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Article – A Retrospective Part Two – 40 Years Of ‘Jaws’


Posted September 28, 2015 by

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40 Years Of ‘Jaws’

Part 2 in my retrospective series dives head-first into a true trailblazer. 40 years ago the first ever summer blockbuster hit the screens to screaming reception. ‘Jaws’ wasn’t a film; it was an experience to remember.

I first watched ‘Jaws’ when I was around 12 years old. Watched is an overstatement – I hid behind a newspaper while my family teased me about the shark. I had recently become fascinated by sharks, but found them terrifying as well. Despite Bruce the shark looking completely fake, his fake teeth still managed to terrify me, as did the point of view shots underwater. Things haven’t changed much since then, though.

Sitting down to watch ‘Jaws’ again, I was struck by how good this film is. 40 years on, we’re used to the jokes about the shark looking fake (I still looked away when it came on screen, some habits die hard); but take that out, and you’ve got yourself a thriller full of intrigue and desperation. The shark is but one of the villains. The mayor of Amity is very obviously another, one who persistently puts lives in danger to ensure the life-blood of the island continues. Tourism is far too intrinsic to many real world places, especially today, for them to suffer any bad press, so while we understand the mayor’s point of view we can all admit that he is in the wrong.

Unfortunately, because of the film’s success, the rep of sharks plummeted. The writer of the novel the film is based on had no clue how sharks actually functioned. He had them down as giant eating machines, when in fact many sharks, including great whites, eat only when necessary, and that’s not all that often. The author regretted his point of view and apparently worked for shark conversation to undo some of the damage.

Another person disappointed with the consequences of the film was shark expert Rodney Fox. Despite being attacked by a shark in his younger days, Fox was undeterred in his research of the animals and their preservation. He was a consultant for the film and the reason we get some shots of actual great whites alongside close-ups of Bruce. From the documentary I watched eons ago, Fox stated that he didn’t realise the film would cast sharks in such a bad light. He felt it undid a lot of conservationists’ good work for the creatures.

Much like Mary Shelley’s monster from ‘Frankenstein’, the shark has become an iconic monster that refuses to go away. While most of the public is now aware of the misconceptions about the animal, several of us still love a good ‘shark movie’. Having said that, the search for this continues as the quality of all shark films has dipped and sunk ever since ‘Jaws’. Starting with its sequels through to Sharknado (3? I think we’re on part 3), we have run the gamut of shark-based films, with innovative ones heading our way every year. None, however, are able to capture the enigma of their progenitor.

But there’s more to this film than the shark. Roy Scheider as Chief Brody brings across a flawed, desperate hero, one far removed from the usual macho one-dimensional characters we’re so used to. He’s got a family he worries after and a tough decision to make; a decision that is hampered by politics. Most importantly, he ends up being the accidental hero. Overshadowed by seafarer Quint (Robert Shaw) and oceanic expert Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), he’s a man well out of his depth – in fact, he’s terrified of the water. This makes him a surprisingly real protagonist, well-rounded despite the film’s storyline.

It was the little things in the film that, watching it now, stood out to me as phenomenal pieces of directing. The distracted way Brody fiddles with the wine bottle while he accepts the implication of fisherman having caught the wrong shark – meaning the rogue killer was still on the loose – was stunning. Then the plaintive look he gives his sole blemish – an appendectomy scar – while Hooper and Quint are comparing battle scars, screamed character exposition. Talk about ‘show, don’t tell’; this film has that aspect down pat.

Combined with the ominous John Williams score, this film is a rollercoaster ride of adrenaline. From that disturbing first attack (it goes on forever!) to the suspenseful shark reveal, this film endures because it is good cinema.

For all the films that aim to be blockbusters today, one wonders why they don’t take a leaf out of Spielberg’s book; he was making the best film he could which just happened to become a blockbuster – not the other way around.


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Lestat de Lioncourt
Random Thoughts – Lestat’s Blog
Freelance Contributor

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One Comment


    I think as we move further and further away from the noise that initially surrounded the movie, it’s easier to see how good it really was. The long sequence beginning with Hooper and Quinn drunkenly comparing scars, through Quinn’s Indianapolis speech and into the final shark attack is as good an extended piece of narrative cinema as there is. Thanks for diving back in.

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