Monday, June 30, 2008


Play Mountain
Originally uploaded by Kiel Bryant
I have an irrational fear of large bodies of water & sharks; for this reason (among others) Jaws terrified me as a child. In fact I’ve completely blocked the first time I saw the film out of my memory. The second time I watched the film I was a teen and my brothers sat on either side of me, holding me down so I had to watch. Even then, I disliked the film because it scared me. I don’t remember quite when it happened, but somewhere between that viewing and film school I grew to appreciate Jaws as a well made movie, this led to me being able to view the film more and eventually buy it on DVD.

Now I genuinely think that Jaws is a filmmaking masterpiece; a film that shows what a genius like Spielberg can do, and how to make a truly terrifying picture. The film still works on my irrational fears, but I know that this is not why the film scares me, it scares me because it is masterfully crafted and executed.

The story of Jaws is simple. Chief Brody has just moved with his family to small Amity Island in search of a more peaceful existence than New York where he felt that he could never make a difference as part of the police force; Amity is a small town that relies on its summer tourist season, and the majority of the residents need profitable summers to exist the rest of the year. All is good on the island until right before the peak of the summer season a girl is killed in a shark attack, and rather than admit that the people of the island are in danger the town mayor refuses to let Brody close the beaches and hunt the shark which of course leads to more deaths before the town goes insane with greed trying to hunt the shark for money and finally Brody is allowed to do what he was attempting all along and hunt the shark without interference.

When Jaws was released in 1975 critic Roger Ebert wrote that Jaws is “a sensationally effective action picture, a scary thriller that works all the better because it’s populated with characters that have been developed into human beings”; this is probably the best description of why Jaws works that I have ever read, and it truly gets to the core of the remarkable talent of the filmmaker behind the movie.

No one can deny that the actors are amazing; there is no bad performance in the film no matter how large or how small. An entire essay could be written on the scene in the belly of the Orca where Hooper, Quint & Brody discuss their scars. However, I will save that topic for another viewing and instead move on to what no one expected from Jaws - Steven Spielberg.

Until Jaws Spielberg was only known for directing tv episodes, Duel, and Sugarland Express. People in the industry thought he was competent, but no one saw him as a directing force to be reckoned with. Spielberg did what so many filmmakers would not have the patience for; he made a film on the water, not in a tank like Cameron did with Titanic, but in the water at Martha’s Vineyard. The entire cast and crew were on separate boats for a majority of the film trying to tame mother nature, a mechanical shark and lighting conditions to get a good shot. Then the opening sequence of Jaws came on screen and by the end of the film people knew the name of Steven Spielberg.

Jaws is a classic. It’s over 30 years old now and I would not replace the rubberized mechanical shark with CGI any day.

Director: Steven Spielberg
Writers: Peter Benchley & Carl Gottlieb
Chief Bordy: Roy Scheider
Matt Hooper: Richard Dreyfuss
Quint: Robert Shaw

Brody: I'm tellin' ya, the crime rate in New York'll kill you. There's so many problems, you never feel like you're accomplishing anything. Violence, rip-offs, muggings... kids can't leave the house - you gotta walk them to school. But in Amity one man can make a difference. In twenty-five years, there's never been a shooting or a murder in this town.

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