Directed By: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss
Tag line: "You yell shark, and we got a panic on our hands on the Fourth of July"
Trivia: Charlton Heston was so annoyed with being rejected for the role of Brody that he later made disparaging comments about Steven Spielberg and vowed never to work with him
Steven Spielberg’s 1975 horror/thriller, Jaws, has gone down in history as the cinema's very first summer blockbuster. Released in June of that year, this now-classic tale of a man-eating shark took in over $100 million at the box office in just under 2 months, a feat unheard of at the time. Amazingly, several decades and hundreds of summer blockbusters later, Jaws would still make many Top-5 lists of the finest summer movies ever produced. In fact, for a whole lot of us, it's still number one.
When the remains of a young girl (Susan Backlinie), the victim of a shark attack, wash up on the beaches of Amity Island, Police Chief Brody (Roy Scheider) takes it upon himself to close the beach until further notice. Neither the Mayor (Murray Hamilton) nor the town council are happy with his decision, arguing that such an action, on the eve of the July 4th weekend, will cost their community thousands in revenue. Against Brody’s better judgment, and ignoring the advice of Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), an ichthyologist sent in to investigate the attack, the town re-opens the beaches, resulting in even more bloodshed once the shark returns. To destroy the creature (and thus salvage the rest of their summer season), Amity hires rugged fisherman Quint (Robert Shaw) to hunt down the beast. With Brody and Hooper in tow, Quint sets out to destroy what is quickly becoming a man-eating monster.
The shark in Jaws is as mysterious as it is terrifying, and generates tension by the mere fact we have no idea where or when it will strike next. For the majority of the film, we barely see the creature; it's presence is noted by way of underwater shots (seen from the shark's point of view) punctuated by John Williams' brilliant score. Even the attacks are kept at a minimum early on, making each one all the more horrifying when it occurs. It isn't until the last 1/3 of the movie that Spielberg finally rolls out his monster, cluing us in on just how fearsome a beast it truly is.
Of course, none of the on-screen carnage would amount to much if we didn't care about the good citizens of Amity Island, and like many of Spielberg's best works, Jaws forges a bond between audience and characters that remains strong throughout. In the case of Robert Shaw's Quint, however, such a connection wasn't as easy to come by. Like Brody and Hooper, we approach Quint with a degree of caution; his mannerisms are often abrasive, and his motivations somewhat suspect. Then, in what is perhaps the film's most poignant sequence, we're given all we need to know about the man. Following a tense day of shark hunting, Brody, Hooper and Quint are unwinding in the cabin of Quint’s boat, sharing a few drinks. Quint, slightly drunk, relates a story from his days in the U.S. Navy. It was June of 1945, and the ship Quint was serving on, the U.S.S. Indianapolis, was struck by a Japanese torpedo, sinking to the bottom of the sea in under 12 minutes. Quint was one of around 900 men left floating in the shark-infested waters, watching as the swarming creatures dragged his shipmates into the dark water, one by one. He and the others waited five days to be rescued, and by the time a ship finally arrived, more than 2/3's of their number had been devoured. Shaw's delivery of this story is masterful, and all at once we know what it is that drives his character. Brody wants to kill the beast, Hooper's out to study it, whereas Quint is chasing the demons of his past.
Since 1975, Hollywood has released a plethora of big-budget, special-effects-laden movies during the summer months, each hoping to be crowned that year's box-office champ. Most of these films set out to impress the masses with gobs of special effects and loud, booming soundtracks. Someday, we may even get one that approaches the same level of perfection as Spielberg's Jaws, providing a movie-going experience which will resonate with audiences for many years to come.