Spielberg's Shark Tale
Forget about the animatronic shark for a moment and the less than spectacular sequels one of the most amazing things about "Jaws" is that it is a PG. This is a movie which as a child I watched and to put it bluntly scared the crap out of me and put me off going into the water with some terrifying scenes of death in the water. How it got a PG rating is beyond me because it was a truly scary and unforgettable experience. And even now, over 35 years since it was released "Jaws" still manages to fill me with a sense of fear, maybe not as much as when I was a child and hid when the ominous music started before each shark attack but still manages to grip and shock me.
Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) is the new chief of police in Amity, a resort which thrives on the summer and tourists who flock there for the sea and sand. But when a woman's mutilated body is discovered washed up on the shore Brody finds himself battling the local bureaucrats as he fears there is a man eating shark in the waters and wants to close the beach. Forced to tow the line by the mayor of Amity and keep the beaches open despite evidence from shark expert Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss - Driving Aphrodite) things go disastrously wrong when the shark strikes again.
What you don't necessary realise when you first watch "Jaws" is that it is a movie of two halves and two enemies. The first half is all about Chief Brody battling the authorities who control the town of Amity and care more about the money they can make from tourism than for the safety of people. And it is the Mayor of Amity who is the villain forcing Brody to tow the line despite his constant fear for the lives of those who go swimming. All of which paves the way for the big scene where it becomes evident to one and all that there is a shark and they need to do something about it.
The second half of "Jaws" is all about the shark becoming the enemy with Brody, Hooper and fisherman Quint going after it at sea. There is plenty of lead up to this battle as we watch them trying to track the beast and then hamper it with barrels to stop it from getting away. All of which culminates with the mother of all battles as the shark goes on the attack trying to sink their boat. Of course at this point the one major weakness of "Jaws" shows itself because quite frankly the animatronic shark looks fake and for a split moment "Jaws" becomes laughable. But it's only for a split second because the melee of vicious action as the shark smashed on to the back of the boat, tipping it over takes your mind off of the rubber fishy.
But the strange thing is that because in 1974 when "Jaws" was made it was impossible to create an authentic looking shark Steven Spielberg was forced to use a less is more approach by keeping the shark away from us till those final scenes and it is partly because of this that "Jaws" is so good. So during the first half he builds this amazing tension because during every single attack we never see the shark, oh we may see a fin, or a split second glimpse but never the full shark. It's clever because along with this and the use of that now famous music it strikes fear into you because you know something is coming but you don't know terrifying this beast is. And by doing this and in every moment of action increasing the ferocity and the gore of the attacks Spielberg gets you on the edge of your seat gripped by the unfolding horror.
It's not just the building of suspense which Spielberg does so well he also diverts are attention. Watching Brody, Hooper and Quint compare scars and tell stories as they wait on the boat takes our minds away from the danger lurking beneath the waves and so when the shark attacks the boat it hits us with a jolt. And on top of this he fills "Jaws" with dark humour to soften the tension perfectly. The scene where Hooper plans to examine the body of the first victim and it is brought out on a small tray is both shocking and comical as is the scene where Brody comes face to face with the shark for the first time and we hear those now famous words "You're gonna need a bigger boat".
And what makes all the suspense, horror and dark comedy work so well is the 3 central characters of Brody, Hooper and Quint. Whilst Roy Schieder as Brody gets the right amount of fish out of water to his character and Robert Shaw is brilliant as the shark fisherman Quint it is Richard Dreyfuss who delivers the best character as Matt Hooper. With his sarcastic comments you just find yourself drawn to him especially when he does verbal battle with Quint in the scar showing scene. To be honest no one gives a bad performance in "Jaws" and Lorraine Gary as Ellen Brody also adds a nice subtle touch of comedy especially when she panics over her children's safety after seeing pictures of shark attacks in a book.
what this all boils down to is that "Jaws" still is an amazingly good movie despite being over 35 years old. The amimatronic shark may look seriously fake but what Spielberg does with a less is more style is just brilliant and gets you on the edge of your seats in anticipation before throwing you back with the ferocity of the attacks. But it is also the dark humour injects into the movie which makes it so great and makes it memorable.
Tags: Shark Movies