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Jaws: 40 Years Old and Still the Best Bite
Don't Be Afraid To Go Back In The Water
-Many *SPOILERS* Ahead-
We all love moving pictures, right? You know, the pop some corn and then sit-on-down to watch a cinema event. I mean films! Movies! I know I love them, and so does most of America.
Now, I am a bit of a film geek. I have viewed so many films from the golden age, onto the golden goose egg, that my mind feels like something out of the late/great Roger Ebert's nightmares. With many more showings than I would like to admit. Heck, for argument sake, I also miss filmmakers using actual film. Come on, I just know some of you old timers remember the old flammable celluloid which ignites upon opening. Oh, and what happened to viewing a reel or cutting and pasting in a dark room? Digital? We don't need no stinking digital!
Studying film when a younger lad, and even drafting a screenplay to no attention while working with college aged pals on short films is all part of my personal history. I never pursued that side of my creative brain seriously, but really wish I would have. Today, I just love watching and analyzing the films of yesteryear, along with much of today. Nowadays, just viewing these works of art with my family while inside our make-shift theater out behind the garage. As rigged as it may be, it will always more than suffice. My audience consists of a bright-eyed 10 year old, and his beautiful mom. One who never witnessed Star Wars until recently. So, can you see my frustrated plight at times? Though, eager to grow their video store brains of knowledge, and they are always able to bring me back to earth with a quarterly viewing of "so bad it's good," Billy Madison. Impeccable timing those two actually have. Heck, I love having them around just to keep me grounded.
All I can say is that throughout my 36 years many films can near that word which nothing ever seems to attain; Perfection! I too have favorites. From North By Northwest and most anything Hitchcock, to Empire Strikes Back. I love Bride Of Frankenstein, and see that as the sequel standard which paved the way for decades to follow. Plus, is there anything more terrifying than the Wicked Witch Of The West flying her splintered broomstick around Oz, or anything more gut wrenching and surreal than the opening 30 minutes of Saving Private Ryan? We could literally go on for the next week praising our favorites of yesterday, with some current gems not far behind. Man, I didn't even mention Chaplin! However, one troubled, yet wonderous film by a man named Spielberg may just be the perfect movie. Possibly the closest we may ever get to such.
The year was 1975, and JAWS is the title!
Jaws was a screenplay based on a shivering novel by the late, Peter Benchley (I must add, Benchley and Carl Gottleib hammered out the terrific screenplay for the movie during different time frames). The story consists of a rogue shark terrorizing the upper-eastern coastline of America, specifically off the Jersey Shore. The book is based on factual accounts from the early 1900s regarding numerous attacks in that specific area. Most accounts believed to be committed by a blood-thirsty predator with fins!
Director, Steven Spielberg, was attached to helm this monsterous task. After his DUEL with a mad trucker, yet before he encountered a THIRD KIND. Jaws was to be a production that Universal Pictures thought would go "swimmingly," no pun intended. Yes, ok, it was intended. The beaches and sea off of Martha's Vineyard sets the stage for the fictional Norman Rockwell inspired island known as Amity. Lead actors Roy Sheider playing stern police chief, Martin Brody, Richard Dreyfuss as marine know-all Matt Hooper, and phenomenal actor of the times, Robert Shaw. Shaw, who from another favorite from my collection, The Sting- well, he played shark hunter madman, Quint! All perfectly cast along with backing from Lorraine Gray portraying the chief's wife, and combative Murray Hamilton as the shark-denying slimy mayor.
Many people believe that "Bruce," the shark in Jaws, which rarely functioned as a prop effect, though many believe that big fish to be the star. After watching all of these actors showcase one honest performance after another inside this film I can only tell you that is a false belief. The human element each actor portrays within allows them the limelight, and rightfully so. We cannot forget however, every good guy or flawed hero needs at least one hellish villain. Jaws is no exception, and the Great White is up to task.
