Sunday, October 24, 2010


If nothing else, Jaws deserves credit for creating the summer blockbuster, a kind of film that maybe isn't always as good as it could be but which has become increasingly important to the movie industry. And while many such blockbusters are derided by critics, Jaws itself is certainly a fine piece of filmmaking by Steven Spielberg. There's nothing too complex at work here (it's also cited for the rise of "high concept" stories that don't take a lot of explanation), it's a mix of horror and adventure elements as a gigantic shark terrorizes the shores of an island town that relies on summer tourism to stay afloat and gets pursued by a ragtag crew of men from different walks of life. This was back when PG films were allowed to be scary and bloody, and there's some nicely gruesome and occasionally frightening scenes setting up the danger before the more interesting second half, which after a certain point takes place entirely in the middle of the ocean.

To me the highlight of the movie is the performances of the three main characters. Roy Scheider is the chief of police on the island, and is wracked with guilt after town officials prevent him from closing the beaches after the first attack and more people get killed. Richard Dreyfuss is an oceanographer from a rich family convinced that the town doesn't know what it's doing. And Robert Shaw is an old grizzled war veteran and sea captain convinced of his own ability to stop the shark. The supporting cast is just less interesting, and once they finally leave shore to kill the beast, the film really starts to shine. Their personalities clash and an odd sort of camaraderie forms as they slowly realize the true size and danger of their target. The film is infamous for how poorly the mechanical sharks they had worked and how Spielberg had to basically work around it the whole time to great effect, and it's funny how things like screw-ups in filming could even save characters from death. But the scenes of the three guys trying to bring the shark in are still incredibly exciting and tense 35 years later, all the way up to the dubious but thrilling conclusion. A simple movie elevated by the creativity of those behind the camera and the great character work by those in front of it.

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