With Universal re-releasing Jaws back on the big screen in the UK this weekend, a few of us take a little look back at what we take from the film and how we read it now.
Jaws was the first blockbuster. The FIRST. Of course this all depends on what you consider a ‘blockbuster’ to be. There were films prior which made a lot of money and had people talking but while Jaws is no Godfather it’s still the one that started it all. It was the film that defined the summer as the time to release massive audience spectacle movies . It’s arguable that without Jaws, Star Wars would never have got the green light, Alien wouldn’t be a b-movie glint in Fox’s eye and Spielberg wouldn’t be where he is today. Adjusted for inflation, Jaws is the seventh highest grossing film of all time in the USA alone with a total of $1.017 billion. Without Jaws there would be no Dark Knight Rises, no Prometheus and worst of all no Battleship. It was the first event movie, and looking back on it, it’s astounding. The hope is that today’s teenage audience will enjoy the film as much as we all do, but odds are that if you tell them that it was the Avengers Assemble of its day you’d get spat on. I mean, it’s a 124 minute film with approx. 15 minutes of rubber shark! There’s more rubber in Rubber! Yet, it is iconic and odds are it’s a film that many who haven’t seen probably feel like they have. Personally, I didn’t see Jaws until I was 17 but I knew it. I had nightmares about that kid on the fucking lilo, the blood spraying everywhere but I’d never seen the film. Of course, now I have and for my money it’s still the best film Steven Spielberg has made and ever will make.
There are certain films within the plethora of cinematic delights out there that are really above criticism. Maybe that’s a bit of a false claim, as by its very nature film is an interpretive device that’s open to many flawed ideas and executions, but if one were to really analyse the medium of cinema there are very few – if any at all – examples of what one could call ‘perfect’ filmmaking. There is a case for The Godfather or Alien to fall into that bracket but I really believe that Steven Spielberg’s 1975 blockbuster Jaws is as close to it as we’ve ever had.
This isn’t a review so I won’t go into the plot – as if you didn’t know it anyway – but for me Jaws was one of those films that was still a big deal when I was a kid, as home video was taking off and being able to see it in your own home was still a novelty. I’m also very proud to say that due to my stubborn and jaded outlook on life it takes a very special horror film to affect me in any way but Jaws still has the power to make me hesitant to go into the sea, as well as also still making me excited to watch the film even though I’ve seen it more times than is probably good for me. It may have lost that first-time shock factor but I still love the beach scenes with that famous dolly zoom shot on Roy Scheider’s Chief Brody – ask anybody to name a film with a dolly zoom shot in and they’ll always say Jaws – as well as waiting to get past the talkie bits so I can get to the three leads on the boat in the film’s final act. I can’t get enough of Robert Shaw’s Quint patronising Richard Dreyfuss’ Hooper for having soft hands or of Chief Brody’s reaction during the “You’re gonna need a bigger boat” scene.
The imminent re-release of the film in HD will add another dimension to this tense thriller and shows why this film is probably the one true example of an untouchable film. No remake, special effects tinkering or redux would add anything to this film and, as such, it truly stands as a timeless classic. The only real criticism you could throw at it is that the shark looks like a rubber prop but, with the possible exception of the shark in Jaws 2, it’s the best a movie shark has ever looked. At least it’s a physical entity and not a CGI graphic, and compared to the ones used in Jaws 3 and 4 – which you would expect to look better as effects move on – it’s like watching a nature programme. My favourite film of all time and a film that keeps on giving time after time.
There are a great many moments which have stuck with me after watching Jaws over the years and watching the fantastic restoration on the big screen this afternoon as I type flashed me back to moments of my youth when seeing these burned their images into my mind. The “push-pull” dolly zoom on Brody when he realises that shit is going down, the chumming, Brody’s youngest son crying on the beach after Michael is attacked… so many which stay with me as much today as they did when I first watched the film a good 20 years ago.
What also really struck me this time round is just how amazing Richard Dreyfuss is. He’s not an actor known for being particularly bubbly and vibrant, he’s usually a much more intense presence, but his sense of wonder and adventure coupled with a very serious knowledge that he has a job to do is something which had never quite struck me before, though perhaps my increased knowledge of Dreyfuss’ filmography in-between viewings i likely a large part of this.
There’s also a large part of me which wants to say that whoever complains about the shark can fuck off. No, it doesn’t look amazing. You know what though? The way the shark is built up through the attack sequences and through the incredibly foreboding dialogue means that by the time it rears its plastic head, you’re already ridiculously fearful of him and what he does to a certain crew member is still as effective an on-screen death as you’ll ever see.
A real treat on the big or small screen and in its new lick of paint looking better than I’ve ever seen it.