Steven Spielberg has been the director of so many spectacular movies over the years, it’s almost easy to forget where he started. Notice I say almost. Spielberg didn’t burst onto the scene with Jaws, but it was the film that made him a household name. It’s easy to see why. Jaws was the beginning of the “New Hollywood” formula of blockbuster movies that began in the 1970s. Where Star Wars went with spectacular special effects and a larger than life story, Jaws takes the horror film and makes it a paradox of claustrophobic bigness with an oversized shark at the helm.
For the uninitiated, who’ve been living under a rock like me for the past 30 odd years, Jaws follows a former New York cop Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) who has moved to a resort town named Amity Island up around New England. He’s the new police chief, but he’s often relegated to menial tasks that are tiny compared to the man-eating shark. Undermined by the Mayor of Amity after the shark eats a tourist, Brody is determined to catch the shark with the help of Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), an oceanographer.
When the shark attacks again, during July 4th festivities, Brody, Hooper and grizzled fisherman Quint go out shark hunting in a little boat named the Orca. The shark hunt lasts the entire last half of the film, building suspense as the shark, which has a limited screen presence in the film, finally shows its ugly mug as it peruses the boys relentlessly.
Horror films are not my forte. They never have been. However, this film certainly was horrifying and thrilling and everything in between. It was almost Hitchcockian in tone, and it rightly made the oceans terrifying when it was released in 1975. Full disclosure there really are sharks as big as Jaws in the ocean which isn’t very pleasant to think about.
However, it isn’t the size of the shark that makes Jaws so thrilling. What makes Jaws so thrilling and terrifying is the fact that the shark’s presence is only alluded to. Like a stalker you just can’t get rid of, the shark isn’t seen until it matters and when it matters, all bets are off. The shark stalks Matt, Martin, and Quint relentlessly and not all of them get out of the Orca alive. It’s a relentless second act that elevates the film from shiver-inducing to an intense thrill ride.
While the film is thrilling, the only low part is the ending. The idea of blowing up a massive shark with a single tank of oxygen is far-fetched in an otherwise tightly written movie. It was almost too spectacular and over the top, for it to really feel like a satisfying ending. That and the movie just tapers off. There is no third act. Not really. It just ends. It’s extremely lackluster, in my opinion.
Other than that, Jaws really is Spielberg at his best. The direction and the tone elevate it to the next level.
Shelby started writing at the age of 13 and has been hooked ever since. She's currently going to school at ATU for Creative Writing and English with a minor in Film Studies. She hopes to one day be a professor of film, a film critic, and a screenwriter. (Can you tell she likes the movies?)
She hopes to walk the red carpet one day. She contributes a long list of friends, co-workers, professors, and writers as the inspiration for her dreams and goals.
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