Sharks bit three people last week off the beaches of Long Island. The Robert Moses State Park Field Beach was briefly closed on July 4 following a shark sighting. Swimming was banned at several Nantucket beaches earlier this week after great white sharks were spotted in the area.
It’s Jaws all over again! Which is why H & I joined a friend to see the original movie when it was playing on the big screen at our local theater this week.
Steven Spielberg’s Jaws was released in 1975, a year after the novel of the same name by Peter Benchley. The book was a bestseller, but the film changed the movie industry, ushering in the era of the summer blockbuster. It used to be the best movies of the year were introduced around the winter holidays; summer was slower for moviegoing. Jaws changed that.
Jaws was a cultural phenomenon in other ways. It changed how everyone thought about swimming in the ocean. The film was so visceral, so terrifying and compelling, that many people feared going into the water after seeing it.
We’ve all seen the movie, right? Some of us many times. I originally saw Jaws with my parents and my high school girlfriend. That cross-generational interest doesn’t happen anymore in a fragmented media market. Everyone saw Jaws.
Wow does the movie shine on the big silver screen! And the music by John Williams is immediately recognizable and forever memorable for its tension and beauty.
In a riveting opening scene, a woman is attacked and killed while swimming at night. Even though authorities know a dangerous predator is out there in the water, local politicians keep the beaches open to support the summer tourist economy. This results in more shark attacks, followed by one of the greatest Man vs. Nature showdowns in twentieth-century film.
The three stars have a perfect dynamic with each other, both comic and tragic: Roy Scheider is the police chief Martin Brody, who, with the help of a marine biologist Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) and a professional shark killer Quint (Robert Shaw), hunts the man-eating great white shark, which turns the tables and starts hunting them.
There are so many great scenes and memorable lines: Upon his first sighting of the shark, Chief Brody’s plea that they’re going to need a bigger boat. Quint’s long soliloquy about being on the U.S.S. Indianapolis which was torpedoed by the Japanese and sunk, sending survivors into shark-infested waters. Hooper’s investigation of the original shark attack on the young woman and righteously insisting that “This was no boating accident!” as falsely claimed by local authorities.
And of course, there is the terror of the shark attacks. It’s edge-of-your-seat visual storytelling, even when the shark is nowhere in sight. Spielberg filmed many action scenes using a mechanical shark. There was no CGI back then. I’d say the technique, while apparent on observation, has held up over time. Most of the time you’re too engrossed in the film to evaluate whether this is a real shark or not.
Jaws won three Academy Awards, but not Best Picture, which went to the more complex and sophisticated One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which I wouldn’t mind seeing next.