Sunday, April 29, 2012

#622. Jaws (1975)

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 flick about 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. 

What's even more impressive is that - several decades and hundreds of summer blockbusters later - Jaws would still make most people's Top-5 list of the finest summer movies ever produced. 

In fact, for many of us, it will always be number one.

When the remains of a young girl (Susan Backlinie), the victim of a shark attack, wash up on the shoreline of Amity Island, Police Chief Brody (Roy Scheider) takes it upon himself to close the beaches 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 salvage the rest of their summer season), Amity hires rugged fisherman Quint (Robert Shaw) to hunt the beast. With Brody and Hooper in tow, Quint sets out to destroy what has already become a man-eating monster.

The shark in Jaws is as mysterious as it is terrifying, and generates tension by the mere fact that we have no idea when or where 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 them all the more horrifying when they occur. 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 abyss, 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 feature 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.

Perhaps someday…


Eric D. Leach said...

Still one of he greatest films ever made in my humble opinion.
A masterpiece of the highest order.
Even today and into its fourth decade it still stands alone as one of the true great movies.
With a near perfect cast and the added bonus of a triumphant treble tour de force performances from both Roy Scheider and Richard Dreyfuss and more importantly Robert Shaw who majestically guides the second part of this film into genuine movie brilliance.
Not only is this film full of wonderful set pieces and suspense and thrills aplenty that will have you on the edge of you're seat but it also as a wonderful script that is brought to life with some of the best ensemble performances ever assembled and therefore put this movie on another plateau altogether.
This film deals intricately with many complex issues and problems besides the obvious focal point of a Carcharodon Carcharias that is summarily eating anyone who innocently become victims of its natural ability to hunt out and kill anything of its choosing.
This film is not just about a maneating shark that terrorizes the people of Amity Island.
The fact is that this films depth is like the sea on which we spend much time upon and as no bounds and therefore brings with it a often forboding and frequently scary and spell bounding journey about life and death itself.
Directed by a up and coming director known as Steven Spielberg (whatever happened to him?) and with writer Peter Benchley's storyline thrown in for good measure care of Carl Gottlieb's screenplay then surely it was never in doubt that this movie would become one of the best and greatest movie feasts of all time.
It is exactly that, a feast of visual mastery and nothing in the same vain as been made since its original filmic inception way back in 1975 and a perfect example of why I think the 70's was the best time for making groundbreaking cinema.
It is still the bright standard bearer and will always stand the test of time forever more.
When using the word 'masterpiece' to describe something indivdual and unique, then you have no need to look any further than Jaws for that supreme example.
Put simply and despite the test of time it still as few flaws, yes even today and is nothing other than, "Quite brilliant".
Eric D.Leach.

DVD Infatuation said...

Eric: Thanks for the incredible comment!

And I couldn't agree with you more! JAWS is one of the best

Thanks also for stopping by, and for being such a great follower on Twitter. It's much appreciated!