These days the summer is a big time for new films. There are always a ton of action, horror or even comedy flicks wanting to become big hits and cement themselves as *the* summer blockbuster. But believe it or not, before 1975 there was no such thing as a summer blockbuster. But of course Steven Spielberg (who else?) saw something to be taken advantage of and created the first big “summer event” movie. Word of mouth was spread before advertising had even begun and by the time it opened in cinemas, people were queuing up down the street and round the block to see it. Was it really all that good? Well let’s have a look.
We have a lovely little place called Amity Island in New England, known for its 4th of July celebrations and used to large numbers of people crowding the beaches during the summer months. A few days before the 4th of July a young girl Chrissie Watkins is killed while swimming and the injuries look a bit suspicious; the chief of police Martin Brody identifies it as a shark attack but the mayor is reluctant to close the beaches because it could hurt business, so he rules it a boating accident and the beaches remain open. Unfortunately a little boy ends up getting attacked and killed by a shark and the town goes into chaos trying to catch it while an expert, Matt Hooper is called in. When the local sailors end up catching a shark, Hooper isn’t certain that it’s the same one but the mayor insists that the beaches remain open anyway. One more encounter with the shark and his son’s life put in danger compels Brody (who’s afraid of water by the way) to go out on the water with Hooper and shark hunter Quint in order to catch the thing once and for all.
In a bit of a twist to what I usually do, I’m going to get the negativity out of the way right now. I do have some criticisms to make so I’ll just get them out of the way: some parts of the film are extremely boring. If you ask me then there’s too big a gap between the second and third attacks, and a lot of the time you are just getting bored waiting for the shark to show up again. The film is just over two hours and I feel that it could have been trimmed down quite a bit since I was getting a little annoyed waiting for the shark to come back again. The first couple of attacks do make the film rather predictable since anyone can really see that they’re not going to catch the shark straight away and it took a bit too long to finally get to the three men out on the water. I’m also not a big fan of the overlong conversation scene on the boat where all three of them get a little drunk at night. But I guess it was necessary to give Quint some actual motivation. And, all those criticisms aside, they were worth it to finally get to the brilliant final half of the film.
We do have a bit of a unique set up here with our leads being three white men since we’re so used to the obvious trio of a white guy, minority guy and token girl. It does add an interesting dynamic and you really don’t see that many films with a majority male cast these days. The only woman who really has much of a role is Brody’s wife and she doesn’t have much screen time (though apparently in the book she had an affair with Hooper). Speaking of Brody, Roy Schneider does quite well as the lead who is conflicted between doing what’s best for the town’s people and the town’s financial security. His character growth is pretty impressive to watch, especially when he finally comes face to face with the shark. Richard Dreyfuss is awesome as the shark guy Hooper, being of the witty and snarking variety of scientist. For some reason he reminds me a bit of Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka, but I don’t know why. Maybe their voices sound similar. I enjoyed Robert Shaw as Quint obviously, the Captain Ahab of the group and chasing his own personal white whale. Apparently he had to skip the country when filming wrapped because he was in trouble with the IRS.
We do have a trio of one scene wonders in our female cast. The first is of course the famous first victim of Jaws, giving us one of the most shocking and violent death scenes (for the time anyway) ever seen in cinema. The second is the mother of little Alex Kintner, the little boy who gets killed by the shark. Her scene with Brody is a little unnerving to watch because it feels so realistic. The third is the girl who sees the shark in the pond and screams for help. She’s pretty cute as well.
While I never really found this film that suspenseful, one part did get me and that’s when Hooper goes under water to investigate an abandoned boat, and of course a body pops out at him. That’s big props for startling me. The entire final act of the film with all three guys out on the water is just incredibly exciting and gripping. Even when I’ve seen this film about four times now, I still can’t look away because I’m hooked. Hooper getting attacked in the shark cage is genuinely terrifying considering all he can do is hide under the coral until his oxygen runs out, leaving the other two by themselves. The part where the boat starts sinking really lets you know that shit is going down and like I said above, the parts of the film you don’t like that much are worth it for the final climactic battle with the shark (nicknamed Bruce, after Steven Spielberg’s lawyer). I saw this when I was about five or six and the shark battle was the only bit of the film I saw, so to me it was one of the most exciting things ever and I’m glad that it still holds up today. Even the infamous theme music could come across as silly and cheesy but it still works.
So this film is the reason we even got to the cinema at all during the summer since there’s now a stream of films worth seeing. Spielberg of course deserves the credit for scaring a whole generation shitless into being afraid of even dipping their big toe in the sea. The key is of course taking from Val Lewton’s Cat People in that it’s not what you see that scares you but rather what you don’t see. He probably also borrowed a bit from Alfred Hitchcock because, well who the hell doesn’t? I’ve seen none of the sequels and I don’t plan to either especially after I’ve heard that the fourth one involves a shark under a voodoo curse. Take care, Bobby-verse and remember to watch yourselves even when you sit into the bath. Also remember to follow me on Twitter.