin’s Review: In my salad days, I had the best babysitter in the world. Actually, I can’t remember her name or anything about her, but I’m sure she was stellar. So one night I walked downstairs and witnessed my babysitter watching the opening scene to Jaws. I stood there, entranced, as a swimming girl went from bathing beauty to shark chum in under a minute. And I should probably mention that seeing this gave me an unnatural terror of the ocean that extends to this day (I’m convinced I will die by shark attack, but that’s another story. Actually, it’s the same story.)

Jaws is a gorgeous blend of storytelling, horror, and comedy that’s produced a film that remains one of the most rewatchable flicks ever. Instead of just focusing on the movie’s antagonist (a rather large and chubby great white), Stephen Spielberg develops a cast of characters that endear themselves into our hearts in many ways, at least until they become stripped carcasses floating in the Atlantic. Police Chief Brody, not unlike many cinematic heroes of modern times, is the first and only one to predict and fight the evil thing from beyond, but he’s not perfect. Just a normal guy with a few phobias and some sharp lines. He teams up with Richard Dreyfuss playing Richard Dreyfuss, a shark expert, who is more like a walking encyclopedia of exposition. But he does a good job. Eventually, those two employ the help of drunk shark hunter Quint, who is exactly who you want to be with you when you’re hunting an invincible terror. He’s drunk, which means he don’t get scared, and he’s an old salt, which means he don’t take everything too seriously. Watching the three men bond on the trip is the core of Jaws, and what draws me back again and again (and also why the other three films sucked so badly… no male bonding!).

Turning to the creature itself, Jaws is no slouch. It has its own theme music (no Shaft, but it ain’t bad), it has no qualms about taking out children (or ocean liners, for that matter), and it’s very territorial. However, Jaws‘ main asset to the fear factor is the ocean itself. More of the film is spent looking at empty bodies of water, knowing that somewhere out there is a bunch of choming teeth looking for you. Seeing the dorsal fin pop out of the water is one of those chilling moments that will just stick in the mind, particularly whenever you get in the water over your head.

Cult or not, Jaws is spectacular. A horror bad guy that makes no last minute speeches, a bunch of good guys that make tons of great speeches, and one boat that’s a little too small. Repeat after me: DUM-dum. DUM-dum. DUM-dun-dun-dun-dun-dun-dun…

Dude, trust me. You don't wanna turn around.

Intermission!

  • When Hooper and Brody perform an autopsy on the shark, Hooper pulls all sorts of interesting stuff out of its stomach.
  • The book on sharks that Brody flicks through features a shark with a diver’s tank in its mouth.
  • Quint got the date of the Indianapolis sinking wrong, claiming it was June 29th, 1945, when in reality it was July 29th, 1945.
  • The camera technique used when Brody sees Alex Kintner killed (the close-up on Brody and the pulling away of the background) was first used by Alfred Hitchcock in to simulate Jimmy Stewart’s vertigo in Vertigo.
  • The fact that Jaws is very Hitchcockian by not revealing the shark until half-way through the film is actually an accident. The mechanical sharks were so much trouble, Spielberg had to be creative in implying the presence of the shark.

Groovy Quotes:

Hooper: [to mayor] Uh, I think I am familiar with the fact that you are going to ignore this particular problem until it swims up and bites you in the ass!

[when he first sees the shark]
Brody: You’re gonna need a bigger boat.

[Quint, Brody, and Hooper singing]
Show me the way to go home
I’m tired and I wanna go to bed
I had a little drink about an hour ago
And it got right to my head
Where’er I may roam
O’er land or sea or foam
You can always hear me singin this song
Show me the way to go home.

Mayor Vaughn: Martin, it’s all psychological. You yell barracuda, everybody says, “Huh? What?” You yell shark, we’ve got a panic on our hands on the Fourth of July.

Quint: You go in the cage, cage goes in the water, you go in the water. Shark’s in the water, our shark!

Quint: The thing about a shark, it’s got lifeless eyes, black eyes, like a doll’s eyes. When it comes at you it doesn’t seem to be livin’… Until he bites you, and those black eyes roll over white.

If you liked this movie, try these:

  • Jaws 2
  • Deep Blue Sea
  • Alien
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8 Comments

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