Saturday, August 02, 2008

Shark Week: Jaws (Steven Spielberg, 1975)

A certain longtime blog reader has been bugging me for years to revisit Jaws, which I saw once as a kid and about which I remembered basically nothing when sitting down to watch it again this week. And after a week of less-than-brilliant shark movies, it certainly stood out as the most well-crafted and effective, although it's also one of those movies that's been so influential that it's hard to see how original it must have been when it first came out. As with a lot of classic movies, I found myself waiting in anticipation for famous lines ("You're gonna need a bigger boat") and moments, which of course lose their effect when you've seen them parodied so many times beforehand. It was also neat to catch little bits of homage in other movies I've seen this week: The main characters in Open Water are named after the first two victims in Jaws, and one of the sharks in Deep Blue Sea eats a license plate that's the same exact one they dig out of a shark's stomach here.

There are other important innovations here, including the use of the camera to represent the shark's perspective, John Williams' oft-imitated menacing score, and of course the use of giant, scientifically inaccurate sharks as monsters in the first place. Even the cliched comparing-the-scars bit seems to have originated with this movie. Spielberg builds suspense and tension very well without resorting to too much gore or a high body count, and Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw provide nice comedic counterpoints to stoic hero Roy Scheider. The animatronic shark, notoriously problematic during the shoot, doesn't hold up that well, but it's kept off-screen for long enough that by the time you see how fake it looks, you've already accepted its genuine danger.

I've never been a huge Spielberg fan, honestly, although I like many of his movies. He's a top-notch pop-entertainment filmmaker, but I can't remember ever being moved or transported or amazed by one of his films. This, of course, isn't meant as anything other than crackerjack genre fare, and in that sense it succeeds completely. But I admit I probably had a better time watching Deep Blue Sea.

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