All of the actors working on this film may have thought they were performing in a spooky little B-Movie, and maybe they were, yet they brought their A game. In fact, you will understand this to such a high degree if you watch Quint, Robert Shaw's character giving his infamous "Indianapolis Speech." Shaw's dialogue tells a haunting tale of the ill-timed World War 2 ship delivering the atomic bomb to be used on Japan, and then the eventual sinking by a Japanese submarine's torpedo. All followed horrendously by many of the sailors splashing about in the murky water being torn to shreds by hundreds of starving, yet savagely methodical beasts. Sharks, for those of you keeping up! If you can watch that particular scene while not coming down with the chills, you may not be human. It grips at your bones, and the vibe actually mimics the plight of those chaotic times, especially the violence surrounding that vicious conflict in the Pacific.
Robert Shaw was drunk as a skunk when he attempted that scene the first time out. It failed miserably. He then came in for the next shoot hungover, and nailed it. Thankfully, the ice was broken in the next scene because of one great little sailor theme. The song, brought to our ears by heroes of the high sea- Hooper, Brody, and Quint. A ditty that will take any of us home.
That particular scene is so well written and performed, while being one of many that just grabs you as a viewer. Sometimes the film showcased comic relief, mainly because of Hooper's sarcasm or wit. Sometimes you were given a visceral gut check, as with the opening moments of the film while poor Chrissie would find her demise in the cold waters, though warm mouth of a Great White Shark. All seems peaceful with a flowing keg, bonfire, and a gentle acoustic guitar strumming in the background. Although it rarely is.
The special effects are practical, and also solid considering the era. Quint's death is stomach churning stuff, and in a PG movie nonetheless. That scene always hits home for me. The character development coinciding with the family dynamic between our three stars is firmly planted by this point. This alone makes that reel difficult to watch.
Many other wonderful shots come to mind: Such as Quint's trojan horse, his boat the Orca, coming into view as it leaves port and seen through a boiled down shark's jaw hanging in the window of his shop. The close up of Brody's face as he witnesses the little Kintner boy being dismantled by the jaws of, well, Jaws! Almost as if the chief knew this would happen, but still shocked and visibly shaken. The sensitive dialogue between Martin and his wife debating their eldest child's desire to be in the ocean is compelling stuff, considering how hectic the seas currently are. I personally love the scene midway through where Hooper and Brody are out on Hooper's boat, a rather fancy rig. They are trailing the 25 footer they believe responsible for all of these atrocities. It is a moment filled with passing fog, tension, and a looming darkness. Darkness, though not from the weather or surroundings, but because of what is below them lurking. Add in one horrifying scene which involves Hooper swimming with a sunken head, and you have jump-scare gold my friends! This particular scene was actually filmed in editor Verna Fields swimming pool, believe it or not.
Much of the emotion garnered within this film is brought to our ears by John Williams and his simple, overly effective score. That man is remarkable.
John Williams, known obviously for his composing abilities on this film, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Superman, and so on. He takes an orchestra like no other can, and then implements them into the show as if they are characters. He is Superman, at least if you ask me. I say this not because I share the same name, oddly enough, yet because it is a simple truth. His work is interpreted into the films seamlessly, almost effortlessly. That is the mark of somebody who has music timing down to a science.
Anyway, back to the shots.
The final footage of this film might be some of the most stellar. Including, but not limited to Matt Hopper's shark cage being torn to shreds along with some dazzling live shark footage. Later on we have our hero, Chief Brody, with his rifle in hand hanging on a sunken lookout tower once belonging to the ORCA. "Smile you son-of-a-Bitch!" This line is spoken with true gusto, as if he were shielding his wife and two sons back on shore. Simplistic, although shot brilliantly. All accomplished with a slew of gunfire while ending in one hell of a gunshot and explosion of the once lively beast, still chewing on leftovers and a tank of compressed air.
The final scenes with Hooper and Brody paddling to shore leaves all of us with a bit of tranquility following chaos. Seagulls aid in directing these boys back to the beach. It was a nice way to finish our story and leaves us with closure to all of the events happening prior. Endings like this allow our hearts to slow down after a finale filled with nothing but excitement.
Jaws has what many other films do not these days: A good story, acting, is quite thought provoking, minimal flaws regarding how it looks and feels, and all which can be difficult to pull off when the head honcho, or man-eating shark looks fake. Also, inside this film can be found a particular feeling of dread that appears to be channeling a message of carelessness. It is then followed by redemption, and finally caution. Dated, this film is not. The rewatch value is extremely high with this picture.
