James’s review published on Letterboxd:
Monthly franchise June 2023: Jaws
One of Spielberg's best.
The film follows the police chief of a small island town called Amity as he is forced to hunt down a great white shark that has been attacking the beaches.
Well, finally getting to check this one off of my watchlist, as this is yet another classic that I've somehow managed to never sit through in its entirety. Thankfully, it's actually pretty good, and a lot of that comes down to Spielberg's direction. Spielberg, while an unknown at the time, shows that he's a master of his craft, creating one of the most well paced and suspenseful movies I've ever seen. A lot of the suspense comes from the way that Spielberg handles the shark here (it's very similar to the way he handled the dinosaurs in his later film, Jurassic Park), it's a force of nature and not to be reckoned with. From the first scene it is depicted as a threat, and it only gets more scary from there as we see the damage this 25 foot shark can create (the ocean here feels truly dangerous, as you never know what's waiting beneath the surface). It's a well known fact by now that Spielberg actually wanted much more of the shark to be in the movie, but technical issues prevented that (when we do get the shark, the animatronic actually works quite well), but Spielberg finds some really fun and interesting ways to avoid showing the shark when he doesn't need to. Necessity breeds ingenuity, and Spielberg definitely rose to the occasion. Also, the film just looks great, but that shouldn't be too shocking when you have Bill Butler on cinematography.
Another aspect of the film that I enjoyed was the way the story was told. There's a much larger emphasis placed on small town living and community economics than I had expected, and while that might not sound interesting on paper, it really lends to the believability of the story here. The small town drama feels real, and you understand their fears of both the shark and the potential impact of having to close down the beach. It's an interesting dilemma. Thankfully, the movie never gets too bogged down in those aspects, as the focus is squarely on the characters and their conflict with the shark, but it is interesting stuff that actually built up the story rather than stalling it dead. The story remains just as interesting in the second half, as we shift to a hunting movie, as characters and their conflicts take center stage while the shark becomes even more of a threat.
Then there's the cast, which is as excellent as you would probably expect. Roy Scheider leads the cast as Captain Brody, and he does a commendable job here. He's conflicted between what he thinks is right and what he's allowed to do, as he wants to shut down the beach and keep people safe, but he isn't allowed to due to the greedy mayor. Helping him along his journey are Richard Dreyfuss as an Oceanographic Institute employee named Hooper, who sent out to study the shark. He brings a lot of charm and humor to the project, making his character very relatable. Then there's Robert Shaw as the infamous Mr. Quint. Quint is a bit of an abrasive character from the jump, but Shaw manages to make him charming, if not abundantly likeable. The more you learn about Quint, the more his outlook and demeanor makes sense and Shaw absolutely kills it, even if he was having some personal troubles behind the scenes.
In the end, this is a damn fine movie that really stands the test of time. I can see some calling the first half boring as the characters remain landlocked and the shark is a (mostly) distant threat, but this was never a problem for me. Sadly, I have 3 supposedly awful sequels to get through this month, so wish me luck.