johnlink ranks JAWS (1975)

After watching a few uninspiring movies over the past week, I needed to watch something which I knew was good. It’s been a decade since I last watched JAWS, but so many images from it are burned into my mind. Very glad I watched this again. What a great movie! SOME SPOILERS BELOW, but if you have never seen JAWS, what is wrong with you?!?!

I watched JAWS (1975) on 4.12.12. It was my third viewing of the film.

Shortly after finishing this movie, I thought about all the ways Michael Bay could ruin the experience by relaunching this series. He would, of course, pitch it as an old boring movie where a fake shark tries to eat old men. Bay would be inspiring, to braindead producers, in his pitch to modernize this franchise ripe for some money picking.

Here’s all the ways he would get it wrong….

1) Under Spielberg’s direction, the opening scene is nuanced and effective. The scary score, the dim light masking the nudity necessary for foreshadowing man’s naked exposure to dealing with this seaworthy menace, the intensity, the brutal but non-gory kill. Under Bay’s vision, the girl would be older, but playing someone under 18. She would not look like a real person, but rather glisten the way Maxim models do. The dim light would be replaced with bright sun so we could drool over her body. He would keep some version of the music as a way of paying ‘homage’ while simultaneously shitting on the effective imagery Spielberg produced. Bay would off the girl in a glamorous way, CGI water splashing through the quick cuts. His goal, naturally, would be to have us rooting for the shark.

2) No fake sharks. Fake sharks are dumb and look fake, right? Instead we need a CGI shark which looks real (until you put it in frame with other images like, you know, real people). And while we are at it… why is the shark so small? It needs to be SIXTY feet long and weight SIX tons. None of this thirty and three. Double that shit.

3) Roy Scheider was too old to be a hero, right? We need Taylor Lautner, or one of the other TWILIGHT kids. What? They can’t act you say? Who gives a shit?

4) Why do people talk so much and fart so little? Why aren’t they trying to get the shark high on dope? Why don’t we ever see the shark’s penis? So much missed opportunity!

5) The scar scene can stay in, where these guys show each other their scars. But they need more scars! Someone must have been shot at some point. And what’s with the two minute monologue? We need to edit that shit down to a funny line about war being poopy!

6) You can’t kill a kid. That makes people mad. Our goal is not to invoke emotion, but rather to rip the admission price from the audiences’ wallets, drown them in popcorn butter, and make them go into a catatonic state for two and a half hours!

Enough Bay bashing. JAWS is a terrific film. Spielberg’s ambition as a young filmmaker is all over this one. In the great opening scene, in the underwater stalking, in the shot of the boat through the preserved jaws of a shark… he really went for it with his camera and nailed it.

The build is great. We see the danger, we know the mayor is wrong. We know Scheider is right, but the attacks have a sickening inevitability to it all. It takes an hour to get Scheider, Robert Shaw, and Richard Dreyfuss on the boat together, but once they start shark hunting, this movie goes into another stratosphere. The action sequences just kill, with the yellow buoys insistently bobbing back up to the surface. And the aforementioned cabin scene is really a perfect finally hurrah for these guys before the climax.

For me, there is only one scene with the shark which is not effective, and that is when it launches itself onto the boat. This is not a movie in which you need to forgive its fledgling effects. The shark is scary, and Spielberg shoots it in a way which does not take away its power to be scary.

I really like the way the base-level of the town demeanor is set in the mannerisms of the townsfolk. These are people who’s biggest problem usually has to do with parking spots and paperwork. The idea of a shark attack is unthinkable in this small summer community. The same fine brush is used to paint Scheider’s family life. His kids are perfect in this, especially in the scene in which the youngest boy mimics his frustrated father at the dinner table.

Dreyfuss’ goofiness is important. He makes silly faces, uses strange voices, appears unhinged. In today’s blockbusters this would be cut or refined. An actor just isn’t expected to play so much in a straight dramatic film. But in doing so Dreyfuss proves to be the foil for both Shaw and the more serious Scheider. The movie needs his levity, and he delivers.

I went into this year wanting to watch a bunch of series. I don’t think JAWS falls into that category. I’ve never had the desire to see any of the sequels. I like to pretend that this first film lives alone, never to be revisited or remade. Look, I don’t see the history of film with rose colored glasses. There are plenty of crappy older films. I don’t carry a particular torch for JAWS, it isn’t a staple of my youth or a movie which I have a hard time considering objectively. It’s just a really good movie which plays to its strengths, entertains effectively, and makes you care about its characters. It seems to me like this isn’t such a hard formula to figure out. But for every JAWS we have five or six servings of SALT… which extends my streak of reviews, in which I mention how shitty a movie SALT is, to four.



Is there really any doubt about what the bonus point is for? John Williams’ score is iconic, memorable, rousing, and note-perfect.



~ by johnlink00 on April 13, 2012.

3 Responses to “johnlink ranks JAWS (1975)”

  1. Show me the way to go home…

  2. Also, in Bay’s version, the shark would be racist

  3. I’m watching this as we speak. I adore this film.

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