Odin damn it, it’s always the fucking dog that has to die!
Screenplay By: Peter Benchley, Carl Gottlieb, John Milius, Howard Sackler & Robert Shaw
Directed By: Steven Spielberg
My first exposure to Jaws was not the movie, rather it was Jaws at Universal Studios in Florida. I remember sitting near the far edge of the boat and wondering what all the hubbub was about, and then bam, giant shark right near my arm accompanied by flames that ensured my arm felt like it was on fire. Once my mother informed me that Jaws wasn’t just a ride, but was a baddie from a movie I knew I needed to see that movie. Later that night my uncle brought over his VHS, those were the days, copy of Jaws and I sunk my teeth, what a terrible pun (honestly, I can’t believe I sank that low, wait, I know who I am, of course I sank that low) into the screen version of my amusement park nemesis. From that first viewing I have seen Jaws numerous times over the years and to this day only one single flaw still stands out in my mind.
There’s a section of Jaws, about fifteen minutes in length, right before we finally hit the seas that the movie stops in its tracks for me. I don’t know if it’s the transition from a horror movie to a survival one, or if it’s the all of a sudden glacial feel those fifteen minutes take on, but that small portion of the film has always bothered me. It’s not enough to seriously hurt Jaws, but lo and behold, every time I watch Jaws and I get to that fifteen minute stretch it’s still there, bothering me to no end.
Jaws is essentially three things, a horror movie, a survival/chase movie and at its heart a B-movie. For the first hour it is a horror movie, then it makes the jump into a chase/survival film, but throughout it maintains its status as a B movie, but a B movie with a budget. This isn’t a bad thing at all, the B movie feel ties the entire movie together and adds to the fun of what is happening on screen. Don’t kid yourself about that, Jaws may take on a few different shapes, but its B-movie nature ensures that it is a lot of fun and never stops being fun. One of the joys of Jaws is that it works in every incarnation, it works as a horror film, it works as a B-movie, it works as a survival/chase movie and it works as a movie that is a whole lot of fun.
It’s no secret that the great white shark in Jaws was a happy accident. The damned mechanical shark refused to work, and because of that, as well as Spielberg’s desire to not show the shark for at least an hour, a great deal of suspense is created. Most people associate Jaws with the final moments when we finally see the shark. I associate Jaws more with a ripped off pier changing direction and rocketing towards the shore, or a naked lady receiving punishment for her lack of moral decency from the teeth of a shark. The final moments with the shark are a success, but even more successful are the moments beforehand when suspense is built and we are made to care about when we do eventually see that damned shark.
Robert Shaw is the fucking man, that’s really all there is to it. All my life the image of a dirty old sea dog has been Shaw and only Shaw and Jaws is the reason for that. Richard Dreyfuss and Roy Scheider are good as well, but Shaw is captivating every moment he is on screen. He throws himself into the character of Quint, creating a bastard of a man who just happens to be tough as nails and we fully believe he will resort to jumping into the water and biting the shark if that’s what it takes to catch him. Of course, the shark eventually gets him, but that only adds to his legend and to Shaw’s impact on the viewer.
As weird as it may sound, all these years later I think I prefer the ride of Jaws to the movie Jaws, but that’s probably due to childhood memories and my desire to get back to Florida at some point. The movie is a great film, with only that one tiny patch that still boggles my mind to this day. Jaws is suspenseful, it is horrific, it is well acted, is is the movie that made the idea of summer blockbusters prominent, but most of all, it is a great movie that is well worth seeing repeatedly.