Jaws

Jaws ★★★★★

Classic, iconic, and ageless, "Steven Spielberg's "Jaws" is one of the greatest horror films or, rather, greatest films ever created. Though its praise may sound hyperbolic, the film is worthy of any and all of the acclaim heaped upon it. A combination of robust storytelling, richly visualized filmmaking, palpable tension, and luck, "Jaws" is more than a cinematic experience; it is a cinematic event.

At its core, "Jaws" boasts a simple story: the island community of Amity falls under siege thanks to a hungry shark, and a police chief, an academic, and a fisherman try to stop the beast. That straightforward core narrative is elevated by archetypal-yet-human characters, rich passages of dialogue, and the themes and emotions inherent in great storytelling. "Jaws" is about nature's fury, merciless and unforgiving, but it is also about the need to protect community and family, and the desire to look the other way when one's interests are threatened. Most importantly, it is about the hunt.

Also elevating the core story of "Jaws" is assured, committed, and outstanding filmmaking. What could be a pulpy, B-movie is turned into blockbuster art by a sure-handed director and his team of cinematic professionals. The film is fully-appointed with lived-in production design, clear and expansive cinematography, and editing that knows when to propel a scene and when to keep it still. Spielberg composes shots the are layered and full of drifting, pulsing motion. They are deep and lively, and each is full of narrative heft and drama. Each tells its own story.

Propelling that story is John Williams' brilliant score. Equally spare and lush, the score is haunting and heroic. In and of itself, it provides its own narrative; when coupled with Spielberg's vision, it makes the film's terrors, triumphs, and emotions all the more vivid.

Spielberg's cast builds and maintains a tone that is accessible and authentic. "Jaws" is not a chilly, clinical horror film. It is one that boasts earnest humanity and real-world charm. In maintaining this tone, Spielberg's cast is his most important tool. Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, and Robert Shaw, actors from different stylistic schools, provide depth and range in their protagonists. They are heroic, authentically human, and cinematically styled, but their camaraderie communicates the film's most important themes and its tonal reality.

It has been well-documented that Spielberg and company intended to make a different film than what has been seen for four decades. Thanks, however, to a shark effect that was cursed with operation issues, the filmmakers had to take on the less-is-more approach. That approach is what powers the horror and tension of "Jaws." The film's antagonist is an unseen weapon of death. It is mysterious, dangerous, and hidden. Knowing it is lurking is as frightening as seeing it in the flesh, and the film milks this idea for all it is worth. When the shark is seen, it is monstrous and jolting. When it is unseen, the tension and dread are electric.

Though decried for ushering in an era of film where blockbusters trump art, the brilliance of "Jaws" can not be overlooked. Technically, narratively, artistically, the film is a monument. Emotionally, is it fully alive, and thematically, it is rich. Its experience is elegant and exhilarating. A testament to fine characters, fine storytelling, and fine adventure, "Jaws" is a transcendent piece of work.

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