Besides giving so much credit to the director's chair and source material, much praise should be given to Bill Butler, Director Of Photography. He did the unthinkable, and in unimaginable conditions. Choppy water- Check! Rain- Check! The sometimes working props- Check! Actors needing libations (looking at you Shaw)- Check! So much more is here to contend with that should have, and would have sunk most productions. Visually though, it still holds up so very well. That alone speaks volumes. A great film should elicit a multitude of emotions from the viewer. Jaws does not disappoint in that aspect.
Remember too, Jaws is the original SUMMER BLOCKBUSTER! Over 67 million fans lined up to be a fast lunch in 1975. Jaws garnered four Oscar Nominations, including Best Picture. The film also spawned 3 sequels, with one of them in 3D. Plus, we cannot forget numerous copycats to the film's winning formula. Orca, anyone? Don't forget the merchandising either folks. T-shirts, cups, posters, lobby cards, and toy sharks were all part of the fun.
So, I come to the conclusion for these reasons that Jaws really is a near pefect, maybe even a perfect film. It probably is the closest any filmmaker, studio, or entity will come to producing. Jaws should never-ever have succeeded. From numerous shut downs, production flaws, over budgeting, and a great filmmaker almost throwing it all away, we fans are given a glimpse at what Hollywood can achieve when pushed to the limits. In this case specifically, what goes down in history as a true cinematic masterpiece.
When feeling low, having a bad day, or happy as can be and looking to keep life going in that joyous direction, I do suggest you throw-in and revisit Jaws. Whether an old VHS copy, DVD, or the newly refreshed and gorgeous Blu Ray. Jaws will admittingly bring out many emotions. Knowing that most of you have seen this movie, it is quite refreshing to visit the Red Water on occasion. Jaws will always be a 2 hour adventure worth getting lost at sea with, and surely leave you smiling at the end. You'll be thrilled you gave it another BITE!
The film is celebrating 40 years in 2015. A lot has happened in this world during those years. From many global conflicts ending albeit some unfortunately beginning, to the invention of the Internet, along with everything surrounding us in digital and wireless format. We have seen medical advances utilized in every hospital to save lives, and now vehicles are on their way to be self-driving! Plus, we all viewed thousands of films produced out of Hollywood throughout those years. 40 years is half a lifetime. Jaws however, is far from over the hill, and will always be a gem to the movie going universe.
Thanks for reading. Hey, just because you think it's safe to go back into the water, well... Is it?
Quint's Indianapolis Speech
—The mechanical shark rarely functioned properly, causing the director to use much less of the shark in the film than originally planned.
—Robert Shaw who played Quint was so intoxicated the night he gave his infamous "Indianapolis speech," that he had to come back the following day, hungover, to get it right. He then nailed it.
—Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss could not stand each other on set.
—Steven Spielberg was nearly replaced as director because nothing was going to Universal Pictures liking. Budget running wild, terrible weather, and a shoddy mechanical shark made production a pain.
—Jaws was the first summer blockbuster. It raked in well over 100,000,000 dollars, which was a first at that time.
—Jaws was nominated for a total of four Academy Awards, including best picture.
—The term "rogue shark" is hotly debated amongst shark enthusiasts. However, it played a pivotal role in not only the book, but film version of Jaws as well.
—The movie Jaws is based on the book of the same name by author, Peter Benchley.
How Many Times Have You Seen Jaws?
Chief Brody And His Chum
The Jaws Franchise
Roy Sheider, Richard Dreyfuss, Robert Shaw, Lorraine Gray
Roy Sheider, Lorraine Gray
Dennis Quaid, Bess Armstrong
Jaws: The Revenge
Lorraine Gray, Michael Caine
"You're gonna need a bigger boat"
"Hooper drives the boat, Chief"
"This is not the time or the place to perform some kind of a half-assed autopsy on a fish"
"Here lies the body of Mary Lee. Died at the age of a hundred and three. For fifteen years she kept her virginity; not a bad record for this vicinity"
"Boys, oh boys... I think he's come back for his noon feeding"
Jaws Vs. Orca
- Jaws (1975) - IMDb
Directed by Steven Spielberg. With Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss, Lorraine Gary. When a gigantic great white shark begins to menace the small island community of Amity, a police chief, a marine scientist and grizzled fisherman set out t