Tip of the Spielberg – “Jaws” (1975)

Writer’s Note: This review was drafted back in March, but not edited and completed until now. Stress and anxiety got the better of me, causing me to neglect this series for nearly two months. Fortunately, I feel in better spirits and ready to get back into the world of Spielberg once more. Thanks for reading!

I know of the legacy of Jaws before ever seeing the film proper. That’s the benefit of living in Southern California, as you can easily escape to the “World Famous” Studio Tour at Universal Studio Hollywood. We were not the wealthiest family, so going to a theme park was a luxury. I love movies (almost like I write about them), and this was the perfect place for a kid like me to witness the magic of the film firsthand. Seeing sets, the production, and the effects blew my mind as a kid and even as an adult. You must start your day at Universal with the Studio Tour (I don’t make the rules).

Turning into Amity Island halfway will introduce kids to genuine aquatic fear for the first time as we encounter Jaws taking a bite out of a swimmer. Disneyland didn’t have scripted deaths on their rides outside of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. Instead, Universal came to play with fire, explosions, and splashing from the titular shark himself. Luckily, he is a fake shark named Bruce, a sibling of the infamous malfunctioning shark used in the film. I know this only because they’ve been playing the same darn clip of Steven Spielberg and Richard Dreyfuss talking about it since 2001. The shark may be fake, but the terror and legacy of Jaws remain real. 

It’s been in the public conscience since its release in 1975, breaking box office records, selling out theatres, and making the way (for better or worse) for more blockbuster cinema. It’s the first actual film with that “summer blockbuster” moniker. It’s still merchandised to hell and back, with books written behind the scenes and not one but two documentaries on its creation. Don’t fret; I won’t dilute the review with things you may already know from here on out (once again, the shark does not work). In the words of Al Pacino in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood: “What a picture.”

Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) is the Chief of Police from New York, keeping Amity Island at bay from its minor petty crimes. That is until a great white shark attacks a young woman and kills her with only partial remains. Brody urges the island’s mayor Larry Vaughn (Hamilton), to close the beaches, yet he insists on keeping them open for those sweet tourism profits. Once that backfires, as it results in two other victims, Brody is sent on his way to find the bastard great white with marine biologist Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) and Quint (Robert Shaw). The three head out to battle the beast in the sea, not knowing what lies ahead.

The shark officially makes his presence known to the crew of the Orca including Martin Brody (Roy Scheider).
Source: Universal Pictures

The beauty of Jaws lies in the reality of the horror, both in and out of the water. Amity gets screwed out of their livelihoods because of the shark and the actions of their mayor. Tourism is their bread and butter, welcoming tourists to their island for fun and jubilation, but how can that be when two people have died even before the Fourth of July regatta has started? The mayor sees the shark as acceptable, having already caught a tiger shark and keeping the beaches open despite Hooper telling him the shark is larger than they have with a broader mouth radius.

Yet, the profits over people mindset come in to ensure none of the businesses get harmed, lying to the people of Amity using the tiger shark’s capture to reassure them the water is fine. At the regatta, the terror reveals itself after pranksters pull off a prank with a shark’s fin. Everyone panics, running out of the water with people being trampled and others full-on shocked and dragged ashore. Yet, the real shark is out there and attacks for everyone to see on full display in open water. The mayor got all the guests and profit he wanted for a beach time spectacular. 

Yet, now they are seeing the death of one of their own on full display. I hate the mayor in this movie so damn much. I was ready to throw hands anytime he appeared and made excuses. The only time he cares about the shark and the perils it brings is when he realizes his kids are there. No sympathy comes for me because it only took when it personally affected him, one person out of maybe thousands, before taking action. What an asshat of a human. 

Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) sees death occur at the hands of the shark during what should be a normal beach day.
Source: Universal Pictures

A not-asshat would be Martin Brody. Brody is devoted to these people who have come to respect and see Brody, a New Yorker, as one of their own. He must protect the island’s people from harm rather than continue an onslaught of despair. Brody’s anxiety and horrors come about on the beach after the death of Chrissie, seeing everyone at play and having a ball until that famous dolly oom comes in. The horror on his face tells all. He knows a kid has been killed in front of him. Other unfortunate onlookers have watched it too. The build-up to that zoom is perfect, with quick cuts to people screaming, constant interruptions to Brody trying to remain calm, and Scheider selling the unease of Brody’s state of mind. 

The shark has its eyes on Chrissie (Susan Backlinie) as she takes a nightly swim.
Source: Universal Pictures

Once paired with Hooper, played naively yet strong by Dreyfuss, and the mysterious embodiment of grit in Quint thanks to Robert Shaw, Brody becomes the straight man to their banter and arguments. The trio becomes a vast crew and has a moment of brevity in drinking that reveals who they are. Hooper is tired of being seen as a prissy college boy tied to Daddy’s trust fund. Quint is cutthroat and complicated due to surviving the infamous shark-infested waters of the USS Indianapolis disaster. Brody is trying his best to get the job done, even to the chagrin of the residents and the island’s economy. Their differences get pushed to the sidelines with one common goal: end the shark and save Amity from its wrath. Their dynamics should not mesh together, but in the end, they overcome even in one’s eventual death.

Jaws remains a masterclass of horror and terror, leaving an impact in the wake of its release. Spielberg captures that with his style on the forefront from his wide shots, the sun beating down on shadows, and the famous dolly zoom, as mentioned. Jaws is where Spielberg becomes a household name due to its worldwide blockbuster status. So much so his name will be the main selling point for his next feature written and directed by him: Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Revue Rating: 5 out of 5

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