Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Why "Jaws" Still has Bite

Tuesday, August 4, 2009
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This is one of my favorite weeks of the year. Not because I love summer, or back-to-school shopping, but because…IT’S SHARK WEEK! Each summer, the Discovery Channel serves up seven days of thrilling, chilling programming featuring the most fascinating predators of the sea.

I wanted to do something to pay homage and what better way than writing about the greatest shark flick of all time?

For those who have spent the last 34 years studying glacier movement in the Arctic tundra, “Jaws” premiered in 1975 and is based on Peter Benchley’s best-selling novel of the same name. Directed by then-newcomer Steven Spielberg, the film takes place in a summer resort town called Amity. This is our first sign that things are not going to be, well, amiable (see “The Amityville Horror”).

After a swimmer is killed and a little boy is devoured right in front of a beach full of sunbathers, police chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) calls on marine biologist Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), who, after examining what is left of one of the victims, informs Brody they are looking for a great white shark. After enlisting the help of Quint (Robert Shaw), a saucy local fisherman, the three set out to catch the man-eater, who has more than a few terrifying surprises in store.

In our modern CGI age, there has been much whining about and critiquing of the special effects in films from
yesteryear, and the animatronic shark in this one is no exception. However, the true genius of “Jaws” is that it is driven by good old-fashioned suspense. Spielberg took some excellent cues from Hitchcock and they are evident within the first five minutes of the film. We do not get a good look at the shark until half-way through the movie, but there are a whole lot of scares, blood and gore beforehand.

Spielberg utilizes shots from the shark’s perspective rather than showing it, and the tactic is effective, particularly when we see the doomed swimmer’s legs kicking above us as the predator closes in during the opening sequence, and again when it swims right past Brody’s son, Michael.

Throughout “Jaws,” John Williams’ famous two-note score alerts the audience to impending carnage and successfully raises the fear factor. It is no wonder it went on to become one of the most famous pieces of music in film history.

Another highlight of the film is its well-written and witty script. Shaw’s experienced Quint and Dreyfuss’ college-boy Hooper do not see eye-to-eye, and their rivalry offers up some of the funniest scenes in the movie. Early on in their shark-catching expedition, Quint downs a beer in one gulp, crushing the can in one hand and Hooper hilariously mimics him with a miniscule plastic cup.

While it is misleading regarding the nature of sharks, “Jaws” is still a hell of an entertaining ride. Shark Week will fill in all the scientific blanks. Even if they do not really have a taste for human flesh, seeing the sheer size and power of these fish still brings to mind Scheider’s line after he, and the audience, finally see the shark for the first time: “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

We concur, Chief.

Check out the original trailer for Jaws.”


emily dawn said...

I still remember being afraid Jaws would come out of the drain in the bathtub. Eek!

Amanda Mitchell said...

I think many people switched from baths to showers after this came out. ; )

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