Jaws ★★★★★

What is there to say about Jaws that hasn't been said so many times before?

It broke box office records back in 1975, spawning three sequels, the whole 1970s "wildlife runs amok" cycle and what we now know as the "summer blockbuster". At the time, a lot of risks were taken. The budget was set at $3 million but ballooned to well over twice that amount. The three leads (Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss) weren't unknowns back then but they weren't really big, bankable stars either. Universal also opted to give it a wide initial release (known as "saturation booking"), a tactic which is quite normal nowadays but was unusual back then.

In many ways, the film is pure pulp exploitation. It has little to impart about the human condition (apart from the obvious fact that sharks are fucking terrifying). It isn't even especially realistic; although great white sharks are known to attack humans, such occurrences aren't commonplace and are more likely accidental than a conscious dietary choice on their part. In fact, Peter Benchley, the author of the original source novel, later apologised for the fact that so many sharks (both great whites and many other species, most of which don't attack humans at all) were unfairly hunted down and killed as a result of the stigma he induced. The character of Mayor Larry Vaughn (played by Murray Hamilton) is a stereotyped incompetent whose negligence goes way beyond all bounds of credibility. The animatronic shark itself looks laughably unconvincing at times.

Despite all of this, Jaws is one of the finest horror thrillers ever made. Director Steven Spielberg displays a mastery of carefully built-up tension, left-field shocks and incredibly taut moments of danger. The dolly zoom shot of Scheider on the beach is perhaps the finest example of this particular camera trick ever seen in film. Spielberg also pushes the PG rating envelope in a way that's thrilling without being overly disturbing, including brief shots of severed limbs, an eyeless corpse and even a child being pulled under the waves in a geyser of crimson-stained water.

Other notable aspects include John Williams's iconic score with its signature repeated two notes motif, those classic waterline POV shots, and the immensely enjoyable camaraderie between its three main stars that makes them so easy to root for in their mission.

It's a masterpiece that thrills and dazzles no matter how many times it is rewatched. The same cannot be said of the sequels. Okay, so Jaws 2 isn't too bad, but 3 and The Revenge are complete duds.

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