Sean Cordy’s review published on Letterboxd:
This is the film we can all thank for bringing us films like The Dark Knight, Iron Man, and other acclaimed blockbusters. It’s the film that proved that production companies don’t have to only release their good films in the late fall and early winter. The concept is simple, yet intriguing. Monolithic shark attacks beach, town goes nuts, who’s going to stop it? Just imagine this happening to your town.
In a world of CGI driven movies, it’s hard to imagine the acclaim it would receive if made today because what makes it special is that it reels in the audience via their imagination. It’s well documented that “Bruce” the mechanical shark was difficult to control and footage of “him” had to be used sparingly. Spielberg ingeniously decides to go a Hitchcockian route, by letting the fear of the audience build within the realms of their creativity. That makes for a much more intriguing and engaging film experience. The lack of imagery though is replaced by a haunting score from John Williams. It is one of the most effective scores of all-time. He creates a menacing tone to the film and really suits the ambiguity and mystique of the shark. But to really drive haunting thoughts into the audience with a lack of the shark, you need a canvas to paint on. Spielberg and his DP create an atmosphere that sets the story up perfectly, and follows up just as well.
Welcome to Amity Island: land of pure blue skies, quaint houses, and a lovely beach. That’s the opening perspective on the film. Everything is cookie-cut perfect and creates a happy-go-lucky atmosphere. Everything is “fine” in the island of “friendship” (as we all know that’s what Amity means), but not really. No one knows of the danger that is afoot, and the mayor has no plans in letting anyone know. Jaws is the shark terrorizing the community, but who’s more of a threat? The negligent, selfish mayor or Jaws? It makes for more conflict and questions about society than if the whole movie was just a hunt for a big shark.
Jaws is an antagonist that doesn’t care what you are in this world. Whether you’re a child, teenager, or an old seaman, he’ll kill you because that’s his nature. While the mayor doesn’t attack anyone, it’s his capitalist nature that puts the island in a threatened state. He wants to hide a conspiracy for his own benefit, and for the town’s “benefit”. Considering its release (1975), it’s hard not to draw comparisons to Watergate; only in the first half of the film before going out to kill Jaws.
The mayor represents the scandalous president (Nixon), and Brody and Hooper represent the new order (Gerald Ford). Among a town in distress, they are the only men that can provide solace for the island. They’re sensible and care for the good and protection of the city, not just the money that comes in. Spielberg begs the audience to ask how many have to die for the mayor to close the beach. Brody and Hooper see the danger immediately, but the rest of the town is only worried about money. It’s not that everyone is money obsessed but that the community has assimilated with society. If one person is told to go in to the ocean, the rest will follow suit; knowing the dangers of the water. But it’s a matter of following orders from a higher social class; no matter how inane. That’s another aspect the film nails on the head, social structure. This element is more prevalent towards the end, but the introductory to Amity sets up the rest of the film for a basis.
Brody (Scheider) is the new chief of police in town. He’s not an islander, and never can. The community is very proud of being an islander and he’s constantly thought of as an outsider. Even in his high ranking, he doesn’t have power because in this quaint town, insiders rule all. Even the small town fishermen can stand over Brody. So it’s no contest when the town council over rules Brody’s safety precautions. Now enters Hooper (Dreyfuss). He’s a man of science and comes from a rich family. He hasn’t made it on his own in life, but through good fortune. His entrance into the film brings hope to the story. His character is contrasted by that of the insane Quint (Shaw). Quint is a man of history and old ways. He doesn’t need any fancy science equipment or calculations, he fishes based on instinct and experience; unlike Hooper. This is where the story shifts from an analogical story of Watergate and power, to a story of social classes clashing for the good of humanity.
There’s a sense of conflict between the three shark hunters in the beginning. What divides them is their different lifestyles and motivations. Quint represents the resented old man that relies on innate abilities. Hooper and Brody represent a new order forming in society (also referring back to Watergate and Ford). Hooper relies on technology and money to locate and kill the shark. While Brody represents the caring father of not only his family but for the community. He doesn’t have any qualifications to shark hunt, but he wants to contribute to protect the people. Their differences are apparent through their great dialogue and terrific acting from all involved. It takes a lot to make three people talking for 40 minutes intriguing, but that’s what was done.
There’s a calm moment on the ship were Quint and Hooper are comparing battle wounds. It’s surprisingly touching to the audience as much as it is to the characters. This scene shows that people on opposite ends of the spectrum can relate to the other. A bond has been cast between them, but Brody is left on the outside looking in. He doesn’t have anything to show for himself. He’s no rugged sailor, but he tries to connect. Quint goes on to discuss his time on the USS Indianapolis. This is undoubtedly the best moment of dialogue in the film. The story is a metaphor of how helpless we are and how our superior class will just let us drown to protect themselves from embarrassment. The Indianapolis sunk and sharks ate the sailors, 6 an hour. Quint survives to live the tail of course, and it turns into a story of ultimate survival and human spirit.
We’ve barely seen the shark at this point. But now the action cuts in. I’ll cut to the chase, it’s all done impeccably and it’s gripping. Quint dies, and his death once is a symbol, once again, of new order coming in. Brody’s left by himself now because Hooper is under a coral reef. He’s the odd man out between the three. It’s ironic that his character should be the one to kill Jaws. After the explosive death, Hooper comes out. Hooper was the constant element of hope in the story, and his survival shows that hope can endure anything. Whether it be a menacing shark, or a corrupt political figure, hope is the driving force in our world. But Brody represents that one man can make a difference. There needs to be a seed planted before hope can arrive. Brody was that seed of reason, and was the man that brought hope (Hooper).
The whole film though is technical marvel. The camera movements are fluidic, and emulate the sense of being on water. Spielberg also wanted to enhance the experience by creating POV shots of Jaws. He creates an eerie atmosphere by placing the camera in and above the water. He also knows how to form the legend of Jaws incredibly well. The night time shots are perfectly lit and creating a harrowing and mystique atmosphere about the place in which Jaws calls home. The editing also creates the great atmosphere by making the audience think of what this beast is. And of course, Mr. Williams brings his A-Game.
I’m not quite ready to call this Spielberg’s best work (I still call that Schindler’s List), but it’s close. Upon another viewing of Schindler’s, it may change, but I can say that Jaws is a timeless classic that will forever be reveled as a masterpiece.
Overall Grade: A+