Jaws ★★★★★

I did a review of The Thing some months ago that basically focused on the only two things that I found wrong with that film because everything great about that film had already been discussed over and over again.

I can't even come up with one thing about Jaws that I find wrong with it. I don't even think Bruce looks THAT bad.

It's a funny thing, actually, because in this recent spell of hot weather (almost at an end - we have clouds! Not in the shape of a killer shark, though....) I've been looking to mostly watch and rewatch films that don't require a great deal of thought and total concentration. So Jaws has been in line for what is probably the 100th viewing of my life for a couple of weeks now. Yet I've actually been putting it off. Aliens, too.

Why?! That's the question I started asking myself after 5 minutes of Jaws after the carcharodon carcharias has claimed its first victim. That's all it took. That music, the opening shot weaving through the plants on the seabed, the stunningly creepy night-setting and then the attack itself. All of them perfect, all of them quite amazing, and that's only 5 minutes of the film. The shivers went down my spine just like they always used to.

I think the reason why I had put it off was because I think I'm getting old. I can't come up with any other explanation. It's not as if it's been so long since I'd watched it that I'd forgotten how great it is. It's only been about 18 months (too long). Plus I've seen it at least a hundred times. At least. It's obviously age. It has to be. I must have figured that I shouldn't be arseing around rewatching films I already know every single line of dialogue from, especially when I've never seen a Bergman or Fellini. Or Fight Club. Or Ghoulies 3.

Common sense prevailed, however. Mind you, perhaps there may be another reason I was putting off another viewing. I've reviewed it before on Letterboxd. I was probably worried that I wouldn't be able to think of anything in a re-review that I hadn't already covered in the original.

But it's Jaws. Of course there's enough to write about. For a start, Roy Scheider. I have mentioned this in reviews of other films I have watched him in since joining Letterboxd, but his body of work in the 1970s was remarkable. Despite Jaws being the outstanding film in that run, it's a testament to the films he made before (Klute, The French Connection) and after it (Marathon Man, Sorcerer, Last Embrace and others) and his career in general in its first 20 years that is far from being the only film he is fondly remembered for.

Then again, the same could be said of Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw. Do we see pictures of them and associate them indelibly with Jaws and with no thought of other films in the same way we do with Mark Hamill and Star Wars? No. They made The Goodbye Girl, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind and Stakeout, and The Sting, The Taking Of Pelham One Two Three and From Russia With Love.

There is no hint here of Jaws carrying three actors to the most memorable of their respective careers because they were just lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time. All three of them are vital reasons why Jaws is so great. Look at the names that were linked with those three main roles before they were finally cast - Charlton Heston, Sterling Hayden, Lee Marvin, Jon Voight, Jeff Bridges to name but a few. Great actors one and all, and again actors who would make extremely notable and high quality films after Jaws was finished with. This was a film where the cast actually mattered.

In that sense, Jaws isn't like the modern blockbuster. I look at the cast for Pacific Rim, for instance (I'm not criticising the film, for the record, I have yet to see it and I'm using it as the most recent visible example of this) and it strikes more as a film that would have been as good or bad as it is regardless of who they cast. I may be wrong, I don't know yet. That said, The Day After Tomorrow, which I have seen, would be another such example. They are not films that need or ask for being raised to a higher level by an actor or actors of a high class and ability and that is why, perhaps, the casts are comparatively low on quality and 'names'.

It's perhaps why I love films like Con Air and The Rock as well. There are terrific casts in those films that make them far more enjoyable than they would have been with a lower class of performer. But those casts were almost ensembles, particularly in the former case. Just how much pressure must there have been on Scheider, Shaw and Dreyfuss to come up with the goods in this film? You could hardly say the most prominent support roles in the film, arguably from Lorraine Gary and Murray Hamilton, back them up enormously.

Scheider especially is quite brilliant particularly in the comparatively unheralded first half an hour of this film. When he is typing out that police form and speculatively types what he thinks the cause of death of the poor girl who has washed up on a beach, he's great at showing that he's an unexcited chief of police on a small, quiet island who is perhaps just looking for something that isn't there. Perhaps he's almost hoping that it will be a shark attack rather than believing that it was.

Steven Spielberg is also marvellous at very subtly framing Amity Island as a community that is ill-prepared for the panic and hysteria that is about to hit them. Scheider's secretary is more concerned by local kids karate chopping picket fences than she is about Chief Brody's concerns. He's also careful not to pitch the islanders as simple money-grabbing ignoramuses when they complain about the prospect of the beaches being closed. It's a genuine dilemma. They need those summer dollars to be able to keep living. It's not simply a case of thinking that it won't happen to them. It's an issue we would all face in that situation.

Of course, Jaws is not without its humorous moments but they don't all come through Shaw and Dreyfuss and their battles with one another. Spielberg is able to wring them even out of some pretty dramatic situations, such as the two islanders who try and catch the shark with a joint of beef that was meant to be a 4th of July roast and the capture of a different shark that initially gets the whole island excited.

What Jaws is able to achieve is something only the very most widely loved and adored blockbusters are able to achieve - it's just an absolutely fantastic film, right across the board, from beginning to end. It would be easy for me to sit here and ask why more blockbusters can't do what it does, but it's obvious that marriage of perfect summer blockbuster, enormous box office hit and exceptionally high quality film is something is perhaps hardest to achieve in cinema than anything else.

That's why Jaws is so beloved and will be for many decades to come. Quite right, too. And yes, the bit with Ben Gardner's boat still scared the shit out of me.

🇵🇱 Steve G liked these reviews