When a gigantic great white shark begins to menace the small island community of Amity, a police chief, a marine scientist and grizzled fisherman set out to stop it.
I have been a movie reviewer for quite a few years. I often fool myself that I know what I’m at. But every now and then a review completely stumps me. Jaws was such a review. Not because I get it hard to classify, I don’t, one word: unmissable.
The difficult part is that at this stage almost everyone about above a certain age has seen Jaws. It is still, without a shadow of doubt, one of the best movies ever committed to film. In fact, it’s damn near perfect. But is there anything we can say that hasn’t been said a thousand times over? Let’s find out…
Starting without drawing breath, we’re immediately thrown into a beach party. A young couple head of for a romantic swim by moonlight in the ocean, the girl runs into the water, the guy blacks out on the beach. Almost right away we get the ‘shark’s eye view’ of the girl’s legs as we/the shark approaches. Quick cut to above the water and we see her get dragged across the surface violently, screaming, calling for help then… she’s gone. A great white shark has come to Amity and nothing will ever be the same again.
The direction is flawless. The performances outstanding – for me, even though everyone remembers Shaw’s grizzled old shark hunter Quint, it’s Richard Dreyfuss who is outstanding . His character, Hooper, is a man way out of his depth (let the water puns begin) hunting an unstoppable force of nature. He knows the text books, but is wholely unprepared for what faces him in the small fishing town . He’s a fish out of water – arf – who, right from the autopsy at the start, is shaken to his foundation, but in conflict with that, he’s as excited as a child to be chasing this shark that he has dreamed of all his life.
Next up is Quint. An old school sailor who’s life starts and ends on a boat and with a dark history that features sharks in a horrifying way. He sees this shark as his destiny. Sure, he does it for money, but by the time he destroys the radio on his boat, the Orca, he has become Ahab chasing his own Moby Dick, it is a battle to the end, either way one of these ferocious killers, man or shark, is destined to destroy the other.
The third cog in this triumvirate is Scheider’s Brody, the New York cop who took a job as sheriff in the quiet town because life almost got the better of him in the big city – watch closely in the scar-comparison scene and you’ll get an idea of what just may have happened. Brody is the glue that holds the team together. The everyman who can stop a robber, but has no idea what to do here, he’s the perfect way in for the audience as he sails into battle with the man of science and the man of nature. The SS Indianapolis scene is the greatest in the movie, but the moments immediately before are the greatest in any film of male bonding and comradery… show me the way to go home, I’m tired and I want to go to bed….
But I could go on like this all day, there’s barely a scene in this movie that doesn’t deserve to be deconstructed, but that’s better for the viewer to discover.
The movie, made in 1975, was a risk. It was essentially the first movie filmed on the ocean, no water tanks here (watch the documentary on the disc called The Shark Is Still Working for a fascinating look at this part of the film-making and just how important the movie really is), it’s all just as you see it. It also was a notoriously long and tough shoot – mostly due to the water filming – and this, as is often the case, is evident in the final process as the tension amps up in the last act.
Throw in a 27-year-old director who, perhaps through his inexperience, was determined to finish the movie, a mechanical shark, called Bruce, that would barely work and forced the film-maker to show very, very little of the creature – fate, surely? – and, for a perfect finish, add a group of actors who have never been better, under pressure and stressed out. All these ingredients came together in a perfect storm and created one of cinema’s greatest movies.
Not to get too controversial here, but the more I watch it, the more I am convinced this is Spielberg’s finest hour. Jaws is perfect. It’s scary, it’s funny, it has wonderful characters and works on almost every level.
However, if you are already familiar with Jaws or, like this reviewer own it already, is the Blu-ray conversion worth splashing (ahem) out for? Well, yes absolutely. The restoration is, put simply, glorious. The colours and detail look like it was made yesterday… except we know it wasn’t, because they just don’t make movies this good any more.
I cannot recommend this movie enough, if you haven’t seen it, or have and don’t own it, you must go immediately and pick up a copy on blu-ray. And even if you have it on DVD or VHS (I assume there’s still collections out there), the restoration makes this worth the double dip. Simply essential.