This is my last movie of 1975 and with “Jaws”, the year ends on a high.
Shockingly, I never watched this movie before and yes, I may be the last person on the planet to see it. In my youth the reputation of “Jaws” was so that I thought this was way too scary for me to watch and for the past decade I knew it would be coming up, so I wanted to save it for now, to fully enjoy it as a first viewing. Whether that makes sense or not, I do not know, but I did feel the full impact on this viewing, so the wait has been worth something.
I totally loved “Jaws”. I have heard it said that it is dated and that the shark looks fake and all, but that was not my impression. I sensed the terror of that shark, I did urge those children to get out of the water and I did jump in my seat when the shark suddenly appears behind Roy Scheider on the boat. In short, it worked. The “du-dum du-dum du-dum” that heralds the shark is legendary stuff, every child, including my son, knows what that means and hearing it makes me move to the edge of my seat, looking all over for the shark. Sure, jumps scares is a staple by now and there are bigger and bad’er monsters around whether they are called Godzilla or Putin, but this is the original.
For the very few un-initiated, this story takes place on an east coast island, Amity Island, modelled on something like Martha’s Vineyard, where the summer holiday season is about to begin. We see a young woman taking a night swim when something unseen is taking her, dragging her around and finally pulling her under. Scary stuff. When she is found in pieces, Chief Brody is alarmed by what appears to be a shark attack, but the mayor and the business owners are strongly opposed to closing the beaches. More people will have to die before personal financial interests yield to common sense. Some things never change.
Eventually big game hunter Quint (Robert Shaw) is tasked with hunting down the shark, and he ventures out with shark expert Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) and Chief Brody. They are in for some interesting fishing.
What happens out there is a magnificent chase, but who is chasing who? Quint is modelled on Captain Ahab of Moby Dick and the shark is his great white whale. It is personal with him, and it almost feels as if it is personal to the shark as well. The shark is his personal menace as it is a symbol natures revenge on humanity in general. Brody and Hooper are just as much fighting the shark as fighting their own demons.
Yet, forget about themes and analyses, this is primal hunting and primal fears, and it is expertly orchestrated.
It is easy to forget that Steven Spielberg was young once and had to start somewhere. This was only his fourth directional effort, the previous three being mainly small productions, but the direction in Jaws is that of a pro (with my feeble insight) and as good as anything he did since.
Also great to see Richard Dreyfuss again. His is one of my top tier actors, though mostly as a comedian. Roy Scheider has one of the best lines in movie history (“We are going to need a bigger boat”), but to my mind Robert Shaw is totally stealing this picture. His mad captain Ahab persona is the most interesting character by far and he does it absolutely perfectly.
Swimming in the ocean was never the same after this movie.
Du-dum du-dum du-dum DU-DUM DU-DUM...