Tuesday, February 14, 2012

100 Movies - No. 46: Jaws

46. Jaws (1975)
Thriller, 124 minutes
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Starring Richard Dreyfuss, Roy Scheider and Robert Shaw

As I continue working on this 100 movies project, I am realizing that my tastes are all over the map. It ranges from 50s black and white dramas set in one room, to foreign language films, to recent blockbusters. In a way, I'm happy to find that I'm open to all types of film. Today's entry falls into the blockbuster category and was the highest-grossing movie ever made in its day.

I remember a conversation with friends when I was 13 telling me that I had to see Jaws. They talked about the shark more than anything, and people being torn apart. I caved and ended up seeing the movie and then I read the book. There are plenty of people who have never lost that fascination for deadly creatures. Would we have Shark Week without Jaws? Why do we want to watch such a creature?

Actually, that's not why I like Jaws.

Jaws works for me because of the quality of the acting and the suspense created by wondering where the shark will strike next. The first hour of the movie sets everything up. Although there's nothing particularly bad about the first half, it's far from remarkable. We see a few attacks and meet the main characters.

Chief Brody (Scheider) is my favorite character. He's intelligent, sensible, practical and calm under pressure. Hooper (Dreyfuss) is a marine biologist who thinks the problem can be solved through the use of modern equipment. The most colorful character is Quint (Shaw), who is experienced and outspoken. This group ends up tracking the shark on Quint's boat and it's here that the movie really takes off.

The movie was made at a time when special effects had to be created by using models and machines rather than CGI, so the shark doesn't look at all realistic by modern standards. Spielberg did his best to overcome those limitations by showing the creature as little as possible. We are shown the attacks, but the camera focuses on the victim rather than dwelling on the shark itself. The fear exists in our minds and we fill in the gaps.

The best scene in the movie takes place on the boat. All three men are drinking. Hooper and Quint begin showing each other their scars. It's a moment of release and humor while they wait for the shark to appear. Brody looks bemused by the whole exchange, but it's clear that the group is bonding. In a lesser movie, all we would see is action and more frequent and bloodier attacks.

Another thing which should be mentioned is the music. John Williams created such a simple score, and yet we will never forget those two notes every time the shark is poised to attack. How often has it been used over the years, I wonder? The movie picked up two Oscars in the technical categories, and also won for Best Original Score.

Jaws deserves its place in movie history. I hope nobody ever suggests remaking it to update the effects. The plot is simple and predictable, but the execution is superb.

The Blu-ray presentation is close to perfect with DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 sound and excellent picture quality. You can see the weave in the mayor's ugly suits. Every fan of Jaws needs to own the Blu-ray as soon as possible.

If you like Jaws:

Spielberg knows how to make movies with mass appeal, and I would place Close Encounters of the Third Kind in that category. Like Jaws, it stars Richard Dreyfuss.

I must admit that I do have some sympathy for the shark in Jaws. It's not as if the shark sneaks out of the water and breaks into people's homes to kill them; it's simply feeding and trying to survive in its natural habitat. The same can be said of Jurassic Park. The most recent notable movie involving humans tracking some kind of creature is Super 8. It's not perfect, but Spielberg is named among the production team and it does feel like something he would make.

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  1. Liked this a lot. Shared on Facebook :)

  2. Cool. It's amazing how Jaws connects to the memories of so many people.