Jaws ★★★★½

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

While I've seen Jaws a fair number of times, it's not one I saw on its release in 1975. I was far too young, but you better believe all us kids at the bus stop and playground saw it on network TV when it aired since we talked breathlessly about it over and over again. Like how amazed we were that "Jaws" could drag three whole yellow barrels under the water like we had any clue what that meant or how hard it would be. Or "Smile, you son of a bitch" because he used the "b" word. Or if we could see anything on that naked swimmer. And on and on.

So, yeah, Jaws is a real neat movie that works for dumb kids... but when I got old enough to really understand movies, it was a revelation on VHS rewatch. The scares were more than the guy's wormy head in the boat and the thrills greater than seeing the size of the shark as it swam by underwater. Getting the fear and dread of something out there, of the selfishness and short-sightedness of not only the mayor but all the townsfolk, and so on and so forth. There’s more to the movie than a kid would get which makes it a great movie to grow older with. In fact, last time I saw it was at the beginning of the pandemic shut-down… and if there were any resemblance between the town’s response to a killer shark and some people’s response to a potentially killer bug, I’m sure I didn’t see it <eyes roll>.

I was happy to see it for the first time on the big screen, and in "IMAX" (liemax) to boot. I didn't see the 3D version though... I guess the IMAX version isn't in 3D or my local theater didn't download that version. Oh well, probably wouldn't have appreciated the 3D revamp anyways.

Jaws works on multiple levels. A good old fashioned monster movie, an animal attack flick, a thriller, a horror, and even an ocean adventure. It works because it feels so grounded and human... the town is full of believable, non-Hollywood characters. Cross-cutting dialog and incidental background details fill the screen when they are on dry land.

It wasn't that unusual to have middle-aged men as the stars of your movie, but it was nice to have Roy Scheider and Robert Shaw as the leads (it wouldn't be until Jaws 2 when the cast got aged down in order get teenage butts in seats for the Jaws 2). I appreciated on this watch how Quint treated Chief Brody as a novice who needed training and how he warmed up to Hooper as an equal.

From the standpoint of a scary movie, it has two of the best jump scares in pictures. The worm-ridden head popping out of the hull of the boat and later the "come down here and chum some of this shit" moment where the shark pops up out of the water. That jump scare is so different from almost any other jump scare in cinema... it's so sudden and yet so casual, quiet, and uneventful... it just… happens… and Brody backs up, leaving room for the audience to calm down, before uttering one of the most iconic laugh lines in history... "You're gonna need a bigger boat". Insert nervous and relieved laughter. It’s almost like Spielberg knows what he’s doing!

Obviously Jaws has one of the most iconic (and easy to emulate on just two of a piano) soundtracks... but it occurred to me this that the flick also has a rousing, jaunty adventure theme that doesn't really fit a scary movie at all. It made me wonder if Spielberg thought he was making a scary movie or an adventure or movie. Answer was probably: yes. I also noticed for the first time that John Williams inserted Quint's "Spanish Lady" sea chanty into the score itself.

And speaking of Quint and great moments in cinema, his monolog about the USS Indianapolis is as eerie and disquieting as anything else in the flick. I love that the movie takes its time to let this sequence sink in, adding in great individual lines like "Lifeless eyes. Like a doll's eyes" that are so evocative. Honestly a scene that made no impact on young stupid me but really got under my skin as a more aware cinephile.

It's a scene that would probably be cut in a movie today... and a fine example of how other animal attack or predicament/survival films fail so hard at character moments. I'm thinking of two such fine examples in Beast (Idris Elba punches a lion) and Fall (two friends scale a 2000 foot radio tower) released this year... decent movies in their own rights, disasters at generating character. So three cheers to Spielberg for using Quint so well and extra applause to the studio for keeping it in.

And speaking of Quint, it's odd to think that his character is set up as this ultimate sea salt out for revenge on sharks as a species... and then just gets bit in half at the end. I mean, besides saving Amity Island $10,000 (Brody was just doing his job, Hooper would probably refuse since he’s rich already), that seems a pretty ignoble death. What was the point? But then I wonder... the shark sure seems to have a vendetta against that boat, doesn’t he? And then you think of Quint's story of surviving all those sharks when he was in the Navy and then you check out his cabin decorated with dozens and dozens of shark jaws. This is a man who has spent his life avenging himself on the sharks... slaughtering them wholesale… maybe this is a story of the shark biting back? Jaws 4: The Revenge isn't the one that deserves that title…. maybe this flick did. Jaws: The Revenge of Bruce…

As far as Bruce the Shark goes, the mechanical shark is amusing. As many of us know, they had a devil of a time getting the robot to work and that's why it's not in the movie a lot. But what might be lost to history is that, for a long, long time, the consensus was that Jaws is a great movie, but the shark looks fake (you can see this joke in Back to the Future 2 after the hologram of Jaws 19 takes a bite at Marty). But I've noticed that, as time has gone on and CGI sharks become abundant (and often shitty), suddenly a younger generation doesn't seem to think the shark looks bad at all. I think they are keying in on the fact the damn thing is real... and, sure, maybe sharks don't jump onto the deck of your boat, but at least something was physically there. Something tangible, if a little rubbery, but certainly not the low-rent CGI garbage we get in most similar flicks today. God bless 40+ years of special effects improvements... they make the old and janky kind of cool again.

It's weird these days that if you want to make a B horror movie on the cheap and you don't have enough friends to create a shlocky zombie horde, maybe you get some buddies together an put them in a raft on the ocean and insert a shitty CGI shark. All these many, many, many knock-off cheap Jaws wannabes are emulating a movie that was certainly not low budget... it had large numbers of extras, filmed on location, and had a state-of-the-art sinking, short-circuiting robot shark to mess up the production schedule and budget. Somehow the shark attack sub-genre became the bailiwick of shlock producers on a budget.

I don't consider this a perfect movie... mainly because I think some of the sea adventure sequences in the second half get a little long. They are great on the first few viewings, but they don't hold up as well as the first half and the more iconic moments in the rest of the flick.

So, yeah, Jaws is a really great movie and worth checking out on its re-release at theaters. But it still works on the small screen where I've seen it the most. Marvel at, if nothing else, how good Spielberg was practically out of the gate. And how they managed to make that broken-down old shark work despite itself.

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