Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 2 hours 4 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: Peter Benchley & Carl Gottlieb
(based on the novel JAWS by Peter Benchley)
Starring: Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss, Lorraine Gary & Murray Hamilton
JAWS is the quintessential shark movie. It’s the ultimate killer animal flick. This is the sensation that kicked off the creation of the summer movie season. Based on Peter Benchley’s novel of the same name, JAWS is a movie bound to make anyone who watches it afraid of sharks. While sharks are already scary as hell in my opinion, Steven Spielberg and Peter Benchley capitalized on that with this thrilling adventure! There’s not exactly a lot I can say about JAWS that hasn’t already been said by thousands of other people, but I do feel the need to talk about this film…so I’ll post my thoughts in this review anyway. Because it’s my website and I can talk about whatever movie I want to. Don’t judge me…
Amity Island is a peaceful little community that makes most of its profit off summer tourism. Plenty of vacationers go out of their way to visit the beautiful beaches for the Fourth of July every year. This Fourth of July celebration might not exactly go over that well as Police Chief Brody discovers that a killer shark has carved out a piece of territory alongside the island. This monster of a fish is eating unlucky folks (including skinny-dipping hippies, hapless sailors, and even a poor little kid). It’s a bad situation that’s made even worse when the reluctant mayor won’t let Brody close the beaches. Aided by Hooper (an oceanographer) and the crazed Quint (who hunts sharks for a living), Brody takes to the ocean to kill the shark before it devours anyone else.
It would be crazy to say that a simple technical difficulty helped make JAWS the masterpiece that it is, but that’s sort of true. The mechanical shark (nicknamed Bruce) was constantly breaking down and Spielberg was unable to show the giant fish for almost the entire first half of the film. This led to a less-is-more approach where we are shown a simple fin in the water, a shadowy outline or iconic POV shots as the shark moves in for the kill. I’m sure JAWS would have been entertaining and fun even with the shark being shown constantly, but it’s made that much better because the big bad fish isn’t fully revealed until about halfway through the film. What’s even more surprising is this film’s PG rating (which meant something totally different at the time) as it’s graphically violent. The opening shark attack isn’t particularly gory, but it’s still terrifying to watch. We are shown a severed limb and a few bloody body parts as the film progresses. However, JAWS isn’t simply a slasher film with a shark…which it might have become in the wrong hands and JAWS 2 is an example of how badly this could have turned out. Instead, the movie sustains a constant suffocating tension that never grants the viewer any relief until the end credits have rolled.
Tense feeling in the pit of my stomach be damned, the characters are a blast to watch. These are some of the most well-crafted people to ever grace the silver screen. We know everything we need to know about them through their actions and the way they speak to each other. Chief Brody is a likable protagonist played to perfection by Roy Scheider. Hooper is a kind (and rich) person obsessed with sharks and desperately wants to save the day with Brody. Richard Dreyfuss will always be Hooper to me, even if he’s been in many other movies since. The scene-stealer comes in Robert Shaw’s Quint. He’s a one-of-a-kind hermit-like crazy person. He can be fun in one moment, but unpredictably crazed during the next. It’s all part of who he is. One performance that doesn’t get as much light shone on it (and really should) is the insufferable mayor played by Murray Hamilton. Besides the shark, he feels like the primary antagonist and represents every awful quality in politics. He’s all about image, profit and doesn’t seem to give a damn about who gets hurt in the process until it starts hurting his image. There’s never a scene featuring him where you won’t be furious at this character and that’s exactly how he should have been played.
With only three small movies behind him, Steven Spielberg constructed a masterpiece in JAWS. Every scene is a joy to watch and the constant atmosphere of terror is sure to be conjured up whenever anyone speaks the title. Everything about this film is perfect in my opinion and I don’t have a single complaint or negative thing to say about it. JAWS is an expertly crafted blockbuster that helped change the world of filmmaking and also give birth to the summer movie season. To say this is simply the best killer animal movie ever made would be doing the film a disservice as it’s one of the best movies ever made. Rest assured, after watching this, you’ll be afraid to go into the water!