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5 reviews

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Movie Details

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Directed By
Steven Spielberg

Written By:
Carl Gottlieb, Peter Benchley

Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss, Lorraine Gary, Murray Hamilton, Carl Gottlieb, Peter Benchley

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Jaws (1975)
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Movie Review by Jarrod
December 18th, 2008

That the shark does not actually appear until at least an hour into the movie is what makes 'Jaws' so thrilling and suspenseful. Until it fully reveals itself, it is a silent, unseen predator, lurking below the waters, its dorsal fin poking ominously above the surface. We have an idea of what a shark looks like, but we have no conception of its size. Our reaction is the same as Martin Brody's; fear and disbelief. Brody (Roy Scheider) is the police chief in the small island community of Amity. The 4th of July weekend is quickly approaching, and Mayor Vaughn (Murray Hamilton) insists that the beaches must stay open, shark or no shark. People's lives are less important than all that tourism revenue. Two deaths occur, and Brody hires scientist Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) to come in and figure out what kind of shark was responsible.

Hooper studies a shark that has been captured and killed by a band of opportunistic fishermen, but determines that it simply is not big enough to be the culprit. He cuts opens its belly, and measures its jaw, and compares those measurements to the bite marks on the victims, so his conclusions are scientifically sound, but Vaughn still refuses to close the beaches. Brody befriends Hooper, and the two of them eventually set out on a journey to find the shark, with the help of veteran shark hunter Quint (Robert Shaw). Quint is a vainglorious blowhard; he and Hooper bicker over proper tracking methods, Quint does not like to have his authority challenged on HIS boat, and is used to giving orders and being regarded as the expert.

That Hooper knows more about sharks from a biological and evolutionary perspective bothers Quint, but he also thinks that such information is worthless, and that this shark is like all the others he has captured in the past. His flaw is his overconfidence and egomania. His sturdy vessel is slowly torn to pieces by the large fish, and he smashes the radio to prevent Brody from calling for outside assistance. Quint's obsession develops into madness; he is willing to sacrifice everything to claim his prize. In this sense, he could be compared to Captain Ahab from Melville's Moby Dick, which I think Peter Benchley drew a lot of inspiration from.

Shaw's performance hits all the right notes; Quint has the salty, gruff personality of a sailor, or a man who has spent most of his life in a state of self-imposed seclusion, relying on the sea for all of his basic needs; it is all he knows and all he trusts. He is not fond of teamwork. Admittedly, Brody and Hooper know less about navigation, but are more sensible when it comes to the issue of the shark itself, as it toys with them and occasionally outsmarts them. Scheider, Dreyfuss, and Shaw are all terrific, and must carry the film through its second half, when it is just the three of them on the open ocean, untold miles away from civilization. The other characters have dropped out of the story by this point, including Ellen (Lorraine Gary), Brody's wife, and Vaughn.

The shark could appear or attack ay any time; they try to lure it with buckets of raw meat that they dump overboard, but it does not play by their rules. The shark, of course, is not real, but what is important is that we never notice that, unless we look very closely in a few scenes. I was made aware of specific goofs that expose the shark as a machine, but I do not regard them as especially relevant. This was Spielberg's first significant feature, and his first blockbuster. He encountered numerous problems on the set, many of which involved the shark model and bad weather. The shark's movements are convincing enough; ironically, it looked more artificial in the three sequels, especially Jaws: The Revenge. Scheider bowed out after Jaws 2.

The special effects are not extraordinary; tension builds within the context of the story, and that wonderfully foreboding theme by John Williams. This is not Williams's best work, but it won an Oscar nonetheless. What makes Williams such a great composer is that he uses just the right amount of music in each picture he scores, never having too much or too little. Verna Fields won an Oscar for her top-notch editing, which contributes immensely to the overall atmosphere, along with the alternately panoramic and claustrophobic cinematography by Bill Butler. Deserves to be mentioned on any list of the best American films.

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