Jaws review – the ultimate shark movie

by | 1 Apr 2018

‘A great white shark terrorises a beach resort just before the busy tourist season. Three men find they are going to need a bigger boat.’

Way back in 1975. A young, up-and-coming director took Peter Benchley’s novel about a great white shark terrorising a small American town, and turned it into the very first blockbuster. Although not his first one, Jaws is arguably the film that put Steven Spielberg on the map. Not only that, but it scared a whole generation of people of going in the ocean, and pretty much destroyed the reputation of sharks for decades.

After a string of terrible sequels and awful imitations over the years. Jaws is still the gold standard by which every other shark movie has been measured. Over forty years later and it still hasn’t been bettered. But what is it about this film that has stood the test of time, and makes it one of the best creature features to ever grace our screens.

Streamlining the plot of the novel to make it more straightforward, Spielberg aptly keeps the story simple but effective.

Focusing on the characters is definitely one of the elements that helps this movie stand out. In fact, the shark itself is of secondary importance over developing the three but very different main characters. The story of newly appointed police chief Brody (Roy Scheider), the academic Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), and grizzled war vet Quint (Robert Shaw) is really the main driving force of the plot.

That third act in particular, where they go off on Quint’s boat to hunt the shark, becomes more a character study into these men and what motivates them. They all complement each other and are so well-defined. That you’re actually invested in them, making the scenes with the shark that more thrilling.

What also makes it great, is that the shark isn’t the only antagonist. A good junk of time is given over to Brody’s attempt to keep the beaches closed. He goes up against the Mayor of Amity (a smarmy Murray Hamilton), who only cares about the important tourist season. The money it brings in, and the bad publicity a shark would bring. Again, this adds an extra dynamic to the story. Making it more than just a disposable monster movie.

All the performances are brilliant in bringing these extra dimensions to the main characters.

They all help everyone feel like real authentic people. Scheider adds a great everyman quality to the chief, a family man who just wants to protect his wife and kids. With a phobia of water, he’s incredibly relatable, and you’ll be cheering him on as he has to overcome his fears to save the town. Dreyfuss is brilliant as the oceanographer Hooper, and he has a great antagonistic relationship with Quint that slowly turns to begrudging respect as they realise each other’s strengths. One of the best scenes has no action in it at all, but just the three men drinking and swapping war stories in the middle of the ocean.

Regarding the horror aspect. Spielberg flawlessly creates a suspenseful atmosphere that still proves effective all these decades later. Even if you’ve seen Jaws a hundred times, with its impeccable pace and perfectly shot set pieces, it will continue to send shivers down your spine every time you watch it. Combined with John Williams’ simple yet iconic score, this is a movie that will have you on the edge of your seats. As the tension is racked up to breaking point, by the end, all your nerves will be shredded.

Of course, like many creature features, it also helps to have a fearsome monster at your disposal.

Fortunately, Spielberg had one of nature’s ultimate killing machines to work with. There’s just something innately terrifying about this ferocious animal that has a one-track mind in doing what evolution has selected it to. Everything about this apex predator is perfectly designed to hunt, and Spielberg utilises this beast in an expertly fashion.

Those who are familiar with the story will know that the animatronic sharks did not work very well. However, this ended up working in Spielberg’s favour, as it forced him to be more inventive when it came to depicting the attack sequences. Instead of revealing the obviously fake animals at every chance, the master film maker smartly uses a lot of suggestive techniques to show the effects of this menacing foe. Point-of-view shots, actors being pulled underwater, and a red soaked ocean are all used to a chilling effect.

It’s one of those happy accidents really, because it helps build suspense, and even gives the shark an almost supernatural quality. By the third act, we do see more, but still, Spielberg rightly keeps things elusive, and cleverly uses the famous yellow barrels to depict the sharks movements.

Jaws is the perfect example of how a creature feature should be done. So much more than a string of cheap thrills, it’s a film that deserves all the praise it has gained over the years. With engaging fleshed-out characters, brilliant underwater cinematography, and one of mother nature’s ultimate predators for the heroes to fight, this will likely be the king of monster movies for all time.’

Film Details

12 · 2h 4m · 1975.

Genre

Adventure · Drama · Thriller.

Cast

Lorraine Gary · Murray Hamilton · Richard Dreyfuss · Robert Shaw · Roy Scheider.

Director

Steven Spielberg.

Writers

Carl Gottlieb (screenplay) · Peter Benchley (screenplay).

Based on the novel by

Peter Brenchley.

Cinematography

Bill Butler.

Editing

Verna Fields.

Music

John Williams.

Contains

contains moderate threat · occasional gory moments.

David Axcell

Film Critic

David has quite a broad taste in film which includes big budget blockbusters and small indie films; including International and Arthouse cinema. As long as it’s good in that particular genre, he’ll watch anything.

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