‘Jaws’ Retro Review
Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Roy Schieder, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfess
Plot: A giant great white pointer makes the island community of Amity their feeding ground. Local police chief Brody tries to take action but is thwarted by the financial interests of local government. Eventually he sets out to tackle the beast with a young shark expert and a grizzled shark hunter leading to a show-down on the high seas.
Possibly one of the best known and heavily referenced films in pop-culture, and one that maintains its reputation through the years. It’s easy to forget what an impact this movie can have on viewers whether it’s the first or the twentieth time they’ve seen it.
This film is an example of a director at the top of his game. On the surface it can be summed up as a simple genre piece – the new cop in town has to deal with a crisis that puts him out of his element. How Spielberg manages to elevate it above the regular horror movie standards is the careful release of visual information. Keeping the shark (named ‘Bruce’ on set after Spielberg’s lawyer) out of view for the majority of the movie forces the viewer to fill in their blanks with the power of imagination – something that is far from a positive experience. The glimpses of the monster as shadows and shapes under the water, and the clouds of blood billowing upwards, are enough to cause nightmares. Combine that with the classic score, which after the first scene becomes a cue for the viewer that the creature is approaching, and you’ve got the perfect method for creating suspense.
Practically every attack by the shark is punctuated with a simple image, replacing the need to see the shark with visuals that will haunt the viewer long after the movie has ended. Ask anyone what part of the movie they remember most clearly and it won’t be the big explosion at the end, but the severed hand crawling with crabs, the torn and bloody raft washing up on the beach or the dismembered leg hitting the bottom of the ocean bed. It’s hard to imagine that the movie could’ve been as effective if the robot shark had worked the way it was intended, not giving the director the need to work with a largely invisible monster.
The icing on the cake is the character work. Brody, the police chief, is given extra depth by portraying him as the dedicated family man (without making it sappy) who’s the outsider in a town that’s recruited him to enforce the law. Dreyfuss and Shaw round out the experience with their banter that initially begins hostile before earning each other’s confidences. For such archetype sounding characters they never feel like the cheap stereotypes that have come to popular most genre films.
‘Jaws’ is widely credited with inventing the ‘Blockbuster’ or the ‘tentpole’ film. In other words, it created the notion that film studios can bankroll a big budget, special effects driven genre film with wide audience appeal that can support the studio and its other projects throughout the financial year. Whilst the influence of this film in this role cannot be refuted, one can’t help but feel that Blockbusters have missed the point. ‘Jaws’ was a movie that raised the bar, that wasn’t a guaranteed money-maker and it was made by a man that had a passion for cinema. These days the notion seems to be finding something that is marketable and plays it safe – something that goes against the philosophy of film-making that Spielberg worked by. Spielberg took the same approach to making ‘Jaws’ as he did ‘Schiendler’s List’. It’s not about what market research says, but the intentions of the director.
TEN outta TEN