Jaws ★★★★★

Still a fucking masterpiece in every respect. Hadn't seen it in years so I was a little (only a little) worried that some aspects wouldn't hold up now that I've been in "film school" for about four years now.

In fact it was incredibly heartening to revisit a film like Jaws, one I remember loving from a very early age, and find just how masterful it is on so many levels. I always remember loving the characters, the story and the sheer visceral thrill of the shark attacks when I was young but revisiting it as a film student showed me just how incredible the editing, cinematography and staging are.

Tony Zhou of Every Frame a Painting did a wonderful video essay on the intricacies of Kurosawa's shot composition and movement and they are on full display here in Spielberg's style as well. Every fluid camera movement isn't for flash but has a clear beginning, middle and end in order to tell a story. It may not draw a lot of attention to itself, but the cinematography of Jaws is incredible in the fact that it tells the story so effectively.

Spielberg masterfully operates on multiple planes of action throughout Jaws in a way that never feels cluttered or overwhelming. Characters are constantly moving or changing positions throughout a scene in order to create something that feel simultaneously cinematic and realistic.

Just as integral to Jaws' success is Verna Field's incredible (and Oscar-winning) editing that keeps the tense scenes absolutely terrifying even if that giant mechanical shark hasn't aged well. But even outside of the shark attack scenes, it's terrifically paced and able to both build and relieve tension with a deft touch. It's a crying shame this was the last film she ever edited, but wow what a film to end with.

If you want a lesson in just how powerful editing can be in a scene, the second shark attack is absolutely fantastic. Without hardly seeing a fin, Field's editing builds a palpable tension even before the first note of John Williams' iconic score comes in.

I haven't even talked about the wonderful trio of performances at the center of the film, but they certainly speak for themselves. Scheider's Brody overcoming his fears and shortcomings as a police chief and father, Dreyfuss' Hooper and his smirking yuppie brattiness made low by a giant eating machine and Shaw's Quint with his sheer lunacy being a cover for a troubled past and a disturbing Captain Ahab complex. These characters are in the cinematic pantheon now and deservedly so.

Spielberg may not be the first guy you think of when the word "auteur" is discussed, but it's hard not to say it with a film as masterfully constructed and executed as Jaws. I can't think of many other filmmakers who can make something so instantly accessible no matter what age you are but also infinitely rewarding on each viewing, even if I am a filthy film student now who isn't scared by giant fake sharks anymore.

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Ethan C Williams liked these reviews