directed by Steven Spielberg
(Universal, 1975)

Jaws is the first blockbuster to gross over $100,000,000, a visceral thriller that showcases the art and craft of moviemaking at its finest and a film that probably made millions of families rethink their summer vacation plans over the past quarter of a century. Plus, it is a cultural phenomenon that has become a permanent part of pop culture.

John Williams' theme to Jaws is immediately recognizable on both an intellectual and emotional level, whether you've seen the movie or not. Major and minor problems alike are still met with the words, "We're going to need a bigger boat." This 25th anniversary DVD release only furthers and adds to the legend, tossing extra features into the waters of our consciousness like so much delectable chum, and we are drawn to this aromatic feast of bloody entertainment the same way the star of this movie (which isn't Dreyfus, Scheider or Shaw) is drawn to the smell of blood and the necessity of constant feeding as it slips through the oceans of our planet and, thanks to Peter Benchley, Steven Spielberg and others, the oceans of our very thoughts and fears.

This movie works on so many levels. First, we have Amity police chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider), a New York City transplantee who now polices an island despite his fear of water. When a young lady is killed in the movie's memorable opening scene, pretty obviously by a shark, he allows himself to be dissuaded from closing the beaches by a slimy mayor who cares more for the holiday tourist season than the lives of the men, women and children vacationing there. When a boy is killed soon thereafter in front of everyone, Brody is rightly racked with a guilt that the mayor still doesn't understand.

A bounty on the shark brings all kinds of crazy people to the harbor, fighting each other in piddling little boats in a race to catch the killer. It also brings shark expert Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) and self-proclaimed shark hunter Quint (Robert Shaw) to town. A shark is captured, but it soon becomes clear that this tiger shark is not the rogue killer terrorizing the island; Brody's son is in fact lucky to survive the ultimate proof of this fact. Eventually, Hooper and Brody go out on the Orca with the eccentric, roguish Quint determined to find and kill the great white shark whom we finally get a close-up view of well over halfway through the movie. This first real look at the mammoth 26-footer is brilliantly shot; having been conditioned to expect the shark only after Williams' incredible theme song begins, Jaws decides to make his first close-up a memorable surprise to the audience and, most especially, Brody. The hunters soon become the hunted, leading to an increasingly suspenseful, riveting conclusion.

Many would view the shark as a monster, but if there is a monster in this film it is the mayor and local businessmen who sacrifice lives in the name of money. The shark is just doing what he does naturally, feeding, and I cannot do anything but respect this remarkable creature. The shark is nature's perfect killing machine, perhaps the most magnificent and certainly the most efficient animal on this planet. This particular shark is as smart as he is huge, making him the most formidable of opponents for the Ahab-like Quint. Certainly, such a rogue killer has to be either starved out or killed in the interest of human life, but I mourn the eventual defeat of this magnificent animal.

This film was released in 1975, and the great white shark does not look terribly real today -- but this takes nothing away from its magnificence and visceral impact on the viewer. Spielberg shows his genius early on in his directing career by holding back our first look at the shark for so long; the early deaths are quite memorable and pack quite a punch as it is, with levels of blood and panic that make this a film that probably haunted the dreams of many younger viewers and a fair share of adults for many a night. The final leg of the film is particularly extreme, making me wonder how this film got a PG rating. One of the most compelling scenes of the film, however, does not involve the shark at all; Quint's absorbing account of his experience after the sinking of the USS Indianapolis stands as one of the most emotionally enthralling scenes ever filmed.

The anniversary DVD edition of Jaws is simply loaded with extras, featuring 75 minutes of bonus footage, including several deleted scenes and outtakes. The main attraction, though, is the feature "Spotlight on Location: The Making of Jaws," which delivers incredible insight on the making of the film. After watching these interviews with important cast and crew members and behind-the-scenes looks at the grueling, exceedingly challenging making of the film, this viewer's respect for the cinematic wonder that was created here grew by leaps and bounds.

- Rambles
written by Daniel Jolley
published 23 July 2005

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