Directed by Stephen Spielberg
Written by Peter Benchley and Carl Gottlieb; based on the novel by Peter Benchley
Cast: Roy Scheider, Murray Hamilton, Richard Dreyfuss, and Robert Shaw
Length: 2 hours and 4 minutes
Genre: Adventure, drama, thriller
MPAA Rating: PG
Description from IMDB:
“A local sheriff, a marine biologist and an old seafarer team up to hunt down a great white shark wreaking havoc in a beach resort.”
The island town of Amity has long flourished on tourism during the summer when people from around the East Coast come to vacation. Sheriff Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) and his family moved there from New York in order to live a quieter life, but this is disrupted when a local woman is killed by a large shark off the coast of the island. The mayor (Murray Hamilton) and local government want to say the death was due to a boat propeller so as not to drive away tourists, but when a young boy is killed in broad daylight, the town must decide what to do. A marine biologist named Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) comes to the town amid wannabe shark hunters in order to lend his help, and though a shark is caught, he argues that it isn’t the shark. The mayor decides to portray the caught shark as the man-eater, which works until the monster shows up again and claims another victim. They decide to hire a local shark hunter, Quint (Robert Shaw), who goes out on his vessel, accompanied by Brody and Hooper, in order to kill the menace once and for all.
The soundtrack to Jaws (1975) has one of the most memorable melodies and it is comprised of only two notes. Almost anyone you play the “buh-duh” sound to will immediately know it is from the movie and this is all thanks to John Williams. The film plays this sound each time the shark appears, and this creates an association between the sound and the shark for the viewer. The movie doesn’t show the full shark itself until much later in the film, so it is this sound that makes its presence known even before we see more incremental parts of the shark. It is slowly revealed to us first through the point of view (or POV) shots of the shark racing up to its victims, then preceded by its fin, and finally aerial shots of the shark in water before the beast’s battle with Brody, Quint, and Hooper at the end of the film. Since the shark isn’t shown for much of the film, its sound is imperative to creating the sense of tension required by the story.
The story of Jaws (1975) comes from a relatively simple premise, but has layers that add depth to its characters. Brody, once a police officer in New York, is now a family man who wants to live a simple life on the island with his wife and sons. He goes about his day dealing with the petty problems of the locals (like a garbage truck parked in the wrong place), until the first attack has been discovered. He is beset upon by the mayor and other officials who stop him from closing the beach; they know that summer tourism is where all of their revenue comes from, and will stop at nothing to ensure that people visit the island, even if that means putting others in danger through their own blind denial. Brody is even blamed for the death of one of the victims, a young boy, whose mother finds out that he knew about the shark and did nothing. Though there is action enough in the third act, it is this foundation of his character that makes us fear for his safety when Brody goes off to deal with the shark.
Jaws (1975) has been credited with being the first real “blockbuster” summer movie; its emphasis on action and thrills made it an instant hit during its summer release and made an immense impact on the Hollywood film system. I can’t speak to it as a movie adaptation but, like The Princess Bride (1987), it was co-written by the author of the book, so I can only assume any changes made were with the best of intentions from the creator himself. Jaws (1975) actually caused a huge stir in people’s perception of sharks and began a trend of systematically killing the creatures, which the author never intended and has worked to discredit the myth of the man-eating shark ever since. I was genuinely surprised to see PG as the MPAA rating due to the amount of blood and (partial) nudity in the film. Then again, ANTZ (1998) was PG as well and they say “damn” all the time, so I’m really not an authority.
Overall, Jaws (1975) is truly a classic film; its influence cannot be quantified in American popular culture and it forever changed the way films were marketed and released. The story, though based on a simple premise, is elevated through its execution and the way in which both visuals (those seen and those reacted to) and sound work in harmony to create a visceral experience for the viewer. There is a reason that Jaws (1975) has held its place in history and made Spielberg one of the most prolific directors in the business.
Verdict: 4 shark POV shots out of 5
Recommended for: Fans of Spielberg, people who want to see the original blockbuster film, those who want to see how much you could get away with and retain a PG rating in the 1970s, film aficionados, and fans of thrills with gills.
Not recommended for: Children, animal rights activists, those afraid of deep water, people who think this is a prequel to What About Bob? (1991), or the easily frightened.