Originally Published June 1, 2015.
It’s a cliché, but Jaws truly has aged like a fine wine. It is a special kind of vintage. It is a scary movie that can be watched by anyone, no matter the viewer’s age or tolerance for horror movies. It has left a huge cultural imprint on cinema and culture. It hasn’t become dated or creaky. And most of all, it is still crazy amounts of fun to watch.
Jaws was released in the summer of 1975 and became the highest grossing, North American movie within 78 days of its release. Steven Spielberg (aged 29 at the time) essentially created the blueprint for the summer blockbuster (and then, 18 years later, reinvented it again with Jurassic Park).
For me, Jaws’ success as a movie and a viewing experience can be summed up with another cliché: less is more. It is a well-known bit of trivia that the movie’s mechanical shark was a piece of shit that could only be used for a few seconds at a time. While filming, Spielberg must have thought this was a disaster, but in his efforts to work around the machine’s ineffectiveness, he succeeded in ways he couldn’t have imagined. The simple masterstroke of changing the shots of the moving shark to POV shots backed by John Williams’ stripped down, ominous score creates tension like gangbusters. Even now, 59 trillion re-watches later, the POV shots of the shark speeding towards the swimming girl at the start with the music swelling gives me goosebumps. Taking the time to establish the shark as a primordial killing machine and building that fear pays off later on when we see more of the fake-looking model (which in my opinion is actually not that bad).
Another awesome aspect of Jaws is its characters. Quint, the gruff shark killer; Hooper, the intellectual; and Brody, the sheriff and family man who’s scared of the water and came to Amity to get away from bloodshed. My love of Brody as a character is unparalleled. He is just a man trying to do the right thing while beset on all sides by bureaucracy and blame. He is trying to protect his family and stop the killing but can’t seem to get it through everyone’s thick skulls that there is a shark out there that is straight up ripping people apart.
Where Hooper and Quint, while awesome characters, can come across as one note, Brody feels like a real guy. A lot of this comes from Roy Schneider’s effortlessly charming performance and a lot from the writing. One of my favourite cinema moments involves Brody. He is sat with his son and realizes that the little boy is watching him and copying his movements. They play for a bit, making faces, and then Brody (who has just been confronted by Mrs. Kintner, the mother of the killed Kintner boy, who blames him for the death) leans close to his son and says, “Give us a kiss.” “Why?” says the son. Brody, the whole world on his shoulders, says, “Because I need one.” Great stuff.
I could write and write and write about my love of this movie. Unlike Braveheart whenever this movie is on TV I sit and watch the whole thing and know exactly why. It is a lean, effective movie that is beautiful to behold and also scary, while constantly moving forward, much like its antagonist.
Happy 40th Jaws. You look like you haven’t aged a day.